"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The men (usually) who made the West


Howdy

Much of this blog has been devoted to Western movies, a fair bit to books on the old West and now and then we have also looked at the lives of some of the historical characters of the ‘Wild West’, in fact and fiction.

I thought it might be useful to readers to have a list, with links, of these last so that you can trawl through the dramatis personae of the real West and read (brief) biographies of these men and (occasionally) women, as well as how they have been represented in novels and on the screen, big and small.

So click the links to read more!

 
Al Sieber, Apache scout
Bat Masterson, lawman and gambler
Bear River Tom Smith, tough lawman without a gun
Billy the Kid, juvenile delinquent
Black Jack Ketchum, more mature delinquent
Calamity Jane, rare woman who played a part in the mythology of the West
Cochise, one of the greatest Native American leaders ever
Dallas Stoudenmire, El Paso lawman with few scuples
Elfego Baca, a rare Mexican-American gunman
General Custer, Civil War boy general and fighter of the Plains Indians
Jesse James, train and bank robber
John Chisum, cattleman
John P Clum, Indian agent and editor
John Wesley Hardin, Texas serial killer
Luke Short the gambler, famous figure of Dodge City
Pat Garrett, lawman
Print Olive, murderous cattle baron
Sam Bass, outlaw
Sitting Bull, great figure of the Sioux
The Daltons, outlaws
Tom Horn, scout and range detective
Wild Bill Hickok, lawman and gambler
Wyatt Earp, lawman and saloon owner


More will follow! Next on the horizon, Pink Higgins, Crazy Horse and Judge Roy Bean.

Happy trails, e-pards.

Jeff

 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in fact and fiction


Popular outlaws
 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Few figures of the old West have exercised such a fascination on the public imagination as those of the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1969 movie with Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as Sundance, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was a huge hit, all over the world and not just with Western fans. It was a buddy comedy that everyone went to see. It was a poor film qua Western and very inaccurate historically but the theater-goers in their droves didn’t care; they lapped it up. It produced a trail of ‘son of…’ spin-offs like Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, the 1970s Hanna-Barbera TV series, a made-for-TV movie named The Legend of Butch and Sundance and a version of Butch’s old age in Blackthorn. The TV aliases ‘Smith’ and ‘Jones’ hid Wild Bunch escapees and Murphy and Davis were more than a little Butch and Sundance-ish. Soundtrack CDs, Butch Cassidy comics, T-shirts, Cassidy/Sundance tours, it has become quite an industry.

Books

There is also an almost infinite supply of books on Butch Cassidy & Co. Some have titles like Butch Cassidy, My Brother or Butch Cassidy, My Uncle, and some purport to tell the ‘truth’ about really happened to the boys, such as Butch Cassidy: The Lost Years, or Butch Cassidy: The Untold Story or Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave (that last one should be interesting). Some concentrate on the search, with titles like Finding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or In Search of Butch Cassidy or Digging Up Butch and Sundance (don’t like the sound of that one much). The outlaws also of course appear as chapters in many anthologies of Western heroes and villains. I think you would have to be very dedicated to read all the books there are on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and very gullible indeed to believe them all.
 
Many books
 
Even when Parker and Longabaugh (to give them their proper names) were alive there was huge interest in their doings and newspapers couldn’t get enough of them. The police forces of half the country, federal, state, county and private, were constantly on the hunt for them.

Why all the fuss? There were, after all, plenty of other Western outlaws, even in the 1890s. What was so special about this pair?

The Wild Bunch

Actually, Butch and Sundance (useful shorthand) were only two members of a large gang of shifting membership known as the Wild Bunch or the Hole in the Wall Gang, after one of their hideouts. They operated chiefly in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah (the Hole in the Wall was a usefully remote pass in the Big Horn Mountains of Johnson County, Wyoming) but were also very wide-ranging. The gang operated sometimes together, sometimes independently, and they came and went. There might be up to a hundred at one point, then ten. They had little formal structure and no clearly-defined leader. At the heart of the band of ne’er-do-wells, however, was a handful of big names in the outlaw world, of which Butch and Sundance were two.
 
Remote hideout
 
One problem for lawmen at the time (and historians later) was that they cheerfully swapped names among themselves and adopted aliases (even perhaps Smith and Jones, who knows). Butch Cassidy, for example, was born Robert Leroy Parker, in Utah in 1868. As a young man Parker met a rustler who called himself Mike Cassidy (probably itself an alias for John Tolliver McClammy) who became his mentor, and Parker later adopted the Cassidy name in honor of his friend. (The ‘Butch’ came from a stint as a butcher in Rock Springs, WY).
 
