Tag Archives: Butch Cassidy

Badman’s Country

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 5, 2014

Badman’s Country—George Montgomery, Buster Crabbe, Karin Booth, Neville Brand, Malcolm Atterbury, Gregory Walcott (1958; Dir: Fred F. Sears)


Ten years before Paul Newman and Robert Redford made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid two of the west’s most charming outlaws, there was this reaction to the popularity of television westerns, throwing almost all the lawman and outlaw names they could think of into one not-terribly-coherent western hash.  Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) is a well-organized but thoroughly bad Butch Cassidy; his Wild Bunch gang includes the Sundance Kid and Kid Curry, but also Black Jack Ketchum and is here operating near Abilene, Kansas.  The principal good guy is Pat Garrett (George Montgomery, wearing his gun quite low and a his characteristic hat with a low crown and broad brim), with backup from Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe), Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and a strange, aging Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury).  Loma Pardee (Karin Booth), the local doctor’s daughter, is Garrett’s romantic interest.

Apparently five members of the Wild Bunch are looking for Garrett, who’s trying to get out of the lawman business.  He kills two of them and puts the other three in jail and wires for help from Earp and Masterson.  In the end, just a few of the good guys overcome and capture about 40 outlaws, including Butch.


Sheriff Pat Garrett (George Montgomery) rides.

Geographically and timewise, this is one of the most mixed up westerns ever made; the only way it could have been worse is to throw in Davy Crockett (from The Alamo) and Hawkeye (from Last of the Mohicans).  In reality by the time Cassidy had gathered his now-famous Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Garrett was long retired, Buffalo Bill was touring in his Wild West show, Earp was refereeing prize fights and prospecting for gold in Alaska, and Masterson was a sportswriter for a newspaper in New York City. The low, burning hay bales used at the end to block off the street wouldn’t have stopped any horseback rider who wanted to get over them.  In black and white, at only 68 minutes.


Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) surrenders.

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Butch and Sundance on Film

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 31, 2014

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Film


Of course the best known version of the famous outlaws on film is 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, written by William Goldman and directed by George Roy Hill.  This film established them as attractive Robin-Hood-type, not-so-bad outlaws just as the Old West was passing, an image which has considerable basis in history.  Prior to that time, when they appeared in films it tended to be as regular outlaws notable mostly for their colorful names, appearing only incidentally in movies where they were not the principal characters.  After 1969, there have been several less successful attempts to recapture the magic of Newman and Redford as Butch and Sundance.  Katharine Ross even reprised her role as Etta Place in a made-for-television movie (The Sundance Woman, 1976).  Other than the 1969 classic, perhaps the most successful cinematic use of Butch and Sundance was in 2011’s Blackthorn, in which Sam Shepard is an aging Butch Cassidy in Bolivia, contemplating a return to the U.S. in the 1920s.

Cheyenne (sometimes seen as Wyoming Kid; Arthur Kennedy as Sundance, 1947)

Return of the Bad Men (Robert Ryan as Sundance, 1948)

Dakota Lil (Walter Sande as Butch, 1948)

Wyoming Renegades (Gene Evans and William Bishop, 1954)

The Maverick Queen (Howard Petrie and Scott Brady, 1956)

Badman’s Country (a mélange of improbable lawmen and outlaws, including Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, etc. fighting Cassidy [Neville Brand], 1959)

Cat Ballou (Arthur Hunnicutt as an aging Cassidy, 1965)

Return of the Gunfighter (John Crawford and John Chandler Davis, 1967)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman and Robert Redford, 1969)

Butch and Sundance:  The Early Years (Tom Berenger and William Katt, 1979)

Mrs. Sundance (Elizabeth Montgomery; 1974; MfTV)

The Sundance Woman (Katharine Ross; 1976; MfTV)

The Legend of Butch and Sundance (2006; MfTV)

Outlaw Trail:  The Treasure of Butch Cassidy (2006)

Blackthorn (Sam Shepard, 2011)


Outlaw Trail:  The Treasure of Butch Cassidy—Ryan Kelley, Bruce McGill, James Gammon, Shauna Thompson, Arielle Kebbel (2006; Dir.  Ryan Little)

