October 28, 1969 [Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Wild Bunch]

I felt bad for enjoying Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as soon as the soundtrack got the Burt Bacharach treatment. What suckered me in? Was it those charming leads, relaxed and grinning, trading one-liners like college boys on a weekend lark? Well, I'll say it was, and leave it at that. Because the more the movie ambled along, the less certain I was it wanted me to care. Everything was the set-up to a punchline, even their deaths. It was all for kicks--and if Butch and Sundance didn't care, why should we?

Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, the movie ends before the bullets can finish the job. They freeze and fade into sepia, like an old song that used to break hearts, but now just provides a little soft-shoe filler on The Jerry Lewis Show before the Osmond Brothers show up.

And unlike The Wild Bunch, for Butch and Sundance the West seems incidental--left behind for a meander in Bolivia. And maybe that's true, that the first automobile runs over the last horse and wipes out the Old West; still, The Wild Bunch stands and waits for the road-dust to blow away, so it can see the cruel end without flinching. From those kids and the scorpions and the ants, to Edmond O'Brien (learning lessons from Walter Huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre) cackling, "Who th'hell is THEY!"--the heat rising, their heads filled with desert air, heavy with losses, irritable and beat--they soldier on, like Army mules, making the West die hard.

Butch and Sundance have their own "they" ("Who ARE those guys?" is about as great a line as O'Brien's); but it doesn't seem to matter--not like it does to the Bunch, their collapse beautiful--and maybe that is as much of a lie as Butch and Sundance's old-timey freeze-frame; but in The Wild Bunch the ruin seems complete, the West falling silent in slow motion, so there will be no doubt it's gone.


  1. What a companionship of films of tragic masculinity and friendship! Great choice of viewing.

    Even at the most perilous moments, Newman and Redford are buoyant, invincible because they occupy some Old West out of campfire songs. The Bunch, by contrast, has to fight for every living moment, and in the face of their desperation, they project strength and doomed paternal serenity. These films stand side-by-side as tales of brotherhood and fatherhood, and they're both exaggerations -- where Butch Cassidy has exaggerated the real world into a playground for grown men, The Wild Bunch exaggerates the desolation of the Old West into a gritty, bloody battlefield to show us the worst the world has to offer.

    Two great films, and I'm glad to share in your well-articulated reactions to them.

  2. Thanks for your comment--sorry for the incredibly late reply. You're right on the money as you consider the almost-idealism vs. quasi-nihilism of these two films--and man: "doomed paternal serenity" says just about everything about the Bunch.


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