Saturday, June 9, 2012

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979)

          Even though a proper sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) was impossible, given the film’s definitive ending, 20th Century-Fox made three halting attempts to exploit the film’s popularity. In 1974, Elizabeth Montgomery starred in the TV movie Mrs. Sundance, imagining what happened to the Sundance Kid’s paramour, Etta Place, after the events of the original film. Montgomery was a substitute for Katharine Ross, who played Etta in the 1969 movie, but Ross reprised her original role in a second TV movie about Etta’s adventures, 1976’s Wanted: The Sundance Woman. Then, in 1979, Fox took the prequel route by casting new actors in the roles Paul Newman and Robert Redford made famous. Butch and Sundance: The Early Days depicts youthful misadventures including the formation of the bandits’ notorious gang (which was known as the Wild Bunch in real life but called the Hole-in-the-Wall gang in the 1969 movie).
          The accent for Butch and Sundance: The Early Days is on comedy, with lots of goofy sight gags like the outlaws’ use of a horse-drawn hearse as a getaway vehicle. As with most prequels, however, Butch and Sundance feels unnecessary, since it’s not as if audiences exited the first film with lots of unanswered questions. Furthermore, although director Richard Lester and his leading actors do the best they can with the bum hand they’re dealt, it would have been impossible for anyone to recapture the magic that director George Roy Hill caught on film during Newman and Redford’s first onscreen pairing.
          Lester, whose farcical Musketeer movies of the mid-’70s made him a logical choice to helm this wiseacre project, stages many scenes well, and he conjures an easygoing camaraderie between stars Tom Berenger (as Butch) and William Katt (as Sundance). Yet the movie’s script, by Allan Burns, is episodic, inconsequential, and meandering. (William Goldman, who won an Oscar for writing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, served as one of the prequel’s producers but did not officially contribute to the screenplay.) Berenger does an okay job of mimicking Newman’s rascally charm, and Katt efficiently evokes Redford’s sun-kissed cantankerousness. Unfortunately, the story they’re telling is so thin there’s even a scene providing the origin for the Sundance Kid’s moustache. Thanks to the actors’ amiable work and Lester’s deft orchestration of onscreen mayhem, Butch and Sundance is pleasant viewing but nothing more.

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days: FUNKY

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