Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

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.

Previously On…

It’s been Newman season, so we tackled four Paul Newman films and The Prize took the prize.

The Choice

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.

The Link

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.

newman chest 1

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…

IMDB says

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 says

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.

butch 03

What a colossal show-off

It’s good, gang. It’s really good. Phew.

butch 04

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.

butch 01

Spoilers ahead…

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?

butch 02

They’ll be FINE

Maybe?

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.

butch strother

Oh brother, it’s yet another Strother

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.

butch elliott

Where’s Sam Elliott?

butch elliott2

There he is!

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.

The Verdict

Even the devil’s transportation device can’t dent my enjoyment of this. It’s a proper ol’ masterpiece.

Coming Attractions

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.

@BornToPootle

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Goldman Variations – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time it was Sarandon Season on the Chain Reaction Film Club. We finished that with The Great Waldo Pepper, which was indeed great. Written by master film scribe William Goldman, it seemed as good a time as any to tackle some of his films that we’d not already seen. Those we have seen include The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting. So he has some form for this writing lark. The only slight snag is that we can’t use him to link between films, as it has to be an actor who appears on screen and has a meaningful line of dialogue. So from Waldo Pepper we were able to get to:

Film 62: The Hot Rock (1972)

Link: Robert Redford

I’ve been in the mood for a crime caper for quite some time, so this was very exciting. A Goldman script (based on a book by Donald Westlake), Redford in the lead role, directed by Peter Yates (whose The Dresser I enjoyed very much) – all signs point to glory.

Redford is an ex con with a talent for planning heists. He’s brought back for one more job… a team is assembled… things go wrong… some stuff happens…

Rather than focussing on one big heist, this ends up being a series of escalating heists as things don’t quite go to plan. There’s a bit of silliness, but no one has told Robert Redford that as he plays it straight throughout. And the heists don’t really escalate that much. I think Goldman may have been having an off day when he adapted this one…

But wait, who’s this?

It does however feature one of Christopher Guest’s first film performances – one line as a cop in a police station. So worth it for that alone.

Film 63: A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Link: Robert Redford

Next to a crime caper, a classic war film has been pretty high on my list. And this one, about Operation Market Garden, is definitely a classic. Let’s just have a whiff of the cast:

Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, James Caan, Alun Armstrong…

Redford (yet again appearing in a Goldman-penned film) doesn’t appear until quite far through. By then we’re deep in the mud and blood, but Redford is approached for a mission and turns and smiles and is just Too Much.

No smile, but you get the idea

I don’t know that much about Operation Market Garden (must watch Band of Brothers…) but the film title alone gave me the impression it wasn’t an overall success. And while I got a bit confused here and there about which bridge was which and who was waiting for back up from who, it’s a solid ensemble beast. It’s not quite in the browbeating war is hell category, but it certainly isn’t tubthumping either.

Goldman was adapting a book again here, and strikes a fine balance between the stiff upper lip facade and the grim reality. Most of the military advisers to the film had the same names as the characters, so I’m going to assume authenticity was the watchword.

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Sean Connery in anything other than Bond. He’s a fantastic, muscular presence.

That’s the Chicago way…

Film 64: Absolute Power (1997)

Link: Gene Hackman

This has the honour of appearing on more shortlists than any other film so far (ok, I haven’t really been keeping track but this and Bob Roberts turn up a LOT). And for once it’s a Goldman film without Redford in tow! It is another book adaptation though, this time of a David Baldacci thriller.

Clint Eastwood is a burglar who hides when the house he’s burgling turns out to be occupied after all. He watches a steamy affair from behind a two way mirror, then things get violent, the man calls for help and… the Secret Service run in and shoot the woman. That’s right, President Gene Hackman is in trouble and has a lot of covering up to do. 

Happy Birthday Mr. President…

We watched this the same week Weinstein allegations surfaced, so it was oddly on point (let’s not even get started on White House abuses of power). 

The first half chugs along very nicely, then it all gets a bit murky. It’s one where everything could have been resolved much earlier wih a bit less faffing around. Still, seeing a pre-24 Dennis Haysbert as the President’s bodyguard was fun. Soon enough he’d be in the big chair himself.

‘I hope my presidency is much less dramatic…’

Right at the beginning, when the prez is making out with the woman, not only are the Secret Service on hand but his chief of staff is too. And so I spent the rest of the film imagining President Bartlett and Leo being caught up in that kind of situation which, I’ll be honest, sounds like more fun. 

