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Butch and Sundance: The Early Days / Death Hunt


Nothing in common, but both above average

Rod Lott January 21st, 2011

Besides being distributed theatrically by 20th Century Fox, what do the feature films “Butch and Sundance: The Early Days” and “Death Hunt” have to do with one another?

butchdeath

Nothing I can ascertain, outside of now sharing digital bits on Shout! Factory’s new "Action/Adventure Double Feature" release. I love such collections, if only for the X-for-the-price-of-one value.

As one would guess, 1979’s “Butch and Sundance” is a prequel to the 1969 Paul Newman/Robert Redford classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” You may not even know — or possibly just forgot — that a follow-up even existed, and you can be forgiven, as it contains nary a Newman or a Redford. In their place? Tom Berenger and William Katt.

With Peter Weller, Christopher Lloyd and Brian Dennehy also in the cast, Berenger easily holds his own, but Katt is out of his element, having perhaps half — if that — of Redford’s charisma. But even if we don’t compare “Early Years” against the original, this Western is still a so-so outing, hovering about average.

We get enough stereotypical Old West action to satisfy those tastes, from gunfights to a train robbery, but the story feels forced, as if it had to end to mesh with what was to come of the characters, which it did. Short on chemistry and more goofy than witty, it doesn’t quite click with reliability of a six-shooter’s trigger.

Better is 1981’s “Death Hunt,” a star vehicle for Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin. It may not be among Bronson’s best, but boy, is it bloody, perhaps to satiate the bloodlust of his “Death Wish” fans. Whatever the reason, it works.

He plays Albert, an animal trapper who lives alone in his Canadian, snow-covered mountain cabin. His solitude, however, is shattered when Albert gets on the wrong side of some local yokels who love their dog fights. Albert has to kill one of the guys in order to save his own life, but the remaining goons cry “murder” to the authorities.

That’s where Mounties Lee Marvin, Andrew Stevens and the needs-a-haircut Carl Weathers come in, to engage in the titular activity. Albert’s the smart, crafty, well-skilled type, however, and he has the home advantage as they pursue him all over the mountains. Watch for the scene in which a terrified Stevens (who looks oh-so-Dudley Do-Right) gets a big smooch on the lips from another dude, and all that third-act aerial action.

In terms of extras, the DVD contains trailers for both films, as well as for three other forgotten Westerns: Charlton Heston and James Coburn in “The Last Hard Men” (snicker), Richard Boone and Stuart Whitman in “Rio Conchos,” and Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef in “Take a Hard Ride” (snicker snicker). I want to see that last one, as it looks like a cross between the blaxploitation and spaghetti Western genres. —Rod Lott


 
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