March 23, 2006
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman

What it's about. Based on a true story, of course. Parolee Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and blonde waitress Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) team up to rob banks, steal cars, and kill lawmen. The gang swells to five with the addition of Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman), his high-strung and ineffective wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), and mechanic C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard). Still, we all know what happens (sooner or later) to serial violent criminals that aren't overseas in the military.

How others will see it. Warner Bros. scored an unexpected hit with Bonnie and Clyde, which had only Warren Beatty as a proven box office lead. Dunaway, Hackman, and Gene Wilder would become famous only later. Bonnie and Clyde was a landmark movie in terms of its presentation of violence, although by the standards of subsequent R-rated movies, it's hardly sensational today.

In addition to its commercial prowess, Bonnie and Clyde was widely praised by critics. The film remains entertaining and highly regarded. Blonde goddess Dunaway provides eye candy, particularly in her opening nude scene. For film buffs, it's a pleasure seeing these (largely future) stars in their prime. There's no shortage of action, suspense, or romance either. This is a film with widespread audience appeal, and only a moralist or a strict historian can actively dislike it.

How I felt about it. I admit Bonnie and Clyde is entertaining. Certainly, it has a quality cast, attractive cinematography, and effectively evokes its Great Depression era. There is indeed action and suspense, which are the film's two best attributes.

But there are problems, as there are for nearly all movies. An unnecessary subplot has Clyde suffering from erectile disfunction, while Bonnie is all too eager to do the nasty with him. Will they ever get their act together? Or would it be better if the filmmakers concentrated on their lawless career, instead of imposing soap opera subplots on our infamous leads?

A more significant difficulty is the presentation of Bonnie and Clyde as folk heroes. Newspaper and radio publicity made the duo famous in their final weeks of life, and doubtless, there were naive people who viewed them as celebrities with adventures, rather than criminals who steal and murder.

Nonetheless, we know the true nature of the Barrow gang. The film's effort to heap "common folk" praise on them (the sign-shooting episode, the request for drinking water at the camp, the old timer told he could keep his intended deposit) is a deliberate misrepresentation of the gang. They're white trash, and the only people who seem to know it are C.W.'s conniving father (Ivan Moss) and determined lawmaker Frank Hamer (future "Dukes of Hazzard" father figure Denver Pyle). C.W. himself is a hero-worshipping enabler who acts more like Barney Rubble than a gun-wielding multiple felon.

In short, Bonnie and Clyde had the potential to be a good movie, but it went too far to make its characters likable and attractive. By all means, enjoy the film. But don't admire it.