Every year during Turner Classic Movies’ annual “30 Days of Oscar,” my DVR gets pretty full. I scroll through the schedule on my channel guide and gleefully press record on all sorts of movies I’ve seen and loved, or I’ve been curious about but haven’t seen yet. This year, falling under the category “curious about but haven’t seen yet,” was the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Admit it, haven’t you also been curious about this movie? Doesn’t it feel like everything from Top Gear to Beverly Hills Cop to Thelma and Louise has referenced this film? Haven’t you wanted to see what all the fuss is about?
I might have overestimated how much I actually wanted to see what all the fuss was about, because it sat there on my DVR list, moving further and further down as more episodes of Orphan Black, Broadchurch and Lizzie Borden Chronicles (why, oh why do I watch this show? Why can’t I stop?) piled on top. But this weekend, as I noticed that the free space on my DVR had dipped to an alarming 29%, I decided it was freaking time to freaking watch Butch Cassidy already.
And a slightly painful two hours later, I sat there on my couch shaking my head a bit, looking quizzically at my husband and said “I don’t get it.” The film begins with a sepia toned news reel about the death of Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang which then fades into a statement printed across the screen “What follows is mostly true.” Ok, so far so good…but wait, are we in the past now, or is this after the gang was killed? And wait there’s the Sundance Kid, which I only know because it’s Robert Redford, playing poker, and then Paul Newman walks in, there’s some shooting, I think to show us what a great shot Sundance is. Oh, and wisecracks, lots of wisecracks.
Then we follow Butch and Sundance to their hideout, a camp up in the mountains at a place called Hole in the Wall. There’s a brief mutiny, we learn that Butch is the “brains” of the operation, Sundance seems to be the “brawn”, and they are very loyal to each other. The gang robs a train, and then decided to rob it again when it passes back through town. Things go a bit awry when a posse comes after them during the second robbery and chases Butch and Sundance relentlessly through some pretty stunning old-westy landscape. Oh, and there’s wisecracks, lots of wisecracks.
The relentlessness of this posse forces Butch, Sundance, and Sundance’s put-upon girlfriend Etta (played by Katharine Ross, better known as “ELAINE! ELAINE!) to flee to Bolivia. Butch has this wacky idea that there is a lot of money to rob down there because of all the mines, lots of payroll to steal. They go, they steal, they briefly try to go legit, Etta leaves them, and then they end up in a standoff with the Bolivian Army, I won’t tell you how it ends. Oh, and more wisecracks, a prolonged scene with Butch and Etta riding around on a bicycle while “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” plays in the background, and a wacky montage (in sepia tone, natch) of all the fun Butch, Sundance and Etta have while traveling to Bolivia, by way of Coney Island.
Let me speak to all the ladies out there, for a minute. Have you ever been in a relationship with a guy who was in a bromantic relationship with another guy, and you kind of always felt a little bit like the outsider? That’s this film. Butch and Sundance have the ultimate bromance. The film drips with it, oozes it. Literally, every scene is of them, every other character in the movie with the exception of Etta has about 3 minutes and three lines. Butch and Sundance are zinging one liners at each other while riding horses, shooting guns, running from people, robbing banks. Literally, it’s not conversation, it’s wise-assery. And with the level of high regard I hold for wise-assery, you’d think I would have liked this movie more than I did. But it’s never fun to be on the outside of the joke, right ladies? Even though they let Etta join in on their schemes, she helps them learn the Spanish words for “hands up” and “this is a robbery.” But still even Etta cannot penetrate the solid gold bromance of Butch and Sundance and when Etta tells Sundance she is leaving them and going home, he’s just like “whatever.”
I wish instead of showing the trip from Old West, USA to Bolivia via Coney Island as a wacky montage set to incongruous Burt Bacharach music, director George Roy Hill had made their journey the whole movie. I would have liked to see that trip in more detail. It looked like fun. Instead, we got this meandering plot held together by wise cracks and some occasional gun play. The movie trips over itself to show us how affable and clever our heroes are, all to a ridiculous score by Burt Bacharach. Was this the start of the buddy comedy genre? Maybe. Would we have gotten Lethal Weapon without Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Maybe not. But I suppose you could argue, did we need either?