Guide to Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Directed by Arthur Penn. USA, color, 111 minutes
Warren Beatty (Clyde Barrow)
Faye Dunaway (Bonnie Parker)
Michael J. Pollard (C.W. Moss)
Gene Hackman (Buck Barrow)
Estelle Parsons (Blanche Barrow)
Denver Pyle (Frank Hamer)
Gene Wilder (Eugene Grizzard)
Dub Taylor (Ivan Moss)
Evans Evans (Velma Davis)
James Stiver (Grocery Store Owner)
Clyde Howdy (Deputy)
Garry Goodgion (Billy)
Ken Mayer (Sherrif Smoot)
Director: Arthur Penn
Producer: Warren Beatty
Screenwriters: David Newman and Robert Benton
Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey
Editor: Dede Allen
Costume Design: Theodora Van Runkle
Art Designer: Dean Tavoularis
Special Effects: Danny Lee
Composer: Charles Strouse
Set Designer: Raymond Paul
Music Performed By: Flatt and Scruggs: Foggie Mountain Breakdown
Produced by Warren Beatty for Warner Brothers Pictures
Synopsis of the Film
Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) meets Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) as he is about to steal her elderly mother’s car, shortly after Clyde is released from prison for armed robbery. Frustrated and feeling trapped by her rural Texas life, Bonnie flees with Clyde after he holds up a store at gun point to impress her. After several humorous, botched hold-ups, Bonnie and Clyde meet C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), a car-savvy gas station attendant, and integrate him into their little criminal group.
The first death in the film occurs when Clyde shoots a man in the face (almost accidentally because of C.W. getting the get-away car stuck between parked cars) after robbing his bank, and the violent episodes escalate from this point. While they are hiding out in an abandoned house, Bonnie is devastated to discover that Clyde is sexually impotent. Bonnie and Clyde’s compassion for the poor, "salt of the earth" people like themselves is revealed when they join the former owner of their hideout in shooting out the windows of the house which is now possessed by the local bank.
Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), the dowdy, prim daughter of a minister, join Bonnie and Clyde and decide to go on a "vacation" to Missouri. Buck, not long out of jail himself, shares some affectionate moments with Clyde, while Blanche and Bonnie become instant enemies because of their radically different personalities.
In Missouri, a delivery boy tips off the police about the whereabouts of the now notorious gang, and a shoot-out ensues from which the group, laughing and generally enjoying themselves (with the exception of Blanche), escapes. Two short, humorous incidents follow, the first of which involves a confrontation with a police captain, Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle), who is photographed with Bonnie and Clyde before being set adrift in a boat. The second involves a joy-ride with a young couple, Eugene Grizzard (Gene Wilder) and Velma Davis (Evans Evans), whose car the Barrow Gang stole. But the movie returns to seriousness when Bonnie and her gang pay a short visit to Bonnie’s mother and family. Despite the fun and laughter, Bonnie’s increasing sense of mortality is accentuated when her mother points out that Bonnie can never stop running. Bonnie’s depression becomes obvious back at the latest hideout, a campground cabin. While Clyde tries to comfort her, C.W. and Blanche go to town for food, C.W. is recognized, and the police close in on the campground. A vicious shoot-out ensues in which Buck is mortally injured in the head and Blanche is blinded. The group barely slips away, and Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. are forced to abandon the dying Buck and Blanche when they are surrounded by police.
Clyde and Bonnie are both injured, and C.W. takes them to his house to treat them. C.W.’s father Ivan (Dub Taylor) permits them to stay, but he secretly strikes a deal with the authorities to have C.W.’s sentence lightened if he helps to trap Bonnie and Clyde (Blanche has been tricked by Hamer into identifying the formerly nameless accomplice, C.W.). In the meantime, Clyde has had one of Bonnie’s poems published in the newspaper, and in their excitement, they finally manage to consummate their love, even as local authorities are planning their deaths.
