Richard Lester Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As far as theme is concerned, [Butch and Sundance: The Early Days] might as well be called The Deer Hunter: The Early Days. Once more we plunge into the primal American myth of male friendship: why this friendship and its adventures are the best things in life; how women are meant to watch and wait and understand, with a brave grave sigh, that men must be off on their manly doings. The fact that the doings in the case of B and S are outlawry—theft, violence, and, eventually, murder—matters little under the grand rubric of light-hearted, essentially boyish male palship.

What a bore it is, that idea, that American idea…. But because it is part of our heritage, sometimes it can be exploited affectingly: with limited charm, as in the first B and S (1969) or by direct visceral grapple, as in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. When the charm is merely laborious, as in the new B and S, or when the visceral appeal falls very short, as it does here, the result is tedious—even repellent….

[It's] really Part One, as its subtitle tells us. It spends its time trying to plant antecedents for the earlier [George Roy Hill film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid]—a jump into a river, a train robbery—and it has no shape. It's just a series of adventures, which could have been shorter or longer, and none of the adventures is amusing or exciting or moving….

[Richard Lester] once made his own pictures, marvelously…. Now he makes other people's. One of the tenets of auteur criticism is that the tension between a director and the studio system is fruitful. Even theoretically, that could have been true only for a director born into the system, not one who once had freedom and lost it. Lester these days is like Samson in Gaza. (p. 26)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Outlaws and Inlaws" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1979 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 180, No. 25, June 23, 1979, pp. 26-7.∗