Posts Tagged ‘William Goldman’

Moment #14: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

25 June 2017

I’ve puzzled about the bicycle sequence in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, ever since I first watched it. The bicycles seemed like an anomaly. Maybe it should have been more obvious to me. Anyway I stumbled across the film on television on a recent holiday weekend, which sent me back to the chapter that its screenwriter, William Goldman, wrote about the film in Adventures in the Screen Trade. Suddenly it became clearer.

Butch Cassidy is set in the last days of the Old West, a short period that lasted from the postbellum to the turn of the 19th century. As E.J. Hobsbawm reminds us, it wasn’t particularly violent, either. The film has some of the trappings of a Western, but it is a buddy movie about two men who find themselves out of time, because their skills as bank and train robbers are no longer useful. It is set right at the end of the period.

So Butch Cassidy and Sundance spend the film trying to escape towards the past, first literally, during the long sequence in the middle of the film as they are chased by the Superposse, sent by Pacific Railroad owner E.W.Harriman to track them down and kill them. The second time, metaphorically, as they head for a new life in Bolivia.

The bicycle was a huge American craze in the 1890s, and this is a captured in the film quite early on by a bicycle salesman.

SALESMAN: Soon the eye will see nothing but silk-ribboned bicycle paths stretching to infinity.

The bike becomes a motif of this new world they are running from, first innocently, then more ominously as they leave for Bolivia. 

The moment is not the bicycle scene above, but the way in which the film prefigures its ending. The first time is when the two men are on the run from the Superposse and try to get Bledsoe,  a magistrate they know, to enrol them in the army. He spells out the limited choices they face:

Screenshot 2017-06-09 21.56.23

The second time is a few pages later, when Butch and Sundance decide to go to Bolivia. Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta Place, agrees to go with them, but on one condition:

ETTA: I’ll go with you, and I won’t whine, and I’ll sew your socks and I’ll stitch you when you’re wounded, and anything you ask of me I’ll do, except for one thing; I won’t watch you die. I’ll miss that scene if you don’t mind.

And as they leave the house for good, on the next page, Butch hurls the bicycle outside, shouting:

BUTCH: **The future’s all yours, ya lousy bicycles.**

Script extracts courtesy of


Bryan, William, and Nanette

11 May 2013

Bryan Forbes, the film director, has died – a British director who managed to have a fairly successful career on both sides of the Atlantic. He directed interesting British films such as Whistle Down The Wind, but for me The Stepford Wives is the one that has stuck in the fabric of the culture.

If you haven’t seen it (I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a spoiler) it is set in a small town in Connecticut in which the men become disatisfied with their wives and set out to turn them into clones of what the “good wife” should be. It was made in 1975 and you don’t exactly need critical theory to locate it as a story sparked by the feminist wave of the ’60s and early ’70s.

Anyway, the screenplay was written by William Goldman, from the book by Ira Levin, and it’s one of the films Goldman writes about in his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade.

In fact he opens the chapter with an epigraph, a couple of lines of dialogue between him and Forbes:

FORBES: I think Nanette might be rather good for the part of Carol, don’t you?

GOLDMAN: She’s a wonderful actress; I think she’d be fine.

“Nanette” was Nanette Newman, Forbes’ wife, then in her early ’40s. A good actress, as Goldman describes her, “but not a sex-bomb”. And casting her has a big consequence for the film. In Levin’s story, as well as being willing and supportive providers, the women are male sex fantasies as well, all shorts, thighs and cleavage. That wasn’t Nanette Newman, however:

“By having Nanette Newman in the part, the whole look of the film had to alter. Forget the tennis costumes. Forget the parade of Bunnies walking through the A&P in shorts on their perfect tanned legs. She can’t wear the clothes.”

And so the Stepford Wives in the film end up in long pastel dresses. Goldman, looking back at the film, clearly thinks this is a problem.

But you never know how things will turn out. That other version of Stepford Wives, without Nanette Newman, would be unwatchable now, the sexism right there “on the nose” rather than embedded in the psyche, a period piece that screamed the mid-70s at us. As it is, long dresses and big broad-brimmed hats and all, it still stands up as a story – and one worth re-making 30 years later – about men who’re so threatened by intelligent, independent women that they’ll …. Now, that would be a spoiler.

All the President’s Men

3 April 2011

For those of us of a certain age, especially those of us who once worked as journalists, All The President’s Men is an archetypal story: reporters, by good reporting, uncover wrongdoing piece by piece – and the trail goes all the way from a bungled break-in at the Watergate building to the heart of the White House. And watching it again with my family a few weeks ago sent me back to William Goldman’s own account of writing the screenplay. The biggest challenge was that by the time the film was made, everyone knew the ending (spoiler alert: the President did it).

So immediately there was a challenge in telling the story, which is why Goldman hit on the idea of ending at a low point, when Woodward and Bernstein had made a mistake which had let the White House back into the game. Of course, this creates the moment for one of the great Hollywood speeches, as Jason Robards, playing Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, stands out on the lawn in his dressing gown late at night and tells the two reporters:

BEN BRADLEE: You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad.

Goldman invented the phrase ‘Follow the money‘, Deep Throat’s advice to Woodward (and if ever there was a truth…), and there is some fine screenwriting elsewhere. “Turn your exposition into argument” runs the advice to tyro screenwriters, and the early scene when Bernstein takes Woodward’s copy and rewrites it tells us lots about their experience, about their relationship, and something about newswriting as well. The film also reminds us – you have to read a little between the lines – that the story would probably never have been broken if it had been left to the political reporters.

Goldman has the screenwriting credit, and won an Oscar for it, but he didn’t have a happy experience working on it. In his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade he recalls going to a meeting with Redford, who was executive producer as well as co-star. Bernstein and Nora Ephron (then Bernstein’s girlfriend) put their alternative version of the script on the table.

One scene in the film survives from that script – where Bernstein (Hoffman) tricks the receptionist at the Dade County Sheriff’s Office into leaving her desk so he can slip past in her absence. It’s an amusing scene when it plays in the movie. There was just one problem with it, as Goldman notes:

it didn’t happen – they made it up. It was a phony Hollywood moment. God knows I’ve written enough of them – but I never would have dreamed of using it in a movie about the fall of the President of the United States.

The still is from ET Online, and is used with thanks.