Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Directed by George Roy Hill

One of the best known westerns, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is also one of the most curious because, on the surface at least, it looks like it shouldn’t be a very good movie.

What’s the song with the bicycle riding all about? Why all those collages? And why does the drama appear so … well, not quite there?

Why do people like this movie?

More than anything else, what strikes me most about this film is how undramatic it feels to me. Yes, it’s as much comedy as drama (perhaps more), still it seems to be missing something in certain scenes. I think, for me, one of the elements missing is a musical soundtrack that enhances the scenes.

I suppose I’ve become so use to music as a part of movies that when I see Butch and Sundance riding across the countryside, pursued by a posse, it has a feeling of flatness because there is no music informing the scene.

It seems a minor quibble. It may be more a problem with me than the film.

Still … why do people like this movie?

Butch Cassidy, Etta Place and the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman, Katherine Ross and Robert Redford) – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

I think I have the answer – or at least, an answer. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is about two likable criminals – Butch and Sundance (Paul Newman and Robert Redford).

Their story, in the film, is very simple. They rob banks. One day, the law comes after them – relentlessly. They’re eventually caught in Mexico, where they are gunned down. The end.

It’s really a story about the end of the Old West of mythology. It’s another take on this idea, just as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West are.

It seems to have been an idea in many people’s minds in the late sixties as all three movies were made at roughly the same time.

But where The Wild Bunch is tragic and Once Upon a Time in the West is epic, George Roy Hill has made his scope smaller and comedic (though it is ultimately tragic).

His story line is very simple and, on first glance, filled with scenes that appear to be padding (i.e., the bicycle scene or the Mexican robberies collage).

It’s one of those cases where the whole really is greater, much greater, than the sum of the parts. The movie coheres through the relationship between Butch and Sundance. In fact, this is the entire raison d’être of the film. And it is why it works and why so many people like it.

In a sense, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a TV show. It works in the same way the long running M*A*S*H worked and why Seinfeld worked. The stories in themselves are nothing to write home about. But the stories are never the point. They aren’t the reason people watched those shows.

They watched for the characters and their relationships. People watched to see Hawkeye and Hot Lips, George and Kramer. I think as we watch we, as an audience, create another relationship, one between ourselves and the characters based on the relationships we see on screen.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman – the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy.

And I think this is why Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid works and remains a favourite movie for many. They are two of the most likable characters ever put on screen and their relationship charms us.

The inexplicable collages emphasize the characters and the relationships, though they seem to have little to do with the actual story.

When we deconstruct the film trying to see how the pieces fit, scenes such as those don’t appear to belong. They only fit when the movie is viewed as a whole and we get involved with the characters.

And I suppose this is why people sometimes refer to “movie magic.”

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