Harvey Logan aka Kid Curry
 
Another member of the Wild Bunch, Harvey Logan (1867 – 1904) met and befriended a man named ‘Flat Nose’ George Curry and Logan adopted Curry’s name and became known as Kid Curry. It all must have been very confusing for the Pinkertons.

The Sundance Kid

Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was probably born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, in 1867. Aged 15, he traveled west with his cousin, George. In 1887 he stole a horse, a saddle and a gun in Sundance, Wyoming, and was sentenced to eighteen months. It was there, apparently, that he got the nickname Sundance Kid. Later he worked as a cowpuncher up in Alberta, Canada. He didn’t go straight, though, because he was strongly suspected of taking part in a train robbery in 1892, and in a bank robbery in 1897 with five other men. He gained a reputation as a sullen and drunken man who talked too much and fought too much – not exactly Robert Redford.

Sundance seems to have had a reputation as a man skilled in the use of firearms but unlike Kid Curry, Longabaugh did not certainly kill anyone (he might have killed a deputy sheriff in 1896, though this is not documented). At any rate he was no gunfighter or serial killer. Butch Cassidy was still less a gunman. The two were armed when they robbed banks and trains but rarely fired any gun – certainly not at anyone.

Butch Cassidy

Butch’s first exploit seems to have been with accomplices Matt Warner and Bill and Tom McCarty: they robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in July 1889. Cassidy then headed for the Hole in the Wall while the others went to Oregon and called themselves the Invincible Three. It wasn’t a terribly accurate moniker as they were captured and imprisoned, and Bill McCarty was later shot dead during another robbery, so they were quite vincible, really.

By 1890 Butch was building quite a thriving business based on rustling and it lasted till mid-decade. But he was caught and got a year in the pen. He was paroled in January 1896 on the promise that he would leave Wyoming and never return.

Etta Place

The Wild Bunch attracted women, though Butch seems to have disapproved. Nevertheless he appears to have taken a shine to Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place. Little is known for sure about Etta and both her origin and fate are uncertain. Even her name is in doubt: she may have been Ethel and ‘Etta’ a Spanish-speakers’ version when she moved to South America.
 
Etta with Sundance: a handsome couple
 
The Pinkerton Agency described her as having “classic good looks, 27 or 28 years old, 5'4" to 5'5" in height, weighing between 110 lb and 115 lb, with a medium build and brown hair.” Judging by her 1901 photograph, that was about right and she was certainly attractive.

The West’s most successful robbers

In August 1896 the Wild Bunch struck for the first time as a cohesive group. They held up the bank at Montpelier, Idaho and escaped. The gang rapidly became the most successful robbers in the history of the West. An especially daring hold-up occurred when Butch and another member of the gang, Elza Lay, rode together into a mining camp apparently seeking work and sauntered into the paymaster’s shack, put a pistol in his face and came out with $8000. A raid on the bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota netted $30,000. And so it went on.

The law

Law enforcement in the 1890s was still a hit and miss affair. Town marshals were reluctant or not empowered to pursue criminals outside their city limits and county sheriffs hesitated equally to cross county lines. Both were anyway often political appointments and many were cowardly and corrupt. US marshals were more of a threat to badmen and had no problems of local jurisdiction, though their effectiveness has been exaggerated by movies and TV. Very few states or territories had rangers, and these forces were always undermanned and underfunded. In many ways the only really effective police force was the private Pinkerton Detective Agency, out of Chicago and Denver. When the Pinkertons started to take a close interest in the Wild Bunch the gang decided to lie low for a while.

What, never?

A pause

Butch and Lay worked as cowboys on a ranch in New Mexico. Butch gained a reputation as a steady hand but Lay couldn’t keep away from the temptations of the outlaw life and robbed a train in Folsom, NMT. A posse caught up with him and Lay was taken and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Arizona, Harvey Logan/Kid Curry and Ben Kilpatrick were robbing banks. Curry got enough money together to travel to France but didn’t like it and was soon back in Wyoming where he, Sundance and fellow gang members stole $30,000 from a train. They got away but Sundance insisted on resting and the Pinkertons surrounded them. In a sharp fight Curry killed a sheriff and the posse withdrew.

Back to hold-ups

Meanwhile, Butch carefully planned a hold-up of a bank in Winnemucca, Nevada, positioning horses carefully along the escape route, and grabbed $32,000 in September 1900. It was in Fort Worth after this raid that gang members, all in new derbies, had a photograph taken, which was a mistake because a passing Pinkerton man saw it in the photographer’s window and recognized the men. Now their likenesses were known.

