Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Screenplay Analysis


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), written by William Goldman, is often considered one of the best performances of both Paul Newman’s and Robert Redford’s respective careers.

How’s the screenplay? Let’s analyze it. Except, it’s worth noting that this script has been analyzed by many and is generally considered a must-read for any newer screenwriter. So in the interest of saving time, I’ll keep this analysis short.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: July 15th, 1968
  • Type: Shooting
  • Page Count: 185

Overall Thoughts

It’s a really fun adventurous script that follows two loveable bros (is it ok to use that term?) who understand each other better than anyone else. It’s a revisionist Western; we follow two outlaws at the turn of the century. They escape to Bolivia, but even there they are hunted. In simple English, being an outlaw is dead because the West is dead.

Plot

It’s a great plot, particularly the scenes where the Superposse chases the outlaws and the duo jump into the river:

What’s so great about this scene, and others, is not necessarily the ending jump, but the buildup, where Butch and Sundance get progressively more hemmed in and exchange banter and one-liners while trying to figure out what they should do next and why the heck they are in the situation they are in, to begin with. That’s a bit wordy, but it’s the best way I can explain it.

Characters

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are likable outlaws. Why? Because they are cool, entertaining, funny, slightly dimwitted, and probably a bunch of other reasons I am missing. But they’re definitely cool.

Dialogue & Pacing

As noted, the dialogue is entertaining. There is a strong use of sarcasm and self-deprecating humor.

Many of the outlying characters, such as Etta and Bledsoe, help move the plot forward using foreshadowing. For example, on page 87 when the duo try to enlist in the army, Bledsoe says:

You’ve done too much for amnesty and you’re too well known to disguise; you should have got yourselves killed a long time ago when you had the chance.”

Likewise, Etta agrees to join the duo on their move to Bolivia but notes she won’t watch them die. When she eventually leaves, what happens next? You guessed it, the final battle.

The screenplay reads a bit slower, mostly due to bloated action lines (or paragraphs). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows Goldman to really set the stage, but I did have to re-read a few parts to truly understand what Goldman was getting at. And sometimes certain scenes did drag, only a bit though.

Emotional Impact

Two characters who have been left behind in a rapidly changing world. Characters you could rely on in the past to be there are on their way out. That makes for relatable characters.

However, I wouldn’t really call it a moving screenplay, more just a fun one. There’s nothing wrong with that, but my gut analysis was that there were opportunities to really explore the leads in more depth.

Best Part of The Script

The final shootout is entertaining (starts on page 171), as are the Superposse chase scenes.

On page 53, Goldman makes a reference to the music used in The Graduate (1967). Were Simon & Garfunkel not famous when this was written? Ha.


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