Originally written and published by Charles Kelly in 1938, this copy of The Outlaw Trail is the 1996 reprint of Kelly’s expanded and revised edition (1959) of the book. As it proclaims on the cover, The Outlaw Trail is “A History of Butch Cassidy & His Wild Bunch,” focusing on the biography and criminal feats of Butch Cassidy and his fellow bandits. The popular interest in outlaws inspired by this book reached its peak in 1969 when it served as a template for William Goldman’s screenplay and George Hill’s directing of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although Kelly himself complained that Hollywood stole and abused of his material without his consent, viewers familiar with his writings feel that Paul Newman’s version of “Butch – affable, curious and nonviolent” – closely resembled the one presented in The Outlaw Trail.
In this work, Kelly focuses on specific robberies Butch Cassidy and his band of outlaws pulled off, with chapters sporting titles such as “The Telluride Bank Robbery.” His accounts include many primary source documents surrounding the events and a large number of first-hand interviews with surviving accomplices who worked with Butch Cassidy himself. Kelly also went out of his way to interview many of Butch’s friends, relatives and even enemies (e.g. Sheriff John T. Pope) so as to be able to paint a more personal picture of the famed outlaw outside of his criminal career.
Unsurprisingly, when the original edition of The Outlaw Trail was written, many “old-timers” were hesitant to talk Kelly about their relationship with Butch Cassidy. At the time, citizens of Utah felt that Kelly’s unabashed “history of the West [was] still too recent, and [that] delving into the lives of those on the wrong side of the law [could] be extremely touchy.” Yet after the book’s great success following its privately funded publication (though a man of simple means, Kelly himself was a printer by trade), Kelly received numerous letters from previously silent parties, which expanded on the events he had described and corrected errors in his work. The steady flow of information he received ultimately allowed him to release his greatly revised edition of the book over twenty years later.
This book, published by Anne Meadows in 1994, is an engaging and fascinating account of the author’s physical search for the truth behind the myths surrounding the final years of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Along with her husband, Daniel Buck, Meadows travels across South America following bits and pieces of historical clues in an attempt to track down the outlaws. Obviously a couple of both financial and intellectual means, the pair tirelessly dog the bandits across several countries while enlisting many local and American helpers to aid them at various points in their quest.
In the book’s introduction, Meadows cites her and her husband’s love for the South American countryside, interest in history and folklore, and enjoyment of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as inspirations for their lengthy search. Meadows even jests with her husband by quoting lines from the film at several points during their journeys, but since these quotes are not specifically referenced, only avid fans of the film are likely to pick up on the couple’s ‘inside jokes.’
Since the book is a personal account of Meadows and Buck’s adventurous search, the writing style of the novel is light and includes a lot of first-hand dialogue. Although the chapter titles generally indicate the particular geographical area they are exploring or specific historical clue they are tracking down, accounts of their more serious sleuthing are frequently broken up by descriptions of the pair’s day-to-day struggles such as dodging in and out of icy, cold showers to clean themselves off or hitting an innocent lamb while driving down a deserted, night-time road. The descriptions of the locals they meet along the way tend to be quite humorous as well as news of the author’s search elicits a variety of responses ranging from the overly eager to help, to remarks like, “You the ones looking for Butch and Sundance? I’ve had it up to here with those outlaws.”
Although a bit dated (the book was published in 1983), the explanations and insights Goldman makes about the Hollywood film industry are both profound and applicable to today’s business. Goldman’s sense of humor and practical working knowledge of show-business shine through every chapter. Even the structure of the book itself reflects Goldman’s simultaneous mockery and appreciation of how Hollywood runs. The first part of his book is titled “Hollywood Realities” and is broken down into two sections. The first section of this segment, “The Powers that Be,” explains how films get “green-lighted” in the great big Hollywood world by breaking down the influence of the big players into chapters titled “Stars,” “Directors,” “Producers” and “Studio Executives.” After wading through the strengths and shortcomings of each of these filmmaking powerhouses, Goldman uses the second section of “Hollywood Realities” to describe the “Elements” critical to writing a good screenplay. In this section, chapters are titled “Agents,” “L.A.,” “Meetings,” “Beginnings,” “Protecting the Star” and so forth. These chapters in particular are loaded with insightful information for aspiring film writers and contain many personal accounts of events that shaped and defined Goldman’s experience as a screenwriter.
