I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Bonnie and Clyde

tn_bonnieandclydeIt is a time of economic turmoil. The gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps getting wider and wider, like a hippopotamus’s mouth when he yawns. Hard-working people hit some bad luck and they lose their homes, property and life savings to the banks. Anger rises, and in the face of cruel systems too complex for guys like me to understand, it’s easy to fall into simplistic stick-it-to-the-man sentiment. These faceless institutions seem to be crushing people under their boots, and we want revenge. If a company can have the rights of a human being, it ought to feel the pain of a human being. We want it to suffer.

Am I talking about today? No, I’m talking about the Great Depression, as depicted in the movie BONNIE AND CLYDE. Arthur Penn directs Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the legendary armed-robber couple whose sex appeal and brazen outlaw lifestyle made them a media sensation in the early ’30s. You know come to think of it though I did say “we” a bunch of times, as if I was talking about us right here, the people alive now, that seems a little misleading if I was really talking about the movie. We’re not in the movie, we’re in today. Wait a minute, maybe I really was talking about today? I think maybe I was. Ah, shit. I can’t remember anymore. I get them mixed up. Man, I really fucked up this opening. Forget about this. Let’s start over.

mp_bonnieandclydeThe movie opens with Clyde Barrow snooping around a car. Young Bonnie Parker can be seen through the window of the house, getting dressed. She comes down to ask why he’s fucking with her mom’s car, he hits on her and buys her a Coke, which she proceeds to gently caress with her lips in one of the more blatant “would you care for a blowjob?” hints in mainstream cinematic history. But Clyde doesn’t jump on that, making you wonder why he possesses such masterful pick-up techniques if he’s afraid to cash-in. It just doesn’t seem fair to everybody else.

Instead he proves to her that his stories about armed robbery are true – he does it right in front of her. Bonnie is so impressed that she leaves home to be Clyde’s beau and literal partner in crime. Clyde and Bonnie make a good team for a while, they’re like the original Bonnie and Clyde. Or I mean they are Bonnie and Clyde.

This was a revolutionary film at the time. It helped give birth to the modern film, in my opinion. It’s very cinematic, willing to leave things quiet or unsaid. Its sympathetic portrayal of these anti-heroes spoke to feelings of the time, the way these people are fighting against a system or what have you. And at the end when (WARNING – HUGE SPOILER FOR BOTH MOVIE AND HISTORICAL EVENT) Bonnie and Clyde are gunned down like dogs (if some sonofabitch was cruel enough to pump 130 rounds into a couple of dogs in front of a fancy old car) was considered shockingly graphic at the time.

I do think it’s one of those ones that suffers from being imitated and rehashed so many times over the years. Alot of elements have become old cliches by now: the criminals who want to be famous and have their picture taken for the papers (THE HARDER THEY COME, CITY OF GOD), the true story bank robber who becomes folk hero for appearing to oppose the system (PUBLIC ENEMIES, STANDER, NEWTON BOYS). I guess the part that’s a little more unusual is the whole deal about Clyde being impotent. I don’t know, I think it plays better as him just being weirdly prudish and not liking sex. But most people seem to take it as he can’t get it up, but then when he does some robberies he can do it, he can get the proper blood flow. O.G. Viagra. And that’s kind of silly so I guess if you take it that way then you have to take that as a metaphor, that men (symbolized by Clyde) cannot feel confident in themselves (symbolized by Clyde’s lack of a boner) until they… I don’t know, push people around, threaten people with violence, exert their power on others – whatever bank robbing symbolizes. I don’t know, all that impotence vs. boner shit seemed real edgy and profound in those days. Doesn’t do much for me now.

But fuck it, this is still a real entertaining movie. I like it for the swagger of young Beatty, and the beauty of young Dunaway. She has one of those faces that’s so womanly it’s hard to believe she’s in her early twenties. You look at her young and it’s like she just isn’t ripe yet, instead of seeing her now and thinking it’s that young lady now aged and weathered. (that sentence made sense to me. deal with it.) I like Michael J. Pollard as the poor sucker who gets wrapped up in the Barrow Gang and gets no credit, it’s just Bonnie and Clyde. Not pictured: unidentified accomplice. And he wants to be this big shot armed robber but his dad fucking tattles on him. Can you believe that? “Your dad tattled on your gang” is the Depression era bank robber equivalent of the modern nerd’s “you live in your mom’s basement” insult.