On their way back from town the next day, (C.W. was commanded by his father not to accompany them home), the young couple is ambushed by waiting authorities, who begin their barrage of bullets after a signal from C.W.’s father. After an agonizingly slow death sequence, the police gather around the lifeless, bullet-riddled bodies of the elusive outlaws, Bonnie and Clyde.
A (Mostly) Positive Review
In the October 21st, 1967 issue of The New Yorker magazine, Pauline Kael pronounced Bonnie and Clyde to be an "excitingly American movie." She emphasized the necessity of the violence in the film, and commented on the weak performance of Bonnie by Faye Dunaway.
Kael claims that the violence in the movie is necessary to keep the film from becoming a comedy, and to remind the audience of the grim nature of the movie—revenge and frustrated violence. As for glamorization, Kael points out that none of the characters gets pleasure from killing. In fact, at one point, a bewildered Clyde wonders why a bank owner wanted to shoot him. Kael also criticized Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie, citing that the role was overacted by Dunaway and lapsed into an emotional, unmotivated character.
I think that this review was good in the respect that it raised a valid point concerning the necessity of the violence in the movie and presented a convincing argument for her case. As for her condemnation of Dunaway’s performance, I think that Kael was a bit rash in her judgment, failing to consider the importance of moodiness, love for her mother, and lack of humor in understanding Bonnie’s complex personality.
Two Middle-of-the-Road Reviews
Marion Armstrong in the October 18, 1967 issue of The Christian Century asserts that Bonnie and Clyde is really just a study in "infantilism" as all of the main characters, with the exception of Bonnie, behave like little children—playing games, cracking jokes, whining, and getting more excited over their celebrity than the money they steal. Armstrong praises the manner in which the movie presents the conflicting responsibilities of society to the criminals and to itself, but she concludes with the opinion that the movie lacks a strong premise.
This review impressed me with its objective attitude toward the subject, particularly considering it was published in an obviously Christian journal and considering that there are many immoral, violent elements in Bonnie and Clyde. I think this review is good because the author explores some interesting points, such as the infantilism and role of society in the movie, without becoming bogged down in the violence issue.
In the October 13, 1967 issue of Life, Richard Scheckel offers a middle-ground assessment of Bonnie and Clyde. The most commendable elements in the movie, according to Scheckel, are the parallels that it draws between the 1930s and the 1960s—both transitional periods in America’s history marked by shiftlessness, apathy, and violence. In Scheckel’s opinion, the major faults of the film include the "cutesy" music, costumes, and decor, as well as the humor that tries too hard to make us laugh and causes the movie to lose its satirical edge.
Scheckel’s review, I think, is mediocre. He draws a very convincing parallel between two different but similar time periods, but I think he is too critical when he attacks the costumes, music, decor, and humor of the movie, all elements that more recent reviewers tend to praise. The humor, I think, is vital in, among other things, keeping the violence and tragedy of this movie from becoming too heavy, and the decor and costumes reflect the small-town Texas setting.
A Negative Review
In the August 14, 1967 edition of the New York Times, Bosley Crowther denounced Bonnie and Clyde as a ridiculous, pointless waste of screen space. He criticized the movie’s faithlessness to the true story of Bonnie and Clyde, and accused the film’s portrayal of life in the Southwest in the 1930s as "travestied" and utterly false. He judged the killings and humor to be "pointless" and lacking in taste, concluding by questioning what purpose such a film could possibly serve.
I think that this was a bad review because of its uncompromising, extremist attitude. Usually, even in the worst films, there’s at least one redeemable element, whether it be something as small as the costume-design or the effort of the actors in presenting their characters, but Crowther refuses to acknowledge any positive aspect of the film whatsoever. Also, Crowther fails to support many of his accusations, and I was honestly surprised to find such a hostile, subjective review in a journal as generally respected as the New York Times.
