Friday, 20 April 2012


Robert LeRoy Parker/Butch Cassidy.
There was no doubt that the Wild Bunch was the largest, toughest and most colourful of all the western outlaw gangs. It was the first such outlaw band to have an orderly organisation. The Wild Bunch or Hole in the Wall Gang, varied in number at times from a mere handful to a small army of riders. Sometimes splitting into smaller units but they never failed to join ranks to fight the Pinkertons, regional sheriffs and posses. The undisputed leader was Robert LeRoy Parker better known as Butch Cassidy. This notorious outlaw gang preyed upon trains, banks, stagecoaches and even small country towns. After several years the Pinkertons were getting closer, gradually killing off members of the outlaw band. It was at this time that Cassidy and his close friend Harry Alonzo Longabaugh known as the Sundance Kid along with Etta Place, the ‘associate of outlaws’ as she was described in the Pinkertons files, went to South America, firstly to Argentina and then to Bolivia. Where it is alleged they formed a large outlaw band robbing banks and gold trains. The last robbery the pair pulled was the Alpoca Mine holdup. A mule train with money from the mine was held up and robbed. Butch made the mistake of stealing the mine superintendent’s silver grey mule. When they rode into the village of San Vicente the local hotel owner recognised the mule and suspected it had been stolen. While the unsuspecting outlaws were eating supper on the hotel’s patio the owner secretly contacted a small company of Bolivian cavalry. On reaching town the Captain of the cavalry was shot dead by Sundance as he approached the outlaws. A gun battle enshroud long into the night. Depending which story you believe the Sundance Kid was so badly wounded that Cassidy shot him to relieve his suffering, he then turned the gun on him self and took his own life. There has been many claims that Butch Cassidy did not die on that fatal day in November 1908.

Sam Shepard as James Blackthorn.

Miguel Barros’s script brings this theory to life in Blackthorn (2011). Living on an isolated ranch in Bolivia the sixty one year old Butch Cassidy has changed his name to James Blackthorn, has a young live in Indian lover, Yana, and rears horses for a living. A peaceful contented lifestyle far removed from his past until he receives a letter informing him of the death, in America, of Etta Place. He starts corresponding with Etta’s son Ryan. Selling his horses and drawing out his life savings he decides to give Yana money to survive on and to travel back to America to see the boy who maybe or maybe not his son. On the way back from the bank a Spanish mining engineer Eduardo Apocada, who has robbed money from the owners of a local mine where he was employed, bushwhacks him. Blackthorn manages to over power the Spaniard but in the fracas he horse runs off with the very valuable saddlebags. Apocada offers to share his ill-gotten gains with the ex-outlaw to make up for the fact that Blackthorn has lost all his money. From this point onwards James Blackthorn life gets rather complicated coursing flashbacks from a previous life.

Eduardo Noriega as Eduardo Apocada.

Directed by the Spanish screenwriter and director Mateo Gill it also stars as well as Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, who I last saw in Brad Anderson’s thriller Transsiberian (2008)  as the good looking Eduardo Apocada, the Irish film and stage actor Stephen Rea as Mackinley the Pinkerton agent who spent his drunken life looking for the notorious outlaw who he always believed to be still alive.

The mysterious Etta Place with a young Butch Cassidy.

There are two things that really make this film really stand out; the first is Sam Shepard’s riveting performance as James Blackthorn/Butch Cassidy the epitome of an ageing outlaw, a man that shows his life on his grizzled weather beaten features, a man that grind out words rather than speak them. A very believable enactment by a great actor. The second is Juan Ruiz-Anchia’s cinematography who photographs the dusty towns, parched desert and shimmering salt flats just as well as the beautifully photogenic Bolivian landscape with its lush green vista. Highly recommended and a great addition to the modern western genre.

Blackthorn and the Spaniard hatch a plan to cross the Salt Flats.

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