The Buddy Chemistry of Butch and Sundance

As I wrote in my last post, friendships form between real actors but also between the fictional characters they portrayed in the many formats of entertainment. In this next subset of my series, New Year; New Types of Friends, I provide examples of friendships from movies. The first shows the dynamic friendship chemistry between Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The First Friendship Flick

The relationship between two of the most legendary actors of all time blossomed while working on the iconic movie. In what may be the first “buddy movie” of all time, the 1969 film is a retelling of the lives of actual figures from history: a pair of Wild West outlaws named Robert LeRoy Parker (“Butch Cassidy”, played by Paul Newman) and Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid, played by Robert Redford). The smash-hit achieved box office dominance and won more Oscars (four) than any other film that year.

Based loosely on fact, the film opens with the admission “Most of what follows is true.” During the early 1900s, these two outlaws were on the run from a US posse after a string of train robberies. Butch is the brains, while Sundance is the levelheaded sure-shot. Together they plan heists and enjoy the high life … until the law catches up with them. The pair and Sundance’s lover, Etta Place (played by Katharine Ross), flee to Bolivia to escape and get a new lease on life. 

What Made Their Friendship Unique

The on-screen chemistry between Butch and Sundance made both the movie and their friendship iconic. Although the two men were outlaws, they were perfectly paired outlaws. Their buddy dynamic is brought to life beautifully by the perfectly paired Newman and Redford. Their chemistry engages and charms the viewers, even though the two friends often act like cads. 

An offbeat sense of humor and well-placed comedic moments showed how well they worked together. For instance, right before the duo engages in a gunfight, Butch confesses that he’s never shot anybody. With hysterical comic timing, Sundance quips, “Hell of a time to tell me, Butch…” 

During a 27-minute chase scene, Butch and Sundance dismount and separate from their lone horse. They start scaling the rocky terrain to evade their pursuers. Butch asks, “What if they don’t follow the horse?”. Sundance: “Don’t worry, Butch, you’ll think of something.” Originally Butch retorts, “That’s a load off my mind.” 

The key to the friendship of Butch and Sundance is that they care about each other. They also watched out for each other. They both like the same woman (Etta) but manage to not fight over her. 

The final scene shows the duo surrounded by local police and the Bolivian Army. Butch and Sundance remain optimistic in the face of certain doom, certain they can escape and head to Australia. When they run out with guns cocked and ready to fire, the frame freezes over the sounds of the gunfire. The duo’s tragic fate is sealed. There is something about dying side-by-side with your friend when you are completely outnumbered that shows the depth of a friendship.

The Friendship of Redford and Newman

The on-screen bond between Robert Redford and Paul Newman proved so strong that they teamed up again four years later. The Sting won Best Picture and garnered an Oscar nomination for Redford. The chemistry between these friends and accomplished actors helped them execute the twisting plot and complicated storyline successfully. The film was a joy to watch with its ragtime soundtrack and nostalgic reminder of a simpler time.

The duo never teamed up again. “All these years went by and nobody came up with any ideas that were anything but corny and kind of low grade, so we just decided probably that wasn’t going to happen,” Robert Redford told the Los Angeles Times in 2005. The two almost reconnected for the film A Walk in the Woods in the late-2000s, but the 80-year-old Paul Newman stepped down. “[T]that made me sad but I had to accept what he said but we still maintained our friendship,” Redford once said.

In an interview with ABC News, Robert Redford spoke about the depth of his personal friendship with Paul Newman. While the chemistry on screen in the two movies brought them together, their friendship off-screen became stronger over the years. Both actors lived in Connecticut for some time, only a mile apart. Their families and children, a priority for both stars, became close. Their social and political commitments overlapped. Newman and Redford both took on philanthropic work. 

They Had Brotherly Love

Over many years, the chemistry of their friendship developed brotherly characteristics. “We both got to know each other’s flaws pretty well. Of course, I outweighed him on that front. But knowing each other’s flaws, we just played them to the hilt and we’d try to trick each other,” Redford said. “We’d try to surprise each other, and it was so damn much fun that it became like — it became like a scenario unto itself.

After Newman’s death, Redford said “Friendship was very important to him, and being able to be a real person was very important to him.” Redford knew that scores of people would have positive stories about Newman, but few could understand their lasting connection. “[T]he durability and the length of this friendship has created a pretty deep root,” Redford said on “World News with Charles Gibson” in 2008. “He was a real friend and that humor that we had, I’ll miss that. I’ll miss him,” Redford said.

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GodBuddy Focus

Like Butch and Sundance, GodBuddy friendships develop chemistry. A deep, authentic friendship knows there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Also like Redford and Newman, GodBuddies know each other’s flaws. The Bible reminds us that you can be healed once you confess your sins to one another and pray for each other (James 5:16). 

My next post is another example of friendship from the movies.


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