I just watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
on cable. It is, of course, a classic — the movie made Robert Redford a star and won a best original screenplay Oscar for William Goldman
I'm a big Goldman fan, so I'm going to talk about his oeuvre here. The thing is, I'm not so enthused about his screen work, which is what made him famous.
If you know of William Goldman, it's most likely because of two movies: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride. But Butch, despite its reputation, isn't very good. And while The Princess Bride is a wonderful flick, the best bits from the source material didn't make it onto the screen.
My chief problem with Butch is that the main characters were real people, but Goldman doesn't make even the slightest effort to present them as real people. They are flaxen-haired Hollywood heroes from start to finish, tossing out quips and throwing off California smiles. Nothing that happens in the movie is believable. If this had been the big-screen version of the TV series Maverick (Goldman would write that screenplay some 30 years later), it would have been a great movie. A sharp-witted, entertaining comedy fit for Hepburn and Tracy, with Redford in the Hepburn role.
But, no, Goldman chose to tell the story of real-life men, so call me old-fashioned, but I believe some effort should have been made at realism. Actually, Goldman did make the effort, but he ditched the results. He originally thought he'd write a historical novel about the legendary Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, but after getting started on the project, he decided "the additional research required to make a novel authentic was out of the question." Making a movie would be so much easier. Then he could just wing it.
Let's move on now to The Princess Bride. I love the movie. It's one of my favorites, right up there at the top of the comedy category with Broadcast News, My Favorite Year, and The Full Monty. But if you haven't read the book, then you're really missing out. Because it has the world's best introduction. In it, we meet the author (the very real William Goldman) and a fictional, comedic version of his family — his humorless, "hot-shot child psychiatrist" wife, Helen, and their rather overweight son, Jason. ("He'd mop up for the school sumo team," Goldman says of Jason.) Plus, there's a cameo by a bikinied starlet named Sandy Sterling, a big fan of the author who approaches him poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "Goldman, yes Goldman, I'm Goldman," he sputters when she asks if he is William Goldman. None of this, as I've indicated, is in the movie. So get the book.
All right, time to wrap this up. The thing to take away from this post is that Goldman started out as a novelist. And before Hollywood helped turn his fiction toward the thriller genre (the wonderful Marathon Man was followed by the awful sequel Brothers), he wrote straightforward, funny novels about coming-of-age angst (The Temple of Gold, Boys and Girls Together), relationships going bad (The Thing of It Is, Father's Day) and — oh yeah — serial killers (No Way to Treat a Lady). If you haven't tried any of these, the dog days of summer are a good time to do so...