Richard Lester Andrew Sarris - Essay

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The good news is that Butch and Sundance: The Early Days can stand on its own four feet without making us sob longingly for the original. Lester has achieved a cooler and more distant tone for the material than did the redhot Hill before him…. Butch and Sundance: The Early Days is worth a look simply for its wit, humor, and expertise. It is such a relief to see a clever movie for a change that the absence of emotional explosions may not seem like such a dreadful handicap. A respected colleague sitting next to me at the screening complained that Lester had indulged in much ado about nothing. I can understand this reaction. Lester has often been too ornate for his own good, and there have been more than a few occasions when he has cultivated visual beauty for its own sake….

The point is that if audiences seek rollicking fun in Butch and Sundance: The Early Days they will be disappointed, but if they are content with a stylish proto-buddy-buddy entertainment rendered with a muted pathos and longing they will almost be enchanted. I say "almost" because there remains something tentative and undefined in the nature of the adventure. One is never sure what is at stake in the entwined destinies of the two characters. Do they really long for a normal life, or are they already lusting for legendary status? Perhaps there have been too many movies on the subject of the Old West being swept away by Modern Times, and Lester … and company have expended all their energy simply to avoid the most flagrant cliches and the corniest regrets. The ending, as is so often the case nowadays, is particularly noncommittal as it witnesses a successful train robbery with bemused detachment and a grace more physical than spiritual…. [Yet] I must admit that by its very nature this movie, for all its elegance, doesn't really go anywhere.

Andrew Sarris, "Western Gibes, Wimbledon Lobs" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1979), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIV, No. 25, June 18, 1979, p. 57.∗