Sound Design: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The opening scene of the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a master lesson in character introduction.  Shot in sepia with almost no dialogue, the shots and editing techniques are the foundation of the introduction of Paul Newman as legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy.  Not only is the main character introduced with no dialogue but I believe that the clever use of sound effects introduces the story as well.

The scene opens with a close up of Paul Newman as he stares through a window.  He exits the building and we only hear a slight sound of the doorknob clicking as he opens it and the door softly closing behind him.  As he makes his way across the street we begin to hear the sound of horse hooves and a carriage rolling along.  We continue to hear those sounds, but do not see the source, as Butch scans the building he is approaching.  The building is solid brick with bars on the windows.  A very modern looking exterior in what appears to be an old Western town made up of wooden storefronts and a dirt road.  Butch continues scanning the building until he approaches and enters a dark doorway.  Just before entering we finally see the horse carriage roll on behind him as the sound of the hooves and wheels grows louder.  When Butch stands in the doorway a horse walks past him as we hear the distinct sounds of the hooves matching the action onscreen.

Butch enters the building silhouetted against the sunny street outside.  A close up of Butch shows him scanning the inside.  Now is when the sound effects begin to tell the story.  Butch looks at what appears to be an alarm button on the wall with blurry hands shifting in the foreground.  A flicking sound matches the blurry action until a cut reveals the alarm bell on the wall.  Cut back to a close up of Butch and the silence is interrupted by the tones of a clock alarm.  Butch reacts and we cut to a close up of the clock on the wall.  Then follows a flurry of quick cuts and sound that tell us we are in a bank.  A “CLOSED” sign is placed on the counter with a clicking sound, under the protective bars.  A pair of hands carries money bags as another “CLOSED” sign clicks on the counter.  A close up of a pair of hands opening a safe with a click of the lock comes next.  A security guard appears out of the shadows and, intercut with Butch watching, proceeds to slam the shutters on the windows and bolt them down with a lock.  All of these images are accompanied with the loud crash of wood slamming on wood and the steel bar slamming on the steel holder.

The scene ends with the bank tellers shuffling past Butch and saying goodnight to the Guard.  Finally we hear Butch speak as he addresses the Guard.  After making a veiled joke about the security measures ruining the bank, Butch exits and the Guard slams the door behind him with authority.  The loud slam of the door is the climax to a scene that tells you all you need to know about this character and this story.  The sound effects of the horse carriage on the dirt road are meant to show the “Old West”, a world that Butch and his partner The Sundance Kid are very comfortable in.  As Butch enters the bank, the sound effects inside, such as the clicking of the safe, the automatic clock alarm, and the loud threatening sounds of the shutters locking the windows, are all meant to introduce the “Modern World” of the 20th century.  This is a world that is closing in rapidly on Butch and Sundance and as Butch watches and listens to the bank being shuttered, the audience can feel that even though the film has just started, time is already running out.

One thought on “Sound Design: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

  1. I loved this! Its very engaging, I had to see what happens. I’m definitely going to watch Butch Cassidy again!!!!


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