Retro Movie Review: Bonnie and Clyde
"We rob banks."
Bonnie and Clyde is a 1967 breakthrough film depicting the infamous depression era crime couple. The film stars Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, Gene Hackman as Buck Barrow, Estelle Parsons as Blanche Barrow, Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss, Dub Taylor as Ivan Moss, and Denver Pyle as Frank Hamer, Texas Ranger. It was also the big screen debut for Gene Wilder who portrayed Eugene Grizzard. Bonnie and Clyde was directed by Arthur Penn and produced by Beatty, which established his strong, "vain" position in Hollywood.
Overview (spoiler warning)
The film opens with Bonnie Parker catching Clyde Barrow attempting to steal her mother's car from their home. After the charming Clyde reveals that he recently served prison time and has plans of becoming a glamarous career criminal, Bonnie becomes intrigued with Clyde, his gun and his aspirations. Walking into town together Bonnie challenges Clyde to whether he would really use his gun. She looks on as Clyde commits a petty robbery and they escape together.
After the esacpe, an excited Bonnie makes advances towards Clyde who claims that he isn't a loverboy but there isn't anything wrong with him either. He tells her that they are beyond a routine life of waiting tables and picking cotton. With promise of an exciting life with Clyde, Bonnie leaves her boring life behind and they proceed with their midwest crime spree. They recruit C.W. Moss, a gas station mechanic, to be their getaway driver, after he fixes their stolen car. They later meet up with Clyde's older brother, Buck, and his wife, Blanche with Bonnie and Blanche show much contempt for each other as they travel the midwest.
An undertaker, Eugene Grizzard, and his girlfriend are kidnapped but later released. The gang's petty crimes turn violent after botched bank robbery where Clyde shoots a man in the face. They make headlines and the lawmen are hot on their trail, including Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer. At one point, they capture Hamer, humiliate him while taking photos and set him free. He vows to have one more picture taken with the gang.
After a police raid and shootout, Buck and Blanch are wounded but the other 3 escape. Buck eventually dies and Blanche is taken into custody. Hamer tricks a blinded Blanche into giving up the name of the unknown accomplice, C.W. Moss. He learnes that the trio have taken up shelter with C.W.'s father, Ivan Moss. Ivan makes a deal with Hamer to help capture Bonnie and Clyde in exchange for leniency for his son. C.W. betrays the couple after losing them in town and they leave town without him. On the way back out of town, they spot Ivan on the roadside with a flat tire. After stopping to help, they realize that they have been set up for an ambush. Hamer and his men spray down couple with gunfire ending their crime spree.
The real story of Bonnie and Clyde is fascinating in itself so I was prompted to do a little reading after watching it on Netflix. The film had some significant differences from the actual events surrounding the Barrow Gang. Some of the real survivors of this story, from both sides, criticized the films portrayal of the characters.
Other innaccuracies include:
- Clyde was portrayed as being impotent but straight. In real life, Clyde was bisexual and it's probably not known if he was impotent.
- Frank Hamer was never captured and humiliated. Hamer's widow and son later sued for defamation of character and recieved an out of court settlement.
- There was no C.W. Moss. He was a compsite of 2 other gang members.
- During the ambush, the film shows both Bonnie and Clyde as seemingly unarmed, with Clyde outside of the car. In reality, they were both in the car with weapons within reach and a large cache of weapons and ammo in the back seat.
- The film depicts the gang taking photos and Bonnie writing poetry, both being sent to the press. The items were found in a deserted hide-out. One of Bonnie's poems was provided by her mother.
Bonnie and Clyde is often considered the breakthrough film of the "New Hollywood" film era. The film shows a display of sexuality, blood and violence never before seen. This was fitting for the times as both the counterculture movement and sexual revolution were gaining momentum. The young people of the era embraced Bonnie and Clyde as anti-heroes of sorts since they were rebels against the Great Depression laden society some 35 years earlier.
The film recieved 8 Acadamy Award nominations with Estelle Parsons taking the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Burnett Guffey taking the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The American Film Institute also gave recognition to Bonnie and Clyde in its AFI's 100 Years... series and AFI's 10 to 10 series.
Well... What Do I Think?
During the Great Depression and the coinciding Dust Bowl of the 1930's, many Americans were fed up with banks and other social ills of the time. Capitalism had a black eye as well so it's feasible that people were pulling for the Barrow Gang taking it back to the system. Clyde in fact believed he was getting revenge for the treatment he got in prison. Others see the crime spree as a great romantic love story with Bonnie and Clyde having the attributes of the star-crossed Romeo and Juliet. The truth remains that the Barrow Gang were hardened career criminals and ruthless murderes.
Being a fan of history, I like historical films and period films. This film left out some of the major events of the true story and other events are misrepresented or fabricated all together. Many of the characters, both police and Barrow gang, are portrayed as bumbling fools and the movie's identity gets lost between a fun loving slapstick comedy and a brutal crime drama. At times would have you believe that Bonnie and Clyde were on a Magical Mystery Tour of sorts and many of their victims are glad to join the party. The movie's vibe is that of 1960's "camp" like Batman but with boff!, wham! and splat! being replaced with realistic shoot-outs.
I didn't hate Bonnie and Clyde but I didn't love it all the same. It is entertaining despite being a mixed bag of goods. It was an important and pivotal film for Hollywood and by all means, any movie fan should check it out.