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“John Wayne Don’t Run Away”

Our guest blogger today is Christopher Lloyd, co-founder of

For a film that has reached such a pivotal place in cinematic history, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.

A number of prominent film critics, such as the late Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, have spoken derisively of it. It often gets mentioned as one of the most lightweight Best Picture Academy Award nominees of all time. Snooty film scholars have taken to calling it the second-best movie of 1969 about the eponymous outlaws (the other being Sam Peckinpah’s blood-spattered The Wild Bunch).

Even William Goldman, who wrote the original script that won him an Oscar and launched one of the all-time great screenwriting careers, has lamented that “it’s not about what I meant it to be about.”

But “Butch” lives on as an iconic film. Why?

Part of it is the  unusual blend of humor and tragedy, which Goldman and director George Roy Hill mixed seamlessly. We start out knowing our heroes are going to die messily, but there’s a lot of fun ‘n’ games along the way.

Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy certainly was not playing the classic Western character. Here was a charming guy who preferred using his mouth rather than his gun, kicked a challenger for his position as gang leader in the balls, and when confronted with a Super Posse of renowned lawman recruited to bring him in, hightailed it to South America to hide out. As Goldman relates in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, this did not make the script an easy sell at first. “I don’t give a sh** about that,” he relates a producer saying of his lofty goals. “All I know is one thing — John Wayne don’t run away.”

Another reason Butch Cassidy has stood the test of time is that it started a couple of trends other films began emulating, consciously or not. In many ways, the film is the progenitor of the buddy-cop genre (or buddy-crook), in which two men share a deep bond through adventures both triumphant and tragic. The settings and circumstances may change, but in all these films the relationship remains at the center.

It was also one of the first movies I can remember that consciously focused on the myth-making process — a subtle dissection of how fact becomes legend. It was part of Hollywood’s self-conscious (and in some ways, self-confessional) process of peeling back its own gilded veneer, to peer at the gritty and grimy reality underneath.

For a Western that’s not really a Western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has left its boot heels indelibly on the film landscape.

Come see the film for yourself this evening at Summer Nights.

Filed under: Film, Public Programs

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