Bonnie and Clyde (film)
|Bonnie and Clyde|
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Arthur Penn|
|Produced by||Warren Beatty|
|Music by||Charles Strouse|
|Edited by||Dede Allen|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.-Seven Arts|
|Box office||$70 million|
Bonnie and Clyde is a 1967 American neo-noir biographical crime film directed by Arthur Penn and starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the title characters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Also featured were Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, and Estelle Parsons. The screenplay was written by David Newman and Robert Benton. Robert Towne and Beatty provided uncredited contributions to the script; Beatty produced the film. The soundtrack was composed by Charles Strouse.
Bonnie and Clyde is considered a landmark film, and is regarded as one of the first films of the New Hollywood era, since it broke many cinematic taboos and was popular with the younger generation. For some members of the counterculture, the film was considered to be a "rallying cry." Its success prompted other filmmakers to be more open in presenting sex and violence in their films. The film's ending became iconic as "one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history."
The film received Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons) and Best Cinematography (Burnett Guffey). It was among the first 100 films selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
In the middle of the Great Depression, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker of Texas meet when Clyde tries to steal the car belonging to Bonnie's mother. Bonnie, who is bored by her job as a waitress, is intrigued by Clyde, and decides to take up with him and become his partner in crime. They pull off some holdups, but their amateur efforts, while exciting, are not very lucrative.
The duo's crime spree shifts into high gear once they hook up with a dim-witted gas station attendant, C.W. Moss. Clyde's older brother Buck and his wife, Blanche, a preacher's daughter, also join them. The women dislike each other on first sight, and their feud escalates. Blanche has nothing but disdain for Bonnie, Clyde and C.W., while Bonnie sees Blanche's flighty presence as a constant danger to the gang's survival.
Bonnie and Clyde turn from pulling small-time heists to robbing banks. Their exploits also become more violent. When C.W. botches parking for a bank robbery, Clyde shoots the bank manager in the face after he jumps onto the slow-moving car's running board. The gang is pursued by law enforcement, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, whom they capture and humiliate before setting him free. A raid later catches the outlaws off guard, mortally wounding Buck with a shot to his head and injuring Blanche. Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. barely escape alive. With Blanche sightless and in police custody, Hamer tricks her into revealing C.W.'s name, who was up until then still only an "unidentified suspect."
Hamer locates Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. hiding at the house of C.W.'s father Ivan, who thinks the couple—and an ornate tattoo—have corrupted his son. The elder Moss strikes a bargain with Hamer: in exchange for leniency for the boy, he helps set a trap for the outlaws. When Bonnie and Clyde stop on the side of the road to help Mr. Moss fix a flat tire, the police in the bushes open fire and riddle them with bullets. Hamer and his posse come out of hiding and are shown looking pensively at the couple's bodies as a nearby flock of swallows fly away.
- Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow
- Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker
- Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss
- Gene Hackman as Buck Barrow
- Estelle Parsons as Blanche Barrow
- Denver Pyle as Frank Hamer
- Dub Taylor as Ivan Moss
- Gene Wilder as Eugene Grizzard
- Evans Evans as Velma Davis
- Mabel Cavitt as Bonnie's mother (uncredited)
The family gathering scene was filmed in Red Oak, Texas. Several local residents gathered to watch the film being shot. When the filmmakers noticed Mabel Cavitt, a local school teacher, among the people gathered, she was cast as Bonnie Parker's mother.
Production and style
The film was intended as a romantic and comic version of the violent gangster films of the 1930s, updated with modern filmmaking techniques. Arthur Penn portrayed some of the violent scenes with a comic tone, sometimes reminiscent of Keystone Kops-style slapstick films, then shifted disconcertingly into horrific and graphic violence. The film showed strong influence by the French New Wave directors, both in its rapid shifts of tone, and in its choppy editing, which is particularly noticeable in the film's closing sequence. The first handling of the script was in the early 1960s. Influenced by the French New Wave writers and not yet completed, an early version was sent by its writers David Newman and Robert Benton to Arthur Penn. He already was engaged in production decisions for the 1966 film The Chase and could not get involved in the script for Bonnie and Clyde. The writers sent their script to François Truffaut, French director of the New Wave movement, who made contributions. He passed on the project, next directing Fahrenheit 451. At Truffaut's suggestion, the writers, much excited (the film's producers were less so), approached filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Some sources claim Godard didn't trust Hollywood and refused; Robert Benton claimed that Godard wanted to shoot the film in New Jersey in January during the winter. He purportedly took offense when would-be producer Norah Wright objected that that his desire was unreasonable, as the story took place in Texas, which had a warm climate year-round. Her partner Elinor Jones claimed the two did not believe Godard was right for the project in the first place. Godard's retort: « Je vous parle de cinéma, vous me parlez de météo. Au revoir. » ("I'm talking cinema and you're talking weather. Goodbye.") After the 1968 Academy Awards, Godard sent Benton and Newman a cable that read, "Now, let's make it all over again!"
