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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: The Ultimate Collector's Edition

The American western genre — long a staple of both big-budget Hollywood films and matinee potboilers — was fundamentally turned on its head in 1969 by two pictures: Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Both take place in the last days of the western frontier, when transportation and technology altered the once-open landscape, and the arrival of more and more people — and better law enforcement — sent thieves and bank robbers south of the American border, where still-lawless Latin American countries provided an ample terrain for bigger and better jobs. And both films, which struck a chord with Vietnam-era audiences, effectively brought a halt to the idealized western, which hasn't seen the light of day since (the best neo-western, Clint Eastwood's 1992 Unforgiven, has more to do with the The Wild Bunch than any of its predecessors). However, the decline and fall of the American western is where the similarities between The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy end. Peckinpah's film took on all of the trappings of the traditional western but added amoral protagonists, and it presented violence at a then-unprecedented level. Butch Cassidy, on the other hand, is sort of a lark, a carefree jaunt through outlaw territory as the titular characters banter back and forth in serio-comic fashion, always just one step ahead of the law — and one step away from death.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford star as Butch and Sundance, in the waning days of their heralded criminal careers. Part of the "Hole in the Wall Gang," the pair have knocked over enough banks and trains to become local legends, always retreating to their isolated Hole in the Wall camp before the authorities can mount a serious pursuit. But when Butch decides to knock over the same train twice in one week, the president of the rail company spares no expense to mount a relentless posse, headed up by the best lawman in the west and guided by a legendary Indian tracker. Barely escaping with their lives, Butch (always full of new ideas) decides the duo should relocate to Bolivia, even though neither one of them knows very much about the country. They are joined by Sundance's lover, schoolmarm Etta Place (Katharine Ross), but nobody has any idea what will be in store for them on an unseen continent.

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Often regarded by critics as a mixed bag (and savaged by some very high-profile writers during its 1969 debut), Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid has still earned a loyal following over the years, and whatever missteps the film may take are easily outweighed by its strongest elements, in particular the performances by Newman and Redford (the role propelled Redford to superstardom), who casually play with scenarist William Goldman's witty, Oscar-winning script. Goldman clearly enjoyed the myth-shattering possibilities of his story, where the iconic Butch Cassidy actually prefers to flee from danger rather than stand and fight, and where the sharp-shooting Sundance is afraid of water because he can't swim. Hill lends his own small touches to the direction, and the decision to always show the "super-posse" from Butch and Sundance's point-of-view — faceless, in the distance, but always just a few minutes behind — gives the chase sequence an additional surge of adrenaline. Is that why the film made such an impression on moviegoers? As some have argued, does the "super-posse" represent the government, while Butch and Sundance are clever, spirited draft-dodgers? Or did audiences enjoy what may be the first buddy/action flick, where two guys, looking death in the face, can't stop bickering with each other in a petty, comical way? Or is there romance in this story after all? Are we moved by the inevitable demise of Butch and Sundance, two heroes in a world that has no more use for them? You can come to your own conclusions. For whatever reason, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid has been a fan-favorite for 30 years and counting.

Fox's two-disc "Ultimate Collector's Edition" DVD release of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid updates their previous single-disc special edition, which itself had several valuable features. Making a return appearance on Disc One is the commentary track with director Hill, lyricist Hal David, associate producer Robert Crawford, and cinematographer Conrad Hall, while screenwriter William Goldman can be heard on a second, new track. Also returning on the first platter is the 1994 documentary "The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," featuring Newman, Redford, Goldman, Ross, and songwriter Burt Bacharach (42 min.). New features on Disc Two include the documentaries "All of What Follows Is True: The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (35 min.), "The Wild Bunch: The True Tale of Butch & Sundance" (25 min.), and the A&E documentary "History Through the Lens: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Outlaws Out of Time" (90 min.), as well as a deleted scene with commentary by George Roy Hill, an alternate credit roll, and a trailer gallery of Paul Newman films. Production notes and three theatrical trailers return from the previous release. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is solid, taken from a nearly pristine source-print that is rich with color, while the monaural audio now comes with a stereo option. Fans of supplements may find a reason to buy the upgrade, while fans of the film itself may not. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case with paperboard sleeve.

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