Set in 1951 in Utah, this modest film is based on the premise that (a) Butch and Sundance weren’t killed in Bolivia in 1908, and (b) Butch brought back some kind of gold treasure from South America and stashed it somewhere around his boyhood home in Circleville, Utah.  Ryan Kelley plays a young Indiana Jones-type role as Roy Parker, a great nephew of Robert LeRoy Parker, who wants, among other things, to rehabilitate Butch’s historical reputation.  Bruce McGill is Garrison, a nefarious local museum director after treasure and supposedly a son of Etta Place.  He and his henchmen chase Roy and friends in pursuit of the lost treasure around various scenic spots in Utah, including rivers and moving trains.  James Gammon plays Sam Parker, Roy’s grandfather and a younger brother of Butch.  Shauna Thompson is Roy’s widowed mother Lorraine.  Arielle Kebbel is Ellie, new blonde girl in town.  In the end, Roy Parker meets his grandfather’s brother, Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy, played by James Karen), now going under the name William Phillips in Washington.  Better than one would expect, although some complain about the ending.  A little fast and loose with some of the facts:  William Phillips of Spokane almost certainly wasn’t Butch Cassidy, and he’d died in the 1930s in any event, not living until 1951.  Directed by Ryan Little (Saints and Soldiers) on location in Utah (Provo Canyon, Bryce Canyon, the Heber Creeper).

The Legend of Butch and Sundance—Michael Biehn, David Clayton Rogers, Ryan Browning, Rachelle Lefevre, Blake Gibbons, Susan Ruttan (MfTV, 2006: Dir:  Sergio Mimica-Gezzon)

This was a failed television pilot set for 2004 but aired only in 2006; hence the apparent occasional breaks for commercials.  It was the last “movie” scored by Basil Poledouris, who had done the music for Lonesome Dove and Quigley Down Under.  The leads, young Butch Parker/Cassidy (David Clayton Rogers) and Harry Longabaugh (Ryan Browning) are both personable and well differentiated.  Etta Place (Rachelle Lefevre, who played renegade vampire Victoria in New Moon) has a red-headed spark, and a relationship with both men.  

Since it was made as a pilot, there were some liberties taken with history in this set-up to leave writers of future episodes with lots of potential material.  Michael Biehn is the biggest name in this; he plays young Butch’s outlaw mentor Mike Cassidy.  It makes the Wild Bunch and the Hole in the Wall gang seem like separate entities, which they weren’t.  Shot in Alberta.




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Nicholas Chennault ~ February 10, 2014

Blackthorn—Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott, Magaly Solier (2011; Dir:  Mateo Gil)


This is a wintry Euro-western, with a Spanish director and mostly Spanish-speaking cast, shot in Bolivia.  It’s a “what if Butch Cassidy didn’t die in San Vicente in 1908?” story, starring Sam Shepard as the aging Butch.  It takes place mostly twenty years after Butch’s supposed death in Bolivia, as Butch, now calling himself James Blackthorn, considers a return to the U.S.  Etta Place has died of tuberculosis in San Francisco, leaving a young adult son with whom Butch has corresponded.  “I been my own man,” Blackthorn comments. “Nothing’s richer than that.”

Butch sells his horses and has a nest egg of $6000, sufficient to return to America.  While returning with the money to say goodbye to friends (particularly a young Indian woman named Yana [Megaly Solier]) before leaving the country, he finds a dead horse and rides on.  He is ambushed by the horse’s former rider, a young Spaniard named Eduardo Apodaca who had worked for a mining titan and robbed him of $50,000.  He was on his way to retrieve the money when he was shot at and lost his horse.  Now Butch’s horse, with his money, is scared off.  In return for reluctantly helping Apodaca out of the desolate, remote area to the mine, Apodaca promises Butch half his loot.

BlackthornCassidyApo Blackthorn and Apodaca.

There are flashbacks showing the young Butch (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Sundance Kid (Padraic Delaney) and Etta Place (Dominique McElligott) being captured at one time by Pinkerton agent McKinley (Stephen Rea) and escaping.  As in the story we remember, Etta left Butch and Sundance in South America, returning to the U.S. alone—and pregnant in this version.  In San Vicente, Butch and Sundance are thought to be killed, but they get away, although Sundance is mortally wounded.  Butch helps him die in as humane a fashion as possible, and goes off to his life as a solitary rancher for the next twenty years.

While retrieving Apodaca’s ill-gotten gains, they are trapped in the mine by a posse of native trackers and frontiersmen.  Apodaca knows of a secret exit, and they make it away to Butch’s ranch, where Apodaca recovers from a wound.  One morning a couple of women show up, saying they have recovered Butch’s horse with the money.  They pull out guns, shoot Butch, kill Yana and Apodaca finally gets them.  But Butch and Apodaca are on the run again, this time with Butch badly wounded.


They are followed by the relentless posse into the desert, where Butch, Apodaca and attrition wear the posse down.  Finally, Butch gives Apodaca the good horse that should get him out of the desert and instructs him to meet him in a town on the other side.  It seems unlikely Butch will make it.