Where to Find the Cast of Bonnie and Clyde
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde featured a talented cast of up-and-coming actors, several of whom went on to become household names. The following is a list of some of Bonnie and Clyde’s stars and in what other movies they have appeared.
Warren Beatty, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde, is something of a jack-of-all-trades—he has produced, directed, written screenplays for, and acted in numerous films, including Shampoo (1975), Reds (1981) for which he received an Oscar for Best Director, Dick Tracy (1990), Bugsy (1991) and many more. The residents of the small Texas towns where most of Bonnie and Clyde was filmed were very protective of Bonnie and Clyde’s legend, and were therefore critical of the actors chosen to portray the famous outlaws. In one Texas café where Warren Beatty was dining, for example, the waiter allegedly told Beatty that he had known Clyde Barrow and that Clyde was much handsomer than Beatty (a very debatable claim!).
Faye Dunaway, who earned a nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde, gained a reputation in Hollywood for being a difficult actress to work with. In 1994, newspapers carried the gossip that Andrew Lloyd Webber had dumped Dunaway from a Los Angles stage production of the musical "Sunset Boulevard" because her voice wasn’t satisfactory for the role. Dunaway sued for six million dollars, but lost her case. Dunaway has appeared in numerous films since Bonnie and Clyde, including Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) for which Dunaway earned a Best Actress nomination for her role as Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray. A few years later, Dunaway earned a Best Actress Oscar for her role as a television executive in the film Network (1976). Dunaway also appeared in the film Mommie Dearest as Joan Crawford. Dunaway has sometimes been compared to Crawford, and during filming, Dunaway confessed to Crawford’s daughter, Christina, that she was haunted by Crawford’s ghost. Dunaway’s long, simple dresses and short, face-framing hair in Bonnie and Clyde had a pronounced, if temporary, influence on fashion in the 1960s, a decade dominated by the fashion frenzy, the miniskirt. Originally, actress Shirley MacClaine was considered to play Bonnie, but she backed out of the role when her brother, Warren Beatty, was cast as Clyde. Also, Morgan Fairchild entered the film industry as Dunaway’s understudy in Bonnie and Clyde
Gene Hackman, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, dropped out of high school when he was 16. He attended the Pasadena Playhouse where he and classmate Dustin Hoffman were voted "Least Likely to Succeed." Since his memorable performance in Bonnie and Clyde, Hackman has appeared in such films as Superman (1978), Mississippi Burning (1988) for which he earned a nomination for Best Actor for his performance as an FBI agent, and Unforgiven (1992) for which he earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of sheriff Little Bill Daggett.
Estelle Parsons, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Bonnie and Clyde for her performance as the hysterical Blanche, has appeared in films such as Don’t Drink the Water (1969), which was based on a popular Woody Allen play, I Never Sang for My Father (1970) with Bonnie and Clyde co-star Gene Hackman, and Dick Tracy (1990) with Warren Beatty. Parsons is probably best known currently as the nagging, alcoholic Beverly Harris on the long-running television comedy "Roseanne."
Michael J. Pollard, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the simple-minded C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde, has appeared in numerous films, including Roxanne (1987), Scrooged (1988), and Dick Tracy (1990).
Fast Facts About the Real Bonnie and Clyde
The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde was based on the true story of a criminal gang that terrorized parts of the Midwestern United States in the 1930s. Arthur Penn’s film has often been criticized for its loose adaptation of the actual story of these legendary outlaws, but, although it was never intended to be a strictly-facts film, there are numerous similarities between the film and the "true" story of Bonnie and Clyde, many more than I expected. Here are some "fast facts" about the real (and controversial) Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie Parker was married to a convicted murderer, Ray Thornton, (who was serving a life-sentence in prison), when she met Clyde Barrow. The film Bonnie and Clyde ignores Bonnie’s previous marriage, preferring instead to focus only on her more famous partner and lover, Clyde. Including Bonnie’s shady previous marriage in the film may have ruined the attempt by the director to make the audience sympathize with the bored, confused, fairly innocent Bonnie.
