Classic Flix Review: Bonnie & Clyde


Greetings all and sundry! I am pleased to have the opportunity to approach and dissect in my own unique fashion one of  those films that arrives with not a lot of noise and hoopla. Takes the movie going audience by storm and creates a solid touchstone for actors and actresses no one has ever heard of before and plants them solidly in the cinematic firmament.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Directed masterfully with gusto and elan by Arthur Penn, wrapped tightly around the comely Faye Dunaway and roguishly handsome Warren Beatty. The film is an admirable blend of Depression era period piece. Clever doses of French New Wave Cinema. Grainy, washed out backdrops. Sweaty, humid bedroom scenes and good old fashioned Shoot ’em Ups.
The film begins with Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker waking from an afternoon nap due to noises outside her upstairs bedroom window. Only to spy a very nattily dressed Clyde Barrow trying to hot wire the car belonging to Bonnie mother. Bonnie confronts Clyde, who is a sly smooth talker of the highest order. And cajoles Bonnie into the idea that spending time with him beats the heck out of showing up for her shift as a waitress at a local restaurant.
The two head off for a future unknown as Clyde hints at his past and reveals a the butt of a pistol above his belt line. A scheme is hatched as the two roll into a close by town and Clyde enters the bank. Bonnie waits behind the wheel. Clyde returns in much more of a hurry than when he sauntered into the bank. Bonnie drives and the two are richer by just under one hundred dollars.
Bonnie teases and taunts Clyde, The two wind up in bed littered with bills of small denomination and Bonnie decides that she wants to get in on the fun too! A wheel man and mechanic is happened upon. C.W. Moss, by name.Well and dullardly played by Michael J. Pollard, of the perpetual baby face. C.W. may not know how to make or count change, but he does know engines and becomes the third member of the ‘Barrow Gang’. Quickly augmented by Clyde’s older brother, Buck and his wife, Blanche. Well and memorably played by Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons.
Clyde, Buck and Bonnie get along well enough. Though Blanche grates on the nerves. Not wanting to get in on the fun of being modern Robin Hoods. Then taking out her aggression on Bonnie and C.W. Buck has his work cut out for himself trying to keep Blanche in line as bigger banks are robbed. One ending with a pursuing bank manager jumping on the running board of the escaping getaway car and being shot in the face for his efforts.
The game has been changed and the ire of the law. Local, state and fledgling federal, has been stirred as the gang moves from Oklahoma to Texas between robberies and getaways to banjo picking Bluegrass. One step ahead of the law that relies upon telephone and telegraph lines to maintain pursuit. Bigger and better weapons are sought and acquired after a tete a tete with a Texas Ranger they’d gotten the drop on. Humiliated and photographed. And an impromptu, humorous taking of a car owned by Gene Wilder as a mortician.
Enter a dark, humid and quiet night. When every local lawman in the vicinity and beyond unloads on Bonnie, Clyde, Buck, Blanche and C.W. in their wooded cabin west of nowhere. Windows shatter and holes appear in walls. Fire is returned by Thompson Sub Machine Guns, shotguns, pistols and Browning Automatic Rifles. Bonnie reloads and Blanche panics and screams like a Banshee as she is shot. Buck is shot badly and dies shortly thereafter. Clyde is wounded, Blanche is blinded and captured as Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. get away.
Bonnie tends to Clyde’s through-and-through wound with a willow branch wrapped in gauze. C.W. steals a car and the three make off to the Oklahoma dust bowl. While the Texas Ranger who had been humiliated. Well played by Denver Pyle for his brief time on screen; is brought in to interrogate Blanche. Things head south as Clyde recuperates in a shanty town and the three head off to C.W.’s distant uncle somewhere in Louisiana. C.W is taken into custody without incident by local lawmen, who at first mistake C.W. for Pretty Boy Floyd. With the covert help of his uncle Ivan in a cameo by Dub Taylor.
Bonnie feels the walls starting to close in and pens a prophetic poem while laying low. The two decide to see what the town has to offer and roll up on a car with a flat tire being tended to. Clyde slows and stops. Gets out and notices a preponderance of rifle and shotgun muzzles peeking through a line of vines and shrubbery. Then becomes the recipient of many, many bullets and pieces of buck shot while Bonnie is trapped in the car doing an odd variation of the Funky Chicken in a prolonged, slow motion dance of death.

What Makes This Film Good?

Arthur Penn at the helm. Telling a decent, though highly romanticized story that did not fare well as B Movie with Dorothy Provine a decade earlier. Penn reaches deep into his bag of tricks and amps up the chemistry between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Who, one moment is a coquette and the next displays a sensual assertiveness that would come to fruition later in The Thomas Crown Affair, Chinatown and Network.
Many early interior scenes are back lit with diffused shadows. Several exterior scenes range from lush to stark and barren with shadows supplied by clouds. In ways reminiscent of John Ford and French New Wave as Clyde chases Bonnie through a fallow corn field.
Set direction and cinematography are far above average. Adding washed out blues, grays and greens to heighten the effects of a well researched and executed period piece. The banjo heavy Bluegrass tracts during assorted chase scenes works very well and started a minor resurgence for a few months afterward. Making the soundtrack something of an anomaly during the second term of LBJ. Which may have created the impetus to double bill Bonnie and Clyde with Bullitt during the summers of 1968 and 69.

