11 years Newman’s junior, Robert Redford made his debut in Tall Story (1960) and has racked up an equally impressive array of movie roles. Barefoot in the Park (1967), Downhill Racer (1969), The Great Gatsby (1974), All the President’s Men (1976), Out of Africa (1985), Sneakers (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993) and The Horse Whisperer (1998) all adorn his impressive filmography.
By the late 1960s, Newman was established as one of the finest leading men of his age and Redford was one of the hottest young actors who seemingly just needed that one big break to make him a bona fide star. In 1969 the two of them came together for the first time in one of the most loved Western movies of all time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. A timeless buddy caper, the two leads are a pair of affable outlaws who banter and crack wise as they rob banks and trains and plunder their way across the old west before going on the run and making their way to Bolivia.
After the immense success of Butch Cassidy, the two men were reunited five years later in 1974 by the same director - George Roy Hill - to star as gentlemen grifters in 1936 America. The Sting was another fine buddy movie which benefitted greatly from the superb chemistry between the two leads. Newman and Redford played two professional conmen who set out to fleece a detestable mob boss via an elaborate scam.
Butch and Sundance was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and won 4 including Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay. The Sting fared even better, nominated for 10 Oscars and winning 7 including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. They proved to be two incredibly entertaining movies and arguably two of the highlights of both Newman and Redford’s careers.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
George Roy Hill’s immensely popular Western delivers a playful and heavily romanticized view of life in the old West. The two anti-heroes are based on real life outlaws and there’s no doubt that the filmmakers are hugely generous in depicting them as loveable rogues. Nevertheless, when the heavily romanticized version of history is this entertaining, we’ll let all that go for now.
Quick-thinking and charming, Butch is the leader of the notorious Hole In The Wall gang. After seeing off a challenge to his leadership, Butch and his right-hand man, the enigmatic hot-shot Sundance, head off with the rest of their posse to rob the Union Pacific Flyer train not once, but twice. The first robbery goes without a hitch, but the second one is scuppered when Butch uses a little too much dynamite on the safe and scatters money all over the desert. Things take a turn for the worse when a second train pulls up and a posse of horseman gallop off it forcing the gang to flee. The group scatters but the posse only follows Butch and Sundance.
The tracking posse was recruited by the head of Union Pacific who grew tired of Butch and his gang stealing his money. After much deliberation (“who are those guys?), the two outlaws realise they are being followed by legendary Indian Tracker ‘Lord Baltimore’ and tough old lawman called LeFors. They go on the run and narrowly evade capture by plummeting off the edge of a cliff into a river. This legendary scene includes one of the all-time great movie comebacks as when Sundance explains to Butch that he doesn’t want to jump because he can’t swim, Butch retorts “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.” The duo, along with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta flee to Bolivia and briefly pursue a legitimate line of work before falling back into their old ways.
I would discuss the iconic ending, and boy is it iconic, but I’ll keep the mystique intact for now and assume there may be some readers yet to see it. Needless to say, it’s a moment of true cinematic brilliance.
Butch and Sundance paved the way for the buddy-action-comedy craze which blossomed many years later. The two close friends get under each other's skin and gripe at each other often, but there’s never any doubting their loyalty to one another even for a moment. Butch is ever the schemer, “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals” while Sundance is the trusted marksman who goes along with Butch’s hare-brained plans “You just keep thinkin', Butch. That's what you're good at.” I cannot stress enough how pitch-perfect the two lead actors are for these roles. Newman revels in playing the cocky and unflappable outlaw and Redford proves the perfect comic foil for Newman’s antics with his brooding screen presence. They both zip between experienced and resourceful outlaws to wisecracking drinking buddies in the blink of an eye. It’s screen chemistry at its finest.
The ill-advised ‘raindrops keep falling on my head’ sequence aside, it’s a movie packed with memorable moments and a strangely appealing depiction of the Old West. Westerns from here on out tended to be far more realistic in their portrayal of the violent and inhospitable nature of the West and there was no place for happy-go-lucky heroes like Butch and Sundance. They were in every sense the last of a dying breed.
After the box office success of Butch Cassidy, it was a no-brainer to reunite its two stars for another light-hearted outing.
Set in Chicago in the 1930s, this stylish and slick crime caper still looks as good today as it did back in 1974. Once again, the two leads ooze charisma and charm every step of the way and share a screen chemistry arguably unmatched since. They both play their roles with a playful glint in their eye, with Redford once again the young kid on the block and Newman the wily old hand. Robert Shaw also deserves great credit for his portrayal of Doyle Lonnegan, the violent crime boss who becomes the duo’s unwitting ‘mark’. Interesting piece of trivia for all you trivia fans out there: Jack Nicholson turned down the role which then went to Redford and Oliver Reed turned down the role of Lonnegan which then went to Shaw.
Redford’s Johnny Hooker and Newman’s Henry Gondorff are two small time grifters who decide to pool their resources and come together for that one big con of a lifetime. They target Robert Shaw’s Lonnegan, a feared crime boss with a penchant for high stakes gambling. They slowly begin to manipulate Lonnegan and draw him into their con, the exact details of which I won’t bother trying to summarise here as frankly, it’s far too complicated.
As director, Hill deserves plenty of plaudits for his role in making The Sting such an enjoyable romp. He ensures the movie looks terrific throughout with the period sets and outfits all working perfectly, and opts to use a deliciously jaunty ragtime soundtrack which really gives the whole film a playful tone. The fact that the ragtime music is around 25 years out of date by 1930 is rendered irrelevant as luckily it fits the movie perfectly. The way Hill allows the film to play out is also very clever as he is careful never to give too much away and really keeps the viewer in the dark as to how exactly Hooker and Gondorff plan to scam their target. Naturally this makes the ending all the more special.
The Sting had a lasting impact and its stylings can be witnessed in everything from Guy Ritchie’s crime frolics to the likes of Ocean’s 11 which likewise blended together a pair of handsome leads, a slick style and a twisting plot to great effect.
Newman and Redford are as witty as ever and bring their own infallible laid-back approach to their roles. Gondorff and Hooker both seem impervious to harm and are the kind of guys you really want on your side in a sticky situation.
So there you have it, two of Hollywood’s finest actors, together in two absolutely timeless screen classics. A more entertaining and enjoyable few hours you will be hard pushed to find.