Clyde first met Bonnie when he went to visit a girlfriend who had broken her arm—Bonnie was her friend and neighbor. The film embellishes Bonnie and Clyde’s first meeting by having them meet while Clyde is attempting to steal Bonnie’s mother’s car, an incident which sets the stage for the criminal activities to follow in the rest of the film.
In and out of jail for much of his life, Clyde hated work detail so much that he had a fellow inmate chop off two of his toes so that he could be excused from it. The film alludes to this incident when Clyde is trying to impress Bonnie and offers to show her his mutilated foot.
Although members came and went, the core of Bonnie and Clyde’s crime family, known as the Barrow Gang, consisted of Bonnie, Clyde, Clyde’s brother Buck, Buck’s wife Blanche, and a man named W.D. Jones. This small posse was transferred over to the film, with the only change being a switch in the initials of W.D. Jones—in the film, he became C.W. Moss.
Bonnie and Clyde’s initial robberies were almost humorous. For example, in one city, Clyde attempted to rob a bank which had recently gone bankrupt. This incident appears in the film—in the early days of the Barrow Gang, to the twanging Flatt and Scruggs music, Bonnie and Clyde attempt to rob a bank and the bank teller laughingly explains that the bank has recently gone bankrupt.
Bonnie was extremely devoted to her mother, and she would often, on a whim, ask Clyde to take her home, although it was very dangerous to do so. On these occasions, Bonnie’s mother would contact all of Bonnie’s relatives using the code word "red beans," (apparently one of Bonnie’s favorite foods), to indicate that Bonnie was in town. The family would usually meet Bonnie and the rest of the Barrow Gang in a lonely, secluded area near Bonnie’s home. At one of the most poignant moments in the film, Bonnie returns home to visit her family. Many critics complain that Bonnie’s sudden marching off through the fields demanding that Clyde take her home seems sudden and unmotivated, but in fact, if one is familiar with the real Bonnie and Clyde, this scene is less curious because the real Bonnie Parker did that sort of thing all the time.
On April 27, 1933, the Barrow Gang stole a car belonging to H.D. Derby, a Ruston, Louisiana undertaker. Mr. Derby was understandably upset, and, accompanied by Ms. Sophia Stone, chased the Gang and his stolen car. Finally, Mr. Derby gave up and headed back toward town. Shortly after, he was flagged down by a car and was horrified to see that it was the Barrow Gang. Derby and Stone were kidnapped, taken on "joy ride" with the Gang, and were later released unharmed. The movie depicts this incident almost exactly as it actually occurred, changing only the names of Mr. Derby and Ms. Sophia Stone to Eugene Grizzard and Velma Davis respectively. There is no evidence to indicate, however, that it was anything that Mr. Derby said about his occupation or death that offended Bonnie and caused them to be abruptly released.
Bonnie was nearly killed when Clyde missed a washed-out bridge sign and plunged the car down a ravine. The car caught fire and Bonnie, who was trapped inside, was seriously burned. The film omits this incident, probably because it would not really advance the plot line.
Bonnie’s image was that of a "gun-toting, cigar-smoking moll," an impression created by a photograph recovered from one of the Gang’s hideouts in Joplin, Missouri that showed Bonnie posing beside a car with a cigar in her mouth and a gun at her hip. Bonnie hated that picture, claiming she never smoked cigars. Apparently, Bonnie’s last words to Chief Percy Boyd (who had been kidnapped and then released by the Gang after a shoot-out) were, "Tell them I don’t smoke cigars." The film recreates this famous photograph by showing Clyde photographing Bonnie with a gun and his cigar.
