FIFTY YEARS AGO, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" opened. Recently, a major publication showcased an article which keyed on the critical storm that greeted the inclusion of the song, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." The whimsical ditty carried the soundtrack while Butch (Paul Newman) gave Sundance's girlfriend Hetty (Katharine Ross) a ride on his bicycle. The Burt Bacharach and Hal David tune--sung by B.J. Thomas--went on to turn into a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit for a month, and later won a Best Song Academy Award. (Bacharach earned another Oscar for the "Butch Cassidy" score).
After reading the essay, I immediately thought of the 2013 documentary, "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia." Why? The article is about how, prior to the picture's release, neither 20th Century Fox (which bankrolled the movie), nor at least one of the major stars, wanted it included--"How did the song fit with the film? At the time there was no rain." Yet, other than simply noting "Raindrops" was kept in "Butch Cassidy" at the insistence of director George Roy Hill (who later won an Oscar for also directing Newman and Robert Redford in 1974's "The Sting"), no one seemed to have a clue on either why Hill kept the song, or a reason behind its success.
This is where the amnesia factor kicks in. The answers to these questions were pinballing around everywhere at the time, from countless print publications then in existence, to a focused television coverage of only three or four stations in most markets. Indeed, there even was a popular 1970 documentary narrated by Hill: "The Making of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.'"
So, why "Raindrops"? The long run of Western film success was on the wane. From roughly 1940-65 one out of every four U.S. movies was a horse opera. In addition. Westerns ruled much of television programming throughout the early 1960s, as more than 20 sagebrush sagas played on the small screen in prime time. Bob Hope joked, "I have to brush the hay off my set before I can turn it on."
The surest sign that a genre has run its course is when it begins to be milked dry by parodies. For example, through the 1930s and World War II, horror films were riding high. However, by the late 1940s, suddenly it was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948), or "Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff' (1949). During the 1960s, the same thing was happening to the Western, with spoofs like "Cat Ballou" (1965, with Jane Fonda and Lee...