 

The famous photograph. Front row left to right: Harry A. Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy. Standing: Will Carver, alias News Carver and Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry. Fort Worth, Texas, 1900.

In the next planned robbery, in Sonora, Texas, gang member Bill Carver was sent ahead into town to check it out but a sheriff recognized him and shot Carver dead. Butch and the others, shaken, headed back to the Hole in the Wall. Their last coup was a raid on the Northern railroad near Malta, Montana, where they netted $50,000. Then the gang dispersed.

The end of the Wild Bunch

Ben Kilpatrick was arrested in St. Louis and got fifteen years. Kid Curry was trapped in a saloon in Knoxville and was sentenced to 130 years. He escaped, however, and with three strangers robbed the Denver & Rio Grande in Parachute, Colorado, but a dogged posse trapped them. A wounded Curry waved the other two off to freedom and held back the lawmen. When the posse rushed the rocks they found him dead.

South America

Butch Cassidy tried to work out a deal for amnesty with the governor of Utah, and since no murder charge hung over him, the governor and even the Union Pacific were interested. But it fizzled and he, Sundance and Etta sailed from New York to Buenos Aires. They bought a ranch near the Chilean border and worked it. They made occasional return trips, once for Etta to have an appendicitis operation in Denver.

This is where the story ends, as far as certainty is concerned. We do know that Butch and Sundance robbed several banks and mines in South America and were the objects of intensive manhunts. The most historically accepted version of their fate was their death at the hands of Bolivian soldiers after a mine hold-up. Some rumors said that the boys held the army off for a whole night and then committed suicide. No one knows. Rumors persist and abound that they got back to the States and lived out their lives peacefully. It all adds to their mystery and charisma.

Whatever the truth of it, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had done enough to earn themselves a place in the history, and more importantly the legend of the West.

Celluloid heroes

Long before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 Butch and Sundance had appeared on the screen. The first outing (that I know of) was when Slim Whitaker played Butch Cassidy in the 1933 Tom Tyler epic Deadwood Pass (no sign of Sundance though). From then on Butch and, less often, the Sundance Kid made regular appearances. Walter Sande played Butch in Dakota Lil in 1950, with Rod Cameron as Kid Curry and George Montgomery as Tom Horn but it was little more than a cameo appearance and again there was no sign of Sundance. Montgomery returned in 1951 in The Texas Rangers and this time both Butch (John Doucette) and Sundance (Ian MacDonald) were there (as well as Dave Rudabaugh, Sam Bass and sundry other outlaws, including the excellent John Dehner as John Wesley Hardin).
 
Slim: the first celluloid Butch
 
1954 saw Columbia’s Wyoming Renegades, with Gene Evans as Butch Cassidy and William Bishop as Sundance Kid. That year too the Stories of the Century TV show had to get in on the act, as it always did, railroad detective Matt Clark having captured every outlaw from the 1850s to the 1900s, remaining always in his forties (nice trick). Joe Sawyer was Butch and this time there was no Sundance but ‘The Smiling Kid’, played by Slim Pickens, no less, who I don’t think ever looked like a kid and certainly not in 1954 but we’ll let that pass. Matt captures the pair twice (they escape jail the first time), he and Frankie track them to South America and the boys are killed in Mercedes, Uruguay by the Uruguayan police. You can watch it here, but quite frankly it isn’t worth the bother, despite Slim.
 
Butch and Sundance, Stories of the Century version. Another Slim, this time Pickens of that Ilk
 
Talking of TV, Butch was also in a 1955 Buffalo Bill Jr. episode, which is prefaced by the disclaimer: The characters and incidents portrayed and the names used herein are fictitious, and any similarity to the name, character, or history of any person is entirely accidental and unintentional. Well, that’s fairly clear. Harry Lauter is Butch but there’s no Sundance. You can watch it here should you be desperate enough.
 
Harry Lauter as TV Butch
 
Howard Petrie was Butch (though a smallish part) back on the big screen in Republic’s The Maverick Queen in 1956, a Barbara Stanwyck/Barry Sullivan vehicle a year before Forty Guns, and the great Scott Brady was Sundance, the principal badman. The same year we saw the excellent pairing of Neville Brand as Butch and Alan Hale Jr. as Sundance in The Three Outlaws. In ‘58 Brand did it again in Warners’ Badman’s Country, which featured, as well as Brand as Butch and Russell Johnson as Sundance, George Montgomery as Pat Garrett, Buster Crabbe as Wyatt Earp, Gregory Walcott as Bat Masterson and Malcom Atterbury as Buffalo Bill Cody, pretty well a Western Who’s Who.
 