On July, 19, 1933, in a small motel court in Platte City, Missouri, the Barrow Gang was surrounded by police and a shoot-out ensued. Although an armored car was blocking their exit, the Barrow Gang managed to shoot themselves free. Buck was mortally wounded in this attack, and his wife, Blanche, was blinded. The film faithfully represents this event, including the graphic, bloody wounds of Buck and Blanche.
A few days after the Platte City ambush, the Barrow Gang was surrounded again in Dexter, Iowa by the Iowa State Police, the National Guard, and local farmers. Blanche and the dying Buck surrendered, but Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. managed to escape on foot, although their car had been riddled by gunfire and a bridge leading out of the area was destroyed. This knack for escaping the authorities earned Bonnie and Clyde the nickname the "Phantom Pair." The film depicts this scene as it actually happened, showing Buck and Blanche being reluctantly deserted as Bonnie, Clyde, and C.W. escape on foot.
Captured, Blanche refused to cooperate with the police. She gave them false names and inaccurate information in order to protect the remaining members of the Gang. In this incident, the film deviates seriously from real life. In actuality, Blanche was not the hysterical, vulnerable, and gullible woman that she was portrayed as in the film. Rather than "spill the beans" and reveal any names of Gang members, she was defiant and uncooperative until her parole from a Missouri prison in 1939.
On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed in Gibsland, Louisiana, after months of careful planning by a posse of police agents and "informers"—people who were savvy to the Gang’s movements and who had known Bonnie and Clyde. The massacre in the film is, with a few minor adjustments, an accurate portrayal of the actual deaths. Bonnie and Clyde were in fact betrayed by the father of one of the Gang members who thought that he could get a lighter sentence for his son if he helped the police catch the elusive pair. As the father of the Gang member actually did, Ivan Moss in the film uses a disabled vehicle to trick Bonnie and Clyde into stopping.
The "Death Car" in which Bonnie and Clyde had been riding when they were massacred was riddled with more than 150 bullets in about 10-15 seconds.
A souvenir-hunting crowd gathered around the "Death Car." Among other things, people collected bloody clothing and upholstery, as well as the shell cases that were scattered all around the car. The film does not address this ghastly souvenir-hunting, ending the movie with a tragic but somehow still dignified and beautiful shot of the lawmen gathered around the lifeless Bonnie and Clyde.
Despite Bonnie’s wishes, she and Clyde were not buried together. Rather, Bonnie was buried in the Fishtrap Cemetery in Dallas and Clyde was buried in the Western Heights Cemetery. The film did not comment on this ironic fact, although some more recent tellings of the Bonnie and Clyde story have included this fact as a postscript.
Bonnie’s sister Billie Jean Parker, who spent nine months in jail for sheltering Bonnie, sued Warner Brothers, Inc. for $1,000,000. Parker claimed that the film had "blackened" Bonnie’s memory. Parker’s lawyer was Clayton Fowler, whose previous client was Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald only a few days after Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Billie Jean Parker was never mentioned by name in the film.
In 1973, Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-riddled 1934 Ford V-8 was sold at auction to a man named Peter Simon for $175,000. The "Death Car" was eventually purchased by Whiskey Pete’s Hotel-Casino in Stateline, Nevada where it now sits on display in the lobby.
Original Critical Analysis of Bonnie and Clyde
The first time the opening credits of Bonnie and Clyde clicked on and off of my television screen, I expected to see a pseudo-biographical gangster film with lots of gun fights and cursing. Instead, I was treated to an excellent film that raised questions about issues such as justice and violence, and featured sympathetic criminals and excellent technical effects.
On the surface, Bonnie and Clyde is an individual versus institution film that was common during its time—the turbulent and rebellious and 1960s. Bonnie and Clyde are daring individuals struggling against The Institution—the greedy banks that victimize the poor. Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) are portrayed as anti-authority figures who defy the law and its officers on their mission as champions of the poor, and who are ultimately crushed under the weight and fury of the law, but not before they manage to win the respect and admiration of poor, boring, hopeless people all over the Midwest. Within this social commentary framework, Bonnie and Clyde makes several valid statements about justice and violence.
