My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.
It’s been Newman season, so we tackled four Paul Newman films and The Prize took the prize.
How much Newman is too much Newman? That’s the question. The great thing about devoting mini-seasons to a single actor is that you can get a nice cross section of their work, and it can throw up some glorious surprises – take a look at me waxing lyrical about Gregory Peck, for example. What a treat! On the other hand, there’s the risk that, for an already beloved actor, we might restrict ourselves to justifiably lesser-known films and so end up with a slightly tarnished view of them. Weighing up the pros and cons of continuing Newman season in that context, and bearing in mind that the last Newman film we tackled was a bit of a dud, I decided we needed a guaranteed hit. Something to really start 2019 with a bang. And that film is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Paul Newman, duh! I wrote a little about him last week, so will save you this time around. But while I’ve been finding images and gifs and the like, it’s become apparent quite how many of his films involve lingering shots of him topless.
That reminded me of the fairly shoe-horned section of The Prize that saw his character try and hide in a nudist meeting, only for villains to steal his clothes. Any excuse…
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and me
Man, there’s the film I want! Stick me in there with Paul Newman and Robert Redford please!
There have only been a handful of films we’ve tackled in the CRFC that have already been favourites. Fifth Element springs to mind. Starship Troopers too. But Butch Cassidy is slightly more totemic. It’s a film Tim and I have bonded over together in the past. I bought him a poster of it perhaps a decade ago, and it’s sitting framed in his living room. In terms of pedigree, it’s written by the late William Goldman, who also collaborated with director George Roy Hill on The Great Waldo Pepper which has been a standout of CRFC… But, and whisper this, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion Tim likes Butch Cassidy more than I do. I always remember the damn bicycle bit really breaking the flow of the film and dragging on. Is that just my memory playing tricks?
Add to that a poor run of western biopics in CRFC, particularly those taking a lighter tone, and I had a bit of a worry that it might not live up to expectations. Did it? Let’s find out…
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution – escape to Bolivia. 8.1 stars.
I can’t ride a bike. Tried when I was a kid, fell into some rose bushes, scratched my leg up quite badly, and gave up. Gave it a half-hearted go about five years ago – nada. When I was still acting I had a fear that I’d land an amazing film role, turn up to the first day of filming and Speilberg would turn to me and say “Now Jon, this scene is gonna have you riding this bike down the street…” So perhaps my antipathy towards the bicycle scene, in which Paul Newman’s Butch does a load of tricks while riding a bike for presumably the first time, is simply jealousy.
It’s good, gang. It’s really good. Phew.
That Newman and Redford made only two films together is, and this isn’t a controversial opinion, criminal. They are a properly sensational double act. The scene in which our heroes(?) are on the run and have to decide between making a stand or leaping off a cliff is a two minute slice of heaven. Honestly, it really is. Katharine Ross is wonderful as well (as she always is, let’s be honest) stoking something that thankfully never quite becomes a love triangle. The first scene between her and Redford is a wonderful bit of misdirection.
Are they heroes? Well, no. But they’re not just thugs, at least. Butch’s confession that he’s never shot anyone about two thirds of the way through is lovely. Though he swiftly gets over that particular hurdle. They are problem solvers. Obstacles are hurled into their path – ornery gang members, bolshy security guards, those guys – and at every turn Butch and Sundance find solutions. They overcome their obstacles until the obstacle is so large that it can’t be bested. Until it’s a whole damn army lying in wait for them. And then, even then, we don’t see them fail. We don’t know. The film freezes and fades to sepia as gunfire sounds, Butch and Sundance running out into the open… And maybe just maybe they survive?
WHY CAN’T YOU LET ME HAVE THIS?
And yes, I still agree with myself that the bicycle scene is a tad overlong. It just keeps going and going and that bloody Burt Bacharach song plays over the top for some reason… BUT… it happens much earlier in the film than I remembered, so it doesn’t break the flow at all.
Butch Cassidy came out in 1969, a year of three big end-of-the-West films. The Wild Bunch I covered recently. True Grit is the third spoke of the triumverate. Funnily enough Strother Martin is in all three (he’s the mine foreman in Bolivia here), but that’s by the by.
When it came to Oscars time though, it was a fourth cowboy film that took Best Picture and Best Director – Midnight Cowboy. I suppose that’s also about the end of the myth of the West as well, in a more allegorical way. I like Midnight Cowboy. I’ve not seen it for a few years, but I remember really liking it. But it’s too sad to rewatch, I think. Butch Cassidy I would rewatch in a heartbeat.
A final notable thing – Sam Elliot, he of the fine ‘tache and beautiful voice, appears at the beginning of this as Sundance’s card playing adversary. He’s pretty unrecognisable.
He would go on to marry Katharine Ross 15 years later, and married they still very much are. So Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid does have a happy ending really.
Even the devil’s transportation device can’t dent my enjoyment of this. It’s a proper ol’ masterpiece.
Well. Do we carry on with Newman? Do we swap to Redford? After all, we can always get back to Newman with The Sting… It’s quite the pickle, but fortunately it’s Tim’s choice next so I’ll let him fret.