Soon after the failed negotiations for production, actor Warren Beatty was visiting Paris and learned through Truffaut of the project and its path. On returning to Hollywood, Beatty requested to see the script and bought the rights. A meeting with Godard was not productive. Beatty changed his approach and convinced the writers that while the script at first reading was very much of the French New Wave style, an American director was necessary for the subject.
Beatty offered the directing position to George Stevens, William Wyler, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger, Brian G. Hutton, and Sydney Pollack, all of whom turned down the opportunity. Arthur Penn turned down the director's position additional times before Beatty finally convinced him to lead the film.
When Beatty was on board as producer only, his sister and actress Shirley MacLaine was a strong possibility to play Bonnie. When Beatty decided to play Clyde, they needed a different actress to play opposite him. Those considered for the role included Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret, Leslie Caron, Carol Lynley and Sue Lyon. Cher auditioned for the part, while Beatty begged Natalie Wood to play the role. Wood declined the role to concentrate on her therapy at the time, and acknowledged that working with Beatty before had been "difficult." Faye Dunaway later said that she won the part "by the skin of her teeth!"
The film is forthright in its handling of sexuality, but that theme was toned down from its conception. Originally, Benton and Newman wrote Clyde as bisexual. He and Bonnie were to have a three-way sexual relationship with their male getaway driver. Penn persuaded the writers that since the couple's relationship was underwritten in terms of emotional complexity, it dissipated the passion of the title characters. This would threaten the audience's sympathy for the characters, and might result in their being written off as sexual deviants because they were criminals. Others said that Beatty was unwilling to have his character display that kind of sexuality and that the Production Code would never have allowed such content in the first place. Clyde is portrayed as unambiguously heterosexual and impotent.
Bonnie and Clyde was one of the first films to feature extensive use of squibs – small explosive charges, often mounted with bags of stage blood, that are detonated inside an actor's clothes to simulate bullet hits. Released in an era when film shootings generally were depicted as bloodless and painless, the Bonnie and Clyde death scene was one of the first in mainstream American cinema to be depicted with graphic realism.
Beatty originally wanted the film to be shot in black and white, but Warner Bros. rejected this idea. Much of the senior management of the studio was hostile to this film project, especially Jack L. Warner, who considered the subject-matter an unwanted throwback to Warner Bros.' early period, when gangster films were common product. In addition, Warner already was annoyed at Beatty, who had refused to star in the film, PT 109, and defied Warner's favorite gesture of authority of showing the studio water tower with the WB logo on it. Beatty said, "Well, it's got your name, but it's got my initials." Warner complained about the costs of the film's extensive location shooting in Texas, which exceeded its production schedule and budget, and ordered the crew back to the studio backlot. It already had planned to return for final process shots.
At first, Warner Bros. did not promote Bonnie and Clyde for general release, but mounted only limited regional releases that seemed to confirm its misgivings about the film's lack of commercial appeal. The film quickly did excellent sustained business in select urban theatres. While Jack Warner was selling the studio to Seven Arts Productions, he would have dumped the film but for the fact that Israel, of which Warner was a major supporter, had scored a triumphant victory in the Six-Day War. Warner was feeling too defiant to sell any of his studio's films.
Meanwhile, Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde's producer and star, complained to Warner Bros. that if the company was willing to go to so much trouble for Reflections in a Golden Eye (they had changed the coloration scheme at considerable expense), their neglect of his film, which was getting excellent press, suggested a conflict of interest; he threatened to sue the company. Warner Bros. gave Beatty's film a general release. Much to the surprise of Warner Bros.' management, the film eventually became a major box office success.
"Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by Flatt and Scruggs, the instrumental banjo piece, was introduced to a worldwide audience as a result of its frequent use in the movie. Its use is anachronistic because the bluegrass-style of music dates from the mid-1940s rather than the 1930s. But the functionally similar old-time music genre was long established and widely recorded in the period of the film's events. Long out of print in vinyl and cassette formats, the film soundtrack was released on CD in 2009.
The film considerably simplifies the lives of Bonnie and Clyde and their gang. They were allied with other gang members, repeatedly were jailed, committed other murders, and suffered a horrific auto accident. Parker severely was burned in it and left a near-invalid.
