DT Moviehouse Review: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

After a prolonged hiatus, it’s time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review the timeless classic, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

Directed by George Roy Hill

Written by William Goldman

Tagline: Not That It Matters, But Most Of It Is True.

bsposter

What It’s About:

In the waning days of the American West, notorious bank and train robbers Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) see the writing on the wall for their way of life and head for Bolivia and a fresh start with schoolteacher Etta Place (Katherine Ross).

Why I Bought It:

bandsdThe first trip I ever took the West Coast was with my parents. We did the tourist thing, walked Hollywood Blvd, and hit the wax museum. On the way out, my dad and I were pulled aside by the photographer in the gift shop, who put us in front of a screen (I think it was blue, maybe green) and snapped our picture, then put our heads on the bodies of Butch and Sundance, in that famous pose where they’re leaning against some crumbling Bolivian backdrop, possibly on the last day of shooting (no pun intended). And for probably the only time in my life, it was a perfect fit. My dad was Redford, and I was Newman. My mom bought it on the spot, and it’s hanging still in the basement of their house on the stairs going down to his model Santa Fe railroad layout, next to a framed photograph of the real life Hole In The Wall Gang I picked up somewhere.

I had never seen the movie at that point. I was maybe thirteen or fourteen and didn’t care a whit for westerns.

My love for the genre came much later, after I’d burned through Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, John Ford, and the Duke and came the long long way around the barn back to the great American westerns of the late sixties and seventies, of which is this is one of the very best.

butchRewatching this movie is like slipping on an old coat, or seeing a couple friends from the old bunch. You know, the guys you were inseparable with in high school – only neither of you has changed. This is a flick carried on the shoulders of two giants in, if not star-making, star solidifying roles; Paul Newman as the irascible, likable Butch Cassidy, and Robert Redford as the winsome, steely eyed  Sundance Kid.  It’s impossible to imagine William Goldman’s words coming out of any other pair of actors. The charisma, the affability of the two leads is irrepressible, inimitable. Newman and Redford are one of the greatest pairings in movie history, right up there with Bacall and Bogart, Flynn and DeHavilland, Tracy and Hepburn.  This is the touchstone of male buddy movies. Without it Shane Black could never have a career.

If it sounds like I’m taking this one up inordinately, it’s just that there’s nothing to  really say about BC&tSK except praise.  The word classic gets bandied about for every superhero movie and Disney cartoon that comes down the pike – but this is the real deal. A bona fide Hollywood classic. If you haven’t seen it, your repertoire has a great big hole.

butch_cassidy_and_the_sundance_kid_enough_dynamiteButch and Sundance is the father of bromance movies. It’s a platonic love affair between two guys who are so good together the people they rob step out of cover just to see them do their shtick.  The lawmen that should be arresting them on sight offer them a place at their table. They’re the ideal romantic outlaws, stealing from the modernizing, corporate juggernaut of the advancing railroad and somehow never having a dime to retire on because they frankly suck at it. They don’t kill anybody, take no personal effects, and spend what they earn like water on the myriad of fairweather friends and women who appear out of the woodwork after they pull a job and fade away when the money’s gone. It’s their fallibility that makes them loveable. For as renowned a train and bank robber Butch is, sometimes he uses too much dynamite. For as deadly a gunfighter as Sundance is, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn if he’s not bending, spinning and twisting while he shoots, like some kind of proto-Jon Woo heroic bloodshed protagonist.

I call it a love affair. It’s definitely about the relationship between Butch and Sundance (I think, without any of the homoerotic subtext that you’d expect), but moreso, it’s a love affair between them and us, the audience. It doesn’t take long to fall for Butch and the Kid. They’re devilishly good looking, but again, their fallibility makes them seem real, like a pair of guys you’d like to hang out with, not movie stars aping real people. Katherine Ross has an admittedly light role as schoolteacher and Sundance’s paramour Etta Place, but she’s almost like the blank protagonist character in a video game. She’s the audience, wooed by these two guys into participating in their crazy lives for the thrill. But she’s also, I think, a stand-in for Goldman and George Roy Hill. Everybody falls for Butch and Sundance. You just can’t help it. The filmmakers can’t help it. I think the actors couldn’t even help it. That’s why Newman’s charity for mentally disabled youths was called Hole In The Wall, and Redford’s continuing film festival is named for Sundance.  These are such well written parts. It’s a lightning strike. Perfection.

