Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross
Director: George Roy Hill
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
It’s the very last shot in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that stays cemented in the mind. It’s a close-up on a freeze frame of Butch (Paul Newman) and the Kid (Robert Redford) belting out of their latest hideout with their guns a-blazing. As the colour bleeds out of the image, the camera pulls back to reveal the tiles and the arches of the old adobe building behind them. Then the town square of the picturesque Bolivian village comes into view with its fountain, trees, and mountains beyond. It’s a shocking moment because we know for sure is that these loveable outlaws – the Bandidos Yanquis – have finally met their match. There’s no blood, no shot-up bodies – our anti-heroes remain fixed forever in our collective memory as golden boys, despite their criminal behaviour.
This is the romantic vision of director George Roy Hill and his meticulous cinematographer Conrad Hall, and it permeates the entire picture. There are some breathtaking landscape shots – filmed in Utah, Colorado and Mexico – through which our dynamic duo ride, hotly pursued for 28 minutes or so by an anonymous super posse. But it’s the witty repartee between the eponymous renegades that sets this Western apart.
Moments before the final, fatal shootout, Butch and Sundance discuss the idea of going to Australia. Both are suffering from severe gun shot wounds and are in pretty bad shape but their spirits remain naively optimistic. They’re dreaming of wide open spaces with plenty of banks that are “easy, ripe and luscious”, just like the women. It’s a wonderful diversion from the reality of their situation, a master stroke from the imagination of screenwriter William Goldman who won an Oscar for his work, along with Hall for his cinematography and Burt Bacharach for his original music.
This is the original buddy flick; the men share everything, even a woman, Etta Place (Katharine Ross). It broke with the traditional Western through its use of comedy and style, and it made its co-stars even bigger names than they already were, a fact Redford honoured with a film festival named after his famous character – a lasting legacy to a mythical man.