The first issue that Bonnie and Clyde comments on is the nature of justice. Bonnie, Clyde and the rest of the Barrow Gang are obviously criminals, but does their contempt for authority and the killings they commit merit their brutal, excessive murder? The murders Bonnie and Clyde commit can be excused as accidents and self-defense, but the ambush that Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle) stages is nothing more than the result of a vengeful, personal vendetta stemming from a humiliating experience Hamer endured at the hands of Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie and Clyde, in my opinion, does not condone the criminals’ actions ( it punishes them brutally in the closing moments of the film), but it does seem to urge us to look at the personalities and motives of criminals before passing judgment upon them or labeling them as the "bad guys."
The next issue that Bonnie and Clyde addresses is the controversial topic of violence. Many critics, especially immediately following the film’s release, denounced Bonnie and Clyde as nothing more than a gore-fest that seemed to glorify violence and death. In my opinion, however, the film is very much an anti-violence film. None of the characters in the film derive any pleasure from killing (Clyde, in fact, is extremely upset after he was forced to kill a banker after C.W.’s parking blunder), and the violence that is depicted is shown as agonizing, painful, and terribly unpleasant (to say the least). Also, the violence, I think, is necessary to prevent the film from becoming a comedy full of antics and jokes—whether they behave like it or not, Bonnie and Clyde are adult outlaws who, intentionally or not, hurt and kill people, and the violence is necessary to maintain the serious nature of the film.
Bonnie and Clyde has often been criticized for deviating from the facts of the true story of Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie and Clyde is not a strict biography, nor do I think it was intended to be. First of all, the story of Bonnie and Clyde needed to be generalized so that viewers could relate and sympathize with the characters and their universal problems and struggles, and this generalization required altering the personalities of Bonnie and Clyde and omitting many of their heinous, cruel crimes that could not easily be related to or explained. Secondly, as many critics have pointed out, Bonnie and Clyde is partly about the making of myth—the distortion of truth to create a romantic, distorted legend. In this case, the actual details of the lives of the real Bonnie and Clyde are not that important because the film is telling us that many of the "truths" and beliefs we hold about Bonnie, Clyde, and other legendary figures from history may actually be false, nothing more than exaggerated statements from witnesses in newspapers or opinions based on photographs viewed out of context. For instance, in the film, Bonnie and Clyde are amused to read about fictitious crimes that they allegedly committed according to the newspapers which glamorized and exaggerated the group and its crimes and portrayed the Barrow Gang as larger-than-life celebrities that they weren’t rather than bored, confused young adults that they were.
This film is unique and memorable because it forces the viewer to sympathize with and perhaps actually like the "bad guys" (the criminals) rather than the "good guys" (the police officers). This role reversal is achieved by making the characters extremely childish so that the audience laughs with them and temporarily forgets that they are criminals and not just harmless, immature children. Each of the main characters expresses an infantilism that makes them vulnerable and causes the audience to dread their inevitable deaths—Blanche wails like a hysterical child, Buck tells stupid jokes, Bonnie dreams of riches and writes bad poetry, Clyde gets nervous before hold-ups and tries to hide his impotence by bragging about his sexual encounters to his big brother, and the entire gang presses their mouths to the windows of Eugene Grizzard’s (Gene Wilder) car and makes faces. Incidents such as these paint the Barrow Gang as a bunch of simple, unruly, lovable, attention-seeking children, attributes that endear them to the audience and make their deaths even more tragic.
The character of Bonnie is often criticized for being unmotivated and, unlike the rest of the characters, adult-like and humorless. Critics often cite the scene where Bonnie inexplicably decides she has to go home to see her mother and takes off walking through a corn field with no explanation or goodbye to anyone. I can understand this complaint—although in real life Bonnie often made spur-of-the-moment trips home to see her mother, as far as the movie was concerned, Bonnie hadn’t cared enough about her family to even say goodbye before she took off with Clyde, and she hadn’t even mentioned her family until halfway through the movie when she suddenly needed to go home and see them.