Gene Hackman has been in quite a few films we’ve tackled so far – not only Absolute Power and A Bridge Too Far (with a Polish accent no less) but there’s also been Bonnie and Clyde, Scarecrow, Wyatt Earp, and Twilight. There’s a simple reason for this: I just haven’t seen that many Hackman films. He’s an actor who has almost entirely passed me by, with the notable exception of Unforgiven and his Lex Luthor. I’m not really sure why this is – I’ll ponder it a bit for next time because… we’ve reached the end of The Goldman Variations and it’s time for Hackmania!

What have I learned from dipping toes deeper into Goldman’s inkwell? Maybe a little of what you fancy is better than a lot. His notable films really are extraordinary (I forgot he also wrote All The President’s Men, what a guy!) but not every script can be legendary. There are still more I’d like to tackle – I’ve never seen Marathon Man for example (we almost linked to that after A Bridge… via Olivier) – but I don’t feel like a mug for not being au fait wih every single film he’s been involved in.

Hackman though… Let’s see what I’ve been missing out on.

Sarandon Season – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time we ended up on Jeff, Who Lives At Home which is definitely not the film Lars and the Real Girl and I may or may not get them muddled up again. With a lack of interesting films starring Jason Segel or Ed Helms we were left with a 25 strong list of Susan Sarandon films to mull over. Some were classics that I’ve seen but are probably due a rewatch – Thelma and Louise for example – others classics that I haven’t seen at all, like Dead Man Walking. And then there were the ones which looked great on paper but for some reason neither of us had heard of. And that’s exactly where we started…

Film 57: The Company You Keep (2012)

This is how you do a goddamn cast list:

Susan Sarandon, Robert Redford, Stanley Tucci, Shia Lebeouf, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Brit Marling, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliot, Terence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins.

I mean, that’s just greedy.

With a cast like that I really don’t know how I hadn’t heard of this film. It’s also directed by Redford, though that isn’t always a hallmark of quality – last year’s A Walk In The Woods adaptation is surefire proof of that.

Susan Sarandon only makes a brief appearance, which was a bit of a shame for the start of Sarandon Season – she’s a former political activist whose cell went underground after someone was killed during one of their activities in the 60s. She’s settled down with a family and now the kids are old enough to handle it she turns herself in. The rest of the film revolves around Redford being on the run as he becomes implicated as a member of the group, and Shia Lebeouf’s journalist trying to uncover the secret they’ve been hiding.

It’s solid enough stuff, but doesn’t really get exciting at any point. It’s most notable for having what I’d argue is the most extreme example of a horrendous voice followed by a beautiful voice in cinematic history. Nick Nolte speaks, then Sam Elliot speaks. Hell followed swiftly by heaven. After it finished we watched the opening of The Big Lebowski just for Sam Elliot’s VO. It’s bliss. The Coens really know how to open a film – between that and Millers Crossing’s ice cubes in a tumbler/Jon Polito rant I doubt we’ll see much better.

Film 58: The Client (1994)

Somehow I missed all the major John Grisham adaptations in the 90s. I imagine we’ll tackle The Firm and The Pelican Brief in later outings of CRFC.  This is the only one with Susan Sarandon in though and so here we are.

Sarandon is a lawyer with a checkered past! Tommy Lee Jones is a smug District Attorney! Brad Renfro is a kid who witnesses a mob associate confess where a body is hidden then kill himself!

This is a great example of a film where it could all be over very very quickly if people just had a nice chat. I tend to find that a bit annoying generally – all the characters we’re following are ‘good’, they’re not maliciously throwing obstacles in each other’s way and yet throw obstacles they do. Despite those misgivings and serious concern about having a kid as a lead, they do a pretty good job of Brad Renfro’s background explaining his distrust of authority. It still wrankled but didn’t ruin everything.

Susan Sarandon does that great Susan Sarandon thing of being a mother figure but without being either mumsy or Rebellious Mum #2. Tommy Lee Jones does that great Tommy Lee Jones thing of being Tommy Lee Jones. It’s never less than watchable.

Tommy being Tommy

Film 59: Twilight (1998)

No, not that one. This is a wannabe noir with Sarandon, Gene Hackman and Paul Newman.

And Reese Witherspoon, Liev Schrieber, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Stockard Channing, John Spencer and M Emmet Walsh.

