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HOME ENTERTAINMENT : Butch & Sundance Ride Again in Celebratory Laser-Disc Set

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was released in 1969, most critics didn’t take too kindly to it. But audiences loved it immediately, understanding exactly what director George Roy Hill and screenwriter William Goldman wanted to say.

The film has gone on to become a classic and now it is fully realized in a first-rate 25th anniversary laser-disc edition with a supplementary audio track, a “Making of . . .” documentary shot when the film was in production and contemporary interviews with the film’s stars, plus additional supplementary material (Fox/Image, $100).

The informative audio track includes recollections from Hill, cinematographer Conrad Hall and documentary filmmaker Robert Crawford.

Among the wonderful details that the audio track, documentary and interviews divulge are the hows and whys of the film’s memorable scenes: Butch and Sundance jumping off the cliff; Butch and Emma cavorting on the bicycle to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”; the initial seduction scene between Sundance and Emma; the pre-Bolivian trip New York montage, and the final freeze-frame.

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Nicely detailed chapter stops clearly specify who is talking at which point, though a brief voice-over stating who is speaking when would also help. Also included is a handsomely produced four-page, full-color brochure offering detailed notes on all the major participants, including then-and-now photos.

For all involved, the film was magic: The right people at the right place telling a wonderful story. And it had a powerful influence on everyone, from star to technician.

“I’m very proud of this picture,” Hill says. It endures, he believes, because it is “about some basic human condition that is bigger than all of us and will go on forever no matter what era it’s set in.” In this case, technology robbing bank robbers of their jobs at the turn of the century.

As Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross tell it, the film was planted firmly in director Hill’s mind from the minute he read the script. And he never lost sight of it, even when he ended up directing flat on his back on location, not wanting to let the studio know about a painful back injury for fear they’d pull him off it.

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“George was a director in the best sense,” recalls Newman, who in 1973 reunited with him and Redford for “The Sting.” “When you’re cooking he leaves you alone. When you get in trouble, he comes in and points you in the right direction, and that is very unusual.”

When Newman first saw the script, he thought he’d be right for Sundance. The next time he saw it, Steve McQueen asked him to look at it, and the two thought they’d buy it with McQueen as Butch Cassidy. As things worked out, they didn’t buy it, but George Roy Hill ended up at the helm and had always envisioned Newman as Butch and Redford as Sundance.

He had no trouble persuading the powers that were that Newman should star, but he had a fight on his hands getting Redford as co-star. Though Redford had a few films to his credit, he wasn’t yet in Newman’s league. Newman joined the fight for him as Sundance. But that meant a slight change in the original title, “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy,” to reflect Newman’s role.

Not only did Redford and Newman develop a lifelong friendship, Redford became a major star as a result of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” “This unquestionably was the film that put me in a new place,” he recalls. “It changed my life. I could no longer live my life the way I had been living, normally.”

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Redford also developed a lifelong friendship with Butch Cassidy’s sister Lulu Betenson, and tells a wonderful story of how she ended up getting what she wanted from 20th Century Fox.

Ross, considered by the director and just about everyone else as the sexiest young actress around, recalls how she was banned from the set early on. Cinematographer Hall, a close friend, gave her a chance to run an unmanned fifth camera set up for an early scene: the super posse shooting out of the train after Butch and Sundance. Hill was so angry that he allowed her on the set only for scenes in which she appeared. She says the incident “devastated” and “haunted” her for the rest of the film.

Hall, who like Goldman, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, won Oscars for the film, helped produce the stylized look and feel that Hill wanted, something clearly seen in the documentary footage.

Also clear from the non-letterboxed trailers is how vastly more powerful the widescreen version is, with the letterboxing allowing viewers to see the director/cinematographer’s vision as it should be seen.

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