The Bolivian Wanted Poster from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was not typical western fare when it premiered in 1969. It has all the trappings – chases, posses, gunfights, escapes – but through it all is a light-hearted sense of humor. The tone and humor may have earned it some negative reviews at the time, but it is also a reason the film has endured. That and the incredible chemistry between veteran actor Paul Newman and newcomer Robert Redford. They are possibly the most likable western criminals depicted on film. Screenwriter William Goldman said he was telling a story about the legend of Butch and Sundance more than the true facts. So, the pair did rob banks and trains. They were driven to Bolivia by a well-organized posse. And, they did die after being cornered in San Vincente. Beyond those facts, the film charts its own course around these two larger-than-life characters.
I’ve been a fan of this film since I was a kid. It’s one of those films I can watch over and over. As I was rewatching it recently, a scene caught my eye. It’s during the montage in Bolivia when the pair decide to take up crime again. A stick of dynamite explodes open a bank safe. Sundance glances down at a bound and gagged bank guard. The guard then follows the direction of the camera and looks up on the bank wall at the wanted poster for the two guys robbing his bank. “Now that would be a cool poster to have,” I thought.
This project presented some problems. First, the only reference material I could find was the film itself. That problem fed into the others. The top portion of the poster was never seen in the film. It would have to be recreated based on a best guess and matching the style seen at the bottom. The poster in the film is shown at an angle. It would have to be stretched and skewed to get it back to correct proportions. Finally, the poster contains a paragraph of small text that is hardly legible.
So, I made a montage of screen shots from the film and corrected the size and proportions. I first tackled the portraits. I knew if I couldn’t recreate them to my satisfaction, then the project would fail. I used several custom brushes in Photoshop to recreate what resembles a charcoal rendering. It’s my understanding that back in the day, such a rendering would not have been produced on wanted posters. The shades of gray would have required a halftone screen to convert the image into solid black dots. While this method of printing was available at the time, its use was limited to high-end productions like newspapers, magazines and commercial advertising. A real poster of the time in Bolivia would have likely shown a line-art drawing of the pair with solid black ink. But, this is a movie prop after all.
I finished the portraits and was very pleased with the result. Now on to the text. The headlines and large text areas were not too difficult. Finally, the paragraph of text was all that was left. Even the Blu-Ray version of the film was not much help. I carefully wrote down what I thought it said. I left blanks for words that were a complete blur. I tried online translators with limited success. Then my wife mentioned that several of her co-workers were fluent in Spanish. I sent them what I had and, together, I believe we nailed it. They were able to take my text fragments and apply their knowledge to decipher the blurs. Once we had the correct words, it all made sense.
So, you’ll forgive me if I slightly blur the text in this image at the left. But here is the finished poster. I added some subtle weathering to the background. I know if the poster were displayed inside, as seen in the film, it would have likely been pristine, but an old west wanted poster with no weathering just doesn’t look right.