Each Monday, I share reviews of Westerns I’m studying to prepare for making 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Fifteen: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid & The Stalking Moon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This is fourth or fifth time I’ve seen Butch and Sundance, fortunately this watch was on the big screen in Vicksburg at the Strand Theatre!
Though the film certainly is a classic of the genre, not all of it holds up over time. It strikes a hard balance between what my mentor Gus Edwards has called the “hippie Western” and the gritty late 60s/early 70s Westerns.
The photograph montages are a little indulgent and haven’t aged well in my opinion. Neither has some of the humor. It may just have been my mood at the time but I tired of hearing “Who are these guys?” for the seventh or eighth time, long passing the Hollywood golden rule of saying the joke thrice.
The film also feels too light to me this time to warrant its weight of its conclusion, though that itself is played a little too lightly. I wanted to know more about the interior lives of the characters, the dynamics of the relationships especially more about how they both felt for Etta. Once things are winding down, there’s a depth lacking in these characters.
The best moments of the film work to fill that depth: the death of Strother Martin and their reaction to it, their paranoia about the white hatted lawman, their conversation about true identities. I wish there had been a couple more of these in place of a montage or two, instead of five or six of these jokes.
Nevertheless, it’s a good film. What holds up most for me is Redford. Both are great in it but he’s the one whose performance really grounds the picture. And I really enjoy Burt’s score.
One last note: after reading about the true deaths of these men, I think there’s another great film to be made from this story that is much darker and has more grit to it. The truth is often more interesting than fiction and that’s how I feel in this case where the standoff involved far less men and the outlaws presumably shot themselves. Now that would be an interesting conclusion to work towards!
Seen at the Strand Theatre in Vicksburg.
The Stalking Moon
First, let me say this is film is incredibly well-made. Mulligan and Pakula (one of my favorite directors who produces here) were clearly an expert team. From the acting to the cinematography, the tension in the unusual but successful score, the pace and tone of the piece, it all does a fine job.
But there’s a problem at the center of this film. It glorifies kidnappers. We never learn why it is so important to keep this little boy away from his Apache warrior father. Sure, we’re told that Salvaje is a killer but weren’t most natives who fought back called such things? Yes, he massacres across the land to find his son but isn’t that exactly what Liam Neeson does as the hero in every other damn movie?!
To be honest, I just don’t get where the story is coming from and what Mulligan/Pakula were thinking. The film inexplicably takes the side of white people who have taken the child away from his father without ever justifying their reasoning. Furthermore, the father is nothing but a faceless villain, treated more like the shark in Jaws than a human being.
The missed opportunity here was a film about moral conflict where we see both sides, where we as the audience feel divided between the righteous Peck and the native “bad guy”. Now that could have been a masterpiece that stood the test of time! Unfortunately, this does not.
Seen on DVD.
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