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6-10-2015, 09:02

Vincent Canby

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,”igBg.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” were real-life, turn-of-the-centur] outlaws who, in 1905, packed up their saddlebags, along with Sundance’s mistress (a school-teacher named Etta Place), and left the shrinking American West to start a new life, robbing banks in Bolivia.

According to the movie, their decline and fall was the sort of alternately absurd and dreamy saga that might have been fantasized by Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and Catherine—before they grew up.

Butch (Paul Newman) is so amiable that it’s not until he gets to Bolivia and is more or less forced to go straight, that he ever brings himself to shoot a man. Sundance (Robert Redford) behaves like the perpetual youngei brother. Although confident of his own abilities, he always defers to Butch, whose schemes end in disaster more often than success. Etta (Katharine Ross) is the kind of total woman who can cook, keep house of sorts, seldom grumbles, and, if necessary, will act as third gun.

This is an attractive conceit and much of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is very ftmny in a strictly contemporary way—the last exuberant word on movies about the men of the mythic American West who have outlived their day. Butch and Sundance have the physical graces of classic Western heroes, but all four feet are made of silly putty.

When they try to rob a train and blow open its safe, the dynamite charge destroys not only the safe but also the entire baggage car. When they can escape from a posse only by jumping from a high cliff into a raging rapids below, Sundance must admit ruefully that he doesn’t know how to swim.

George Roy Hill (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Hawaii”) who directed and William Goldman, the novelist (“Boys and Girls Together”) anc occasional scenarist (“Harper”), who wrote the original screenplay, have consciously mixed their genres. Even though the result is not unpleasant, it is vaguely disturbing—you keep seeing signs of another, better film behind gags and efects that may remind you of everything from “Jules and Jim” to “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Wild Bunch.”

There is at the heart of “Butch Cassidy” a gnawing emptiness that can’t be satisfied by an awareness that Hill and Goldman probably knew exactly what they were doing—making a very slick movie.

There are some bothersome technical things about the movie (the camera is all zoom, zoom, zoom) but the over-all production is very handsome, and the performances fine, especially Newman, Bedford and Miss Ross, who must be broadly funny and straight, almost simultaneously. They succeed even if the movie does not.



 

 

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