The Scene That Cemented Paul Newman's Role As Butch Cassidy

Casting can make or break a movie. Luckily for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" the outcome was the former, thanks in no small part to actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford who portrayed the titular outlaw duo. It's hard to imagine anyone else as the charismatic and daring Cassidy and Sundance. But — as with any movie — there are plenty of what ifs to go around, like how its sensational ending was almost very, very different.

But unlike Redford, who had to wait until Steve McQueen dropped out to nab the role of Sundance, screenwriter William Goldman always had eyes for Newman. From the moment the film was bought he knew Newman would be perfect as leader of the famous "Hole in the Wall" gang. In fact, no one needed much convincing that the "Cool Hand Luke" star could bring Cassidy to life on the big screen. But there was one person that studio executives over at 20th Century Fox wanted to give their stamp of approval on the film's portrayal Butch Cassidy: his sister.

Newman gave the most aesthetic kick of his career

All it took to convince the sister of one of America's most iconic outlaws that Newman was the right man to play her brother Cassidy, whose real name was Robert LeRoy Parker, was one scene. The particular moment that convinced Lula Parker Betenson comes early in the film after Cassidy and Sundance return to Hole in the Wall to find the gang under new proposed leadership. Challenged by the burly Harry Logan to a knife fight, Newman as Cassidy stalls hilariously as he tries to find a way out of the duel.

But the quick-thinking Cassidy eventually distracts Logan long enough with an ironic quip about rules for their knife fight to deliver what the screenplay calls "the most aesthetically exquisite kick in the balls in the history of the modern America cinema." Betenson clearly thought so too, because after watching the scene she confided in Newman he'd nailed Cassidy's character just as exquisitely. Her friendship was also contagious, with Redford and Betenson becoming lifelong friends after the actor attempted to court her affections for the movie on behalf of the studio. But Newman's Cassidy bringing a kick to a knife fight was also emblematic of the his distaste for killing, not to mention one of the many scenes the actor in which perfectly embodies the famous historical figure and outlaw.

If the boot fit – Newman captured Cassidy's complexity

The knife-fight scene is hardly the only scene in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in which Newman shines as the outlaw. From his incredible cunning and generous personality, to his slyly hidden insecurities about the future which he hides behind bold plans hatched to finally make it out on top. Looking back, it's nearly impossible to imagine someone else in those boots.

"And he was always good to the poor," Betenson claims in her book "Butch Cassidy, My Brother." "But death to banks and railroads."

That image of Cassidy holds up in the film. Time and time again, Newman's Cassidy avoids killing anyone at all costs, from bystanders to the lawmen who doggedly pursue them. Even the mutinous Logan is spared. As bad as that kick and punch might've been, it's better than a bullet or knife. Cassidy loathes even the thought of taking a life but when it comes to trains and banks, all bets are off. There's a glimmer of morality to Newman's Cassidy that earns the audience's admiration. He even points out the absurd vengeance displayed by the owner of the railroad they've robbed, who has paid exponentially more than they've ever stole to have them hunted and killed. Newman's portrayal explores every complex nook and cranny of the enigmatic Cassidy, making both forever iconic, off-beat heroes of the Old West.