Netflix & Chill: 420 Edition – ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

The “Wild West” has always existed as a romantic piece of mythology, but the advent of civilization makes it impossible for outlaws and bandits to get away with what they used to. Smoking weed would’ve been fine in the West’s glory days, but in modern times you’ll get busted pretty quickly (unless you live in a legalized state). Director George Roy Hill knew the West was on its way out, and turned the loss into comedy in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969).

Before Harold and Kumar or Cheech and Chong, there was Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and his partner Sundance (Robert Redford), leaders of the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang. They’re like two overgrown boys pretending to be tough. Sundance is the stoic, accomplished shooter and Butch is the smooth-talking brains of the operation. These men barely know anything about each other, but get along splendidly. A third character enters in every now and then, a girl named Etta (Katharine Ross); she’s the Sundance Kid’s lover, though sometimes she wonders what might have happened if she met Butch first. Thankfully, Etta never threatens to derail the bromance.

Westerns aren’t typically very funny, and this script (written by William Goldman of “The Princess Bride”) is filled with one-liners that might have hedged on banality if not for the actors’ talent (Newman couldn’t be cliché if he tried). Butch and Sundance are the most charming criminals you’ll ever meet. They don’t even want the money so much as they crave the thrill of escaping from authority in the nick of time. Any careless stoner will recognize that feeling. And if you’re a toker who is attracted to men, well – you won’t find two better looking ones anywhere.

The film’s most unconventional plot point comes at the end, when the pair flees to Bolivia. They can’t outrun the law, so they simply switch countries. John Wayne would never run away from a foe – he’d stay behind and put up a fight. But while Butch and Sundance are brave, they certainly aren’t ready to die. The fugitives end up trapped at a restaurant in some sleepy town, outnumbered and surrounded. They discuss running away to Australia during their last moments together (“They speak English there,” Butch reassures Sundance, “so we wouldn’t be foreigners.”) It’s hard to tell whether they know they’ve been defeated, even as they plot their Australian getaway. They probably don’t want to admit it, if they do know. In one of the most joyful death scenes of all time, Butch and Sundance go out with guns blazing.

— Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

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