But somehow he does.  We next see him in a near-coma on a doctor’s table.  The doctor seems to know who he is, and sends for the alcoholic McKinley, now an honorary consul in that town, to ask him.  McKinley says it is Butch, and sits with Butch until he awakens.  By that time he has thought better of giving Butch over to the authorities.  But he informs Butch that, instead of robbing a mining baron, Apodaca has stolen the money from poor mining familiies who had been awarded the played-out mine by a Bolivian court.  Butch sees this as an affront to his Robin-Hood-style ethics and similarly to his views on the sacredness of friendship.


Young Sundance, Etta and Butch, in their carefree days.

[Spoilers follow.]  With McKinley’s help Butch escapes the town, once more into a desolate high desert, heading for the Andes to cross into Chile.  Apodaca, it turns out, was also in town, and barely escapes with his loot.  The two of them make their separate ways across the desert to the Andes foothills.   As Apodaca wakes up one morning he finds Butch watching him and hopes that they can continue their escape together.  Instead, Butch shoots him in the leg, runs off his horse and leaves Apodaca and his money to the pursuing posse, which now includes soldiers.  As he climbs the mountains on his horse he hears shots as they find Apodaca.  The soldiers have forced McKinley to accompany them, and as they crest the mountains on the Chilean border they are frustrated at having seen Butch’s track but not being able to find him.  So they strand McKinley there without his horse.  Not knowing anything of this, Butch moves on, presumably to make it back to the U.S., although that’s not shown.

There are a lot of positives about this bleak film.  Sam Shepard is convincing as the aging Butch, and the younger actors in the flashbacks are enormously attractive, especially Coster-Waldau (now known from his appearance in HBO’s Game of Thrones) and McElligott (later seen in AMC’s Hell on Wheels, a western series).  Coster-Waldau and Shepard do seem believably to resemble each other.  In a way, this attractiveness is a problem:  we’d like to see more of the younger Butch, Sundance and Ella than of the supposed main story, which takes its time developing.  Noriega is also very good as the amoral Spanish robber Apodaca.


The use of the vast Bolivian landscapes is very good, with superb cinematography by Jose Ruiz Anchia.  It captures some of the wide-open feel of many good westerns, but it doesn’t look at all like the North American west.  It’s fascinating in its own way.  The music by Lucio Godoy is excellent, with wonderful use of U.S. folk music in songs like “Sam Hall.”  It’s not a long movie at an hour and forty-five minutes, but it’s not tightly put together, either.  Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be quite enough story here.  Watching this, one is reminded that a European sensibility has some differences from the American approach to westerns.  Not one of the greats, but one would like to see this sort of thing tried more often.

Shepard’s natural wintry reserve plays well in westerns, and it’s the heart of this movie.  He’s a living example of how a certain kind of what initially seems to be inexpressiveness actually translates well to a style of acting that works and seems quite natural in westerns.  That’s not to say that all inexpressiveness works in westerns; the argument is that for some actors it’s not as inexpressive as some may take it to be.  For more Shepard in a western context, see him in Purgatory and the miniseries Klondike and Streets of Laredo.  He also has a small role as an aging Frank James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and appears in All the Pretty Horses (2000).  One could wish that more westerns were being made so Shepard could be in them, even at his age (in his seventies).


Another quibble:  Granted, Butch spent his adult years in wild places with rough companions on the wrong side of the law, but this Butch seems to drink heavily and swear a lot for a Robin Hood with a Mormon upbringing who maintained some connections with it.  One can see him drinking and using occasional bad language, but probably not to this extent.  This is rated R for profanity and violence.

For another story of Butch not dying in San Vicente, if you can find it try John Byrne Cooke’s novel South of the Border, with Butch in Mexico during the revolution.

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 27, 2013

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross (1969; Dir:  George Roy Hill)

While True Grit in the same year was a backward-looking western playing off the traditions of the genre, Butch Cassidy looks ahead.  The language and humor are modern, and were more revolutionary when this movie was released than they seem now.  There are more overtly and self-consciously cinematic techniques used.  For example, the movie occasionally slides into sepia tones to reproduce the effects of old photographs; it even opens with such a sequence as it introduces Butch and Sundance to us.  And the “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” interlude where Butch rides a bicycle and frolics with Etta Place and a belligerent bull is reminiscent of the singing scene from Rio Bravo, although Burt Bacharach’s music here is better, if more irrelevant to what’s going on in the rest of the movie.  The soundtrack was immensely popular in its time, and the “Raindrops” song won an Oscar for Best Song.


