This is the greatest western ever made. Not Unforgiven, not The Magnificent Seven, not even The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But Butch Cassidy is not just a brilliant western, it’s a fantastic buddy movie, beautiful drama, epic biopic, and it’s piss funny as well.
Made in 1969 when the genre was falling out of favour with audiences, director George Roy Hill brought together Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy) and Robert Redford (Sundance) for one more cinematic venture into the Wild Wild West, and later, Bolivia. The story follows the two titular outlaws as they rob trains in America and banks in Bolivia, always with the heat of the law just around the corner.
The first scene is tinted sepia and, in typical western style, there’s a saloon, a card game, and a stand-off. From here the action kicks off and the film never drags. The scenes that are sparse of gunfights and robberies are packed with sharp dialogue between the antiheroes, both of whom are genuinely funny characters and not the painfully obvious comic relief of lesser movies (see Three Amigos). One of my favourite scenes in this film comes when both wit and action are combined. Butch loads a train carriage up with dynamite with the intention of blowing open a safe. ‘That ought to do it’ he says as he detonates the explosives and, in Italian Job style, blows up half the train, knocking himself and Butch off their feet in the process. Sundance then asks, ‘You think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?’
Gunfights and robberies are packed with sharp dialogue between the antiheroes, both of whom are genuinely funny characters and not the painfully obvious comic relief of lesser movies.
There’s also a subtle love plot that for once doesn’t take over the story, but does mean that guys can suggest this film for a cute movie night with their significant other. And although the romantic theme remains firmly in the background, Katharine Ross fits the role of Sundance’s lover, Etta perfectly. She’s sexy, mysterious, and always up for a bit of daylight robbery.
What puts this movie up there above the other great westerns is the stuff between the shootouts and the card games. The three protagonists are lovable rogues because they have fun together in every sequence, be it with wise cracks or the newly discovered bicycle. This is also what makes the final scene such a gut punch and one of the most iconic moments in all cinema history.