Bonnie is just as childish as the rest of the gang--her moodiness, lack of humor, and sudden decision to go home are symptoms of a woman who childishly and impulsively embarked on a crime spree with a handsome stranger without considering the long-term consequences and who, when confronted with the unpleasant reality of her impending death, wants to run home and cry to her mother. Bonnie dreamed of fame, glamour, and a happy life with Clyde, but failed to consider the less romantic aspects of being an outlaw, namely violent death, and her childish disillusion is best expressed when she exclaims, "We rob the damn banks, what else do we do?" This conflict and moodiness vital to understanding Bonnie’s character is undermined, I think, by the fact that the film portrayed her early as a cold, calculating woman who was unaffected by the banker’s murder and who was only concerned with being "in the money." This portrayal of Bonnie makes her sentimentality and desire to go home and see her family less believable later in the film.
The technical aspects of Bonnie and Clyde were excellent. The natural lighting and bleak landscape leant credibility to Bonnie and Clyde’s depression-era Texas home, and the hazy, rosy filter through which Bonnie’s homecoming scene was shot gave it a dreamy, expressionistic touch that provided a window to Bonnie’s thoughts and emotions. The cutting was very well done, especially in the final scene when the rapid cuts from the trees to Bonnie and Clyde’s startled expressions created tension and anticipation. The dialogue was crisp and efficient—there were not any awkward, superfluous, or silly lines that should have been left out of the film (lines that I typically find in action movies and soap operas). Instead, most of the statements from the characters’ mouths were packed with action and meaning.
I have only a few criticisms of this film. The first is that, in my opinion, Faye Dunwaway’s accent in the very beginning of the film was forced and almost humorous—it was if I, a born-and-bred Northerner, was trying to parody the drawling accents of the South by completely exaggerating them. Thankfully, Dunaway’s Southern Belle drawl wears off slightly as the movie progresses, and she speaks more naturally with only a subtle hint of an accent.
The second criticism is Clyde’s impotence. Perhaps in the late sixties when the film first came out and Beatty was a relative unknown in Hollywood, his portrayal of an impotent character would not have been questionable, but from my vantage point in the late nineties, I do not believe for a second that Beatty’s Clyde is impotent. I am familiar with Beatty because of his good looks and numerous, highly-publicized love affairs with ladies like Madonna, and for these reasons, I felt like laughing out loud every time Beatty’s handsome, sexy Clyde refers to his inability to have sexual intercourse with Bonnie.
My final criticism is the mismatch between the mood of the music and the mood of the action on the screen. I think the balance between serious incidents (like shoot-outs), and humorous ones (like the kidnapping of Eugene Grizzard) kept the violence and tension in the film from becoming too oppressive, but the twanging banjo music that burst to life after such sad events as Buck’s death kept me from really relating emotionally to what was happening on screen. In many places, the carefree, lively music was appropriate and effective, such as after the initial botched robberies. However, the cheerful music following grim events like Bonnie and Clyde deserting the dying Buck negated my natural impulse to feel sad and left me feeling detached and somewhat unaffected by the tragic events on the screen. Music gives clues as to how the audience is supposed to feel (Titanic, for example, would be a completely different film if happy banjo tunes accompanied the sinking of the ship and the drowning of the passengers), and I think that the lack of musical emotional cues in Bonnie and Clyde prevented me from feeling anything but impersonal pity when Bonnie and Clyde were brutally massacred.
In conclusion, I think that Bonnie and Clyde, for the most part, is a well-produced, atypical gangster film that comments on universal issues such as justice and violence, and features sympathetic criminals, polished technical effects, and a tense, shifting balance between comedy and tragedy that keeps viewers uncertain, yet engaged, until the very last haunting frame.
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