As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Posted by Hedwig on October 7, 2008

My apologies for my prolonged absence. Last week I had an excuse – I was blogging about the Dutch Film Festival here in Utrecht over at filmtotaal – but now I really don’t any more, especially since I have much to write about. 

For instance, as a tribute to the fantastic actor and human the world was recently robbed off, I re-watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid last week, and in the process introduced the b/f to it (I need to find a nice nickname/acronym for him here, suggestions are welcome). Oddly enough, I think it was more a discovery for me than for him.

See, the first time I watched Butch Cassidy, it was because I’d just seen and loved The Sting, and I wanted more of that. With the same director and main two actors, I kind of expected The Sting v2.0. As a result, I was highly disappointed in Butch Cassidy: I missed the tight plotting and I found it long, meandering, and tonally inconsistent. A second viewing a few months later didn’t change my mind much.

This time I absolutely loved it. It’s as if I suddenly understand Goldman’s purpose with this script, the larger thematic cohesiveness of the whole, the dry, melancholic humor of it all. Yes, I laughed this time, and at the same time this was the first time the ending got to me. I might even like it better now than The Sting…but ask me again once I re-watch that.

Of course, I payed special attention to Newman’s performance this time. What’s remarkable is that, as a smart man himself by all accounts, he manage to credibly play a guy who only thinks he’s smart, who only acts smart. Butch Cassidy is a man who no longer fits in the world he lives in, but is only just starting to realize that. He tried to embrace modernity (in the shape of a bike), but in the end it’s unceremoniously thrown aside, because modern developments cannot save him.

A beautiful movie, and a beautiful performance.

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10 Responses to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

  1. Michiel said

    That’s the way these things go. I watched Butch Cassidy first and really liked it. When I saw The Sting a couple of weeks later I didn’t like it all. Maybe I should give it a second chance.

    I still like Cool Hand Luke better though.

  2. I completely agree in that it is a very good film, featuring one of Newman’s best performances ever. I think it is my favourite film he was ever in, but I am not too sure, there are too many good ones to narrow down, for me at least.

  3. I’ve always preferred Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Sting. I don’t know what is with me, as for some reason I’ve seemingly always favored tonal inconsistency and a certain languidness to what, by contrast, is an enjoyable caper but never quite viscerally registers for me (though I do enjoy The Sting).

    This is a fine appreciation, made more so by your very well related change of heart.

    Michiel, I love Cool Hand Luke; I apologize for the blatant self-plug, but perhaps you’d enjoy this. (Sorry, that ends my selfish plug!)

    If your boyfriend is 6’4″ or 6’5″, as I believe you once said, perhaps you should call him “Stretch,” something I’m occasionally called by others at 6’2″-1/2. Or maybe “The Angry Inch.” Or “Chef’s Assistant,” baking pepernoten. Or “Larry’s Guardian.” I’m just working with what I know here!

  4. FilmDr said

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid seems capable of meriting polar-opposite reviews simultaneously. Pauline Kael blasted the film for its sexist treatment of Katherine Ross and its cavalier attitude towards shooting Bolivians, and yet Newman and Redford were never more charming and playful together than in this film, and the action scenes are well done (with the opening homage to the beginning of White Heat). I’ve always enjoyed the movie, even though I understand why others dislike it. It’s kind of brilliantly shallow.

  5. Kaj said

    Heh… I can tell you’re still in FilmTotaal mode when it comes to italics. 🙂 My favorite performance of Newman would be Hud.

  6. sarcastig said

    Thanks for catching that Kaj, it’s fixed now. I was in a bit of a hurry when writing thins.

    I like your comment, FilmDr. I feel that way about certain films too. I can’t imagine anyonw hating Casablanca, but I can fully understand that not everybody shares my ethusiasm for Be Kind Rewind or Marnie or quite a big number of films. Sometimes you just connect with a movie on some level and love it even if you are fully aware of its flaws.

    Cool Hand Luke rules.

    Alexander: don’t apologize for the plugging, that’s a great piece. And about the nicknames: I actually call him “lange” sometimes, which means “tall guy”. But I love your “angry inch” suggestion, especially since “inch” would be kind of ironic. How about tweaking it to “the nerdy inch”? “the skinny inch”? Or actually, “the hungry inch” might work best: it sounds like it, and boy, that boy can eat.

  7. Thank you, Hedwig, about the Cool Hand Luke piece and the nicknames. I figured “inch” would be ironic. The Hungry Inch has a definite ring to it!

    I have never understood Kael’s criticism of the film’s supposedly cavalier treatment of shooting Bolivians. Butch Cassidy tells Sundance in the moment of truth that he’s never actually shot anyone before. That means, anyone, of any race. The scene is inherently about the humanity of the Bolivians the two outlaws are about to gun down. The awful scream of one of the men drowns out the usual medley of the film, singularly reverberating. For what seems like an endless period of time (mere seconds), the camera lingers on Butch’s distraught face: the weight of his action has just hit him.

    The concern of sexism is at best highly flawed as well, especially since the interplay between the two men and the woman is treated as a thematically rich legerdemain unto itself, with the woman actually given the role of teacher, caregiver and metaphorical life source, despite the nonsense pushed by the two fellas.

  8. filmdr said

    Now that Coleman has replied to Kael, I went back to check out the review and found that Kael definitely makes one point and only suggests the other: “Maybe we’re supposed to be charmed when this affable, loquacious outlaw Butch and his silent, `dangerous’ buddy Sundance blow up trains, but how are we supposed to feel when they go off to Bolivia, sneer at the country, and start shooting up poor Bolivians?”

    When it comes to possible charge of sexism, Kael quotes the schoolteacher Etta (Katherine Ross) at length: “I’m twenty-six, and I’m single, and I teach school, and that’s the bottom of the pit.” Etta goes on to say that the two outlaws give her her only excitement, but she won’t watch them die. “I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” Then Kael writes “It’s clear who is at the bottom of the pit, and it isn’t those frontier schoolteachers, whose work was honest.”

    So maybe that crack was referring to Butch and Sundance, or perhaps the movie audience for suffering through the film. Kael finishes the review with “[Newman] plays the public image of himself (as an aging good guy) . . . Yet, hit or no, I think what this picture represents is finished. Butch and Sundance will probably be fine for a TV series, which is what I mean by finished.”

  9. Yes, it’s an intriguing review, Film Dr., and you’re right, Kael only suggests one of the charges you brought up. Looking at it, I’m not so sure whether Kael is actually criticizing the film for depicting Butch and Sundance shooting up poor Bolivians on moral grounds or if she’s saying the film pushes the audience away from the duo in the latter half of its running time. Interesting, in any event. Kael’s point about Etta rings true. Thank you for sharing those excerpts.

  10. Sam Juliano said

    Excellent review and fascinating comment thread. I also prefer BUTCH CASSIDY to THE STING!

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