Neville Brand and Alan Hale do their Butch and Sundance act
 
In 1958 an episode of Tales of Wells Fargo (written by DD Beauchamp the Great) was dedicated to Butch Cassidy, with Charles Bronson as Butch. James Coburn was ‘Idaho’ but there was no Sundance. Butch also appeared in an episode of Frontier Doctor, played by Joe Sawyer – no Sundance; the Kid did seem to get overlooked, didn’t he. Bronco Layne came across Butch and many Doolins (including Jack Nicholson) but no Sundance in the episode The Equalizer. So one way or another TV liked Butch Cassidy.
 
Below, three Sundances: Russell Johnson in Badman's Country, Arthur Kennedy in Cheyenne and Robert Ryan in Return of the Badmen
 
 
 
 
A famous film Butch was in Cat Ballou. Oddly, perhaps, he was played by Arthur Hunnicutt who, though in fact only 55 at the time, specialized in old-timer roles and played Butch as an old outlaw regretting the robbing days of yesteryear. Yet it’s Wyoming in 1894, when Butch was only 28 and was in the heyday of his larcenous career. Oh well, poetic license, I suppose.
 
Cat Ballou: Butch (Arthur Hunnicutt) seems to have aged somewhat
 
Then came Newman and Redford. But you see they had many precursors, on the big screen and small.
 
The most famous screen Sundance, Etta and Butch
 
There were a spaghetti rip-off Butch and Sundance obviously, Jack Betts (as Hunt Powers) and Giancarlo Prete. I haven’t seen it, nor do I want to, but if you would like the pleasure it was called Adios Compañeros or occasionally Giù la testa…hombre. It will certainly be crap.

The 1973 TV animated Hanna-Barbera series Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids had Chip Hand’s voice as Butch, and Mickey Dolenz voiced Harvey, but no Sundance. It was not a Western but about a pop group of secret agents. Or something.  Tom Berenger and William Katt were Butch and Sundance in Fox’s Richard Lester-directed prequel Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, and they did rather look like a younger Newman and Redford. Jarion Monroe was Butch in The Dream Chasers (1982) and Butch, Sundance and Etta appeared in Kenny Rogers’s Gambler V (Scott Paulin, Brett Cullen and Mariska Hargitay, respectively).

There have been nine or ten Butches since then, including a 2006 TV movie, The Legend of Butch & Sundance, with David Clayton Rogers and Ryan Browning as the boys, with much of the ground already covered by Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, and a nice 2011 movie, Blackthorn, which imagines that Butch survived Sundance and has Sam Shepard as an elderly Butch who has changed his name to James. I see no sign at all of a diminution of Butches and (to a lesser degree) Sundances; indeed, if anything, their number is on the rise. Expect future representations.
 
Sundance in Blackthorn
 

Farewell for now, boys

So yes, the outlaws Parker and Longabaugh do seem to have captured the public imagination, while they were alive and ever since. They were prolific robbers, it is true, and perhaps it is that. Or perhaps it is the mystery surrounding their fate. It could also be that they genuinely did seem to be unhomicidal robbers. Whatever the reason, you can confidently talk of Butch and Sundance even to non-Western lovers (poor dears) and they will know who you are talking about.

So long, e-pards. Happy trails.
 
Read the comic, bought the doll, got the T-shirt:

 

 
 


 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (Fox, 1979)


Butch and Sundance again




 
 
Such was the enormity of the box-office hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, sequels and prequels were inevitable. The big Newman/Redford picture was, as a Western, pretty poor, and the totally dire Raindrops are Falling on Your Head sequence in particular pretty well sank it deeper than the Titanic. But it was quite humorous, reasonably charming and hugely popular. Its stars were winning and handsome and the banter between them drôle and witty. People who never went to Westerns went to this one. On a $6m budget it grossed well over $100m then, and it is still earning.

Prequels and sequels had their problems, though, sequels especially, given the ending. As the last freeze frame didn’t actually show the boys shot to death I suppose they could have escaped the massed rifles of the Bolivian army but we were definitely left to think they perished in a hail of bullets. A prequel, then. But prequels could suffer from another problem, which Roger Ebert highlighted in his review, namely that the Newman/Redford vehicle “made an inexorable progress toward its end, toward the hail of bullets that would sooner or later find Butch and the Kid. In their deaths, they cast a poignant light on the events that went before. The inescapable problem of Butch and Sundance: The Early Days is that it ends so long before the emotional conclusion of the story that it's just two lives in midstream.” Yes, that’s right. It’s all too light and inconsequential. If the two characters hadn’t been called Butch and Sundance you would wonder why on earth the movie was being made.