The sequence with Wilder and Evans is based on the kidnappings by the Barrow gang of undertaker H.D. Darby and his acquaintance Sophia Stone, near Ruston, Louisiana on April 27, 1933; they also stole Darby's car.[page needed]
The film is considered to stray far from fact in its portrayal of Frank Hamer as a vengeful bungler who was captured, humiliated, and released by Bonnie and Clyde. Hamer was a legendary and decorated Texas Ranger when he was coaxed out of semi-retirement to hunt down the couple. He never saw them before he and his posse ambushed and killed them near Gibsland, Louisiana on May 23, 1934. In 1968, Hamer's widow and son sued the movie producers for defamation of character over the portrayal of the late lawman; they were awarded an out-of-court settlement in 1971.
In 1933, police found undeveloped film in Bonnie & Clyde's hastily abandoned hideout in Joplin, Missouri. When they printed the negatives, one showed Bonnie holding a gun in her hand and a cigar between her teeth. Its publication nationwide typed her as a dramatic gun moll. The film portrays the taking of this playful photo. It implies the gang sent photos—and poetry—to the press, but this is untrue. The police found most of the gang's items in the Joplin cache. Bonnie's final poem, read aloud by her in the movie, was not published until after her death, when her mother released it.
The only two surviving members of the Barrow Gang when the film was released in 1967, were Blanche Barrow and W.D. Jones. While Barrow had approved the depiction of her in the original version of the script, she objected to the later re-writes. At the film's release, she complained about Estelle Parsons's portrayal of her, saying "That film made me look like a screaming horse's ass!"
The film aroused controversy because of its apparent glorification of murderers, and for its level of graphic violence, which was unprecedented at the time. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote: "It is a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cutups in Thoroughly Modern Millie." He was so appalled that he began to campaign against the increasing brutality of American films. Dave Kaufman of Variety criticized the film for uneven direction and for portraying Bonnie and Clyde as bumbling moronic types. Joe Morgenstern for Newsweek initially panned the film as a "squalid shoot-'em-up for the moron trade." After seeing the film a second time and noting the enthusiastic audience, he wrote a second article saying he had misjudged it and praised the film. Warner Bros. took advantage of this, marketing the film as having made a major critic change his mind about its virtues.
Roger Ebert gave Bonnie and Clyde a largely positive review, giving it four stars out of four. He said the film was "a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance." He continued, "It is also pitilessly cruel, filled with sympathy, nauseating, funny, heartbreaking, and astonishingly beautiful. If it does not seem that those words should be strung together, perhaps that is because movies do not very often reflect the full range of human life." More than 30 years later, Ebert added the film to his The Great Movies list. Film critics Dave Kehr and James Berardinelli have praised the film.
The fierce debate about the film is discussed at length in the documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (2009). This film chronicles what occurred as a result: The New York Times fired Crowther because his negative review seemed so out of touch with public opinion. Pauline Kael, who wrote a lengthy freelance essay in The New Yorker in praise of the film, was hired as the magazine's new staff-critic.
The film performed well at the box office, and by year's end had grossed $23 million in U.S. theatrical rentals. It became the studio's second highest-grossing film of all time, behind My Fair Lady. Listal lists it as one of the top five grossing films of 1967, with $50.7 million in U.S. sales, and $70 million worldwide.
Although many believe the film's groundbreaking portrayal of violence adds to the film's artistic merit, Bonnie and Clyde is still sometimes criticized for opening the floodgates for showing heightened graphic violence in cinema and later TV. It holds an 89% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film was also nominated for:
- Best Picture – Warren Beatty
- Best Director – Arthur Penn
- Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) – David Newman and Robert Benton
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Warren Beatty
- Best Actress in a Leading Role – Faye Dunaway
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Gene Hackman
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Michael J. Pollard
- Best Costume Design – Theadora Van Runkle
The film repeatedly has been honored by the American Film Institute:
- 1998 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #27
- 2001 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #13
- 2002 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – #65
- 2003 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains
- Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker – #32 Villains
- 2005 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes
- "We rob banks." – #41
- 2007 – AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #42
- 2008 – AFI's 10 Top 10 – #5 Gangster Film
Fifty years after its premiere, Bonnie and Clyde has been cited as a major influence for such disparate films as The Wild Bunch, The Godfather, The Departed, True Romance, and Natural Born Killers.
In popular culture
The "Storage Jars" skit of episode 33 of Monty Python's Flying Circus features a brief still shot of Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow firing a Thompson submachine gun as he escapes from the Red Crown Tourist Court.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bonnie and Clyde.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Bonnie and Clyde (film)|
- Bonnie and Clyde on IMDb
- Bonnie and Clyde at the TCM Movie Database
- Bonnie and Clyde at AllMovie
- Bosley Crowther's original review, The New York Times, April 14, 1967, and his follow-up of September 3, 1967.
- Stephen Hunter, in Commentary, discussed the film's failure to adhere to historical truth about Barrow, Parker, and Hamer 
- Literature on Bonnie and Clyde, Film website
- "Clyde and Bonnie died for nihilims", Commentary, 7 October 2009