It’s another of THOSE casts. I mean M Emmet Walsh doesn’t even get any lines for god’s sake! And yet… This is a film which tries to convince us that Gene Hackman is one of the beautiful people but Paul Newman isn’t.

Not one of the beautiful people. Yeah. Whatever.

That’s all you need to know. It’s not very good.

Film 60: In The Valley of Elah (2007)

Tim had a friend staying with him for a few weeks recently. He joined us for a couple of films, possibly The Dresser and Traffic, and was surprised at how depressing our film choices were. When I tell people about CRFC (they glaze over, obvs) there seems to be an assumption that we’re working our way through 80s action films or something. And while we have done a few of those, part of the point of the thing is to watch films we otherwise wouldn’t get around to. So not always the easy watches.

In The Valley of Elah is definitely in the more depressing end of the spectrum. It’s not quite Brokeback Mountain scale (I could feel that film in my psyche for weeks after seeing it) but it’s not far off. Tommy Lee Jones is a military vet. whose son has joined the military, been over to Iraq and back, and now gone missing from his US army base. He goes to investigate and doesn’t find anything happy.

It only goes downhill from here

Susan Sarandon only has a small part – another mother role – waiting for news from Tommy Lee Jones. She delivers a gut punch of emotion though. More central is Charlize Theron as a terrible detective.

The police are useless in this, with Tommy doing all the investigating. And that’s a bit annoying, as he sort of teams up with Charlize but does all the work himself. Charlize’s colleagues accuse her of only being a detective thanks to sleeping with the boss (which she has been) – it would have been nice for her character to prove that wrong by being good at her job, but nope. She uses Tommy Lee Jones’ findings to show them up, but she just tagged along.

That aside, it’s a deeply affecting film. At the beginning it claims to be based on real events. I looked it up afterwards, and it is very close to the truth – an investigative article (in Playboy) tackled the story, but names and a few other details were changed for the film. It’s not perfect but if you’re looking for a film about cycles of violence and that is definitely anti war then it’s worth a look. And it’s directed by Paul Haggis who, amongst more famous recent things, gave us Due South. Any friend of Constable Benton Fraser is a friend of mine.

Film 61: The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Tim picked this out. I was put off by the title alone, but Tim saw Robert Redford and that was enough.

And then the opening credits rolled.

Director: George Roy Hill

Writer: William Goldman

And then I was convinced. If three of the four major players behind The Sting and Butch Cassidy are involved then you start to hope for a certain quality, and The Great Waldo Pepper delivers. It’s a fictional account of pilots trying to make a living after the first world war – biplane aces who got a taste of adrenaline and are constantly chasing a new high.

A magnificent man and his flying machine…

There’s barnstorming, wing-walking and glorious Redford grins. All of the plane action was done in real life, none of it was faked in a studio. When it looks like Redford is wing walking without a harness that’s because Redford was wing walking without a harness. Imagine trying to make that now! That’s one of the reasons Mad Max Fury Road tickled me so much – they wanted scenes with a load of cars smashing into each other in the desert, so they took a load of cars into the desert and smashed them into each other.  It’s effective and provides a thrill that, however realistic it’s become, still isn’t matched by cgi.

Oh, and the music in The Great Barry Pepper (hang on…) is by Mancini! The tone, led by the music, starts upbeat and fun. The music keeps this facade going, but slowly cracks appear. First in the stories Pepper tells with such panache, then in the possibility of being able to keep on flying as they have been. I hadn’t heard of this film before and it’s a real classic. A barnstormer, if you will. The second and third credited actor are both called Bo! And Susan Sarandon doesn’t play a mother!

As mooted above, William Goldman is responsible for Butch Cassidy and The Sting, two of Tim’s very favourite films. I think they’re pretty plucky too. And he also wrote The Princess Bride which is a stupendous achievement by any measure. Tim has spare copies of The Princess Bride on DVD to give to people he meets who haven’t seen it, which is entirely justified. There are plenty of his films neither of us have seen, and while linking to another film via a writer is outside the rules of The Chain Reaction Film Club, guess who turns up in another William Goldman movie – Robert Redford in The Hot Rock! And so we bid farewell to Sarandon Season and welcome to… The Goldman Variations.

Bonus Sarandon fact – I’d always assumed the Chris ‘Prince Humperdink’ Sarandon was a brother of Susan. Turns out they were married in the 70s, and she kept his name. So. There you go.