It can be hard to get The Flower to a movie these days. She has so many projects going, it becomes a challenge to get her out of the house for anything that would slow her down. But I insisted she come see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with The Boy and I, because I knew she would like it—and she’s already sold on next month’s TCM movie The Maltese Falcon.
This movie is kind of a marvel. It’s so 1969 it hurts at times. The anti-heroes, the promiscuity, the abuse of the zoom lens—though actually not as bad here as in many films of the day—oh, and the music. Good lord, the music. If you haven’t seen it in a while, besides the inexplicably wildly popular “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, it also features—I am not making this up—a choir of white people scatting chorally. I mean…whoa. George Roy Hill, Katherine Ross, montages, including a campy turn-of-the-century tintype montage, Eastman Color…
Despite all this, it’s a good movie. From a distance, it’s oddly nihilistic, or given the time period, oddly light-hearted for a movie whose underlying premise is nihilistic.
Butch Cassidy and Sundance are buddies who are making a living robbing trains, along with their none-too-bright Hole-In-The-Wall Gang. Really, nobody in this movie is very bright, which makes for a lot of the comedy. Butch fancies himself as having vision, of course, which supplies a lot of comedy as well.
Anyway, their repeated hits on a particular wealthy man’s train line causes the two to flee from a group of dedicated hired guns, ultimately to Bolivia where they—well, they actually never meet these assassins. We never even see them close up; they act, rather as a sort of boogey man to motivate the characters.
Why does it work? A lot of reasons: First, it never takes itself too seriously, which means that the nihilism (a prevalent theme of the late ’60s/early ’70s) doesn’t really come through; second, it’s glamorous, with Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katherine Ross all in full flower; third, it’s quotable and funny; fourth, William Goldman spent eight years researching the story and then wrote…well, he wrote this, which can’t possibly be the truth, except in the broadest strokes.
Where it doesn’t work is the too-cute-by-half and too-long-by-half montage of the three principles on the set of Hello, Dolly. They were actually going to shoot on those sets but the studio nixed it because the Hello, Dolly sets were apparently Top Secret. The Eastman color is washed out, though not as bad as many films from the era. These days, a lot of the outdoor lighting looks so patently fake, like, “You’re standing in the dark, yet you’re both clearly illuminated from a source offscreen.” I don’t know why that jumped out at me, but it really did. Lighting is a bit smoother these days, probably due to post-production techniques.
Also, it doesn’t really have any character arcs, or really any shape to the story. It wanders vignette to vignette, and you could probably scramble the sequences up in a lot of different ways without hurting the movie too much.
Its 1:50 runtime seemed longish back in the day, but nowadays breezes by. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to Midnight Cowboy, which probably tells you everything you need to know about 1970 and the Oscars.