(1979)3.5Derek ArmstrongIf you were casting a prequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and were told to hire inexpensive, B-list versions of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, you could have done a lot worse than Tom Berenger and a pre-Greatest American Hero William Katt. Berenger gets down Newman's essential playfulness; Katt broods humorlessly like Redford did. But Butch and Sundance: The Early Days never exceeds the level of a theoretical casting exercise. It has its moments, but it's just an episodic origins story, with little connecting the episodes, and a noticeable lack of momentum. As any good sequel/prequel should, it emulates the moments that worked well in the original. For example, in place of Newman's famous bicycle-riding scene, Berenger and Katt learn how to ski, going ass over teakettle in hi-larious ways. But Richard Lester's film contains none of the original touches that made George Roy Hill's film a classic, such as the priceless use of still-photo interludes, and the whip-smart action choreography. Worse, in its more slapstick moments, it resembles an episode of Hee Haw more than a serious western. Butch and Sundance: The Early Days also manages to do a retroactive disservice to the original. Now that we know just how much time the two outlaws actually spent together, certain moments in the original seem ridiculous, such as when Butch and Sundance learn each other's real names (they have a similar discussion here), and when Butch admits that he's never shot anyone (Sundance would have already known that). However, it does also give us a renewed appreciation for the brilliance of William Goldman's original script, which was notable for picking up near the end of their story, only hinting at the adventures that came before. The Early Days reconfirms that no more than a hint was ever needed.
This "prequel" to the Newman/Redford vehicle Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was written by TV sitcom veteran Allan Burns and stars Tom Berenger as Butch and William Katt as Sundance. The film, per its title, traces the formative days of Butch and Sundance's careers as soft-hearted western outlaws, and their creation of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. There's no Etta Place this time around; the fictional heroine, named Mary, is played by Jill Eikenberry. Only Jeff Corey, as Sheriff Ray Bledsoe, repeats his role from the original film.