The rest of the cast is a cornucopia of familiar faces, all memorable even in their minute roles. The Addams Family’s Ted ‘Lurch’ Cassidy as Butch’s enormous, ambitious, and surprisingly clever underling Harvey Logan. Strother Martin rasping through Sweet Betsy From Pike. Jose Torvay, the bandit with the watch from Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, playing a bandit again here. In the opening scene where Butch defuses an ornery gunfighting gambler with a mere mention of Sundance’s name, you can just about make out Sam Elliot’s left hand as he vacates the card table.

butchcassidy-420x0One of the more ingenious elements is Burt Bacharach’s swinging, playful score which on paper sounds like a recipe for disaster, but plays perfectly, lending the three montage sequences in which it’s specifically brought to the forefront a fun, airy quality, particularly the song, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, which plays over a brilliant scene of Newman and Ross just playing around on a bicycle. There’s an underlying sadness to the musical numbers too in their down moments, which matches the images excellently. There’s a sad clarinet and accordion duet during the travel montage in which, via a series of still photos, we see Sundance and Etta dancing at a New Year’s ball on the passenger liner while Butch looks on a little sadly, then dozes in a chair. Very lyrical without a word spoken.

I once heard James Coburn tell a story about working on Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid in which he said that the day before they were to shoot Kristofferson’s death scene, Sam Peckinpah confided to Coburn, “I just don’t wanna kill him.”

600full-butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid-screenshotWe don’t want to see Butch and Sundance get their inevitable comeuppance. Yet when the boys brutally gun down a gang of Bolivian bandits, we know they’ve somehow crossed a line they won’t return from. It’s the heartbreak of the movie that is telegraphed by the bicycle salesman and the relentless, never in focus superposse led by the ominous night tracking Lord Baltimore and Joe LeFors in his white skimmer, and by Jeff Corey’s Sheriff Bedsoe, who warns them, “Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody. All you can do is choose where.” Etta tells them before well before parting ways, “I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.” And whether by some mercy of Hill or reluctance of Goldman, we are spared the final heartbreak of say, The Wild Bunch. Butch and Sundance are surprised by Bolivian troops and after a desperate rush for the horses, are repelled and wind up surrounded by the Bolivian Army. Already bleeding from a half dozen wounds, Butch suggests they try Australia next. They trade a quip about LeFors and rush out shooting. We hear the Bolivian commander give the order to fire, we hear the crash of the guns, but like Bruce Lee forever leaping at the camera in the final shot of Fist Of Fury (no doubt lifted from this), the boys are washed in sepia, not blood, and we get to remember them as we loved them, game and daring, framed in the same daydream magic tones of the clever, old timey cinematograph opening credits.

This movie made legends of the real Butch and Sundance as much as it did the men who portrayed them.

It’s also, on a personal note, a movie I will forever associate with my father.

Best Bit Of Dialogue:

Butch 7 End“If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him!”

Best Scene:

The escape from the superposse via the jump from the cliff is hilarious, and deserving of the description classic, but my personal favorite is the moment Butch and Sundance first attempt to rob a Bolivian bank. This has been Butch’s big brainchild the whole movie, and their reason for retreating the heat in America for this tiny but booming South American nation. The first time they try to size up a bank, they are discouraged by a friendly teller who fends them off with simple Spanish, which neither of them can speak or understand.  This necessitates Etta having to tutor them in Spanish. Sundance neglects his lessons for amorous pursuits with her, and Butch scrawls his answers on a crib sheet in the next room when she quizzes them.

