Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Done Right on DVD
It's almost a cliché to call Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the prototypical buddy film. It's much more than that: a pure Hollywood extravaganza that brings together comedy, action, and two stars (one still rising at the time) who slid into the title roles like six-shooters into well-worn holsters. As pointed out by cinematographer Conrad Hall on the included audio commentary track, Butch & Sundance was so successful because it was made in the days when filmmakers shot stories, not budgets or release dates. Director George Roy Hill had the tools and talent at his disposal to do justice to William Goldman's script, and seldom compromised the joint vision. The result was a movie that, to this day, stands as a target for all other westerns—and, yes, buddy movies—to shoot for.
Nominated for multiple Academy Awards, Butch & Sundance is the largely fictional account of the two legendary gunslingers. After a life of doing little but robbing banks and outrunning the law, Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longbaugh (their real names) find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to change their ways or be swallowed by that thing called progress, epitomized in the movie by fortified bank vaults, "super-posses," and new modes of transportation. Unfortunately, as Burt Bacharach's memorable theme song aptly puts it, nothing seems to fit, and that's the pair's ultimate undoing. Two more likable screen criminals you're not likely to find, and that's exactly why this movie was a hit with audiences, who never knew for sure if it was produced for laughs, romantic melodrama, or shoot-'em-ups.
If you're wondering why this film wasn't released sooner on DVD, it's because Fox was busy getting it right. The 31-year-old classic has never looked better, boasting a THX-approved, anamorphic widescreen transfer that's incredibly rich in color, and which brings the lush Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico locations to glorious life. Azure skies, sun-drenched desert plains, and sheer rock cliff faces are clean and jitter-free. The "nighttime" super-posse chase scenes, actually shot day-for-night and underexposed, exhibit great detail and good contrast. Even the sepia-toned opening and photo montage look right on, as if they've truly come out of the late 1800s.
The digital mono soundtrack is crisp, with fully intelligible dialogue every step of the way. And although a surround mix would have come in handy for the shootouts and Bacharach's memorable score, the sound is surprisingly lively, particularly whenever Butch and Sundance detonate explosives in pursuit of the loot of Mr. E.H. Herriman of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The real nugget for fans, however, is the impressive lineup of extra material. Fox has come a long way in its attention to supplements. A 45-minute "making-of" documentary, although clearly recycled from 1968 and lifted from an earlier laserdisc release, is very informative, and reveals some shooting tricks that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. If you've ever wondered how they got six horses to bound out of a compact railroad boxcar, or a mule to fall head-first on command while bullet "squibs" go off all around, this is the place. Director Hill narrates, and his obscenity-laced comments ("Occasionally a director can f - - - himself up . . . ") bear further witness that this documentary was made in another time.
Unfortunately, Hill makes only a cameo appearance on the commentary track, and some of what he says overlaps with the documentary and his colleagues' remarks. Besides cinematographer Hall, who goes into exquisite technical detail, the track leaves the bulk of the narrative to associate producer Bob Crawford, who also shot the documentary. Crawford proves to be a real student of the film, offering interesting anecdotes about everything from casting to the on-set chemistry and hijinks among the director and leads. Bacharach also puts in his two cents.
Other extras include lengthy 1994 interviews with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross, Goldman, and Bacharach, who joyfully recall their experiences making the film; three different trailers; and facsimile reprints of memos and notes between the filmmakers and the studio brass.
Going through this vault of material leads one to believe that the cast and crew knew they were involved in something special. Fortunately for viewers, that feeling was shared by the producers of this outstanding disc.