Lucy Dacus: I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore
Of course we knew the Brontës were eccentric

52 Movies: Week 18 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I saw this movie in uptown New York when it first came out in 1969, with my mother and a friend of hers. For weeks before I went to see it, our shop girls had been doing impersonations of Newman and Redford’s funniest lines in the movie. Even so, it did not disappoint, and afterwards we went out to the Russian Tea Room, and had blinis and beet soup. Many of my favourite movies are associated with good memories, and this is one of them.

When I first saw it, even despite the nonstop imitation of its gags by our shop-girl, Susan Reiner, I didn’t realize it was a comedy. I must have seen it again since, in the 1970s, but I don’t remember. I watched in early in March with the intention of writing about it. It was the day before my cat died, and I saw it as a slow, joking waltz toward death. I couldn’t write the next week because I got ill. I’m glad that I left it two months and then watched it again, because it really is a ‘comedy Western.’ Sundance and Butch Cassidy are joking about moving to Australia to rob banks moments before their death, and there is no deep sense of impending doom in the movie. I could be wrong but I don’t think its one of those late 1960s / early 1970s movies about the death of the old West, with civilization penning in the heroic outlaws. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is that kind of movie, epitomized by the Dylan song about the sheriff and outlaw. At least today, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid seems to me to be a comedy of wit, that is, largely a verbal comedy spanning out from the sparring between Redford/Sundance and Butch Cassidy / Newman. It’s a buddy movie, and, given that much of the film consists in Sundance and Butch being chased by lawmen, a road movie. If one may purloin an old word from the sex-n-gender wars, the striking thing about the film is its gaiety, accentuated by its key song, ‘Rain drops keep falling on my head.’

Back in the innocent day, when it was released, cinema audiences gasped when the film transitioned from black and white, at the start, to sudden colour about ten minutes into the film. People laughed at the simple jokes, like Sundance admitting ‘I cannot swim’ moments before having to escape their pursuers by leaping off a cliff into a swirling river. I can remember Susan Reiner imitating Kathleen Ross in the apparent ‘rape’ scene, near the beginning, where Sundance puts a gun on a school teacher and orders her to undress: when she is done stripping, the seeming victim says to her lover, ‘why can’t you just for once get here on time?’ When the trio flee to Bolivia to rob banks there, they themselves are held up by their inability to speak Spanish. All very predictable jokes. But still very clever and witty, on a fourth viewing.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid seems to me to be a brilliant example of the film as a film. The film that knows it’s a film, and makes not pretentions or protestations otherwise. Its utterly ‘unrealistic’ for Sundance and Butch Cassidy to extol in witty repartée at the most dangerous moments of their lives. I doubt if any of the actors in the film are of the ‘Method’ school of performance art. They do not seek to become their roles, or to convince us that they ‘are’ the characters they play. Throughout the movie, one is aware that one is watching a staged drama on horseback. After the 1960s, film finally broke away from its nest in staged drama, and became its own genre, detached from stage performance. Butch Cassidy must be one of the last ‘stagey’ movies.

After writing that paragraph, I checked up Kathleen Ross, Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It seems that Newman did indeed graduate from the famous New York school of Method acting.

Butch Cassidy does not, in my opinion, have a deeper theme. It does not extol the bandits and the outlaws, as did the near contemporary Bonnie and Clyde or the slightly later Pat Garrett. Butch Cassidy is not a film with a great message, and that is quite an achievement for a movie made in 1969. It is still, I think, a greatly entertaining film, one that has not dated in the sense of losing its capacity to induce its audience into its world.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is not ‘about’ something, but of course it would not resonate with audiences if it did not reflect our experience in some way. The experience which it captures and reflects is the universal human experience of feeling trapped, as one’s choices catch up to one. The opportunities for free movement are steadily diminished by the choices one has made in the past. So the pursuit of Butch Cassidy and the Kid reflects the experience of every adult, as he finds that there is in the end no space in which to re-invent one’s self. The sixties out of which this comedy western came was a wonderful period of self re-invention. That’s because it was not a stagnant time, but a time of opportunity. So many outstanding characters of the time invented their past in order to have a different future. In that respect, it was, perhaps, like the Old West. At a significant point in this movie, the Kid and Butch reveal to one another their own, real and mundane names. Closer to the end of the movie, the glamorous star of the Wild West, the Sundance Kid, reveals to his lover and closest friend that he grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is not about some dreary moral message, such as ‘you cannot endlessly re-invent yourself and if you try you will get shot to death by a large section of the Bolivian army.’ But its narrative reflects the universal human experience of finitude.

—Grumpy is a professor of theology in the Midwest.

Comments

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I only watched this movie as a kid and remember enjoying it. I can still picture the raindrops keep falling on my head sequence which I think involves main characters and a bicycle? K Ross & R Redford, maybe not Newman? It has been on my radar to re-watch as I notice it is streaming on Netflix.

With good content any film of the era with Newman and Redford will be a joy to watch due to the great charisma of these actors!

Meanwhile, whatever happened to BJ Thomas?

