Bonnie & Clyde (1967) dir. Arthur Penn
Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard, Estella Parsons
Warren Beatty’s brainchild film charts Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s violent crime spree across the Southern States, which turned ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ into an iconic household moniker. It’s also one of the most influential films of the 60’s for its expressive use of violence contrast against it’s traditional Warner Bros ‘gangster’ genre façade.
Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), a bored teenager wasting away in a barren Texas town at first sight falls deeply for Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty). It’s not so much love as a sexual turn-on. Bonnie feels the bad-ass in Clyde and she instinctively wants to go anywhere he goes and do anything he does. They proceed to knock off a series of stores, and banks for fun and kicks. Along the way they recruit an eager car mechanic C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wet blanket wife Blanche (Estella Parsons) and establish themselves as 'the Barrow Gang'.
Bonnie and Clyde become media sensations in the era of famous public enemies - ie. Al Capone, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly. But when their fun romp is halted after a violent run-in with the authorities, the reality of their actions will come crashing down on their heads violently - really violently.
“Bonnie and Clyde” represented more than just a gangster film, it was the beginning of an important period in American cinema. Liberal attitudes toward sex and violence freed filmmakers to challenge the auteur films that were being made in Europe throughout the 60’s.
“Bonnie and Clyde” is very sexual, in fact the film begins with Faye Dunaway prancing around nude in her bedroom. Her courtship stroll with Clyde through her desolate Texan town is full of fun sexual innuendos – watch Bonnie licking her coke bottle and Clyde’s match stick twitching in his mouth.
This beginning sets up the central theme of the film - sex and violence and the relationship between the two. But the film gets interesting when once sex is taken out of the equation. Early on we learn Clyde, who admits he’s never been much a lover, can’t perform in bed, thus Bonnie and Clyde’s relationship is fueled purely on violence.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Only 3 ½ stars? Well “Bonnie & Clyde” is a classic, there’s no doubting that. It’s a great film, which arguably, with modern eyes, doesn’t stand quite as tall as other films of the era. There are many scenes that drag, specifically the frequent use of the rear-projection driving scene. Penn uses the same uncreative flat frontal shot when shooting his in-car dialogue scenes. It's a bland method of storytelling which unfortunately dates the progressively liberal film.
Estella Parsons, who won an Oscar for her role, provides one of those effective but frustrating performances. Parsons plays Buck Barrow’s annoying wife who's brought along the journey against her will. Her wining voice and constant screaming provide conflict among the gang, which ultimately causes their downfall. I’m reminded of Dorothy Comingore’s equally cringe-worthy performance as Susan Alexander in “Citizen Kane”. Is it effective storytelling or just nails on a chalkboard?
But the most important part of the film, the ending, is still as exciting and brutal as it was in 1967. The innovative blood and squibs effects, the editing and the slo-motion camera work are still beautiful and bold even with today’s eyes. Sam Peckinpah would later find influence from "Bonnie and Clyde" and rewrite cinema for expanding these techniques. But it all started with "Bonnie and Clyde". Enjoy.