Butch, Sundance, and Gondorf for good measure, ride week after week for your amusement. It bespeaks the prevalence of television in my life that I’ve seen so much of this show that no one else my age seems to have heard of. This is a show that was so cool, you’d literally celebrate the random luck of finding an episode every two years or so back in the pre-cable slow days of six maybe seven channels.
Pete Duel takes on Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy persona and somehow manages to predict Newman following it up with The Sting’s Henry Gondorf. Duel seemingly pulling off the big store wire grift here a full year so before The Sting even came out! I’d almost like to think Newman and Redford were so impressed by Duel’s charming con men that they stole from him for their follow up. It would be like the Beatles stealing a riff from the Monkees.
Ok, stay with me now because this is going to be confusing.
Duel is Cassidy, but his name here is Hannibal Heyes. Heyes tells people that his name is Joshua Smith.
Ben Murphy is Sundance but his name here is Jed “Kid” Curry. Curry tells people that his name is Thaddeus Jones.
See Heyes and Curry are the ultimate Rock Stars of the Mid-West. They are this legendary pair of outlaws, worshiped by the rank and file for robbing trains and banks without ever killing anyone. No one respected banks back then.
Unfortunately, Hayes and Curry saw what happened to Butch and Sundance down in Bolivia and decided to cut a deal with Governor of Wyoming, who promises them amnesty, which like the castaways getting off the island they never seem to earn (God knows after almost getting themselves killed like the 27th time you’d think they deserved it.). For all I know the Governor of Wyoming was just fucking with them or something. Where the hell is all the money they stole? They are always broke. I can never figure out if they had to give it back or spent it like they were Elton John and Redd Foxx out on the town for too long.
Essentially to earn their pardons they have to go straight. In the meantime they are forced to shed their killer cool rock star names for the dork names, and do their best not to get turned in or killed for the $10,000 that’s still on their heads. Every once in a while the Governor gives them some sort of suicide assignment just to make things interesting. By the end of every show, there are usually at least three different parties that are chasing them ragged and onto the next town.
It’s sort of like if Elvis, instead of faking his death, just slipped out of Graceland one day and pretended to be John Burrows from town to town until someone finally put two and two together, at which point he’d move to the next town and do it all over again. Once they figured out who he was he’d sing a song or two and race out of the city limits. Hey, that actually sounds like a decent show to me. He’d even still be touring. Luckily for Heyes and Curry, they never posed for any of the 8 million photographs that Elvis did. Promotion wasn’t nearly as important to the gig back then.
The great thing is that Hayes and Curry, who somehow are the most honest and trustworthy guys in the whole West, still sort of get to be hustlers, thieves and con-men. They just don’t get anything out of it other than another week out of jail. Instead of pulling the big score for loot they do it week after week for their lives. Butch and Sundance ran for like a third of the movie. These guys did it for 34 episodes in the first season alone.
Sadly, Pete Duel got his pardon before the second season when he took his own life. The show continued with Roger Davis as Heyes, but that’s really like replacing John Lennon with Peter Tork, and I don’t really even mean that much of a disservice to Davis. It’s just that had Duel not been so fragile, he would have been huge. The guy nearly dies in every single episode, someone is black mailing him or pointing a gun at him every thirty seconds of his life and he never loses him immense likeability, charm, or cool. Hayes and Curry put up with like ten times as much diversity as Job in the first ten episodes. Is there anything more entertaining than two guys constantly in peril, who refuse to let it stop them from having fun? Hayes still gets to play poker, charm ladies, and hustle the hustlers. Curry still gets to scare the shit out of somebody with his gunmanship, charm the ladies, and basically be Heyes’ wife. I’m guessing they would have been let down if they ever really got pardoned.
Here’s how my grandfather would describe it. You get a little bit of story, a great theme song, some pretty women, you get to see a bunch of scenery and wild animals and then at the end they have some gunfights, horse chases, and a closing joke. What could be better?