In subsequent parts of the book, Goldman describes specific screenwriting “Adventures” he has undergone in his filmmaking career. Here, each chapter pertains to a specific film Goldman worked on and lays out how he got involved in each project and what he learned from each experience. Following ten of these examples, Goldman then devotes nearly two-hundred pages of his book solely to the screenplay and production of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Granted that one-hundred and sixty pages of this segment is a transcript of the screenplay itself, Goldman clearly meant to emphasize his feelings about the effort and heart that went into writing script. Following the written screenplay, Goldman includes a fascinating critique of his own work in back to back sections titled “The Weaknesses of the Screenplay” and “The Strengths of the Screenplay.” Whether or not the reader agrees with all of Goldman’s self-criticism, it is certainly interesting to hear the screenwriter’s opinion of his own work more than ten years after the filming itself.
Skerry, Philip J. Pursuing the posse. Journal of Popular Film and Television 14 n1 (1986): 14-22.
Document Type: FILM ARTICLE
Beginning with The Great Train Robbery, the Western film genre has been based on a narrative structure that often revolves around outlaws committing crimes and then being pursued by a posse that attempts to meet out their retribution. In the article “Pursuing the Posse,” Philip Skerry, explores the origins and present day connotations of the term ’posse’ and how films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid explore the role of the posse in cinema.
According to Skerry’s research, the word ‘posse’ arose from the term “posse commitaus,” which directly translates to “force of the county.” The root of this expression comes from an old British system in which families living together in a county were expected to look after and protect themselves. Under this system, ten families living together were considered a “tithing,” while ten tithings living together made up a “reeve.” Several reeves living together then made up a “shire” (i.e. county), and the head of this mass was known as the “shire-reeve.” The shire-reeve had the authority and the responsibility to call upon the services of his posse commitaus (which consisted of all able-bodied men) to defend their county at any time. From this term, the title “sheriff” evolved, since in the Wild West, he too has the ability to raise a posse to exact retribution upon wrongdoers of their county.
Though the posse commitaus was historically considered a protective and stabilizing force across the land, Skerry explains that the Hollywood film industry frequently varies its interpretation of the role and significance of the posse throughout its Western genre. In Butch Cassidy, a veritable “super-posse” is hired to protect the assets of the privately owned railway company by hunting down Butch and Sundance. Yet the narrative of this film emphasizes that this super-posse only serves as a “special interest” force for the rich and not as the hand of the people. In fact, during the only scene in which a marshall attempts to raise a “legitimate” posse out of local citizens, Hill illustrates the people’s hesitation to risk their lives defending their county by having a bicycle salesman completely avert the attention of the crowd. Thus, by depicting the average Western citizen as cowardly and by dehumanizing the protective role of the posse, director George Hill defies Western genre conventions. This defiance allows his counter-cultural, free-spirited outlaws to remain the heroes of the film while transforming the faceless super-posse into the film’s primary antagonist. Because the super-posse formed in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a product of society’s greedy capitalism and cold technological advancements, this group served only to destroy the free spirits of Butch and Sundance with little care of truly protecting the interests of their countrymen.
Tyler, Ralph. "'Butch Cassidy' was my western, 'Magic' is my Hitchcock." (interview with William Goldman). The New York Times 128 Nov 12 1978 sec 2 (1978): 23.
Document Type: FILM ARTICLE
JN: Jump Cut
SO: Jump Cut nr 12-13 (1976); p 35-36
TI: Male companionship movies and the great American cool.
AT: Article; Illustrations
The Jump Cut article by Arthur Nolletti Jr., “Male Companionship Movies and the Great American Cool,” represents a strong criticism of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other movies like it. According to Nolletti, Hollywood produces two types of “companionship” films: films of ‘bonhomie’ and films of ‘friendship.’ Bonhomie films, as Nolletti describes, are based around “rugged individuals” who do not show real affection for their comrades. Wary of implying homosexuality in these man-to-man relationships, directors carefully craft their characters to fit the standards of American Cool: “the art of being, calm, steady, and in control in the face of confusion, crisis or chaos.” However, as a result, these films often cause viewers to mistake the “absence of feeling and emotion” for strength. In friendship films, directors show human relationships for what they are in reality. Yet even though these films do recognize emotional involvement between their male characters, they too attempt to preserve some aspect of “cool” in the nature of their protagonists.