I also love Clyde’s relationship with his brother, played by Gene Hackman. The way they whoo hoo and holler and wrestle each other on sight to show affection. And it’s so obvious from moment 1 that his square wife is gonna fuck things up. So it creates tension and some moments of hilarity when she’s running around screaming during a robbery. And you side with Bonnie in her bitchy feud with that gal. But actually she does better than expected, even if she gets blinded and then tricked into giving up important info. That’s a real good scene when the deputy (played by Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazzard) gets her to tell her story and then just walks out of the room as soon as he gets the name he needs, and the poor girl keeps talking thinking somebody is interested. And that’s kind of his revenge for being humiliated in that earlier, equally real good scene where Bonnie and Clyde fuck with him by tying him up and posing for pictures with him.

But of all the real good scenes my favorite goes back to what I was talking about at the beginning there. Bonnie and Clyde are practicing shooting behind an abandoned house. Suddenly a man is there, and Clyde points the gun at him. This guy doesn’t mean any harm. He explains that he used to own this house, but the bank took it from him. Him and his family just stopped by for one last look. Clyde stops being cautious about the guy, becomes sympathetic, and takes a shot at the house. Then he gives his gun to the guy and lets him take a shot. Next thing you know he calls over his black servant to take some shots because he put alot of work into this house and he lost it too. And Clyde says, “This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.”

So here are these two groups of people who just met, causing some cathartic, harmless destruction together, taking out their anger on a system that has done them wrong. I think Clyde is realizing that banks can be vicious, and retro-actively coming up with a justification for what he just enjoys doing anyway. And suddenly he’s thinking wait a minute, I’m some kind of hero, aren’t I? He’s so convinced by this that he brags about it to these strangers. “We rob banks.” Gives his real name and everything. And this is before they’ve really gotten very far in their spree, he’s already got loose lips.

In that moment it doesn’t matter that they’re not really crusaders for the poor, or that robbing banks won’t help this guy keep his house, or even hurt the banks that much. It doesn’t even matter that the old man, the victim of this economic system, is himself taking part in a racist system that victimizes his buddy there. In this moment all that matters is some people having fun blowing the shit out of a house that none of them can stay in anymore. And watching the movie we get to share that feeling.

That’s what movies are all about. That and sometimes vampires or cars going off jumps.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2010 at 8:29 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “Bonnie and Clyde”

  1. Vern – Terrific review as always, and the ending is killer.

    You should review John Milius’ knock-off DILLINGER. Typical Corman-low budget, but solid writing and a damn good cast with Milius’ lovely macho-gun passion…..

    I think I might have enjoyed that one more than PUBLIC ENEMIES.

  2. thank god vern, seems like it’s been forever since you reviewed a movie that i have been able to watch in my lifetime!

    you’re right when you talk about how important this movie was in mainstream american film history. before this movie, hollywood was kind of languishing in over-blown spectacles and musicals, etc. but B & C ushered in the new era of experimental and artsy mainstream movies. it was a very deliberate attempt by penn and his writers to mimic the kinds of things that the french had already been doing for almost a decade. in fact, there are a bunch of specific homages to french new wave movies littered throughout the movie. i like the movie a lot, but i sometimes wonder if the movie nerds of the day thought it was cool, or id they thought it was lame that hollywood was so behind the french here (i suspect mostly the former).

    anyway, unlike with dillinger, it is hard to imagine anyone making another movie about the barrow gang because this movie is so goddamn definitive and iconic. of course beatty and dunaway are great (and, yes, dunaway is super hot) and hackman is awesome (didn’t he win an oscar for this?), and also there is the classic bank robbery banjo music that was so effective that people today are familiar with the cliche even if they haven’t seen the original movie (a meme?). and the ending still seems graphic to me, dunno if that’s just because i first saw it when i was a kid. but i can’t imagine how shocking it must have been to the general cinema audiences of the time.

    and one special shout out to gene wilder for his cameo role of mega comedy acting. it’s one of the funniest things i have seen.

