Great Scene: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

Butch and Sundance return to the Hole in the Wall Gang… and a challenge.

Fight scenes. Whether swords or knives, guns or fists, lasers or kung fu, fight scenes are a staple of the movies. One problem: They’re so common, what can a screenwriter do to distinguish theirs from all the previous examples? William Goldman came up with an unexpected twist with this fight scene featuring Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the much bigger Harvey Logan (Ted Cassidy).

Here is the scene as scripted by Goldman:

BUTCH AND HIS MENBUTCH
Now let's just forget about Harvey taking over.
Okay, Flat Nose?
FLAT NOSE CURRY has been nicknamed for obvious reasons.FLAT NOSE CURRY
You always told us anyone could challenge you --
BUTCH
That's 'cause I figured nobody's do it.
CUT TO:LOGANsmiling, starting toward Butch again.LOGAN
Figured wrong, Butch.
CUT TO:BUTCH AND HIS MENBUTCH
(a little desperate now)
You can't want Logan --
NEWS
-- at least he's with us, Butch -- you been spending
a lot of time gone --
CUT TO:CLOSEUP - BUTCHBUTCH
That's 'cause everything's changing now -- it's all going
new on us --
CUT TO:LOGANLOGAN
Guns or knives, Butch?
CUT TO:BUTCHGoing rapidly on, doing his best to ignore Logan.BUTCH
--everything's harder than it used to be --
you got to plan more, you got to prepare,
you got to be damn sure you're doing or
you're dead --
CUT TO:LOGANmoving in front of Butch now.LOGAN
Guns or knives?
BUTCH
Neither.
LOGAN
Pick!
BUTCH
I don't want to shoot with you, Harvey.
CUT TO:LOGANsmiling.LOGAN
Whatever you say, Butch.
And suddenly a knife is in his hand and --CUT TO:THE MENand with the appearance of the knife they start to get really excited, and from here on in that excitement only builds as they surge toward Logan who is calmly taking off his shirt. Butch moves to Sundance.CUT TO:SUNDANCEon his horse, waiting quietly at Butch approaches. Butch is doing his best to cover how he feels.BUTCH
Maybe there's a way to make a profit on this --
bet on Logan.
SUNDANCE
I would, but who'd bet on you?
BUTCH
I made this gang. You know I did. Now look
at 'em.
CUT TO:THE GANGclustered around Logan. He is stripped to the waist and his body is
brutal. Suddenly he calls out --
LOGAN
Sundance -- when we're done, if he's dead, you're
welcome to stay.
CUT TO:BUTCH AND SUNDANCELooking out at Logan. Butch speaks quietly to Sundance.BUTCH
Listen, I'm not a sore loser or anything, but
when we're done, if I'm dead, kill him.
SUNDANCE
(to Logan, but in
answer to Butch
Love to.
CUT TO:BUTCHHe fidgets a moment, then starts the long walk back toward Logan.
Logan is younger and faster and stronger and Butch knows it, and
knowing it doesn't make the walk any pleasanter. Still he moves
forward, unarmed as yet, toward the other man.
CUT TO:LOGANwatching him come. In the sun his body glistens.CUT TO:BUTCHmoving through the gang toward Logan. He is unarmed and a
knife is offered him by one of the gang.
BUTCH
Not yet.
(moving up to Logan now)
Not til Harvey and me get all the rules
straight.
LOGAN
Rules? In a knife fight?
No rules!
As he finishes speaking Butch delivers the most aesthetically exquisite kick in the balls in the history of the modern American cinema.CUT TO:LOGANFor a moment he just stands there. Then he makes an absolutely
indescribable sound and, as the look on his face moves from disbelief to displeasure, he sinks slowly to his knees.
CUT TO:BUTCHHe goes on as if nothing whatsoever had happened.BUTCH
Well, if there aren't going to be any rules, I guess
we might as well get this fight started. Somebody
say 'one-two-three-go.'
CUT TO:SUNDANCE
(like a shot)
One-two-three-go.
CUT TO:LOGANHe is green now, and still on his knees. Butch approaches, nods, locks his hands together and, as if swinging a baseball bat, delivers a stunning blow to Logan's jaw. Logan falls and lies there.CUT TO:FLAT NOSE CURRY AND SEVERAL OTHERSall hurrying to Butch.FLAT NOSE
I was rooting for you, Butch.
BUTCH
(with great earnestness)
I know, Flat Nose. That's what sustained me
in my time of trouble.

“As he finishes speaking Butch delivers the most aesthetically exquisite kick in the balls in the history of the modern American cinema.” Great stuff. And notice how deftly Goldman wove in one of the key themes of the movie with this line: “That’s ’cause everything’s changing now — it’s all going new on us.” The world is changing (e.g., bicycles!), but Butch and Sundance don’t end up changing, and it costs them plenty — their lives.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

How much do we miss Paul Newman?

For more of the Great Scene series, go here.