While citing several films as either ‘friendship’ or ‘bonhomie,’ Nolletti identifies Butch Cassidy as an archetypal bonhomie film that “shamelessly advocates and glamorizes ‘cool’.” Butch and Sundance’s “incessant wisecracking obliquely indicates affection” as they “courageously try to keep up a front [of cool] even in the face of death.” Hill’s emphasis on the ‘coolness’ of his characters makes “Butch and Sundance’s camaraderie superficial” and “vulgarizes their relationship with women.” So the question remains, “Why have audiences paid over 44 million dollars [by the mid 1970’s] to see Butch Cassidy?” The answer, of course, is that audiences crave the type of “glamorous, escapist fun” characters like Butch and Sundance represent. Movies like Butch Cassidy or The Sting (also starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford) utilize the “implicit definition of heroism” of “never allowing yourself to be intimidated” to drive their characters and inspire their audiences. In Butch Cassidy, the protagonists “die uncompromised” in their viewers’ eyes since, “they never lose their cool.”
To Nolletti’s dismay, Americans comfortable “accept cool as a form of self-protection.” Hollywood films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid “propagate and cultivate cool as if it were a consummate virtue.” Thus, what viewers believe to be an example of the ideal human friendship actually becomes a celebration of emotional non-involvement.
JN: Wide Angle
SO: Wide Angle Vol IX nr 1 (1987); p 11-31
TI: Photo-gravure: death, photography, and film narrative.
AT: Article; Illustrations; Bibliography
Despite its overly flowery writing style, the Wide Angle article “Photo-Gravure: Death Photography and Film Narrative” formulates an interesting analysis of the relationship between film, photography, narrative and death. Author Garrett Stewart explores the filming techniques utilized to convey death across several films, but his analysis of the “photo finish” “freeze frame” employed at the climax of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is especially salient to his final argument.
According to Stewart, both the photographic image and death itself “characterize a pointed and irreversible arrest of time.” He goes on to argue that although film is a composite of still photographic images, the streaming of these pointed images breathes life into the actions that are captured one frame at a time. By introducing the “radical stasis of a freeze frame” into a film like Butch Cassidy, however, the director creates a simultaneous death of the film in conjunction with the death of his characters in the film. The “stop-action frame” turns Butch and Sundance into a still “image…the mirage of future movement.” As Stewart writes, the viewer “does not imagine the heroes…stumbling and falling.” “The contingencies of their narratives are over with their lives,” but Hill is able to glorify his heroes by concluding their story in a moment of bravery rather than degradation.
Stewart explains that “the temporal violence of dying” is what creates the “readability of the photo finish” in cinema. Yet he applauds Hill for expanding upon this standard trope by having his final image “fade to sepia monochrome” as though the shot were an old photograph taken by a sympathetic observer of Butch and Sundance’s last stand. By fading the image in this way, Hill reintroduces the self-reflexivity of his work (previously seen through the still photos intertwined with the opening credits of the film) and reminds his viewer that the story he tells is ultimately a nostalgic tale of a period long-gone in American history. Just as Butch and Sundance could not escape the changing times they were a part of, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can only serve as a fond remembrance of the days of the Wild West by reminding us that those days and heroes are gone for good.
JN: Post Script
SO: Post Script Vol XXIII nr 2 (Winter-Spring 2004); p 33-47
TI: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Sundance Kid: generic dialogue in the western.
AT: Article; Bibliography; Illustrations
Although all film watchers agree that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can be defined within the construct of the Western film genre, scholars such as Michael Dunne argue that Butch Cassidy did more than adhere to the tropes of this genre but served to expand it as well. In his essay “Mikhail Bakhtin and the Sundance Kid: Generic Dialogue in the Western,” Dunne explores a theory known as “Dialogism” in which all films of a specific genre participate in a figurative and literal dialogue through which the definition of the genre is shaped and remolded. He focuses his article specifically around the way Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was able to address the ideals of its contemporary audiences into an otherwise more traditional genre.