They burst into their first job, guns drawn, Butch yelling “Estu es un robo!”

The patrons raise their hands and go to the wall, Sundance covering them.

Butch fumbles through a couple false starts of Spanish, then furiously digs out his wrinkled crib sheet and reads;

“Manos arriba!”

Sundance, exasperated, yells;

“They GOT ‘em up! Skip on down!”

“Arriba!”

“SKIP ON DOWN!”

“Todos ustedes arrismense a la pared!”

“They’re AGAINST the wall ALREADY!”

Butch squints at the paper.

“Donde es….AWWWW You’re so damn smart, YOU read it!”

He flings it down and stalks forward with his gun. Sundance empties the drawers and they run out of the bank, bickering all the way, Sundance muttering “A goddamned CRIB SHEET.”

Would I Buy It Again?

Undoubtedly.

Next In The Queue: Cabin In The Woodsishot-2205

DT Moviehouse Review: Bonnie And Clyde

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking Bonnie And Clyde.

(1967) Directed by Arthur Penn,

Screenplay by David Newman and Robert Benton

Tagline:

They’re young….they’re in love….and they kill people.

Bonnie & Clyde poster

What It’s About:

You’ve read the story of Jesse James

Of how he lived and died;

If you’re still in need

Of something to read,

Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde. – Bonnie Parker

bonnie-and-clyde-1962-07-gIn Depression-era Texas, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), tries to steal Bonnie Parker’s (Faye Dunaway) mother’s car and winds up taking her along instead on an armed robbery, initiating a torrid if somewhat platonic romance which gradually escalates into a storied, violent career of bank robbery and murder along with Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his shrill wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), and mechanic turned getaway driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard).

Why I Bought It:

A classic that changed the landscape of American film along with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and kicked off the so-called New Hollywood movement inspired by the French New Wave, it was popular in my household since my dad and uncle both rebuilt 1931 Model A Fords and much of my childhood was spent around classic automobiles of that era, going to shows and on long drives through the country on road rallies (sort of mobile rural scavenger hunts) reading comics in the backseat, or squinting into the roaring wind in a rumble seat.

I also clearly remember the soundtrack to Lester Flat and Earl Scrugg’s Foggy Mountain Breakdown being my personal favorite among my dad’s 8-track collection. I guess it must’ve been some kinda single. It was a red cassette with a pair of Model A’s on the front, and when you played the track, it was overlayed with sounds of screeching tires and gunfire. I used to listen to it over and over again, bouncing on the sofa, pretending I was shooting it out with bad guys. I don’t know if it was actually sounds from the movie or not.

Anyway in Bonnie And Clyde, what you have is perhaps the pre-eminent outlaw love affair movie. Sure movies had come before, Gun Crazy was supposed to be a big influence, and since, Mickey and Mallory in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is an obvious successor, as  is Widsom, and Terrence Malick’s Badlands, which is outright dedicated to Arthur Penn, but nothing quite captures the romantic notion of outlaws in love like this movie.

faye-dunaway-bonnie-and-clydeYet, it’s not clear why, at first. Bonnie and Clyde’s love affair is anything but typical, idealized romanticism. In fact, Clyde is unable to perform sexually with Bonnie through most of the picture, and the violence, robbery, and gunplay actually takes the place of their physical copulation, with each new caper becoming bloodier and bloodier, much like Taxi Driver.  Unlike Travis Bickle, the ultimate bullet riddled showdown doesn’t provide the physical release that allows the protagonists to continue on with their lives. In Bonnie And Clyde, when the lovers finally are able to actually make love, there is nothing left for them but to die, as in Romeo and Juliet. A cursory perusal of the actual history reveals that there might have been something to the plot device of Clyde’s sexual dysfunction. History records that Clyde’s first recorded murder was of a cell mate who repeatedly molested him in prison, where he had spent time for armed robbery. And in the film, when Clyde rebuffs Bonnie’s initial furtive sexual advances following their first robbery, he stammers that he’s ‘not much of a lover boy,’ but hastily adds that ‘there’s nothin’ wrong with me. I don’t like boys.’