What Makes This Film Great?

Watching a young and confident Warren Beatty transition from his television role as spoiled rich kid, Milton Armitage in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis to play a sly and conniving leading ladies’ man. Opposite another rising talent graduating from doing yeoman work in small television roles and Hurry Sundown and The Happening earlier that year. Backed up by a soon-to-be-noticed Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons, and veteran character actors Denver Pyle and Dub Taylor. In a film that jump started several careers, ala The Magnificent Seven.
Offered a plum opportunity for Beatty to produce and Penn to direct a character driven film very much of its time. That probably could not be made today without many more chase scenes and explosions!

Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews

Thoughts on this film? Do share ’em in the comments.

29 thoughts on “Classic Flix Review: Bonnie & Clyde

    1. Hi, dirtywithclass:

      Thanks for dropping by and starting the conversation!

      What impressed me years ago when I first watched it and every time since is Penn’s ability to pack one heck of a lot of story into just under two hours (112 minutes). Occasional quick cuts and all.

      Well worth the effort to seek out and enjoy.

    1. Welcome, Rich!

      I’ve not heard a whisper about a re-make. From across the pond or domestically.

      Don’t see how it could be pulled off well without a very large budget devoted to CGI. Penn’s work stands up quite well on its own merits.

        1. Hi, Rich:

          History has relegated many of the props required for the film to oblivion. Automobiles and trucks from that era were close to museum pieces back in 1967. And would be even more so today.

          Same for weaponry. Perhaps not revolvers or 1911 Colt ACPs, but certainly Browning Automatic Rifles (A favorite weapon of Clyde Barrow with a cut-down ‘Whippet’ stock) and Thompson Sub Machine Guns.

          For Penn’s wide open spaces of the Texas and Oklahoma Dust Bowls. The film would almost, out of budget concerns, need to be shot in Canada. Which may have worked for a backdrop in Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’, but would probably not work well in this instance.

    1. Welcome, markuswelby!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting so generously.

      Warren Beatty is one of those actors I handle best in fits and starts. Coming on in a big way with this film. Then branching off into directing himself and others in later films.

      Mr. Beatty has definitely left his mark!

  1. Ted S.

    A great film and as usual Jack, a great review. So many great performances in this film, especially Gene Hackman.

    Apparently they’re still developing a remake of this film, a few years ago Justin Timberlake and some young actress were up for the lead roles but thankfully that never happened. I hope the remake never come to fruition, there’s no need for a remake.

    1. Hi, Ted!

      Though the film is naturally focused on Beatty and Dunaway, Gene Hackman’s work in film made him someone to look out for later. Definitely making the best and more of his time on screen.

      A re-make of this classic would be a mistake on many levels. Simply because it is not needed.

  2. FUNK

    Most excellent, watched it a few months back for the first time since I seen it at it’s original release, and still went like Wow, then went on a kick to watch Beatty in, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Parallax View, and REDS, also Penn’s 1962 movie The Miracle Worker. Would like to see Dick Tracy, and Bulworth sometime in the near future.

  3. Hi, Funk:

    Great comments!

    McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a very well detailed period piece. Still think Beatty’s best dramatic work is in The Parallax View . Though Reds always struck me an an overlong, though interesting film. One of the first
    successful vanity projects.

    Dick Tracy is a fun and surprisingly faithful take on Chester Gould’s comic strips from the 1940s. Especially the make-up work for its array of bad guys from Prune Face to Mumbles and Flat Top. Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney isn’t bad, either!

  4. Wonderful review! I always enjoy it when a reviewer actually delves into the actual mechanics of filmmaking and how that affects the film in question.I think I’ll have to look this one up.

    1. Welcome, adampbellotto!

      Thanks so much for adding to the conversation with your gfenerous comments.

      Since film making is a collaborative effort. I like to point out memorable, excellent work when and where I see it.

      Penn knows how to set a scene and Burnett Guffey knows how to get the most of what he can behind the camera. Kudos also to Dean Tavoularis for getting the right look and feel of surroundings just right.

      An all around great example of getting the most bang for the buck!

  5. Excellent review Jack as always. Haven’t had a chance to see this one yet but the cast for this is out of this world. That picture of Gene Hackman is almost unreal, I’m so used to seeing him as an older actor!

    1. Hi, Castor:

      All the credit for the fantastic photos goes to Ruth!

      She seems to have a much better eye for them than I do.