Having said that, the film is proficiently made and nicely photographed (by László Kovács in New Mexico and Colorado) and the principal actors (Tom Berenger and William Katt) are engaging and do indeed look in certain lights like a younger Newman and Redford. Director Richard Lester was more than competent, especially at lighter fare (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers, Superman II) and if he was no Western expert (this was his only outing in the genre), that hadn’t stopped George Roy Hill, for the 1969 movie was his only Western too. That shows if you are a Western buff, and these two movies are best viewed as buddy comedies which happen to be set in the West rather than true Westerns.
 
Sundance and Butch
 
The story starts, as does a later TV movie which covers the same ground, The Legend of Butch and Sundance, with Robert Leroy Parker unable to promise not to break the law in order to gain parole for fear of lying but proposing a deal whereby he won’t break laws in Wyoming, only elsewhere. This time he is backed up by Jeff Corey as crusty old lawman Ray Bledsoe, who likes the boy and trusts his word. Corey is one of the better things about the movie. Of course he had played the same part in the 1969 movie, so it’s a bit odd that he looks ten years older than that yet this one is set ten years before. Oh well.
 
You can even buy a miniature Jeff Corey
 
Soon Parker (who already calls himself Cassidy after a boyhood hero) meets up with Harry Longabaugh who is trying to rob a casino and ‘borrows’ Cassidy’s gun to make his escape. Butch joins the pursuing posse in order to find Longabaugh and team up with him. Thus the two begin their career of harmless fun, robbing and looting over various states (though not Wyoming).

The posse is led by Joe Le Fors (Peter Weller) in a straw boater. He is the ruthless lawman determined to bring Longabaugh to justice and not at all understanding like good old Jeff Corey. Joe Lefors (1865 – 1940) was of course a historical lawman, best known for his arrest of Tom Horn for the murder of Willie Nickell. He did in fact play a minor role in the 1887 recovery of a herd of cattle rustled by the Hole in the Wall Gang and in 1899 he took part in a posse to capture Butch Cassidy and those responsible for what would become known as the Wilcox Train Robbery. He didn’t lead the hunt for Butch and Sundance, though, and some contemporaries (such as Charlie Siringo) thought him a mountebank but in this movie anyway Lefors (or Le Fors) is the boys’ lurking nemesis.
 
Peter Weller as Joe Lefors
 
Joe Lefors as Joe Lefors
 
The boys have two nemeses in fact, because badman OC Hanks (Brian Dennehy, another plus point for the movie) is convinced that Butch betrayed him to the law and he wants revenge. Luckily for Butch, he shoots Sundance by mistake, which annnoys Sundance and there’s a showdown gunfight.

There are a few entertaining moments, such as when Sundance is asked to knock a woman out. Luckily there’s no bicycle and that interlude was replaced with the lads learning to ski, with, thank heavens, no song. The railroads are evil, of course, as they (nearly) always are in Westerns. Butch angrily remarks that the railroad companies have children working for them.
 
Butch
 
Butch is married, to Mary (Jill Eikenberry), and has two young sons, but is obliged to abandon them when on the run. He robs one bank to pay for a sharp lawyer to get his mentor Mike Cassidy acquitted.

There’s some Newman/Redford-style repartee. “You know, I’ve been thinking…” says Sundance. “That’d be dangerous,” replies Butch.
 
Sundance
 
Innocuous, quite pleasant, but in the last resort eminently missable, this movie can be watched without cringing or falling asleep but would not appear in anybody’s top hundred Westerns.

 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Legend of Butch and Sundance (TV, 2006)


Butch and Sundance ride (yet) again




 
 
The story of Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh (known to most as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) exercised a fascination on Americans, indeed the world, even when they were still alive (and no one knows for certain where, when or how they died) and received an enormous boost with the  hugely popular 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Still today the characters remain among the most famous of all in what people love to call the Wild West.

