Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is, of course, the Western starring Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, and which might have co-starred Steve McQueen as the Sundance Kid if McQueen had not objected to second billing. (Five years later, Newman and McQueen co-starred in ‘The Towering Inferno,’ with McQueen billed first!) So, as the studio looked around for another star on Newman’s level, Newman lobbied for Robert Redford — and, of course, it became Redford’s most iconic role, pushing him into superstardom on Newman’s level. Several Cinemark theaters all around the country will be showing the film on Sunday, Jan. 17, and Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 2 and 7 p.m.

In the 1950s, “Gunsmoke” was changing the face of TV Westerns. That program, which debuted in 1955, is considered the first “adult Western” TV series, because so many earlier shows (“Hopalong Cassidy,” “The Roy Rogers Show,” “Annie Oakley,” etc.) were aimed more at children.

And around the same time, movie Westerns were also shifting to more mature material, exemplified by those directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart — “Winchester ’73” (1950), “Bend of the River” (1952), “The Naked Spur” (1953), etc

These movies allowed Stewart to continue to play more complex characters than he had been given before and during World War II, characters that may end up being heroic, but they show some rather less-than-heroic tendencies before getting there — a career trajectory that Stewart began with “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946).

     

Paul Newman, left, Katharine Ross, Robert Redford, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'

Then, in the early 1960s, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s  “Man With No Name” trilogy — “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966) — again changed the shape of Westerns.

Those were European productions, of course, with mostly Italian cast and crew, and filmed on locations in Spain. (The dates above indicate European theatrical releases; all three films debuted in American theaters in 1967.)

The spaghetti Western style had a great influence on Westerns going forward. Even “Hang ’Em High,” Eastwood’s first starring film after he returned to Hollywood in 1968, feels like a spaghetti Western.

But Hollywood oaters would take another turn as revisionist Westerns were popularized in 1969 with the release of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” a sort of sub-genre that now includes “Little Big Man” (1970), “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976) and even “Dances With Wolves” (1990), among others.

   

Paul Newman, left, Robert Redford, 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” deftly blends comedy and action while fictionalizing the story of two real-life bandits, and Newman and Redford, as directed by George Roy Hill, prove to be a great team, with plenty of that indefinable thing we call chemistry. (The three got back together in 1973 for “The Sting.”)

The film has the two robbers being tracked by Pinkerton detectives after they rob a train, not once but twice. One of the film’s (many) memorable lines is the repeated question, “Who are those guys?” as the Pinkertons continue in relentless pursuit all the way to South America.

Katharine Ross co-stars as Etta Place, and familiar faces that dot the supporting cast include Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, Ted Cassidy and two future Mel Brooks regulars, Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars. And if you’re alert, you may spot Sam Elliott as a card player at a poker table early in the film, though he is cloaked in darkness.

If you’ve never seen “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on the big screen, now’s your chance. Don’t miss it.