“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is one of the most popular films of all-time. The 1969 western is based on the real life exploits of two infamous outlaws whose specialty was robbing trains. They became folk heroes because they supposedly never shot anyone. Their true-life-story-turned-comedy was successful in part because it paired two of Hollywood’s hottest actors, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and introduced the hit song, “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.”

The movie became a cult classic and was the vehicle that launched Redford into super-stardom. The chemistry between the two actors led to them teaming up again in the equally successful film, “The Sting” in 1973. The original movie also inspired the successful TV western, “Alias Smith & Jones” in the early ‘70s.

For those that haven’t seen the movie, the two successful and popular outlaws were driving the railroads crazy with all their robberies and the powers-that-be decided enough was enough. They hired top detectives and posses to hunt them down. The film covers Butch and the Kid’s efforts to avoid capture and start a new life (even leaving the country) against impossible odds.

The fact that the movie was a classic based on a true story has always kept alive the interest in the lives of the two protagonists. Did they really meet the fate suggested at the end of the film? There has been debate and rumor about what really happened to them.

You can experience Butch and Sundance several ways at the library including a new documentary. To answer lingering questions and put this story in its proper context, PBS has produced a documentary for its “American Experience” series called “The Last Outlaws: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This biography uses archival film footage, still photos and facsimiles interspersed with interviews with several historians to set the record straight. It covers the lives of the two outlaws and their cohorts who collectively were known as either “The Hole in the Wall Gang” or “The Wild Bunch.”

One of the reasons this group of outlaws was popular with the public is that they were the last of a dying breed. They left their mark at the beginning of the 20th century and once they were put down it was the end of the old West. The railroad barons hired the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency and it spent years focused on finding and bringing the gang to justice.

In the movie Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the Kid’s mistress, Etta Place, escape the country and end up in Bolivia where they eventually return to their outlaw past. In reality they lived several quiet years on a farm in Argentina before being discovered and escaping to Bolivia where they met their Waterloo.

Both the movie (available through our 4cls collection) and the documentary (which we own) offer a glimpse of the wild West as we like to imagine it. These outlaws also represent an end of an era. The two films together provide an entertaining history of the American Frontier and are well worth a look.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at co.david@4cls.org. Please note that all book and movie reviews are for titles that the Village Library has available to borrow.

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