Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #150
Director: George Roy Hill
Starring: Paul Newman and Robert Redford
It's no secret around these parts that I love Westerns, and until today, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was one of only two left on the Top 250 (along with High Noon) that I haven't seen. Reviews I had read about Butch Cassidy somewhat soured me on it; the general consensus was that it isn't a true Western but rather an action comedy set in the Old West. Since the Westerns that I like tend to be the grittier ones, the prospect of a lighthearted romp through the banks and saloons of 1890s Wyoming worried me a bit. Fortunately, it didn't take but fifteen minutes of the film to alleviate all of my concerns: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is all Western, and it's one of the most entertaining ones I've ever seen.
The most impressive thing about this movie is the unbelievable chemistry between male leads Paul Newman and Robert Redford, playing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, respectively. It's a classic partnership; a made-for-Hollywood team composed of two strong, masculine outlaws who share heists, a woman, and every waking moment. Both Redford and Newman give some of the best performances in Western history, and while all hell breaks loose around them, we're actually offered a pair of fascinating character studies. The more that their bank and train jobs go wrong, the more we learn about the duo, and the better the film gets. Everything comes together in the last act, when Butch and Sundance have fled bounty to Bolivia, started a new career robbing banks across that country, and end up in a classic Western firefight in the last scene. That scene is the most iconic – and most indicative of the film's vibe – of all. Butch and Sundance are trapped in a building with Bolivian militiamen and cops lining all the rooftops outside with guns ready to put them in their graves, and as they lie there bleeding to death, waiting to face their fates, the chemistry they've forged over the years still shines through. They jokingly insult each other, they plan for future jobs, they have a conversation which could just easily take place when they're not about to die, then they run out into the town, all guns blazing. The film ends on a famous still photograph and the audio of dozens, if not hundreds, of gunshots going off. This is a movie that kills its protagonists in the last scene, and still manages to leave you with a smile on your face.
So, are the people who call Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid an action comedy set in the West right? Well, that does describe the film – and not in a terrible Wild Wild West sense, either – but I don't understand why that has to be mutually exclusive from being a true Western. What makes a film a true Western? No one would argue that Shane and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are terribly similar films, and yet no one would argue that they aren't both Westerns. There's plenty of room within the genre for different interpretations, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is simply one such interpretation. And what a fantastic one it is.
The Good: Redford and Newman both deserved Oscars for their performances. Incidentally, neither were nominated, but the winner was also from a Western. John Wayne took home the gold statuette for his performance in True Grit.
The Bad: I know it's an iconic part of the movie, but I can't stand anachronism in Westerns, and the use of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" annoyed me.
The Skinny: Very much deserves its place on the list. I might even put it higher.