As far back as 1933 Butch appeared in an early talkie B-movie, Deadwood Pass, played by Slim Whitaker, and thereafter he has been a regular of Hollywood Westerns. Well known character actors such as John Doucette, Neville Brand, Charles Bronson and Arthur Hunnicutt all played Butch before Paul Newman ever did, and since the enormous success of the Newman/Redford extravaganza, the Butch & Sundance bandwagon has kept rolling along. There was the 1973 TV series, there was the big-screen Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979) and in 2011 the rather good Blackthorn, a sort of Butch & Sundance last days. Before Blackthorn, though, came yet another TV outing, The Legend of Butch and Sundance.

We first meet Butch (David Clayton Rogers) as Parker and are told that his father was a preacher (in fact he was a Mormon elder in Utah). This upbringing has given the boy a strict, if curious sense of morality. Caught for horse theft and imprisoned, he comes up for parole. The judge is minded to release the young fellow on a promise of good behavior but the prisoner can’t swear not ever to break the law again, for fear of lying. They come to an agreement: Parker agrees never to break the law in Wyoming again. Good enough, says the judge, and off goes Parker, meeting up with his mentor Mike Cassidy (Michael Biehn), to depredate in Colorado and Utah.
 
Butch, Etta and Sundance, class of '06
 
Now we meet Etta Place (Rachelle Lefevre), a photographer, and two-gun Harry from Sundance (Ryan Browning). They clearly have a ‘thing’ going. Etta hesitates at the wildness of the young fellow but at the same time is attracted by it. But she can’t commit herself until her elder sister, who is rather plain (Michelle Harrison), has found a man.

Mr. Rogers, Ms. Lefevre and Mr. Browning are extraordinarily good looking in a 2000s Californian sort of way. Central casting has tried for a younger but recognizably Newman/Redford look for the protagonists, though not too Katharine Ross for Etta. I didn’t know any of these actors and in the case of all three this was their first and to-date only Western.
 
The real Longabaugh and Place
 
The villain of the piece is Durango (whom Etta politely calls Mr. Durango), played by Blake Gibbons. By comparison, Mr. Gibbons is a hardened veteran of the genre, having been in an episode of both Guns of Paradise and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the straight-to-video Prairie Fever and the Michael Landon Jr.-written and directed Love’s Abiding Joy. In The Legend… he is a gang member who has sold out to the law. The best thing is the way he has a clay pipe tucked into one of the bullet slots on his bandolier and matches in his hatband.

Well, Mike Cassidy is murdered by Durango (in reality the best guess is that Cassidy fled to South America) and Parker takes over both command of the Wild Bunch and his mentor’s name, being known hereafter as Butch Cassidy. He has a sort of friendly rivalry with the Sundance Kid, as the gang call Harry, both in marksmanship (in truth Cassidy was no gunman and as far as is known never shot anyone) and for the affections of Etta. The triangular relationship is in fact quite subtly handled. There does indeed seem to have been a three-way affair: Etta probably did divide her affections between the two, even if she was more ‘officially’ the consort of Mr. Sundance.
 
Butch: not quite such a pretty face
 
One of the train robberies is shot in a chiaroscuro way which reminded me of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford of the year after. I wonder if Assassination director Andrew Dominik and DP Roger Deakins had seen this on TV before doing theirs? Probably not, and anyway, the Dominik/Deakins version is ten times better. Still, the Iglor Medlic cinematography on The Legend of Butch and Sundance is quite nice in parts (his only Western) and some of the Calgary, Alberta locations very attractive. Visually, this TV movie is not at all bad.

There’s the standard and pretty well obligatory nod to ‘the end of the West’. Well, it is the 1890s after all. Butch says things like, “The frontier’s almost gone. Cities springing up like weeds.” Butch and Sundance are shown as recalcitrants, hold-outs for the old way of life, and of course, as always in these movies, the railroad companies are evil, even worse than the banks. Hell, Mike Cassidy says at one point, the railroads own the banks. This gives a spurious moral justification for robbing trains.

The boys fake their deaths and go off to Mexico where they go semi-straight but the evil nemesis Durango sniffs them out and comes south of the border after them. Things build to the inevitable Butch/Durango showdown, but this fizzles rather as it takes place back in Wyoming and Butch can’t do anything naughty there. Remember his promise to the judge?

The Legend of Butch and Sundance is harmless, a bit on the bland side, but a fair bit of fun here and there and probably worth a look if it comes on TV. The main actors certainly don’t have the spark that Newman and Redford had, and the writing (John Fasano, an associate producer of Tombstone) doesn’t give them quite enough quips or repartee but, though, at the risk of damning it with faint praise, for a TV movie it’s OK. It certainly won’t be the last time Sundance and Butch appear on the screen, that’s for sure.