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe meet Bonnie, the lovely, sensually photographed Dunaway, lounging in her little girl’s bedroom, obviously suffering from some kind of titanic malaise, literally represented by the distressed look she fixes on the camera through the bars of her brass bed, when she gets up and peers through her window and happens to see Clyde skulking around her mother’s automobile with a look of ill intent. Thus, Clyde’s first sight is of a tastefully framed nude Bonnie standing behind the screened in window. I love the looks on their faces in this scene, and the playful talk. When Clyde literally shows her his pistol, it early on becomes a stand in for his manhood when Bonnie daintily strokes the barrel.  But again, all this buildup doesn’t really pay off in the traditional sense. As Bonnie says, Clyde’s “advertising is dandy….Folks’d just never guess you don’t have a thing to sell.”

So how does a romance work without romance?

Maybe it’s because despite the lack of physical affection, Dunaway and Beatty are still a great, charismatic match and Bonnie and Clyde are very much infatuated with each other. That’s plain in their actions, in the pained way Clyde makes excuses for her to Buck about being rude to his annoying sister-in-law when a tried and true hardcore outlaw would’ve just kicked her out of the car, in the panic he displays when she runs through a field from him and tearfully declares she wants to see her mother, in the lies he tells her mother for her benefit. Clyde can’t or won’t roll Bonnie in the sack, but it’s almost as if he feels she’s too good for that, and he makes Bonnie believe it, or at least accept it, too. Then bloodshed and violence becomes their passion. Never quite outright, in a psychotic way. They don’t revel in violence, but they definitely enjoy the thrill….until it starts to wear thin.

733_3They have a mission, and I think that’s part of the vicarious enjoyment you get from watching this movie. They’re both down and out kids, one an ex-con, the other an ex-waitress in a dead end life. Yet somehow, when they come together, magic happens. Early on they stop at a foreclosed farm and meet a pair of old sharecroppers, black and white, who’ve just had their place taken away by the bank.  Clyde lets both old men blow holes in the windows and in the foreclosure sign. They thank him, and introduce themselves.

“I’m Clyde Barrow and this is Bonnie Parker.” And then, after an afterthought, he grins and says, “We rob banks.”

Because what purer cause can a pair of directionless rebels who’ve found each other take on, than to assume the guise of modern day Robin Hoods? They’ll rob the rich, faceless bullies of the banks, and give to the poor (in this case, themselves).

And this socio-economic crusade resonates as well now as it did when the real Bonnie and Clyde were lionized, when this movie came out, and perhaps moreso today. What bigger villain is there to the American people than the banks and the monstrous corporate state? So, Bonnie and Clyde remain heroes, even in an inaccurate movie, even viewed eighty years after their deaths at the hands of Texas Rangers. They keep to their code too. At one point they rob a bank and Clyde tells a farmer in line to deposit his cash to keep his money. They only want the bank’s.

“They did right by me,” the farmer admits to a reporter later. “And I’m gonna bring a mess of flowers to their funeral.” Meanwhile, in a criticism of media infatuation with murderers, the bank guard and president grin for the cameras and point to a bullet hole Clyde left in the wall when he shot the guard’s hat off.

This movie has since been made again and again in various ways, but Bonnie And Clyde is the original.