  3. never mind, hackman was only nominated, as were beatty, dunaway, and pollard. estelle parsons won (not bad, but the least impressive performance of all those nominated IMO).

  4. just the other day I watched a show on the history channel about Depression era gangsters, including Bonnie and Clyde

  5. I liked it a lot when I saw it for the first time, but I didn’t really appreciate the last scene fully until I started seeing it as a clip in things like Scorcese’s documentary on american cinema. I think it’s the sound that does it in that scene.

  6. I haven’t seen this movie yet, though i know of it’s existence for almost 25 years already. Shame on me, i bet. Need to check it out, i wonder if there’s some good DVD edition of it, Criterion-like.

  7. OK, i checked it out in the Rewind site, and there isn’t one single DVD release of that movie worth a shit. It’s all a waste of money, if one considers the other options available *coughcough*.

  8. Really? Are you talking about Bonnie and Clyde DVD? They just released it on Blu Ray and on a 2 Disc special edition with all sorts of extras.

  9. Yeah, I was gonna recommend John Milius’ DILLINGER too. I don’t think there’s any question it’s better then PUBLIC ENEMIES. I think it’s a lost classic; I know it’s not as good a film in many ways, but I enjoy it a lot more then BONNIE AND CLYDE, frankly. It’s a pure joy to watch from start to finish: great dialouge for great 70s character actors, and some of the best shootouts ever put on film.

    I got to meet and hang out with Arthur Penn last year, and I couldn’t even think about his having directed BONNIE AND CLYDE. If I tried to connect that with the guy I was talking too, my mind would just short circuit. I met Paul Schrader around the same time, and it was the same way–I sorta had to block out that he wrote TAXI DRIVER and created Travis Bickle.

    Anyway, Penn was a great guy, and when BONNIE AND CLYDE did finally come up, he just said there was no great revolutionary intention with it, they were just doing it like they always would have if they could have gotten away with it before during the days of the Production Code. Penn also mentioned how it was really the last big movie Jack Warner produced before he retired and how Warner never fully understood it. Penn said at one point he told Warner it was in the tradition of the great, tough, proletarian, rabble-rousing pre-code gangster and social films Warner Bros. made back in the 30s, which is why they put the clip from GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 in there and “We’re In The Money”, and Jack Warner supposedly replied, “But dammit Arthur, the Depression has been over some time now!”

  10. And, one more thing: Penn said that it was really the original writers who were more interested in making it an homage to the French New Wave, and had pitched it to Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard (and Godard was actually attached to direct it for a little while). Penn claimed he was absolutely influenced by those guys, and Antonioni and Fellini too; but that he was even more influenced by Kurosawa, the aforementioned Warner Bros. films, and his own memories of the 1930s and the Great Depression.

    I also suspect Warren Beatty had a pretty strong influence on the whole thing, to the point where it almost fits into the films you can attribute to him in an auterist way. It’s definitaly got things in common with REDS and BUGSY, stuff like that where he controlled the production.

  11. Faye Dunaway in B & C versus Jane Fonda in Barbarella, tough call.

    I suddenly want a Coke.

  12. CC – Wonderful stories mate, thank you. I don’t get why Penn quit directing after he made that Penn & Teller movie, but he’s missed. I hope its not like he was forced out of directing like what happened to Cimino and Bogdanovich or Milius after a few too many flops.

    One scene in DILLINGER in particular I fondly remember is the ending of Pretty Boy Floyd, I can’t remember the actor’s name. He’s at the farmhosue, the Feds finally got him. The family he stormed into offer him the Bible, asks if he wants to pennance for his misdeeds…and he says no. Defiant to the end, unapologetic about his poor choice of a lifestyle.

    Hell alot of characters had good exits in DILLINGER. Stanton, Dreyfuss, maybe the only disapointing one might be Warren Oates’ Dillinger. But you can only do so much with a guy getting jumped after seeing a movie.

