Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Director: George Roy Hill

1969

“The iconic teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was so magical – and so profitable, scoring the year’s biggest hit – that this offbeat character study/action comedy in Western trappings and bathed in cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning sepia hues has been a touchstone for bickering buddy pictures ever since.” (494, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I went through a period where I watched films in genres or by directors that normally bore me to tears and discovered that actually there were a few I enjoyed, such as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). And it turns out that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is, so far, the only Western film I’ve watched that hasn’t bored me silly. But then I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it strictly as a western. It may have a number of the western tropes but in reality it is much more character driven. It’s really about these two men and their friendship that just so happens to take place against a western backdrop. And this is precisely why I found it entertaining rather than turgid like so many other films in the western genre.

There is lots of humour and having watched a number of buddy movies it’s clear that a lot of them have been influenced by this movie. The core trio of Butch (Paul Newman), Sundance (Robert Redford) and Etta (Katherine Ross) are brilliant, and in some ways remind me a little bit of the ‘golden trio’ from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling) – they work best as a trio, each complimenting and at times reigning each other in. I actually really enjoyed watching Newman and Redford in their prime. Paul Newman is often held up as one of the truly brilliant actors of recent Hollywood and yet he is an actor whose work I have really not seen very much of so it was interesting to see him working his magic on-screen. They make a handsome pair of bandits as well it can’t be denied.

“[But] the film is immortal for its final image of the pair, freeze-framed as they run out into a shoot-’em-up with an army.” (494) Having never seen the film I had still been aware of this iconic final image. Now I have the context behind it and it makes the image so much more powerful.

butchButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an utterly disarming combination of smart, original screenwriting, handsome visual treatment, and star power. With all the jokes and poses, there is still real interest in the well-defined, contrasting characters.” (494) I couldn’t agree more with Errigo. If it had been otherwise there is a high chance I would have been writing yet another blog about how dreary and tedious I find western movies so this was a nice surprise. However apologies for the crapness of this post – I’m pretty tired and clearly my brain isn’t working all that well. Don’t let my inarticulate ramblings dissuade you from watching the film because it really is so much more than I have touched upon in this update.

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Once Upon A Time In The West

C’era una Volta il West

Director: Sergio Leone

1968

“With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points for both length and width.” (475, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Once Upon a Time in the WestOk so it’s now official – I cannot abide films in the Western genre! They are so turgid and now horribly cliché. Nothing very much even happens in them, narratively speaking, which just irritates me. They wouldn’t be so tedious to watch if something even remotely interesting were to happen but every Western I have watched is so formulaic you can predict the outcome from the first 20 minutes.

Once Upon a Time in the West is considered one of the best films within the Western genre but it did nothing for me. It’s such a long film considering how little action takes place. I completely disagree with everything Kim Newman says about Sergio Leone’s ‘masterpiece’. “The opening – Woody Strode, Al Mulock, and Jack Elam waiting for a train and bothered by a fly and dripping water – is masterful bravura, homing in on tiny details for the shoot-out that gets the film going.” (475) The opening is almost painfully boring in its attention to the minutia of everyday life that takes up the first half hour or so of the film, without any dialogue.

The music takes on a number of identifying motifs in terms of characters – the insufferable strain of the harmonica for Charles Bronson’s ‘hero’ and the particularly feminine motif that signals any scene involving Claudia Cardinale’s, Jill McBain. While this device starts out well it quickly becomes annoying, almost battering the audience over the head with the soundtrack. I think it has the side effect of underestimating the audience; those watching should be intelligent enough to follow the narrative and characters without the aid of musical directions.

There are all the typical stereotypes that have become synonymous with the Western genre – there’s the corrupt ‘man’ taking the country and its people for all its worth; the unsavory ‘black hat’ cowboy with absolutely no regard for human life; the ‘white hat’ seeking vengeance and retribution for the wrongs he has suffered and of course, the female of slightly dubious moral standing.

However they never become anything more than those stereotypes. Leone doesn’t develop them into something deeper which resulted in me failing to connect to any of the characters and not really caring about their outcomes or subsequent demise.

There wasn’t a single thing about Once Upon a Time in the West that remotely captured my attention and I found it somewhat of a chore to watch but then I have yet to find a Western that I have enjoyed.

 

 

 

Bad Day at Black Rock

Director: John  Sturges

1955

“Set in an arid western landscape, to which the film’s CinemaScope ratio gives full value, and shot in color, mostly in blinding sunlight, Bad Day at Black Rock is sandwiched between a number of notable Sturges Westerns, including Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957). Yet despite its look, Bad Day at Black Rock is really more of a film noir, with its story of dark secrets in the past.” (308, Edward Buscombe, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) The vistas are vast and bleak which is expected when the film is set in a desert landscape. The colours are bright and vivid which are at odds with the film noir tone of Black Rock. You expect a film noir to be in black and white with extremes of light and dark reflecting the tumultuous nature of the story.

It’s almost as if Black Rock can’t decide what type of film it wants to be. While it’s set in the desert and is awash with cowboys that’s about as far as it goes in terms of a Western. “There’s little action and hardly any gunplay” (308) two tropes that identify a Western film. It’s easier to list what elements of Film Noir Black Rock eschews than those it holds to. There is no femme fatale – in fact the film is almost exclusively male with only one female character in the entire town. And as I mentioned before no extremes between light and shadow.

Bad Day at Black Rock is […] a taut, expertly acted and directed thriller that pushes a fairly straight forward message about racial tolerance.” (308) The film highlights the views many Americans had towards the Japanese following Pearl Harbor. The inhabitants are unable to separate race from nationality – they cannot get past the fact that Kamoko was Japanese despite him living and working in America, and as we discover later having a son fighting for America in the War. This inability to overlook Kamoko’s Japanese heritage has disastrous effects and results in the whole narrative of the film.

The tension ratchets up as the inhabitants of Black Rock become increasingly uncomfortable about Macreedy’s (Spencer Tracy) presence in the town and his rather innocent snooping. And yet rather than allow him to go on his was way they instead force him to remain in the town. The craziness occurs because the men follow the dominant personality of Reno Smith (Robert Ryan). They become pretty secular and are intent on protecting their dirty little secret by any means necessary, often resorting to bully like tactics, the sort you find in high school (and should really stay there!) Macreedy is unshakeable and, with the exception of one rather impressive fight, remains above all the petty tactics aimed in his direction.

I do not like Westerns, never have and I doubt I ever will. It’s the one genre that I have never really engaged with. I find Westerns boring and always overly long. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl and the Western is very much a male genre – it’s telling that the only Westerns I like are Calamity Jane (David Butler, 1953) which is a musical and Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) and let’s face it, that’s more of a Romance. Black Rock was not a film that succeeded in holding my attention for the entirety of the film, and that’s not really a ringing endorsement for the film under an hour and a half.