BUTCH & SUNDANCE – MINIMAL MUSIC FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969) is a famous Western on a number of levels – for its contemporary reworking of the Western, for the initial pairing of Paul Newman (Butch) and Robert Redford (Sundance), for its mix of fun, humor and melancholy and for its nod toward the passing of a way of life associated with the Old West. It is also famous for its music, in particular the Burt Bacharach-Hal David penned “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” tune, sung for the film by BJ Thomas. The iconic scene of Paul Newman riding with Katharine Ross (as Etta Place) on a bicycle to the song has become lodged in popular culture. The power of that musical interlude – functioning similar to a music video – as well as the other Bacharach-Hill scored scenes could give the impression of a music-driven movie but that is not the case – in the 110 minute film there is actually less than 12 minutes of music. It is how that minimal amount of music is used that generates a maximum impact upon the viewer.

During script consultations for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, director George Roy Hill and screenwriter William Goldman decided upon 3 separate musical sequences in the film. Hill stated that one of the reasons for the musical interludes was that Katharine Ross (playing Etta Place) did not have that much overall footage in the film. The musical sequences gave her character more screen time and allowed her and Butch and/or The Sundance Kid to improvise a scene while music was played over that segment (i.e. with no recorded dialogue). Hill felt in retrospect that the musical sequences projected the character of Etta Place’s relationship with Butch and Sundance as well or even better than the scenes in which she had dialogue with them.

The first musical sequence sees Butch Cassidy, following a successful train robbery and escape with Sundance, take Etta on a bicycle ride near the house in which Etta (as a schoolteacher) lives. At the close of the 19th century the bicycle was a faddish new innovation.

Featuring “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head”, this song is contemporary to the late 1960s and gave the film a modern feel that differentiated it from prior Westerns  – some viewers liked this innovation while some purists/traditionalists did not. This writer enjoys it.

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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