  13. You can really see the beginnings of Peckinpah’s absolute mastery of collision montage in The Wild Bunch in B+C’s death scene. Penn and him were buddies so it’s not much of a stretch to say Sam may have been influenced a smidge.

    And shit, who doesn’t like car jumps?

  14. CC – And also, I’m sure Beatty had his input as star/producer. It just this was back before he could get away with going totally incredibly overbudget.

    I’m reminded of that story where while in Finland shooting REDS he lectured that native film crew from that socialist (at the time) country about capitalism. Apparently they learned it too well: They went on strike for more pay.

  15. On the subject of Dillinger, Ben Johnson was a total Badass in that one.

  16. Hey, thanks, RRA, glad to share ’em. I love that scene in Dillinger too, that might be my favorite moment in the whole movie. I remember showing that scene too my then-girlfriend, who really dug it…But then again, our second date was to go see THE HISTORY OF VIOLENCE–her idea–so she was the right kind of girl for it. : )

    I got the impression talking to Penn that they just stopped calling him. He’s still directing stage plays and broadway shows and even in his mid-80s, has hopes to make more films. He mentioned to the group of people we were with that he’d like to make a film based on Greek mythology, using the new CGI effects technology; and would also like to try to revive an old dream project from the mid-70s, a film dramatizing the Attica Prison Riot.

    And he still follows contemporary cinema. His favorite film that year was NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, he loved that; and he’d also just seen THERE WILL BE BLOOD, which he didn’t like as much, and talked about how he would have directed it differantly, mainly regarding the actors. He said that Daniel Day Lewis was, qoute, performing in a vacuum, like Lewis was in one movie and everybody else was in another.

  17. Lawrence, really, fuck Blu-ray. They only make a special ediiton on blu-ray? Fuck them up their fucking asses! What am I, made of money? Fuck this assclowns!

  18. The real boss of BONNIE & CLYDE was Warren Beaty, not Penn. It was Beaty who got the deal from Warner. Rumours say he even kissed the shoes of Warner to get the deal.

  19. Settle down AsimovLives. There’s a pretty decent two disc edition on standard DVD. Only $15 and I’m sure you can find it even cheaper.

    http://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Two-Disc-Special-Warren-Beatty/dp/B0010YVCI4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1269366582&sr=1-2

  20. Brian, thanks for the link, friend. Too bad that DVD doesn’t have a comentary, but oh well! I need to check out first if there’s a Region 2 equivalent, on account i’m portuguese.

  21. CC – thanks for the neat stories. May I ask what walk of life you have that allows you such incredible opportunities?

    Penn is one of the true underrated masters in my book. I’ve never understood why he never quite seemed to get that level of respect which came to the next generation of filmmakers. Maybe he was too versitile to be easily catagorized and canonized, but damn, for almost a decade the guy just made one impeccable film after another. Looking at his output, I realize I haven’t seen a lot of them outside his BONNIE AND CLYDE – NIGHT MOVES run. Are MISSOURI BREAKS and THE CHASE deserving of their bad rep, or did people just need to get some perspective on them? And why is it that I haven’t seen FOUR FRIENDS?

  22. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, NIGHT MOVES is great, classic post-Watergate cinema. I’d put it on a double-bill with THE CONVERSATION if I owned a theater.

    THE CHASE is worth seeing but not fantastic. Good work by Brando — the most famous scene involves him suffering an epic beating. I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t seen MISSOURI BREAKS, which I tend to confuse with ONE-EYED JACKS. I should rent ’em both and rectify this.

    My BONNIE AND CLYDE story: I passed out in the middle the first time I saw it. Makes me sound kinda wussy, but I’d just sold my plasma for money (something I did a lot in those days) and then walked a couple of miles in hot weather to the college film society where it was playing. My head got warm during the first big shootout, I stood up to to go for air and down I went. Woke up to see the lights on and everyone standing around me in a circle, looking down at the camera (me) like a POV shot in a movie. Took me a few more years to finally watch it all the way through.

    Always drink water when you sell your blood, kids.

  23. Arthur Penn has died at the age of 88.

    Thanks for the movies.

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