The Sundance Kid rides again! Not on horseback but in a 1970s sedan.
In his most recent film (and perhaps his last), The Old Man and the Gun, Robert Redford plays a charming real-life bank robber. Announcing his retirement from acting, he told Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle that he chose the part because he identified with the bank robber’s rebellious spirit, and he wanted his last film to be “quirky and upbeat and fun.”
I have a special fondness for Redford that goes back to his role in his first memorable film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford has called it the “first real film experience I ever had” and “the most fun on any film I’ve had. It changed my life.”
When I saw the film in Chicago shortly after its release, I was struck by the performances of both Paul Newman (my perennial favorite) as Butch Cassidy and newcomer Redford as the Sundance Kid.
Unbeknown to me, there was a real live double of the Sundance Kid out there, waiting to meet me when I moved to LA a short time later: my soon-to-be husband. Once he added a mustache to his otherwise great looks, his resemblance to Redford in that film was uncanny, and I dubbed him the Sundance Kid. I even acquired a poster of Redford in that role to affix to my office wall as a reminder of my new-found love.
The 1969 film, now fifty years old, holds up very well. In perhaps its most memorable scene, the two leading men plunge from a cliff into roiling waters below, shouting a now more commonly accepted expletive for probably the first time in movie history.
Newman and Redford play leaders of the “Hole in the Wall Gang,” a group that robs banks, successfully for the most part, until robbing a train gets them into serious trouble. They alienate Mr. E. H. Harrison of the Union Pacific Railroad, who hires special trackers who relentlessly follow Butch and Sundance.
An endearing scene takes place when the two men approach the home of Etta Place, Sundance’s wife. News stories have alarmed Etta. “The papers said they had you. They said you were dead.” Sundance’s first reaction: “Don’t make a big thing of it.” He pauses and reflects. Then he says, “No. Make a big thing of it.” And they enthusiastically embrace.
Redford’s brilliant career includes a large number of notable Hollywood films. It’s easy for me to name some favorites: Downhill Racer in 1969, The Candidate in 1972, The Way We Were and The Sting in 1973, All the President’s Men in 1974, The Natural in 1984, and Out of Africa in 1985. (A few of these especially resonate with me.) And in All is Lost, as recently as 2013, Redford shines as an older man on the verge of dying alone in troubled ocean waters. Outstanding performances, each and every one.
In recent years, as I became an active supporter of NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), an entity vigorously working on behalf of the environment, I began hearing from Redford, who aligned himself with NRDC’s goals and requested additional donations. I commend him for his strong support for protecting the future of our country and our planet. His efforts on behalf of the environment seem even more critical now, as we face increasingly dire problems caused by climate change.
As for Redford’s movie career, my hope is that he chooses not to retire. Most movie-goers would welcome seeing new films that include him, even in a small role. In the meantime, I encourage every film buff to see The Old Man and the Gun. Featuring a number of brief scenes from his earlier movies (plugged into the movie by director David Lowery), the film is a great reminder of a storied Hollywood career. A career that began with the Sundance Kid.
Just read this wonderful post about Robert Redford. I love the way you wove in your personal connection to the actor and what he’s meant to you over the years.
Cultural icons so often fall short of their idolized status in today’s world, but Redford has stood the test of time, getting better with age and showing all of us how to age with depth, commitment, and passion.
Thanks for writing this “Susan Just Writes.”
Thanks for this perspective! Redford has always been one of my favorites, too. I loved Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s sense of humor, fast-paced adventure, beautiful scenery, and range of emotions… The Sting is a really great film, too. Recently I saw All Is Lost, and I agree the performance was outstanding and very moving, with the whole movie riding on Redford. You’ve made me want to see his latest!