Despite its huge popularity, I managed not to see this in its heyday. I think that was partly because of my circumstances at the time--just wasn't going to the movies--and partly because I had absolutely no desire to see it. And that was because I worked in a record store--a record store in a mall!-- where I heard that song constantly, and I grew to ***hate*** it. Right now I can hear in my head a little punch Thomas gives "red" and "me" in "that don't mean my eyes will soon be turning red, cryin's not for me", and feel a slight irritation. I know that's irrational, and it's not the song's fault, much less the movie's, but that's what happens when you're trapped in a room with a record playing over and over. There are a couple of Neil Diamond songs that have the same effect on me. It can ruin things one might otherwise have liked--I don't think I've heard There Goes Rhymin' Simon since the last time it played in the store where I worked (a different one). And I don't want to.

But Grumpy's take on the movie is very enjoyable, even if I never get around to seeing it.

Seems like B.J. Thomas may have become a born-again Christian...yes, it seems so.

I've never seen this film -- neglect only, not aversion -- but I must say I'm surprised to discover that the "Raindrops..." song comes from it!

My thoughts exactly, Craig, on both the movie and the song.

I was 15 and in a Pentecostal church when Thomas's first gospel record, "Home Where I Belong," came out in 1976. It was a huge seller, probably because it appealed to both contemporary and traditional audiences. I was into heavier stuff at the time, though, and it didn't really do much for me.

I remember having the 45 of "Raindrops..." I didn't really like the whole song that much, but I can recall liking the instrumental break, and the uptempo vamp kind of thing at the end. I think I bought the 45 just for those two bits. They reminded me of a favorite of mine which had come out a year or two earlier, Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love With You."
Which makes sense as they're both Bacharach/David songs.

I used to date a guy who never saw the humor in anything. Humor, of course, always (Is it always?) springs from something not being quite right, and he always saw the tragedy of what was wrong instead of the humor. (You may remember him as the guy who wouldn't buy me my own box of popcorn.) Anyway, when we went to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he laughed his head off the whole movie. I guess he saw the tragedy at the end, but I don't remember because I was still in a state of shock over hearing him laugh so much.

AMDG

I worked in a Taco place when I was pregnant with my oldest, and there was a song on the jukebox about having a baby or something like that, and it was one of those places where everybody that came in the door was a regular, so every time they looked at me, they played that song. I got so sick of that song. I thought it would haunt me forever, but now I can't remember what it was! Could it have been Crosby, Stills and Nash?

Anyway, I do remember Piano Man was on that jukebox, and I have probably heard Piano More than anybody but Billy Joel, and maybe somebody who worked in a record store in 1971. Every time I hear it, I smell sour beer.

I wonder if anybody ever made a record with songs that people sang about their children.

AMDG

AMDG

Was it this?

I admit I did like that up-tempo bit at the end of Raindrops. Very Bacharach-David. They actually were pretty great songwriters, I just didn't like that song. And maybe I would have liked it under different circumstances.

Ugh. You know, that song was in my head, but I was thinking it was older. It was 1974 and that was the year. I made a mistake earlier. 1971 was the year I got married.

There was another baby song, too, but I don't know what it was. I think it was less Paul Anka-ish and more hippie-ish.

AMDG

Margo and I were walking around Target the other day and she was crazily buying stuff since our tax return had recently hit the bank account. She picks up a CD The Essential Michael Jackson, looks at me and asks if we have any of his music? I was shocked and appalled at the idea of having to listen to him ever again, and asked her to put it back on the shelf where it belongs. Talk about stuff I heard too much of!!!

I managed not to hear him very much, but what I heard was not to my taste. King of Pop? [shrug]. Whatever.

I guess the last time I was relentlessly exposed to current hits was in the late '70s when I worked in an office where there was always a radio playing.

Stu, It's terrible what we find out about our spouses sometimes. My husband after 44 years of marriage recently told me that he doesn't really like barbeque.

My only exposure to any current music (meaning within the last 15 years or so) has been on this blog--and a bit on Craig's. Of course, this hasn't for the most part been annoying.

AMDG

That is incredibly sad Janet, especially considering that you live in the town with some of the best BBQ I have ever had! Especially Corky's!

I wanted to leave a comment on the entry on "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", but they were closed. And there's no Undead Thread either!

Anyway, I watched "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" last week on the recommendation of this blog, and I really enjoyed it. Paul's remarks about the movie are much more intelligent than what I would have come up with.

Do you have something for this week?

AMDG

Very glad to hear that Craig. Thanks!

I'm sorry about the closed comments. There's a blog setting that automatically closes comments on posts after a certain period. I think mine is set at either 60 or 90 days. At one time it was open, but when I (or rather TypePad) was having so much trouble with spam, I set it, because spammers tend to attack older posts. I've been wanting to remove it for the undead threads, but it's a global setting--I can't do it for individual posts. I may try turning it off and seeing what happens.

DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING FOR THIS WEEK?

AMDG

Oh well. Hope you do. Too late now to start anything. ;-)

AMDG

Yes, I do, thank you.

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