The Sundance Kid in Bolivia
Robert Redford as “The Sundance Kid”, exiled American outlaw in Bolivia
Film: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Release Date: October 24, 1969
Director: George Roy Hill
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is brilliant. Whether it was Conrad Hall’s alluring photography, George Roy Hill’s groundbreaking direction, William Goldman’s screenplay that ranges from insanely hilarious to poignantly touching, or – most often cited – the perfect chemistry of leads Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
The film was a new kind of Western. No longer was John Wayne fighting Injuns with his rifle, kerchief, and ten gallon hat. Tom Mix’s white hat vs. black hat days were over. By 1969, the world had moved on into a place of crystal-clear ambiguity. Cheering for the outlaws was not only acceptable, it was preferred.
Of course, that’s much easier when the outlaws are charming, hilarious, and generally non-violent. Paul Newman was a natural choice for the film. After a series of cast rotations that could’ve seen Jack Lemmon, Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, or Steve McQueen paired up with Newman, Hill and Newman rallied and got up-and-coming Robert Redford the part, despite Fox’s protestations. Interestingly, the older Newman was originally to play younger gunslinger Sundance before Redford was brought on board. The roles were switched and a now-classic film pairing was born.
As the metaphorical forces of modern technology in a changing world catch up to Butch and Sundance, chasing them out of the West after destroying their gang, the two grab their shared woman, played by Katharine Ross, and hightail it to Bolivia, painted by Butch as a South American (or Central American, “one or the other”) paradise. Soon, both find themselves begrudging the place that is lending them refuge from the New World.
Sundance’s attire in Bolivia was recently cited in GQ magazine as a Golden Moment in Style, part of the 1968-1972 style period that defied the overly “hippie” or “disco” fads of the time. Seems as good a place to start as any.
What’d He Wear?
After arriving ingloriously in his three-piece traveling suit and homburg, Sundance opts for a casual black suit and cowboy hat for his bank-robbing adventures in Bolivia. Clearly, Sundance is the more traditionally “villainous” of the two, incorporating black into his wardrobe in both the United States and Bolivia as opposed to Butch’s preference for warm blues and light earthtones.
Sundance wears a very uniquely styled black single-breasted suit coat. It is fitted with a self-belt, keeping the coat close around his waist. Of the three buttons buttoning down the front of the coat, two are above the belt with the third just below it. Sundance typically wears the jacket open, probably a wise decision in the Bolivian heat. Two vertical yokes run down the front of the coat, resembling suspenders. There are two small decorative buttons on each cuff. The jacket is ventless with open patch hip pockets and slim notch lapels.
The suit trousers are more standard, with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. Sundance wears a black leather belt through the pants, mostly covered by his much wider black leather gun belt, which has a dulled brass buckle, rounds of .45 Long Colt across the back, and a black leather holster on the left.
One of the most unique parts of Sundance’s wardrobe in Bolivia is his brown leather vest, tied with a dark brown string through a 2-eyelet front. It is single-breasted (as I guess a string-tied vest would have to be…) with shawl lapels stitched onto the front. The cut is straight across the bottom. The vest also features two squared lower pockets, which seem to provide the most utility for Sundance’s thumbs.
The vest may sound odd, and on its own it would be, but Redford is really able to pull it off.
Sundance also wears the staples of cowboy attire: boots and a hat. The boots are tall black leather plain-toe leather riding boots, which are very prone to getting dirty. Sundance’s hat, which he sacrifices in San Vicente, is also black, with a low-crowned flat top, wide black band, and an upturned brim on the sides. If anyone knows what this type of hat is called, it would be useful. A carryover from his U.S. wardrobe, Sundance also dons a pair of yellow leather shooting gloves when it looks like they’ll be coming into some trouble.
Sundance’s typical shirt, worn for a few bank robberies, his brief stint as a payroll guard, and the film’s finale, is a light amber long-sleeve shirt with dark rust orange buttons fastening down the plain, placket-less front. Two additional buttons are featured on each double-buttoned barrel cuff, often worn with the bottom button left unfastened. The shirt also features two breast pockets and a turndown collar.
Earlier, Sundance wears two different shirts. During the attempted first robbery, he wears a pale blue striped shirt with a black kerchief tied around his neck, under the shirt’s wide point collar. It also has buttoned barrel cuffs, one breast pocket, and no front placket.
Once the gang sharpens up their game (and actually learns how to speak Spanish), Sundance wears a similar shirt for their next robbery. It is also a long-sleeve button-down, but has a small white and dark blue check pattern and slimmer collars.
Aside from his omnipresent six-shooter, Sundance’s main accessory is Redford’s usual silver ring, worn on the right ring finger.
Sundance’s underwear in Bolivia is an off-white long-sleeve henley-style shirt with three white buttons. This would probably be warm in the Bolivian heat, but it would at least be an effective sweat-catcher.
Go Big or Go Home
Typically, this section is reserved for tips of living like our BAMF in question. Since the Sundance Kid’s primarily activities in Bolivia consist of robbing, killing, and shooting, there’s not much I can condone. He does show dedication to his girlfriend, even incorporating her into his career.
While some people have thought that the film’s choice of having Etta Place, Sundance’s girlfriend, participate in some of the robberies in Bolivia is artistic license for humor’s sake or perhaps cashing in on the Bonnie and Clyde trend, there is indeed evidence that the real Etta took part in at least one bank robbery. On December 19, 1905, the Banco de la Nacion in Villa Mercedes, Argentina was robbed by Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Etta Place, and an unknown male. After a chase through the Pampas and the Andes by armed lawmen, they found themselves back in Chile and temporary safety.
