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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD Review

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition

June 12, 2006

Director: George Roy Hill,
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Cloris Leachman, Ted Cassidy, Kenneth Mars,

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DVD Review

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) marked the first time that legendary actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford teamed up on the big screen together and the results were one of the classic buddy action movies of all time. Chemistry is crucial in a film like this and the two actors related to each other in a way that seemed like they had worked together for years. This is due in some part to William Goldman’s excellent screenplay and George Roy Hill’s expert direction. A previous edition included some very good extras and this new Ultimate Collector’s Edition has even more but is it worth the double dip?

Infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford) have spent their careers robbing banks with their Hole in the Wall Gang. Butch is the smart one who plans all the jobs they do while Sundance is the sharp shooter. Butch sums it up best when he tells Sundance, “Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.” However, times are changing and it isn’t as easy as it once was. Now that they are legends they’ve become well known with the authorities. It is also getting tougher to rob places as banks now have more security.

After they rob a train, Butch and Sundance find themselves being pursued by a posse of very determined lawmen. Their introduction is a mythic one as we never get a clear, up-close view of these men but they are always in pursuit, killing off two of the Hole in the Wall gang members right away like some kind of inhuman killing machine. Butch and Sundance are doggedly pursued over rugged terrain, desert, rivers, rocky terrain and dangerous rapids day and night for miles. They try everything but cannot lose their persistent pursuers. It is downright spooky because we never lose sight of the posse, it seems like they are in the background of every scene.

The one jarring sequence that seems out of place in the film is when Butch and Sundance’s girlfriend Etta (Ross) ride around on a bicycle to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” a contemporary song that is out of place in this western. It is too goofy and playful of a scene in a movie already filled with many comedic moments all of which are much better than this one.

The chemistry between Newman and Redford is established early on when Butch tries to talk Sundance out of showdown with a card player who accuses Sundance of cheating. It looks like a fight for sure until Butch calls Sundance by name and the other man, realizing who they are, backs down. Newman and Redford’s comic timing is superb, like in the scene where they deal with a challenge to the leadership of their gang. Butch is the genial one who tries to talk his way out while Sundance is the quiet, intense one. When it looks like Butch will have to fight he tells Sundance, “Listen, I don’t mean to be a sore loser, but when it’s done, if I’m dead, kill him,” to which his partner replies, “Love to.” Newman and Redford work so well together and are totally believable as long-time friends in the way they banter and bicker with each other. The comedic interplay between these two actors, coupled with all of the action-oriented misadventures they find themselves getting into would later become a very popular template for buddy action films in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The final, famous showdown only enhances the film’s mythological vibe with these two larger than life figures stuck in a seemingly impossible situation – one that has been imitated, parodied and referenced from Beverly Hills Cop (1984) to The Way of the Gun (2000). Along with The Wild Bunch, which came out the same year, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a lament for the death of the western. Butch and Sundance represent a dying breed: outlaw cowboys who find that their carefree lifestyle is becoming increasingly harder to have. They are getting older and aren’t as fast and as tough as they used to be. And they are starting to feel it. This is a film that has aged incredibly well and is still the romantic crowd pleaser that it always was.

Special Features:

On the first disc and carried over from the previous special edition is an audio commentary by director George Roy Hill, lyricist Hal David, documentary director Robert Crawford and cinematographer Conrad Hall. This track provides a history of the production with plenty of anecdotes. Hill was not interested in telling the story of these actual historical figures in a traditional way as, early on in the movie, he used inserts to show Butch casing a bank instead of typical long shots. The studio didn’t want Redford and Hill asked Newman to use his clout to cast the up-and-coming actor. The participants give the lowdown on every scene on this very informative track.

Also included is a new commentary by screenwriter William Goldman. He was worried that the film would be too funny. In test screenings, the audience laughed all the way through it and so Goldman remembers that Hill took out some of the jokes. He credits the director with making the film work so well, like how he holds on Redford for a long take during his introduction. It was brave because at the time the actor was a relative unknown. Goldman points out that westerns are about confrontation and yet Butch and Sundance spend most of the film running away. This is an excellent track as Goldman doesn’t just talk about the film but the state of cinema now as well as the business side of things.

There is a “1994 Documentary: The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” sees Hill, Goldman, Newman and Redford narrating over behind-the-scenes footage as they tell the story of how the film was made with clips from the movie that is an unconventional approach but works well.

The second disc starts off with a new retrospective documentary entitled, “All of What Follows is True: The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” At the time, the film was a hard sell because it bucked tradition by having Butch and Sundance run away instead of staying to fight. Goldman wrote Butch for Newman while Steve McQueen and even Jack Lemmon were suggested for Sundance. Newman and McQueen couldn’t agree on who should get top billing and so he left and Redford got the role. This is an excellent look at this important film with new interviews with principle cast members even if there is some repetition from the 1994 doc and the commentary tracks.

“The Wild Bunch: The True Tale of Butch and Sundance” gives a historical perspective and provides insight into who these infamous figures really were. Various historians talk about the origins of their nicknames and examine how authentic the film is to the actual history.

“History Through the Lens: ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Outlaws out of Time’” is another look at the movie and compares it to the historical record. It also examines how Butch and Sundance are classic anti-heroes and how the film reflected the social and political climate of the late 1960s.

“1994 Interviews” with Newman, Redford, Ross and Goldman. They talk about the movie and their experiences working on it. This is nice inclusion but nothing you really can’t get from the numerous other docs on these two discs.

“Tent” is a deleted scene with optional commentary by Hill and features Butch, Sundance and Etta going to see a movie about them. They comment on how inaccurate it is to what they really did and who they are. The studio felt that the scene was contrived. Hill says that he felt that it didn’t work and it was rightly cut.

“Production Notes” is a collection of memos to the studio outlining character development and the importance of certain scenes and script changes.

“The Films of Paul Newman” is a collection of trailers from a few of his movies.

“Alternate Credit Roll” features a different look and music to the end credits.

Finally, there are three theatrical trailer

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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