THE 28: #24, BONNIE AND CLYDE
Faye Dunaway: Bonnie Parker
Warren Beatty: Clyde Barrow
Michael J. Pollard: C.W. Moss
Gene Hackman: Buck Barrow
Estelle Parsons: Blanche
Denver Pyle: Frank Hamer
Dub Taylor: Ivan Moss
Evan Evans: Velma Davis
Gene Wilder: Eugene Grizzard
Screenplay by David Newman and Robert Benton
Directed by Arthur Penn
Bonnie Parker was a waitress sick of her mundane Depression-era small town existence. She catches Clyde Barrow, a charming ex-con, trying to steal her mother's car and sees a chance at freedom and excitement. They become instantly smitten with one another and fall in love. Together, along with Clyde's brother Buck, Buck's wife Elaine, and C.W Moss, they embark on a violent and notorious crime spree across the South. They became populist legends in a time of tremendous poverty. Anti-heroes who stuck it to The Man. They met a violent end on a dirt road in rural Louisiana on May 23, 1934, when they were ambushed by a posse of law enforcement. They died legends and their tale has evolved into a kind of romanticized mythology of on-the-run lovers.
Their story is dramatized in Arthur Penn's phenomenal film, released in 1967. Today, we watch and the presentation feels familiar. We've seen this style of movie-making before, but only in movies that followed BONNIE AND CLYDE. Fifty years ago, nothing like this had ever been produced. The violence was graphic by that time's standards and even today can be shocking in its abruptness. Warren Beatty was an actor of traditional leading man looks willing to play an unsavory character. The soundtrack employed bluegrass some 30 years before O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? The dialogue was poetic, but mean. The picture was presented as entertainment, a lurid thought during the tumultuous late Sixties. Think of the first time you saw the original STAR WARS or PULP FICTION. That's what audiences in 1967 felt upon the release of BONNIE AND CLYDE.
This isn't some relic, though. BONNIE AND CLYDE holds up, partly because of the immortality of its subjects and the romantic notion we have of outlaw lovers who play modern day Robin Hood. Mainly, though, it holds up because it is a great film made with expert craftsmanship. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway exude a palpable chemistry in the leads. Beatty mixes his natural charm and warm smile with genuine menace. Dunaway is a force of nature, a driven woman committed to the cause. She presents Bonnie as Clyde's partner and equal. T
he supporting cast rounds out an impressive ensemble. Each character has a moment of poignancy, tragedy, and comedy. The photography is lush and memorable. A homeless camp in Oklahoma. A field Bonnie runs through. Roads that stretch forever, offering an ever-elusive freedom. The final, brutal scene of the pair being riddled with bullets.
We still love anti-heroes and stories of regular people who step up to do dastardly deeds in the name of some greater good. Bonnie and Clyde truly believed they offered the America of the Depression respite from the weight of horrific poverty. The system had failed the people. The fat cats screwed them over, so Bonnie and Clyde stepped up to fight back. BONNIE AND CLYDE remains one of the masterpieces of American cinema, because of its legacy and influence on later films, yes, but there is another, more significant reason. BONNIE AND CLYDE resonated with audiences over 30 years after the death of its characters and now, 50 years later, it remains as relevant as ever.