Oscar Vault Monday – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969 (dir. George Roy Hill)
This was one of the first films I remember seeing as a child as well as one of the first I remember seeing multiple times. It was a favorite of both of my parents (and presumably still is). It’s also one of the most beloved films of all time. Currently it ranks #152 on the IMDb’s user rating generated Top 250. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is on several of the American Film Institute’s lists: 100 Years… 100 Movies – #50, 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #73, 100 Years… 100 Thrills – #54100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid – #20 Heroes and the 10 Top 10 – #7 Western Film. In 2003 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning four: Best Sound, Best Cinematography (won), Best Score (won), Best Song (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Director and Best Picture. Surprisingly neither Paul Newman nor Robert Redford were nominated for Best Actor. The winner in 1969, Midnight Cowboy, was also nominated for seven Academy Awards, and actually won less awards than Butch Cassidy; it won Adapted Screenplay, Director and Picture (both its leads were nominated, but lost Best Actor to John Wayne in True Grit). The other films nominated that year were Anne of the Thousand Days, Hello, Dolly! and Z (which won film editing – often an award that aligns with Best Picture, and Best Foreign Language Film).
George Roy Hill had directed a few films prior to this, but nothing nearly as high-profile. He went on to re-team with Newman and Redford for 1973’s The Sting, which went on to win both Best Picture and Best Director (and garner a Best Actor nomination for Redford). The film was written by William Goldman (who won the Academy Award for his script). Goldman also won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for 1976’s All The President’s Men (also starring Robert Redford).
Though I’ve written about Paul Newman films a few times now (he’s in a lot of also-rans, wasn’t he?), I always like to restate his awards/nominations because he was one hell of an actor and this did not go unnoticed by the Academy (though it went unrewarded for far too long). Newman was nominated for ten Academy Awards throughout his career, winning once: Best Actor Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Best Actor The Hustler, Best Actor Hud, Best Actor Cool Hand Luke, Best Picture Rachel, Rachel (he produced/directed the film, which starred his wife Joanne Woodward), Best Actor Absence of Malice, Best Actor The Verdict, Best Actor The Color of Money (won; he wasn’t at the ceremony and Robert Wise accepted it on his behalf), Best Actor Nobody’s Fool, Best Supporting Actor Road To Perdition. Newman also received an Honorary Academy Award in 1986 (the year before he won Best Actor). Whew. Other than maybe Cool Hand Luke, however, his work as Butch Cassidy may well be his most iconic (especially when teamed with Redford’s Sundance Kid). Its kind of strange to see Newman as the older part of the duo, or at least I always thought so. As always, Newman brings an indescribable charm to a character with as slightly off-center moral compass. Actually this is probably one of the most likeable characters Newman ever played.
Although highly regarded for his acting skills, his sole Academy Award win was in the category of Best Director for 1980’s Ordinary People, which also won Best Picture (and is one heart-wrenching piece of cinema). In fact, Redford was only nominated for Best Actor once, for 1973’s The Sting. He was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture for his work on 1994’s Quiz Show and received an Honorary Oscar in 2002 for his work as an “Actor, director, producer, creator of Sundance, inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere.” Originally this role was to be played by Steve McQueen, but McQueen left the production over a billing dispute (Newman and McQueen would late re-team for 1974 Best Picture nominee The Towering Inferno). Though he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his work as the Sundance Kid, Redford created one of the greatest charmers to ever grace the silver screen and the role helped launch him as one of the most popular actors of the 1970s.
As great as they are individually, it is their chemistry together that really makes the film sizzle. I would put this pairing up there with Burton and O’Toole’s chemistry in 1964’s Becket for greatest duo from the 1960s (or ever, perhaps). Their relationship is so natural and easy that it’s almost as it were a third character in the film. I almost wish these two had more than just two movies together. Teams with this kind of chemistry in the classical period of Old Hollywood would have made tons of films together and we’d be better off for it.
Katharine Ross broke out with her stunning turn in Mike Nichol’s The Graduate in 1967, for which she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination. While she is great in this film, I can’t help but think her chemistry with either of the two men is so wholly eclipsed by their chemistry with each other. That being said, she is downright devastating in some of her more dramatic scenes. For something a little different, I recommenced you check her out in 1975’s The Stepford Wives (also written by William Goldman).
Conrad L. Hall was one of the greatest cinematographers to ever work in the industry. Hall was nominated for ten Academy Awards during his career, winning three times: Morituri (1965), The Professionals (1966), In Cold Blood (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, won), The Day of the Locust (1975), Tequila Sunrise (1988), Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), A Civil Action (1998), American Beauty (1999, won) and Road to Perdition (2002, won; this nomination and award were posthumous. His son Conrad W. Hall accepted the award on his behalf.). His beautiful photography on this picture shows his expertise at the craft and his knowledge of the western film genre, capturing epic landscapes and intimate conversations with equal grace and precision.
What can I say about this film’s ending other than to use the word “iconic” again? It’s perfect end to a what is quite possibly a perfect film. I like that they left it up to the imagination what happens to them when they go out in a blaze of gunfire, as opposed to, say, the ending of Bonnie and Clyde. Each film ends in a violent way, but that violence is represented differently and I think the different ways the two films end reflects the tones of the two films perfectly.
Lastly, I wanted to share with you the song from the film, which was a huge hit at the time. Its inclusion in the film as the background music for a love-scene montage in the film helps position the film in this new era of filmmaking where films began to use music – specifically rock and folk songs – as storytelling tools instead of solely relying on a score. Also, I just really love this song.
Don’t forget to check out our Oscar Vault Monday shop!