3It helps that Dunaway and Beatty are surrounded by a fantastic cast. Gene Hackman as Clyde’s good old boy brother, telling the same dumb joke over and over again to anybody who’ll listen, Michael J. Pollard as their ride-along van, the tried and true C.W. whose hero worship ultimately leads to their undoing, and of course, the standout, Oscar winning performance by Estelle Parsons as Blanche, possibly one of the most hilariously annoying characters in cinema (the real Blanche Barrow, having survived to see the movie, reportedly declared “That film made me look like a screaming horse’s ass!”), to say nothing of the small but effective supporting performances by Dub Taylor and Denver Pyle. Taylor and Parsons share a pretty great scene. Blanche, having been blinded in the last shootout and apprehended after the death of Buck, sits with her eyes and head bandaged in an interrogation room as Taylor (as Texas Ranger Hamer) enters, startling her. He masterfully plays up to her simple church upbringing and hatred of Bonnie, and uses her love for Buck to find out where Bonnie and Clyde are headed. Then, as the sorrowful Blanche continues to pour her heart out, he coldly leaves the room and quietly shuts the door, cutting off her speech.

bonnie_clyde_04_thumb[3]This is also the film debut of Gene Wilder, who just kills it in a minor role as a put upon undertaker who, along with Evans Evans chases down the Barrow gang after they steal his car, and are promptly (but amicably) kidnapped by them. His portentious looks and nervous delivery are raucously funny. Watch the expressions of both Evans and Wilder when Evans tells Bonnie her real age and realizes it wasn’t the same age she told her date, or when the admittedly janky looking Pollard accidentally takes a bite out of Wilder’s hamburger and then apologetically offers to trade.

As mentioned, the movie is inspired by films like Breathless and the French New Wave, and that shows up the most in the editing, which protracts certain moments and queues while nearly jump cutting through action. Watch the great moment during the final ambush when they realize what’s coming and Clyde lunges for the car. He meets Bonnie’s eyes and she slightly smiles in a fatalistic way. Then suddenly both of them are being riddles with bullets.

bac11The ending really is shockingly violent for the period, with Clyde’s body dancing on the ground, exploding with squibs as Bonnie rocks back in forth in the driver’s seat of their V8, already dead about a dozen times over.

Before this movie it was the norm in American film to show a gun fire and a man drop bloodlessly. It ushered in a whole new era of screen violence (and sex).

Apparently Warner Bros. thought so little of the picture they allowed Beatty an unprecedented 40% cut of the film, which made him a millionaire when it proved a hit.

Best Dialogue/Line:

I like when Bonnie and Clyde rob their first store on their first ‘date’ together. As they are departing, Clyde hops into a vehicle other than the one they arrived in.

This is a 'stolen' four cylinder Ford coupe.

This is a ‘stolen’ four cylinder Ford coupe.

BONNIE: Hey, that ain’t ours.

CLYDE: Sure it is.

BONNIE (indicating her car): We came in this.

CLYDE (grinning): That don’t mean we got to leave in it.

Best Scene:

There’s a lot to choose from. The climactic ending, the bit where they get the drop on Hamish and photograph him (a famously inaccurate scene which wound up costing Warner Brothers money after Hamish’s widow sued the studio for defamation of character), the scene where Pollard, supposed to be their wheelman, parallel parks the getaway car in the midst of a bank holdup and then has a helluva time trying to pull out, but my favorite is probably the scene near the end of the movie, when Bonnie has finally induced Clyde to have sex and they are apparently doing it pretty regular. Lying in bed, holed up in C.W.’s father’s place, Clyde formally proposes to Bonnie, and she tearfully accepts. But they both know they’re nearing the end. They’ve said goodbye to their parents, Buck is dead, and they’re all alone, with what feels like the entire world coming down on them.

BONNIE: Clyde, why do you want to marry me?

CLYDE: To make an honest woman outta you.

Bonnie spreads her hands wide, dreamily.

BONNIE: Clyde…what would you do, what would you do, if some miracle happened, and we could walk out tomorrow morning and start all over again, clean, with no record, with nobody after us?

Clyde grins and exhales. It looks like he’s about to talk about family and settling down.

CLYDE: Well…I guess I’d do it ALL different.  First off, I wouldn’t live in the same state where we pull our jobs.  We’d live in one state and stay clean there, and when we wanted to take a bank, we’d go to another state…and…

Would I Buy It Again? Yes. It’s a classic everybody should be familiar with.

Next In The Queue:  The Brides Of Dracula