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Back In the Saddle For The First Time

June 10th, 2010 · No Comments

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In the month of June, Joe Valdez “takes over” programming of the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles with a series of double features on his favorite film themes. Joe is not a professional curator and may not even show potential as an amateur one, but comments and recommendations for future double features are welcome below.

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 poster Butch and Sundance The Early Days dvd

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979)
Directed by Richard Lester
Written by Allan Burns, based on characters created by William Goldman
Produced by Gabriel Katzka, Steven Bach
115 minutes

The first prequel Hollywood ever cranked out is also the answer to the question of which one remains the best, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. That may be faint praise in the company of titles like The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas, Exorcist: The Beginning or the Star Wars prequels, but if there absolutely positively had to be another Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, without Paul Newman or Robert Redford — whose characters were shot up by the Bolivian army in the climax of the original — then this belated follow-up is actually pretty good. A blithe screenplay constructed by Allan Burns (co-creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda), a solid cast and comic flourishes by director Richard Lester that deftly sidestep parody while providing plenty of grins all add up to a thoroughly enjoyable western adventure.

Part of the fun is the slight of hand that permits Tom Berenger and William Katt to pull off roles originated by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. That’s not saying they’re preferable to Newman and Redford (nobody is) or really recapture their on-screen chemistry (no one can) but Berenger and Katt hold their own and their casting keeps us in the movie rather than throwing us out of it. The Early Days recognizes what made William Goldman’s original script very good: surprises, action that tilts toward the irreverent and colorful banter zinging between the title characters. Collaborating with director of photography László Kovács and art director Jackson De Govia, Richard Lester spared no expense giving the film both visual panache and certain wit. None of it resembles the Old West and the film lacks the female presence Katharine Ross brought to original, but it all works fine.

Butch and Sundance The Early Days title card

One year into a prison sentence for horse theft, Robert A. Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy (Tom Berenger) is brought before the governor for a parole hearing. Vouched for by Sheriff Ray Bledsoe (Jeff Corey) — the crusty lawman who arrested him — Butch promises that if set free he will most certainly commit more crimes, but agrees not to in the state of Wyoming. Visiting a casino, Butch has his new pistol stolen by a lightning fast stick up artist named Harry Longabaugh (William Katt). To retrieve his gun, Butch joins the posse of noted lawman and tracker Joe Le Fors (Peter Weller) who gives up the hunt when his men show little inclination to pursue the kid into a rock fortification. Butch stays behind to parlay with Longabaugh, suggesting that his intellect and the kid’s reflexes would make a good team.

Returning to his old hideout, Butch is reunited with cattle rustler O.C. Hanks (Brian Dennehy) before being swept up in a raid by Sheriff Bledsoe. Convinced Butch set him up, O.C. threatens to kill him first chance he gets. Butch and the kid get their feet wet as bandits by knocking over high roller casinos and such. Butch bestows his young partner with the handle Sundance Kid, due to jail time the kid spent in Sundance, Wyoming and their adventures take them through snowbound Telluride and to the farmhouse in Circleville, Utah which Butch occasionally shares with his wife Mary (Jill Eikenberry) and two sons. Life as a citizen doesn’t sit well with Butch and with the help of two bumbling outlaws (John Schuck, Christopher Lloyd), Butch and Sundance attempt to rob a train carrying U.S. Cavalry troops and cash.

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 Tom Berenger

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 William Katt

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 Peter Weller

Butch and Sundance The Early Years 1979 Brian Dennehy

Butch and Sundance The Early Years 1979 Tom Berenger William Katt

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 Tom Berenger William Katt

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 Jill Eikenberry Tom Berenger

Butch and Sundance The Early Days 1979 William Katt

Butch and Sundance The Early Years 1979 William Katt Tom Berenger

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 2 users: 100% for Butch and Sundance: The Early Days

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

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Tags: Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Master and pupil · Prostitute · Road trip · Shootout · Small town · Train · Western

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