BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID – Burt Bacharach
Original Review by Craig Lysy
For screenplay writer William Goldman, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was a passion project. He first came upon the story of Cassidy and Longbaugh in the late 1950s, was fascinated by the men, and felt it was a story that needed to be brought to the big screen. Richard Zanuck of 20th Century Fox saw gold when he read the script and purchased the rights for an astounding $400,000! He tasked John Foreman to produce and George Roy Hill to direct. A stellar cast was brought in, which included; Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Katherine Ross (Etta Place), Jeff Corey (Sheriff Bledsoe, and Strother Martin (Percy Garris).
This true-life story of the American West was set in Wyoming in the late 1890s. Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Longabaugh are better known by their infamous aliases, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. These two men forged a partnership that brought them fame as the most notorious outlaws of their day. Their respective strengths complimented the other’s weaknesses; Butch had the brains, and Sundance the shooting brawn. For years they held up trains and robbed banks. Over time their outlaw status brought them fame, admiration, and a gang called “The Hole in the Wall Gang”, which was named after their hideout in the Wyoming mountains. Over time the civil authorities mobilized more resources and a posse was deputized and dedicated to bringing them to justice. As the loose tightens, they split from their gang and end up narrowly escaping by jumping off a cliff into a river. They make it back to town and are assisted by their friend, schoolteacher Etta Place who is Sundance’s girlfriend. Butch convinces them to stake out a new existence in Bolivia. In Bolivia they try to go straight but their old ways return, leading to their death in a hail of bullets during a bank robbery. The film was a massive commercial success, and received critical acclaim being nominated for seven Academy Award nominations including; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Film Score and Best Song. It won four awards for Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Score and Best Song.
Hill decided on a contemporaneous score for his film in lieu of a traditional Western approach, as he wanted the music to match the demeanor of the two principle characters. As such, Burt Bacharach, who was a pop icon at the time, was brought in to score the film. The score was constrained from the onset as director Hill did not want music to play during scenes with dialogue. Lastly, he and Goldman decided that three musical interludes would be inserted into the film. So of the 26 minutes of music Bacharach wrote for the film, in the end, only twelve minutes of music was used! For the songs, Bacharach brought in lyricist Hal David, and for vocals, B. J. Thomas. Early on, Bacharach understood that the film was character driven and so his music needed to speak to the dynamics that existed between the three main characters. I believe he succeeded on all counts, and some of his songs have no become iconic. In the end, he won two Oscars for Best Score and Best song.
The CD album is not congruent with the score’s placement in the film, so I will present it in the correct sequence. “The Sundance Kid” is a score highlight, wonderful, light-hearted, and flows like a languid bossa nova, which perfectly showcases Bacharach’s talent. It was intended to play over the Opening Credits. Regretfully, much of it was truncated, which I believe was a creative mistake.
“On A Bicycle Built For Joy” supports the first musical interlude where we see Butch waking Etta and Sundance and she coming outside to join him on a fun and playful bicycle ride. At 1:30 we have a slapstick orchestral interlude, which wonderfully supports Butch’s child-like playfulness. At 2:29 we resume the song’s narrative flow, coming to a very satisfying conclusion. I believe Bacharach perfectly captured the spirit of the moment. Most interesting is that this quirky song, which was a late decision to be inserted into the film, was an instant success. It went on to become a pop sensation, soaring to #1 in the charts for four weeks.
“The Old Fun City” plays during a montage of sepia photos of our trio traveling through New York City, their embarkation point for their trip to Bolivia. We see our trio enjoying themselves and living a celebrity life. In many ways this free-flowing and upbeat passage music emotes with a happy-go-lucky dance-like sensibility. There is a Charleston-like quality to it, which makes this very enjoyable. At 2:36 we slow and transition to a tender dance as we see Butch and Etta slow dancing together on the steamship taking them to Bolivia. We conclude with them arriving by train at the train station in Bolivia.
“South American Getaway” supports the Bolivian robbing montage where our trio is seen fleeing into the hills. Bacharach scores the scene unconventionally with a parade of jazz waltzes, slow sambas and Brazilian pop, which are propelled by bubbling, syncopated wordless vocals. At 0:51 a scene change take us to a new bank robbery and the music down shifts into a slow dance with the syncopated wordless pop sustaining its flow. As they rob the bank and are pursued the music shifts up-tempo once again and supports a montage of robberies. We close on a slow dance as we see our trio fine dining, and enjoying their new wealth and status.
“Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” offers the song without the slapstick orchestral interlude version that was used in the film, and the three other cues were all excised from the film. “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” presents the orchestral version of the song in pop style. “Come Touch The Sun” is a gentle piece that emotes with a dance-like lyricism, and features a solo trumpet carrying the melody. “Not Goin’ Home Anymore” offers a tender melody, which is carried by piano, which was intended to be Etta’s Theme.
As delightful as this 12-minute score is, I believe that popular culture and the public’s love of both the song and the film contributed to it wining. It suffices to say that the competition that year was rather weak; Anne of the Thousand Days by Georges Delerue, The Reivers by John Williams, The Secret of Santa Vittoria by Ernest Gold and The Wild Bunch by Jerry Fielding. Given the constraints imposed by the director, I believe Bacharach showed great versatility and creativity. This is a fun score, care free, light-hearted, and definitely the road less traveled. I recommend it for Bacharach enthusiasts, and Oscar film score completists.
Buy the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The Sundance Kid (2:10)
- Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by B. J. Thomas) (2:57)
- Not Goin’ Home Anymore (3:27)
- South American Getaway (5:14)
- Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head – Instrumental (2:31)
- On A Bicycle Built For Joy (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, performed by B. J. Thomas) (3:07)
- Come Touch the Sun (2:27)
- The Old Fun City (N.Y. Sequence) (3:59)
- Not Goin’ Home Anymore – Reprise (1:04)
Running Time: 26 minutes 56 seconds
A&M Records CD-3159 (1969/1987)
Music composed and conducted by Burt Bacharach. Orchestrations by Jack Hayes and Leo Shuken. Featured musical soloists Robert Bain and Tommy Morgan. Score produced by Burt Bacharach.