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BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
(George Roy Hill . 1968 )

 

“Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.”

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

Directed by George Roy Hull - 1968

 

The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidywas first original movie script by novelist William Goldman. And he couldn’t sell  it anywhere… Steve McQueen got it first and called Paul Newman. “Good script.” said McQueen. “How much they want?”“360,000.”“Well,”said Newman, “let’s find 200,000 each. ”“No, can’t do that,” said McQueen, ”my agent wants to be the producer…” Huh?

And later, McQueen who’d had a  bit role in Somebody Up There Likes Meand remained forever envious of Newman’s career, would not accept him having top billing, after all his Kid came first in the title. Fox paid 300,000. Despite being 44, Newman switched from Butch to The Kid: the younger, sexierHarry Alonzo Longabaugh (once arrested in Sundance, Wyoming).  Goldman had always imagined Jack Lemmon as Butch: Robert Leroy Parker, a schemer, dreamerwho had  once worked in a butcher's shop.    But Lemmon no longer fitted… 

As they discussed the script, director George Roy Hill was puzzled by Newman’s comments.  “Why are we talking about Sundance. You’re Butch.” “George, I was here first - I’mSundance.”  He read the script again, found both parts equal. “OK, I’ll be Butch.” 

And so the title was changed to Newman-first - Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid -  by the time Warren Beatty heard about it. He wanted to enlarge, even kinkify the relationship of the duo and the girl. Shampooon Horseback.  He was keen on The Kid until learning that Newman was Butch - and then (of course) Beatty wanted to be Butch.  No way!  So he left, with the nonsensical excuse that the film was too much like his Bonnie and Clydeand, anyway, he preferred to make Richard Brooks’ $ in Germany– a major  1972 flop.

Beatty had also said he could get Branbo (also 44)  for The Kid.  No one wanted Brando - except Newman who made it a rule to invite  Brando to join allhis projects. (All refused).When Brando read the script, hewanted to be Butch!   Instead, he felt  unable to deal with movies in the aftermath of  the Martin Luther King assassination and  dropped out of public life except for appearing at Black Panthers' funerals and eventually making Gillo Pontecorvo’s Queimada (akaBurn!) in Italy, France, Colombia, France, Italy and Morocco.

So…  from McQueen-Newman to Lemmon-Newman to Newman-Beatty to Newman-Brando… Fox chief Darryl F Zanuck wanted Newman and… Robert Wagner. (He was under Fox contract and, thereby, cheap). No one else wanted him. “I lost it!” he yelled.  “I lost it!”  (And the next Newman-Redford fun, too,  The Sting).

This is about when and where, according to Newman’s memoy of events, that his wife, Joanne Woodward, stepped in. No, not wanting to play Etta Price, but suggesting  - as she knew his work and worth andage (32) - that Redford would be better as The Kid. Then, backed by Goldman, George Roy Hill  also voted for “the nice kid down the road  who's been  to the post many times but never really made it  over the finishing line.” 

 

Robert Redford, however,

was the new Doris Day to Zanuck

 

The two guys  met for dinner - bingo! Got on like a house on fire, “talking,”said Redford, “about everything but the film.”   Well, Newman did say that  Redford could take either part…  and his seventh film made him a superstar.  They were much alike in their attitudes, hopes, desires, Both stars found George Roy Hill a perfect director. Newman suggested that the film would have been as good with any other two actors. Ifthey got on. Except as Newman and Lee Marvin proved in Pocket Money, 1971, that wasn’t  necessarily so. 

“On a gut level it appealed to me as a fairy-tale,” said Redford. “Also fitted into with some of the things I’ve done in life. When I was very young I didn’t think it would so so bad to be an outlaw.  A lot of those people were just kids, doing what they did -  robbing banks, holding up trains - as much for the sheer fun of it  as for anything else... For the most part, it was the most consistent  fun of any film I’ve ever done.” 

Etta Pace .    Before Katharine Ross became the girl with raindrops falling on her head, Etta was Joanna Pettet. When she proved pregnant, Natalie Wood was considered.. Goldman, among the many, fell for Jacqueline Bisset. “The most beautiful woman I've ever seen...  a genuinely eerie physical beauty.  I did the standard double take, stared... and fell up the steps of the commissary.” He recovered enough to talk to her about losing her accent which she duly did - as Newman’s daughter in another Western,The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, 1972. Ross met actor Sam Eliott on the film (his first) and they wed in 1984 and had a daiughter, Cleo Rose

The critics got it all wrong. Pauline Kael was offended by it (!) and the usually spot-on Roger Ebert  grumbled that it must have looked good on paper. It did, of course, and was even better on-screen. Newman called it “a love affair between two men.”They went on into The Stingagain for George Roy Hill, another  buddy movie, more male camaraderie.. Or as co-producer Julia Phillips preferred to phrase it, “a dick-love story.”

Newman and Redford  kept searching for a third trip together - turning down, among others,Steven Spielberg's Always,1989… not to mention producer Edward L Montoro's  soundalike  spaghetti Western, Sundance Cassidy and Butch The Kid.

Final word from Newman “Too bad they got killed in the end, ‘cos those two guys could have gone on in films forever.”

Footnote. Producer Paul Monash, cinematographer Conrad Hall and George Roy Hill all died within days of each other in January 2003.






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