Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Interviews, Production Notes, Alternate Credit Reel, Trailers

Honored with four Academy Awards in 1969, George Roy Hill’s "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" is still one of the most beloved buddy-movies of a great many film fans. Not only did it practically start the genre, but it still stands out as one of its most visionary and captivating stories. Based on the real life of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film manages to keep audiences enthralled for its entire running length and paints a harsh, yet romantic, picture of the Wild West on the brink of becoming less wild than it used to be. Uncompromising and to a degree even bleak for the main characters, the film itself is an inspiring tale of two friends who quite literally go to hell for each other.

Butch Cassidy (a cool Paul Newman) is the leader of the "Hole In The Wall Gang," a group of desperados who have specialized on robbing banks for a living. One of the gang’s members and a very close personal friend of Butch is the Sundance Kid (superbly played by Robert Redford). While Butch is the brain of the operation, Sundance is the executive hand, a gunslinger without remorse or hesitation when it comes to saving his or his friend’s life.

After beginning to also rob money transport trains, the gang plans a double-whammy. Rob a money train on one way, and then rob it again on the way back when everyone feels safe – as no one would expect lightning to strike twice. But the job goes awry. Butch and Sundance are suddenly running from a small hand-picked group of sheriffs and trackers. No matter where they turn, no matter how they try to cover their traces, their pursuers keep closing in on them, and weary the two outlaws slowly begin to lose their tempers and hope. When all seems lost, they decide to make on final leap to rid themselves of the posse that is intent to bring them down – and succeed – in one of the movie’s most alluring scenes, that is not only beautifully staged and photographed, but also offers great insight into the characters themselves.

Butch and Sundance decide to stay low to evade the authorities and plan to escape to Bolivia before the sheriffs catch up with them. Although Bolivia turns out like nothing they had expected, the two, accompanied by Sundance’s girlfriend Etta (Katherine Ross), soon fall back into the old groove. Barely able to manage the Spanish language, they once again begin to rob small local banks and use Etta as a charming distraction. But one day something happens that shatters their world. They realize that their demons of old have caught up with them. They are once again hunted and this time it is getting increasingly hard to disappear.

"Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" is beautifully photographed and acted. The chemistry you get to witness leaps off the screen and makes sure the viewer is firmly rooting for the two lovable main characters despite the fact that they are actually bad guys. The intricate portrayal of the characters and the well-written script helps us to see their human side, which makes them sympathetic and ultimately enhances the drama surrounding them. We know that they are headed for trouble as we watch their doings, and for the entire time the viewer is hopeful they will manage to escape the unavoidable. The career performances seen in the film – including Katherine Ross’ restrained yet absolutely poignant play – make sure the film’s humorous elements never turn it into a farce, and you will notice that this is one of those rare films that gets better every time you see it. Most notably, the film’s ecliptic final moment when Butch and Sundance go out in a blaze of glory – a blaze that still burns today incidentally, in countless stories and legends. Clever dialogues, nicely paced drama and dimensional characters with depth make the movie an experience you won’t forget once seen.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has completely remastered "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" for this DVD release. Cleaned-up and color-corrected to give the film an even-looking presentation devoid of speckles, dust and other blemishes, this <$THX,THX> certified transfer of the movie is the best the film has ever looked. Due to the nature of the film stock used to shoot the movie, some signs of grain are evident, however they never appear exaggerated or distracting and actually make up a significant part of the movie’s distinctive look. The highly detailed, <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer restores the film’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Colors are very faithful to the original film without distortion or over saturation. The movie features heavy blacks as part of its visual vocabulary and the transfer meticulously restores this look that is oftentimes counter-balanced by strong and colorful hues. Fleshtones look absolutely faithful throughout with nicely balanced highlights. The compression on the DVD is also flawless without distracting artifacts anywhere. This beautiful presentation will allow you to re-experience this film anew with details and colors that you may never have noticed before.

The disc also features cleaned-up monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio tracks in English and French. Although the movie’s age is noticeable, the track has a rather pleasing quality nonetheless. It is somewhat harsh sounding at times, but entirely without background noise or sibilance. Burt Bacharach’s score to the film is nicely presented on the disc with a surprisingly good frequency response that appears to be wider than that of the dialogues. Dialogues are well integrated and with a good reproduction of the sonic high end, always clear and understandable. To complement the audio tracks, the release also contains optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
The release also contains an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring director George Roy Hill, lyricist Hal David, associate producer Robert Crawford, who also directed the documentary, and cinematographer Conrad Hall. It is a very insightful <$commentary,commentary track> that seems to have been recorded individually and has later been edited together. With interesting bits of information and vivid recollections, the <$commentary,commentary track> shows clearly how hard and challenging it must have been to get the film done and how very much of the final result has been depending on the vision of director George Roy Hill.

Also part of the release is a 45-minute documentary that was done to promote the movie’s original theatrical run in 1969. Featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the set as well as cast and crew interviews, the documentary is vividly capturing the atmosphere from the set, as well as the intention the filmmakers had at the time. Rather new interviews form 1994 are also part of the release. They are segmented and each of the main actors and crew members are separately accessible. Together, the interviews create a nice and very interesting retrospective as to what the production meant to everyone involved in the long run. Looking back, the movie has certainly changed the careers of both Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and it is very exciting and entertaining to listen to them reminisce about the film. Since it has been some time since the production of the movie certain aspects are shrouded in obscurity. Different versions of the same anecdotes surface as memory doesn’t serve everyone the same way. To accommodate for this highly entertaining aspect of the interviews, this section also contains two segments for those figments, called "Maybe Some Of What Follows Is True" and "All Of What Follows Is True." Don’t miss them, they are well worth checking out and good for a few hearty laughs.

Production notes, an alternate credit roll and three theatrical trailers of the movie can also be found on this special edition. The production notes are extremely interesting as they shed a lot of light onto certain budgetary aspects of the production. Showing candid letters and studio documents between the studio and the filmmakers, it gives you a pretty good idea how much work is being done on the back end of a film production. Unfortunately the type of these documents turns out to be very small and faded at times, making them almost illegible, especially on smaller TV screens. Since much of the screen is plastered with a background that frames the papers, it may have been a good decision to blow up the documents a little more and do away with the framing instead to make the documents easier accessible, but that’s just a minor side note. If you are truly interested in those details you will find yourself going through every single page of those documents to take in every single word, even if it means squinting your eyes a bit on occasion and doing some guesswork here and there.

Beloved and acclaimed, "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" makes a fabulous debut on this DVD. I am sure everyone who has seen the movie has fallen in love with it and I promise you, you will also fall in love with this DVD. Filled with a spectacular presentation of the movie and some superb supplements, this DVD is a release that has to go into everyone’s collection.