Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Trains = Money week

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Rated PG

Legendary outlaws Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) display their gifts for perfect comedic timing and charisma as they pull off heist after heist in this Academy Award-winning film from director George Roy Hill. To evade a relentless posse, the boys flee to Bolivia, thinking they’ll find easier pickings there. But trouble finds the charming desperadoes wherever they go, prompting yet another run.

“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”

George Roy Hill directed his masterpiece here from a script by the prolific William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Misery). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is only peripherally a western. It begins with a wonderful credits sequence alongside “footage” of the Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall gang and then segues into a nice sepia-toned scene followed by segueing into full color. Although Godfather II used sepia better, Butch predates Coppola’s film by several years. The film then touches on a few random events for the Wild Bunch before our three leads hightail it for Bolivia.

Butch Cassidy won four Oscars: Best Writing (William Goldman), Best Cinematography (Conrad Hall), Best Music (Burt Bacharach) and Best Song (Burt Bacharach, Raindrops Keep Fallin on my Head). It was also nominated for Best Sound, Best Director and Best Picture but lost to Hello,Dolly for Sound and Midnight Cowboy for director and picture. Please keep in mind that while Raindrops is now elevator fodder, it was very popular 40 years ago.

Paul Newman was already an ‘A’ lister when this came out but Butch Cassidy is probably the role he is best remembered for. Robert Redford had a few lead roles before this but this is the movie that made him a star. Their camaraderie is infectious and would lead to them being paired again in The Sting (also by George Roy Hill). Katherine Ross fills out the requisite romantic triangle as Etta Place.

There are plenty of other people in the film but this is primarily a vehicle for Newman and Redford – even Katharine Ross seems pushed to the side at time. George Furth as Woodcock provides several laughs and Ted Cassidy makes a good foil as Harvey Logan. Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars would seem to point to this being a comedy and while Butch is quite funny in spots, it is more of a light drama than a comedy.

George Roy Hill keeps the atmosphere very light in spite of the story being that of the downfall of the Hole in the Wall gang. We never see what happens to any of the members after Butch and Sundance head for Bolivia but trust me, historically it does not go well for any of them.

Sidenote: For a marvelous postscript to this story, see the independent film Blackthorn starring Sam Shepard or put it in your Netflix DVD queue.

People Watch: Perennial westerner Sam Elliott makes his film debut as Card Player #2. He would eventually marry co-star Katherine Ross although they didn’t meet until they filmed The Legacy (1978).

The Iron Giant – Size Matters week

In honor of the wonderful Valentine’s/Birthday/Father’s Day/Christmas present my wife gave me, I am featuring giant things this week. Today it is a giant robot. The Iron Giant is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Iron Giant

WATCH: The Iron Giant (1999) – Rated PG for fantasy action and mild language.

“In rustic 1957 Maine, 9-year-old Hogarth finds a colossal but disoriented robot (of unknown origin), and the two form a strong bond of friendship. Before long, however, a government agent is on their trail — and he’s intent on destroying the automaton. This beautifully rendered parable based on British poet Ted Hughes’ feted short story features the voices of Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel, Harry Connick Jr. and Cloris Leachman.”

“A peaceful stay at home kind of day in a town very much like your own but then, suddenly, without warning ATOMIC HOLOCAUST!” – Beginning of a duck and cover school film.

“This is espresso – it’s like coffeezilla.”

Director Brad Bird made this film after an eight year run as executive consultant on The Simpsons (among other things). He does an absolutely marvelous job here. Later he would go on to both write and direct The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

Bird’s most important accomplishment here is capturing a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Even though it’s for a different era (late 50s instead of 40s), the closest comparison for this film would be A Christmas Story. We have a lovable beatnik (shades of Maynard G. Krebs), a duck and cover school film, worry about Sputnik. The best one is a brief glimpse of a horror movie on TV (The Brain from Planet Arous).

The details are simply marvelous. The cars aren’t generic – there are representations of an Oldsmobile 98, Chevy Pickup, Chevy Fleetmaster and more. There is a scene echoing and lit like the classic Bambi. The headline in Dean’s newspaper is a double joke – not only does it foreshadow an event but it also echoes a scene in The Lady & The Tramp.

Bird also has a wonderful time with directorial flourishes not normally found in animated features. There is a wonderful scene where our government agent gets back in his car. The camera then pans over to reveal half the car is missing. A scene of Kent Mansley explaining things and pointing his finger in the air cuts to a scene of Hogarth in the same pose.

This is one of those, admittedly few, animated features that appeal just as much to adults as they do to children. Don’t be put off by the fact that this an animated movie. Like most good science fiction, this is a parable.

Vin Diesel (with some manipulation) provides a wonderful voice for the robot. Harry Connick Jr. is the voice of our beatnik, Dean McCoppin. Jennifer Aniston is our harried waitress mother, Annie Hughes. Even with all the big names, it is Eli Marienthal who has to carry the film as Hogarth Hughes and he does a very good job.

I highly recommend this classic science fiction story. Netflix is nice enough to present it not only in its original aspect ratio but also in HD.

People Watch: The marvelous character actor M. Emmet Walsh voices Earl Stutz.