Paul Newman & Robert Redford
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens with the words: “Most of what follows is true.” Which is the film’s first and biggest untruth. The plot is based on real-life events in the 1890s, but almost everything about the manner in which the story unfolds is wholly fanciful – and that’s what makes it such great entertainment.
It’s a western that’s almost in denial that it’s a western: the heroes, for instance, spend most of the film running away (something John Wayne would never do). Plus director George Roy Hill is determined to ignore the conventions of western-making. It’s hard to imagine now just how astonishing it was to interrupt the action with a sun-lit frolic on a new-fangled bicycle as the whimsical Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head burbles away in the background.
This quirky, mould-breaking approach was coupled with an abundance of other winning ingredients. The locations – from vast plains to vertiginous canyons, all under dramatically big skies – are gorgeous. Just as attractive are the three leads – Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman as Butch, and Katharine Ross as Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta.