This film adaptation of the true story of the famous couple bank robbers, Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909-1934) during the American Great Depression of the 1930’s by Arthur Penn, has become such a classic of its genre, affected so many later films and filmmakers, and more importantly popularized positively this couple gangsters that could hardly be ignored on any great films of all time list. Fay Dunaway as Bonnie and Warren Beatty as Clyde played their best film roles ever and Gene Hackman as Buck Barrow was introduced the arena of cinema as a serious actor, while the acting of Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss and Estelle Parsons as Blanche Barrow (Buck’s wife) were memorable.
The great and artistic direction of Arthur Penn created such a prototypic romantic gangster film with thrills, horror and violence that had hardly been equaled though adapted and copied part by part many times. Bringing some of the French new wave or Avant Garde cinematic techniques to Hollywood, such as its fast pace and choppy editing, Arthur Penn assisted by Charles Strouse with his fast beat music score and Burnett Guffey with his great cinematography, they teache Americans at the time and in the future how to make influential gangster films.
The writers of the film, David Newman and Robert Benton influenced by the French new wave writers and cinema, first approached the popular French filmmaker Francois Truffaut who made some suggestions to the story, then Jean-Luc Godard who agreed to make the film, but oddly wanted to shoot it in New Jersey that was refused by the writers as the real story happened in Texas. Then while Warren Beatty was visiting Paris at the time and learnt about the project from Truffaut, he bought the right to the story and convinced the writers that an American director is needed for an American film though the story is of French new wave style. Beatty offered the script to quite a few directors such as George Stevens, William Wyler, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger and Sydney Pollack who luckily all refused. Arthur Penn initially refused to direct the film as well, but Beatty’s insistence convinced him to get on the project that finally brought him fame as a capable filmmaker. It must have been a great regret for Beatty himself who goes on to become a great filmmaker himself with great classics such as “Reds” that he did not make the film himself.
While Beatty wanted to play the Clyde’s part himself, choosing the actress for the Bonnie’s part was not easy and that was refused by Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda among others, and Faye Dunaway begged for the part and all were lucky for her playing the part. Bonnie and Clyde brought so many accolades and awards for all participants in the film, with 10 nominations at the Academy Awards, and ranking 27 in AFI’s first edition in 1998 and 42 in its edition of 2008 and ranking 5th in its top gangster film list among many other lists and awards.
A Classic in its own Genre:
The film opens with a brief text bio-introduction of the real characters of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow before getting together, and starting a life-long love and adventure relationship. In the first visual scene, Bonnie is seen in her bedroom half naked and bored. Then she looks down outside through the window and sees a young man, Clyde trying to steal her mother’s car. She gets dressed fast and goes down to confront him and scorns him to be ashamed stealing an old woman‘s car. He claims that he has been browsing it to buy the car. All these happening in a mellow, friendly and somewhat comic way, with both the couple from their looks and ways of conversation seem to have already been drawn to each other.
They continue with their get to know each other’s chat, while Bonnie following Clyde walking away from her house and on the street of a Texan small town. Soon Clyde breaks to Bonnie of his profession as a bank robber with pride and that he has just been released out of jail that surprisingly excites Bonnie who seemed to have been waiting for such great opportunity to seek her freedom. To prove to her what he claims of being a robber, he shows his gun that she challenges him not to be brave enough to use it. He robs a grocery store and comes out with a handful of cash, jumping into a stolen car, inviting Bonnie to join him. She jumps in with joy and the couple drive away, starting their romance and adventure together from this point.
Bonnie too excited, while Clyde behind the wheel, jumps on his laps, starting to kiss and worship him. After a brief drive to her surprise, Clyde stops the car and discloses to her that he is not a lover boy, wishing to get into her pants. Then in a restaurant where he buys her a hamburger, he starts analyzing her and tells her life story like a psyche that she deserves more than being a waitress in a small town and going with ordinary local boys who just want her for sex. He draws the plan of working together as lovers and partners in the bank robbery that tempts Bonnie more than before.
In the next scene when they stop by a desolate house taken over by a bank from the owners not paying off their loan, they meet the poor owners, a family with a black male worker. Clyde confesses to them that they rob the banks and he lets them release their anger by shooting through the house windows. In a gas station where the two stop for fuel, a young man working there, C.W.Moss intrigued to join the team, but has to prove his robbing capability by emptying the cash of the gas station and give it them, that he does and the threesome drive off.
The police already on alert and chasing them, as Clyde when attacked by a convenience store employee, has been identified. In the next robbery, C.W. Moss as the driver, when Bonnie and Clyde walk into a bank for robbery, he parks the car between two other cars instead of waiting in the running car up in the front. The couple running out of the bank, looking for their car and in a delay until Moss drives up, Clyde had to shoot and kill a security man, who followed him. This upsets Clyde who blames Moss for his clumsiness and that now they would be chased all around by the police for murder. He asks Bonnie to leave him and go back to her mama and get married to a rich man, but she refuses. He reminds her that with him there will be only trouble that Bonnie wants him to promise that!
On the road they go to meet Clyde’s older brother, Buck who along with his wife, Blanche take them to their recently purchased house. Blanche with an opposite personality to Bonnie, as a whining and fragile woman, bores Bonnie to death. Soon after a grocery order delivery to the house, their place is raided by the police and they have to shoot a couple of cops to get out of the trap and drive away. Blanche scared, freaks out and runs away that they have to get her in the car on the run. While in the car, Blanche blames Bonnie and Clyde, and asks Bob to get out of the trouble, but he says that he cannot as he has already shot and killed a cop. Bonnie fights with Blanche and in turn asks Clyde to leave them behind that Clyde refuses to desert his brother.
Soon while the gang having a short stop by a lake, reading in newspaper of their bravery that is all over the news, a Texan ranger spots them. Clyde who notices the ranger, catches him off guard first and disarms him. The gang, specially Bonnie makes fun of the ranger, taking pictures with him and when she forces her kiss on him, he spits on her in disgust. This infuriates them all, specially Clyde who kicks and throws the ranger on a nearby boat, hand tight and let him stride lose on the lake. The next scenes are a series of short shots of the gang streak bank robberies along with a fast beat soundtrack and chase by the police. When the gang stop in a field to divide the robbed cash, Blanche also asks for her share that despite Bonnie’s disagreement, Clyde agrees and pays her as well.
Bonnie after a while missing her mama, insists to Clyde paying a visit to her as she is old, may die soon and her not having a chance to see her again. Clyde who first refuses, is forced to agree when one morning after waking up on a field, not finding Bonnie and have to run around to find her and promise to take her to visit her mother. In a picnic on a Texan field where they all meet Mrs. Parker, her mama is worried about what they do and suggest to them keep running if they do not want to get caught and she kisses her daughter bye for the last time. In the next scene, Bonnie sad missing her mama as her only family is seen in tears in a motel curling up on Clyde’s knees, when the other three have gone grocery shopping.
In the grocery store a local notices C.W.Moss wearing guns and calls the sheriff’s office. At night when all in bed sleeping, the police raids on the gang and shootings from both sides start. In a heavy gunfight that follows, Buck gets shot on face, and soon dies. The gang manage to flee and sleep the night away in a field, while Buck in pain and suffering from his serious wound. In the morning they’re all surrounded by the police who take them off guard and start shooting at them. Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. Moss run away, leaving Buck who’s dead now with Blanche behind. The three remaining members of the gang again steal a car and continue on their fleeing journey. They are helped and offered food and drinks by a group Amish family by a lake, before leaving for C.W. Moss father’s house for shelter. The father provides them with treatment for their wounds, food and they rest overnight, but he is angry with his son from the start, seeing him with the gang and wearing a tattoo.
The Texan ranger who is at the head of the police force chasing the gang, forces Blanche, now in their custody to disclose Moss’ last name so to locate his place that is suspected the gang are hiding. C.W. Moss’s father has already contacted the cops and arranged for their massacre when the next day they go to the town grocery shopping, he asks his son on the night before not to go with them back in the car after finishing their errands. The son laughs at his dad as he believes Bonnie and Clyde are untouchables. The next day, Bonnie and Clyde after their shopping get in the car and when they do not see C.W.Moss around, Bonnie goes inside the store to call him. Clyde when notices a police car pools in, quickly calls Bonnie back into the car and they drive away while C.W. Moss watching them through the store’s window smiling that the couple got away again.
In the final scene on the road back home, the couple see C.W. Moss’s father on the roadside, stopping and asking their help for his pretended broken truck. In one of the most iconic and remembering cinematic landmark, Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed mercilessly by the relentless shots of many policemen hiding behind the bushes. But before rolling in their blood, the couple pass on their last love looks on each other and the film ends.
“Bonnie and Clyde” did not just introduced an avant garde cinematic style to Hollywood in its genre of gangster film that was adapted many times in later years, but also surprised the viewers and critics for its graphically depiction of bloodshed on the screen that until then was a rarity in Hollywood. This great modern classic that became a box office hit as well, was not promoted by Warner’s Brother for general release due to their lack of support of such a gangster film, but upon insistence and threat of Beatty as the producer to sue the company, they released across the states after a while. The instrumental banjo piece by Flatt and Scruggs that was also introduced in the film added to the overall fast tempo of the film acoustically.
The film that was controversial on its original release for glorification of gangsters and bank robbers, and its graphic violence, since received well by the general public worldwide, pushed the critics to welcome it as well. Bosley Crowther from The New York Times was so appalled by the film that he started to campaign against its brutality, but he was fired by the paper for his being so much out of reality. David Kaufman of Variety criticized the film for its uneven direction and Bonnie and Clyde being bumbling fools. Joe Morgenstern who first critiqued the film negatively, after seeing the audience enthusiastic reaction, changed his mind and admitted to his initial misjudgment, that Warner Brothers took advantage of this effect of the film on changing critics’ opinions for promotion.
In closing remarks “Bonnie and Clyde” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality: “Bonnie and Clyde” is original in its introduction of it avant garde new style of gangster films in America that became a prototype afterwards. The fast beat of the film, its fast jump editing, music score and cinematography all were original for an American film for the time.
- Technicality: The technicality of “Bonnie and Clyde” is in its filmography, cinematography, superb script, matching direction, its fast tempo music score, and its brilliant performances of all five members of the gang that brought them all to fame.
- Impact Factor: The influence of “Bonnie and Clyde” has been on many films and filmmakers of the later years that it became a cinematic landmark for its own genre in Hollywood. More importantly and in fact while it has been and still is objection subject of some, the film glorified Bonnie and Clyde out of the dungeon of history to the modern museums of important historical characters.
- Survival: “Bonnie and Clyde” has survived well to this very day for its influence, its freshness being still a delight to watch.