As Dunne points out, the extraordinary success of Butch Cassidy, during a time period in which the filming of Westerns was on the decline, is the greatest indicator that its filmmakers were able to accomplish something special with their film. Audiences welcomed director George Hills “contemporary variations” on the Western as it “increased the genre’s literacy” and made it more relevant to audiences of the 1960’s and today. Though certain genre conventions such as Sundance’s gun skills and the method of train robbery were conserved, the distinct actions and ideals of Hill’s protagonists are what initiated the changing dialogue between Paul Newman and Robert Redford and other heroes of the Western past. When compared to the honorable Western heroes played by actors like Roy Rogers, Butch and Sundance seem downright dishonest. Yet scenes such as Butch’s “knife fight” with Harvey Logan and Sundance’s apparent “rape” of Etta Place, only make the heroes appear more human allow contemporary audience to relate to them more easily.
Despite Hill’s ability to adapt the Western genre, however, the plot of his film is in many ways a reflection on where the genre itself is headed. Just as the modern world and changing times impinge on Butch and Sundance’s ability to live freely about the countryside, so too do modern times begin to clamp down on the Western genre in its classical sense. Sheriff Ray Bledsoe tells Butch and Sundance, “Your times is over, and you’re gonna die bloody. And all you can do is choose where.” Perhaps Hill felt the same way about films based around the Wild West. Yet instead of choosing “where” the Western film genre would die, Hill created a work that serves as a template for how to bridge the outdated Western genre into modern American cinema. Dunne believes that Hill was able to “transform the generic form…in relation to social change.” Thus, instead of marking the conclusion of the “dialogue” with the Western genre, Butch Cassidy was able to “interrogate it” while producing a relevant “aesthetic experiences” for audiences to come.
Pizzello, Chris. DVD playback. American Cinematographer 81 Sep (2000): 22+ [2p].
Document Type: REVIEW
“DVD Playback” is a departmental section that appears in each month’s edition of American Cinematographer. In this section, the journal editor provides a technical review of two or three recently released DVDs and discusses the special features included on the discs. In September of 2000, editor Chris Pizzello reviewed Fight Club and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for that issue’s “DVD Playback” segment.
According to Pizzello, the re-released, DVD version of Butch Cassidy had a lot to offer both old and new fans. The DVD sported a 2.35:1 aspect viewing ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound and a cost of $29.98. As Pizzello writes, despite the “snooty critical reaction” Butch Cassidy originally received upon its theatrical release in 1969, it made a “profound connection with audiences.” From its debut, Butch Cassidy went on to serve as a “blueprint for subsequent buddy action flicks” popular in the 1970’s and beyond.
Pizzello’s main pitch for why his readers should buy the DVD, even if they already owned the film on VHS, was based largely around the interesting supplementary commentaries and documentaries included on the discs. On top of the “effortless chemistry” between stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the makers of Butch Cassidy were a “powerful team” as well, with William Goldman writing the screenplay, George Hill directing, and Conrad Hall (an Oscar winning cinematographer) working the camera. The great benefit to purchasing the DVD is that viewers would be granted an inside look into how these filmmaking powerhouses crafted this Western classic.
Watching the film with commentary by Hall provides the viewer with some overarching insights about the film’s relevance to today’s society. Hall comments that the film touches its audiences now as much as ever “because it’s about people’s jobs in jeopardy [due to] technological advancement…a basic, timeless human condition bigger than all of us.” Hall also remarks that viewing the film on the DVD’s 2.35:1 preserves the artistic composition he had intended for the feature while shooting. On top of Hall’s commentary, the DVD includes a documentary on how the film was made shot during the original production. This documentary includes practical information laced with a great set of stories ranging from Hall’s romance with star Katherine Ross to Hill cracking up his co-workers with jokes on the set. The chapter selection option, rarely seen for bonus features, is a nice touch to the DVD as well.
According to Pizzello, the DVD release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a must have for any big fan of the film. Based on his review, I would have to agree, assuming the price has dropped since release in 2000.