      Hackman caught my attention with this film and made me seek his work in television. As a heavy in an episode of I Spy and as a priest in a made for an ABC made for TV movie, Shadow On The Land .

      Thought he was great as a barn storming skydiver in The Gypsy Moths. A vagabond with Al Pacino in Scarecrow and a Marlowe
      like Private Eye in Night Moves . His best roles are a toss up between
      Jimmy Doyle in The French Connection and Harry Caul in The Conversation.

  6. Fantastic write up as ever JD. But we expect that from you!!

    Bonnie and Clyde is one of those films that I keep meaning to re-visit now that I am appreciating film more, but some how it keeps getting forgotten about.

    Thanks for the reminder my friend

    Oh and your review on FRC will be live tomorrow… sorry I think I forgot to email you about it!!


    1. Hi, Scott!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      Bonnie and Clyde may not have broken a lot of rules for its time, but Penn, Beatty and company look like they had a ball stretching and bending them!

      An unique and very worthwhile film. Especially if you want to see a decent chunk of A-List talent just starting out and delivering more than was asked of them.

      PS: Thanks for the heads-up about tomorrow!

  7. I remember being in awe of this film when I originally saw it as a young kid, and after watching it again back in 2010 I stay convinced that this is a truly magnificent cinema achievement. I remember being particularly enamored with the way Penn used the frame to capture the violence and yet remain distant from it – here’s what I wrote about this facet of the film in my own review: ”

    Penn’s camera doesn’t shy away from the blood, nor does it wallow in the violence in a pornographic way – the frame doesn’t deviate from the violence and it’s consequences, yet remains somewhat alienated from its power. Indeed, a lot of the films critical final act is quite passionless, almost aloof in nature as the law catches up with Bonnie & Clyde.”

    I didn’t like Estelle Parson’s performance at all, I must admit, and can’t fathom how she scored the Oscar for her screechy performance, but the rest of the cast (Gene Hackman especially) are spot on perfect.

    Great review, Ruth! More like this please!

    1. Welcome, Rodney!

      Thanks for taking the time to drop by, read and proffer such excellent comments.

      Penn was one of those directors who knew what he wanted before he stepped on the set and usually got it and more.

      I agree with your posted critique regarding the film’s violence being kept at a distance. To have personalized it would have ruined the film. Also agree with Estelle Parsons. She did grate on the nerves.

      Feel free to scroll up and click on FC Contributors and check out my previous reviews. I think you’ll have a good time.

  8. Hi Jack, as always, excellent write-up! I may be the only one who wasn’t aware that Bonnie & Clyde was based on a true story, ahah. I knew John Dillinger was real, another Depression Era public enemy, but somehow this story seemed too crazy to be real, especially that ending, my goodness!! As I researched about the real Bonnie & Clyde, I came across the real car that was photographed after the shootouts, and I also learned how the coroner had so much trouble embalming the bodies as the liquid just kept flowing out of those bullet holes.

    1. Hi, Ruth!

      Thanks for the great photos and comments.

      In the overall pantheon of Depression Era Desperadoes, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were basically occupying the sub basement When stacked against the likes of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Alvin Karpis, At least there was a method to their madness. Where Barrow and company basically chose haphazard targets of opportunity and ran until they could run no more.

      Ma Barker and her boys and gang shared the same sub basement with the Barrow gang.

      Though it was interesting to see the ‘Take No Prisoners’/ ‘Overkill Is Under Rated’ approach of Louisiana law enforcement at the end of the film more than a decade before Peckinpah.

  9. Excellent piece Jack…I really enjoyed reading it.

    I think one reason why Bonnie and Clyde is so great is what it did to the face of cinema following its release. It ushered in the likes of Easy Rider and encouraged a new way of filmmaking that introduced us to the American new wave.

    1. Hi, Dan:

      I was hoping you would drop by.

      Really enjoy your excellent, insightful comments!

      Bonnie and Clyde came out of nowhere and quickly established a beach head for many films that followed. Easy Rider , as you mentioned. The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, The Last Detail and The Conversation and other classics of the 1970s may not have seen the light of day if it were not for such a groundbreaking film as Bonnie and Clyde .

  10. Hi Jack, hope you’re well. As always, a very well written piece. I do like this ‘what makes this film good?’ format.

    Bonnie and Clyde is one of those films that I know of but very little about. Like Ruth, I didn’t know it was based on a real story either – I hang my head in shame..!

    I’ve added it to my rental list, and when I do see it I’ll bear in mind your points 🙂

    1. Welcome, Claire!

      I’ve been hoping you would drop by and comment.

      No need to hang your head in shame.

      ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was something of an anomaly when it arrived on the silver screen. One of those films that generated a large ad campaign after word of mouth started spreading around.

      Which gave it a new life as a single bill or an easy second choice for a double (feature) bill. And also started a quick classic clothing fad through major articles in ‘Life’ and ‘Time’ magazines.

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