Top 100 Movie Review: No. 052: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Ranked 052 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as May 2017). Watched April 2020.

Cast: Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Katharine Ross (Etta Place), Strother Martin (Percy Garris)
Director:  George Roy Hill
My rating: 8.0 / 10

The film starts with a period-piece newsreel of Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) the leader of the outlaw Hole in the Wall Gang (named after a location in Wyoming) and his close friend the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford).

Both Butch and Sundance are well known in Wyoming and as a result are protected by locals who either admire or are scared of them. Sundance is called a cheat while playing cards but once the individual realises that this is dead shot Sundance he quickly backs down.

The two return to their hideout to discover that the rest of the gang upset over their long absences, have selected Harvey Logan as their new leader who demands a knife fight with Butch for leadership. Butch quickly defeats Harvey by kicking him in the groin before Harvey realises the fight has started.

The gang decide to rob the Union Pacific Overland Flyer train on both its eastward and westward runs, thinking that the second robbery would be unexpected and likely reap even more money than the first as the company loads up for the return journey.

The first robbery goes well. To celebrate, Butch visits a favourite brothel in a nearby town and watches, amused, as the town marshal unsuccessfully attempts to organise a posse to track down the gang. With the marshal’s failure to get volunteers a salesman starts selling the bicycle which he calls “the future”. Sundance visits his lover, schoolteacher Etta Place (Katharine Ross) and they spend the night together. Butch joins up with them early the next morning, and takes Etta for a fun ride on his new bike set set to ironic music. Times are good for all three of them.

On the second train robbery, Butch uses too much dynamite to blow open the safe, which is much larger than the safe on the previous job. The explosion demolishes the baggage car in the process. As the gang scrambles to gather up the money, a second train arrives carrying a six-man team of lawmen. The crack squad doggedly pursues Butch and Sundance, who try various ruses to get away, all of which fail. They try to hide out in the brothel, and then to seek amnesty from the friendly Sheriff Bledsoe by signing up for US Army but he tells them their days are numbered and he can’t help.

As the posse remains in pursuit, despite all attempts to elude them, Butch and Sundance determine that the group includes renowned Indian tracker “Lord Baltimore” and relentless lawman Joe Lefors, recognizable by his white skimmer. Butch and Sundance finally elude their pursuers by jumping from a cliff into a river far below. They learn from Etta that the posse has been paid by Union Pacific head E. H. Harriman to remain on their trail until Butch and Sundance are both killed. The posse are being paid more than Butch and Sundance would likely steal as Union Pacific head says he needs to stop them on principle.

Butch convinces Sundance and Etta that the three should go to Bolivia, which Butch envisions as a robber’s paradise. On their arrival there, Sundance is dismayed by the living conditions and regards the country with contempt. They discover that they know too little Spanish to pull off a bank robbery, so Etta attempts to teach them the language. With her as an accomplice, they become successful bank robbers known as Los Bandidos Yanquis. However, their confidence drops when they see a man wearing a white hat (the signature of determined Lefors) and fear that the posse is still after them but needs them to commit another crime.

Butch suggests “going straight”, and he and Sundance land their first honest job as payroll guards for a mining company. However, they are ambushed by local bandits on their first run and their boss is killed. Butch and Sundance kill the bandits, the first time Butch has ever shot someone. Etta recommends farming or ranching as other lines of work, but they conclude the straight life isn’t for them. Sensing they will be killed should they return to robbery, Etta decides to go back to the United States as she said back in Wyoming she wouldn’t watch them die.

Butch and Sundance steal a payroll and the mules carrying it, and arrive in a small town. A boy recognises the mules’ brand and alerts the local police, leading to a gunfight with the outlaws. They take cover in a building but are both seriously wounded, and Butch has to make a desperate run to the mules to get ammunition, while Sundance provides covering fire for his dash. As dozens of Bolivian soldiers surround the area, Butch suggests the duo’s next destination should be Australia which they debate but Sundance seem sold on the destination once told Australians speak English. They charge out of the building, guns blazing, directly into a firing squad as the film ends not showing their ultimate fate.

What’s to Like
The joy of the film, the great sounds, the dialogue between the main characters.

What’s not to Like

This film is loosely based on the life of outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker, known as Butch Cassidy and his partner Harry Longabaugh, the “Sundance Kid” following their final adventures as they end up fleeing to their last stand in Bolivia.   There is something about loveable outlaws going out in a blaze of glory and the film buts the best possible spin on the characters as being charismatic, likeable and trying to avoid any killings or injuries if possible for example when doing the Union Pacific train robberies.

The film is very enjoyable, the dialogue, especially from Butch is clever and quick witted and despite this being about criminals with lots of deaths including the main characters you still recall the light hearted fun components.

Academy Awards

  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (William Goldman) – winner
  • Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall) – winner
  • Best Music, Original Song (Burt Bacharach and Hal David) – winner
  • Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (Burt Bacharach) – winner
  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Director (George Roy Hill) – nominee
  • Best Sound (Bill Edmondson and David Dockendorf) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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