screen gems

Before ‘Brokeback:’ that -other- gay cowboy movie…

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Proto-Brokeback: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lands on just about every list of the Best Films of the 60s. The movie snagged four Academy Awards and became a major hit for the era, thanks in no small part to its two leads: Robert Redford and Paul Newman. 

The plot: a pair of outlaws, Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) struggle to control their gang in 1890s Wyoming. The pair plot to rob a pair of trains to make off with enough loot to sustain themselves for a good long while, and so Sundance could finally marry his longtime sweetheart, Etta (Kathrine Ross). All doesn’t go according to plan with their heists, and Butch, Sundance and Etta end up on the run from the law.

Director George Roy Hill, working from a script by William Goldman, uses the simple premise as a pretense to stage some wild action sequences, and as a prism through which to view masculinity. Critics compared the tale of Butch & Sundance to the pairing of Batman & Robin–the pair enjoy the same kind of witty banter…and maybe have more than a platonic interest in one another. The inclusion of Etta only adds a layer of complexity to the situation. Both men dote on her to the point we have to wonder: are they in a threesome?

Fans of The Celluloid Closet will likely remember Susan Sarandon’s take on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: that the movie is really about two men in love, and that its climactic shootout is a metaphor. Butch & Sundance have to whip out their pistols since they can’t whip out their privates. We hereby endorse a remake that embraces that homoeroticism: before our antiheroes meet with doom, let them enjoy a moment of affection.

As it is, we still enjoy the original for its direction by Hill, Goldman’s snappy dialogue and the performances of its three leads. It’s not hard to see how Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had an effect on the western genre; in particular, Brokeback Mountain some 25 years later. Both are films about same-sex couples living in a hostile world, and who can’t seem to imagine life without one another. So, until we get a full-on gay remake, we recommend spending an evening with a pair of legendary stars. Watch, and just imagine: every time they reach for their pistols, it symbolizes something else.

Streams on Amazon, VUDU & YouTube.