Paul Newman, of course, plays Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford is the Sundance Kid.  They were so good in these roles that they touched off a vogue in “buddy” movies, where the primary relationship was a friendship between two males.  The peak of this trend was 1973’s The Sting with the same stars and director, which won the Best Picture Academy Award.  Butch Cassidy is so enjoyable that it has a lot of re-watchability.  For someone who is not familiar with westerns, this movie might be a good place to start.

The plot deals with the late stages of the career of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.   Historically, it was sometimes called the Wild Bunch, not to be confused with the fictional outlaws in the Peckinpah movie with that title or with the Doolin-Dalton gang based in Oklahoma, sometimes referred to by that name.  The gang is led by mastermind Butch Cassidy, who is slowly coming to the conclusion that there isn’t much future in the train-robbing business at the end of the 19th century, as the railroads devote more resources to his capture and become better at pursuing him. 

The movie opens with two brilliant sequences.  First, with the opening credits, is a pseudo-version of The Great Train Robbery, followed by a sepia-toned card game that establishes the tone for the movie with its dialogue, as well as setting the characters for Butch and Sundance.  As the movie goes to full color, it features two actual train robberies and their aftermath.  Butch and Sundance escape their relentless pursuers, but only with great difficulty.  They take temporary refuge with Etta Place, a rural school teacher and the girlfriend of Sundance, with whom Butch enjoys the musical bicycle interlude.  Etta is played by the luminous Katharine Ross, then best known for her breakthrough role a couple of years earlier in The Graduate.  (These two movies represent the peak of her cinematic career.)  And Etta doesn’t come between Butch and Sundance.


Foolin’ around, during a musical interlude that shows off the David-Bacharach music but doesn’t do much to advance the plot.

Using their ill-gotten train-robbery gains, the trio stops in New York to see the sights on the way to South America.  They travel to Bolivia and try to go straight, but that doesn’t work for them and they take up bank robbery again as Los Bandidos Yanquis.  Eventually tracked down by the Bolivian army in the small town of San Vicente, they shoot it out, ending the movie with the famous final freeze-frame shot of the wounded Butch and Sundance emerging with guns blazing from the room where they’ve taken cover.  For many, it’s a more effective end for characters we’ve come to care about than the final slow-motion violence of The Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde.

Butch was an immensely attractive character, both in real life and as portrayed by Newman in this movie.  It is now hard to imagine anybody but Redford as Sundance, although the role reportedly almost went to Steve McQueen.  Newman and Redford are very persuasive, both in their individual roles and as friends.  The cast is excellent, top to bottom.  Ross is very good, although there are times when her character seems extraneous.  The various members of the gang are very good, too, although Ted Cassidy is physically much larger than the actual Harvey Logan, the meanest and perhaps most dangerous man in the gang.  (See the famous photograph of the bunch taken in Fort Worth, where Harvey Logan appears much more innocuous.)  Strother Martin makes a memorable appearance as a “colorful” Bolivian mine manager.  Jeff Corey, who was the killer Tom Chaney in True Grit, is a sympathetic sheriff here.  This was also the film debut of Ross’s future husband, Sam Elliott, but he’s hard to spot.


The famous photograph of the Wild Bunch taken in Fort Worth in 1901, with Sundance in the left front and Butch in the right front.  Harvey Logan is standing on the right.

There is violence in this movie, and not just from blowing up safes and railroad cars.  Aside from all the shooting in the final scene, there is also a scene where Butch and Sundance take back from Bolivian bandits the mine payroll they were hired to protect.  In Bonnie and Clyde fashion, the shootout and the resulting deaths are in slow motion–except here the slow motion is stopped with the hail of bullets, so the last image of the two is of them in action.


Butch and Sundance take on the Bolivian army.

The script by William Goldman (The Princess Bride) is an acknowledged gem, and it won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.  Lines from it are bandied between aficionados of the genre:  “Rules, in a knife fight?”  “Can I move?  I’m better when I move.”  “Woodcock, is that you?”  “Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”  “You just keep thinkin’, Butch.  That’s what you’re good at.”  “If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him, I’d stop robbing him.”  “Who are those guys?”  “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”  The squabbling of Butch and Sundance sometimes sounds like an old married couple, but it’s effective.  The film was included at no. 73 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest American films of all time (http://www.afi.com/100years/movies10.aspx).


As with True Grit, much of the movie was shot in Colorado; the Bolivian scenes were shot in Mexico.  The cinematographer was the excellent Conrad Hall, who won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for his work here.  The movie was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Midnight Cowboy.



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