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LOCKDOWN LEISURE RECOMMENDATION: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Not so long ago the only chance to see films was at the cinema or later when they were rerun on television. In my lifetime all that changed, first with video, then compact discs.

Now it’s taken for granted that we can view more or less what we want more or less when we please. So, faced with filling time at home – just as we can read the books we’ve always meant to and explore musical works we’ve heard of but never heard – ‘isolation’ is a fresh opportunity to watch - or watch again-special films.

Which is why over the coming weeks, I will be offering my suggestions of how you might brighten and lighten even the dullest days of quarantine. It is for you to judge my recommendations, but I know what I like and hope you will too.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (32798457)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (32798457)

Released in1969, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a sepia-tinted (literally as well as metaphorically) Western directed by George Roy Hill, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford at the peak of their cinematic powers – the three of them would reprise their partnership four years later with the almost equally enjoyable ‘The Sting’.

The eponymous Butch Cassidy, leader of the (semi-legendary) Hole in the Wall Gang of bank and train robbers, is played by Newman, with Redford a perfect foil, playing the ‘Sundance Kid’.

Recently seeing the film for the first time since I watched it at the cinema as an 11-year-old boy, I enjoyed its art as much as I had been excited by its action 50 years ago – in part because, on second viewing, the film’s tone and tenor feel astoundingly modern.

The opening scene in which Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Redford)
engage in a heated confrontation during a game of cards is filmed in stylised sepia.

Newman’s charm pours out of Cassidy, while Redford’s portrayal of the ‘Sundance Kid’, genuinely one of the ‘fastest guns in the west’, exudes a cool suavity which couldn’t be further from the violent reality of the real wild West.

I suppose that is the project’s secret – the film’s charm lies in the incongruity of a cowboy setting with the humour, dialogue and style of 1969.

Once the film switches to technicolour, the quality of Hill’s cinematography can be appreciated, with beautiful wide shots, capturing the heroes in the foreground and the posse of pursuing lawmen in the distance, with miles of breathtaking American frontier in between.

It is in this sequence, one of the film’s best, that the chemistry between the two leading characters shines through, with William Goldman’s Oscar-winning script combining tense action and comedy, culminating in cinema’s greatest waterfall leap.

This strong sense of fraternity is supplemented by Etta Place (Katherine Ross), with whom both appear to be in love. Even the kitsch of a score, provided by Bert Bacharach, featuring ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’, somehow works.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid did not escape criticism at the time of its release, many critics found it too ‘cheesy’.

Yet, for me, the film’s ‘tongue in cheek’ humour is a delight, a million miles from the westerns of a decade earlier, Butch Cassidy, perhaps because of its incongruity, has stood the test of time.

Sir John Hayes

  • We'd love to make a regular feature of this during coronavirus lockdown. Send us a couple of hundred words on the game, music, film or book helping to get you through - and a picture of yourself with it. Email jeremy.ransome@iliffepublishing.co.uk

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