Butch & Sundance: The Early Days

Richard Lester was responsible for one of the great slapstick openings to a movie. Unfortunately that movie was Superman III, and why did they ever think it was okay to trivialise the man of steel? In that opening sequence, clumsy Clark Kent initiates a stupendous sequence of mishaps which will eventually necessitate the intervention of his alter-ego. Superheroes, like alcohol, are the cause of, and solution to, all our problems. The whole idea was pretty much reworked for The Fantastic Four in a sequence featuring the Thing on a suspension bridge.

A gander at Lester’s filmography, while asserting his tendency for fun at the expense of narrative, nevertheless reveals an impressive CV. I first saw Butch & Sundance: The Early Days on TV, and it’s basically a TV movie. I had memories of an impressive single set-piece which my dodgy recollection thought was the finale.

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It wasn’t the finale and, this time around, it wasn’t so impressive. That all said, the film makes good use of location-work and it gains narrative power as it goes on.

Neither of the two leads have the presence of Newman or Redford, obviously. William Katt actually does pretty well as the Sundance Kid early on; a nice sense of adolescent menace, albeit channelled through a 28-year-old actor. Unfortunately when his moustache does sprout, after a session recovering from his wounds, he not so much resembles Harpo Marx as Nat Pendleton’s ‘Goliath’ in At The Circus (1939).

Tom Berenger does most of the work as Butch, and eventually the audience is soft-soaped into enjoying the picture. This got torn to bits on release but it’s not that bad. However, it’s hard to say what it is. It’s not a western; it’s barely a buddy picture, there’s not enough comedy to make comedy. It’s TV masquerading as cinema.

But, Saturday night and low expectation, or teenage time-wasting, and maybe you can pat yourself on the back for figuring what will happen to that mirror in the gun-fight. I’m being unnecessarily strict here, the characters are likeable enough and Peter Weller, from RoboCop, plays Joe de Fors, the remorseless marshal, under a moustache that will have you saying, who is this guy?