Chile? Argentina? What about Bolivia?
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid greatly condensed the true story. In actuality, the gang split up after the robbery of a Great Northern train near Wagner, Montana. They were pursued by lawmen and “News” Carver was killed. Harvey Logan, aka “Kid Curry”, went on the run. Much like the film, Logan was likely the most brutal of the gang. Butch and Sundance grabbed Ethel Place (her real name was Ethel) and after visiting Sundance’s family in Pennsylvania and an expensive stop at Tiffany’s in New York City, the trio left New York for Buenos Aires, Argentina on February 20, 1901 aboard the British ship Herminius. Once they arrived in Argentina, they purchased a four-room log cabin on a ranch and lived out the next few years as ranchers. Etta received her name when Spanish speakers had a tough time with “Ethel”. It stuck. They began holding up banks again in 1905, dashing over the mountains into Chile when they needed safety. It was even reported that they took a steamer named Condor to Chile at one point. Interesting, given Redford’s career path.
Sundance and Etta made a few return trips to the U.S. over the next few years, with Etta choosing to remain back in the U.S. in June 1906. Butch and Sundance headed to Bolivia and indeed got work at a tin mine, guarding the payroll. However, old habits died hard and the two held up a payroll on November 3, 1908. Three days later, they were in their lodging house in San Vicente when they found themselves surrounded one night by three soldiers, the police chief, the mayor, and the mayor’s officials. A gunfight led to the death of one or both men inside, including a possible suicide. The two were never officially identified as Butch and Sundance, with some rumors that they lived on into the 1950s under assumed names.
If I’m gonna dish out any legal advice based on Sundance’s life, just be nice to your girlfriend, keep her out of harm’s way, and maybe check out South America sometime?
How to Get the Look
Good luck. This won’t be easy. If you really want to emulate Sundance, don’t worry about the details. Just wear them well and maybe think about a mustache. Also check your state/country’s gun laws before you go parading around with an Colt strapped to your thigh.
- Black single-breasted suit coat with slim notch lapels, 3-button front, open patch hip pockets, ventless rear, self-belt, two vertical front yokes
- Black suit trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather vest with 2-eyelet dark brown string front, self-stitched shawl lapels, straight bottom cut, 2 squared lower pockets
- Light amber long-sleeve shirt with dark rust orange buttons, plain front, double-buttoned barrel cuffs, two chest pockets, turndown collar
- Black leather belt with buckle
- Tall black leather plain-toe riding boots
- Black low-crowned flat top hat with wide black band, upturned side brims
- Yellow leather shooting gloves
- Silver ring, worn on right ring finger
- Wide black leather gun belt with dulled brass buckle and black leather holster (LHD) for Colt Single Action Army
- Off-white long-sleeve henley undershirt with 3 white buttons
Both Butch and Sundance are well-armed throughout the film with the stereotypical Cowboy shooter of its day, the Colt Single Action Army, also known as the “Colt .45”, the “Peacemaker”, and a litany of other designations. They carry several different kinds throughout, either the “Quickdraw Model” or “Civilian Model” with 4 ¾” barrels or a more obvious modern reproduction with 5″ barrels.
Also referred to as “The Gun That Won the West” (because of course it needs another nickname), the Single Action Army was introduced in 1873 and quickly shot to stardom amongst soldiers, lawmen, and – most notably – outlaws. Thirty years later, after the development of double action handguns and smokeless powder ammunition, the Single Action Army could still be found in the hands of Western gunmen and sheriffs. It was available in barrel lengths ranging from 4 ¾” to 7 ½”, with some models produced even shorter (3 ½”) or much longer (Wyatt Earp’s legendary but possibly fictional 16″ Buntline Special). It was also being produced in at least thirty calibers, from the minuscule .22 rimfire to the huge British round .476 Eley. The most common were the .45 Long Colt, naturally, and the .44-40 WCF (Winchester Center Fire). The .44-40 WCF was particularly popular because of its cross-functionality; a gunman could take a Colt Single Action Army and a Winchester Model 1873 into battle and just need one type of ammunition.
In real life, the Sundance Kid was indeed a capable shooter, but the film turns him into a gun prodigy, capable of rapidly spinning and hitting a snake or taking down an entire Bolivian police force. Just don’t ask him to stand still. He’s better when he moves.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Much of the brilliance of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can be attributed to William Goldman’s sharp screenplay, which launched the Revisionist Western genre to new heights. Newman and Redford are able to banter and quip with the best of them and nearly every other line is comic gold. Even in the most dire situations, the bantering doesn’t stop.
Once the two are cornered in San Vicente by a few gunshots, they take cover behind a couple of columns. Butch, the brains of the two, suggests that it might just be one guy shooting at them. To test the theory, Sundance takes off his hat and holds it out. It is immediately torn out of his hand by at least five gunshots. Sundance angrily and sarcastically snaps back at him:
Don’t you get sick of being right all the time?
The hat always seemed to me to have an Australian flavor. If I were trying to replicate the look, I’d probably start with an Akubra Squatter (or Bushman if one has a big head) then add an open telescope bash but leave it uncreased.
Thanks, Max! Is this the one you’re referring to: http://www.akubra-usa.com/squatter_open_telescope.html?
Why, yes, that is the one, although I remembered it being available in black. Too many blows to the head.
The nice thing about the open crown and no crease is that with a little patience and basic mastery of the steam feature on the iron you’ve never used, you can make it look however you want. Trying that with a pre-bashed, pre-creased will leave you with a lumpy, wrinkled hat. Or, uh, so I’ve heard.