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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Who knew? David Fincher adores 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'

March 29, 2010 | 12:36 pm

It feels like a slow week for moviegoing, with "How to Train Your Dragon" hardly being a must-see, "Hot Tub Time Machine" feeling like a must-to-avoid and the extremely underwhelming "Clash of the Titans" looming on the horizon. So as I was making vacation plans, I realized that the UCLA Film and Television Archive is presenting the ultimate film lover's fantasy this Tuesday night. As part of its "The Movie That Inspired Me" series, the archive is screening "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," with none other than David Fincher on hand to talk with the series' curator, Curtis Hanson, about the film's impact on his career.

It seems an odd choice, since I would've guessed that Fincher would've been more inspired by a Hitchcock thriller or an icily entrancing sci-fi film like "Blade Runner." But when it comes to "Butch Cassidy," easily the best film of George Roy Hill's directing career, what's not to love? I just watched the film again the other night and it holds up beautifully. Although it has now been enshrined as a lofty classic -- it was not only won nominated for the Oscar for best picture but was the top-grossing film of 1969 -- it's actually a surprisingly playful movie, full of wisecracking interplay between its two charismatic stars, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, both at the height of their powers.

Fincher It is also a film that is a product of the irreverent 1960s. One of its cheekiest scenes is a sly satire of the obligatory "let's round up a posse" scene, in which the local sheriff, outraged by Butch and Sundance's latest robbery, tries to rouse the citizenry to ride off after the outlaws. He is greeted with stony silence. After a while, one member of the crowd finally joins him, but to the sheriff's great chagrin, his sole supporter turns out to be an enterprising hustler who, realizing he has the rapt attention of most of the town's citizens, proceeds to pitch them on the benefits of buying the hot new 1890s high-tech product -- a bicycle.

That of course leads to one of the film's best-known scenes, in which Newman takes Katharine Ross for a bicycle ride around the countryside, a scene accompanied by the B.J. Thomas song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," which became a No. 1 pop hit. Coming just two years after "Bonnie and Clyde" and within months of the release of "The Wild Bunch," "Butch Cassidy" cagily tapped into the country's fascination with rogues and outlaws while also representing a slighter darker meditation on the limits of heroism. The film made Redford a huge star, turned William Goldman into a top-of-the A-list screenwriter and offers astounding cinematography from the peerless Conrad Hall.

It deserves to be viewed on the big screen, so if you have the time, get over to the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood and see it for yourself. (For more information, go here.) As for me, I'm heading off on spring break for the rest of the week -- yes, even bloggers take vacations -- so postings will be light until I return.

Photo: Top, Robert Redford and Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Credit: 20th Century Fox. Bottom, David Fincher. Credit: Jeff Christensen / Associated Press.