“Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang, I’m sure you all have read / How they rob and steal, and those who squeal, are usually found dyin’ or dead.”
When Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) meets young criminal Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), sparks immediately fly; soon the two are on a cross-country rampage, robbing banks and shooting anyone who gets in their way.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Arthur Penn Films
- Criminal Couples on the Run
- Depression Era
- Faye Dunaway Films
- Gene Hackman Films
- Gene Wilder Films
- Warren Beatty Films
Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde remains one of the most highly regarded and influential post-war American films ever made. Inspired by French New Wave cinematic techniques, Penn’s unapologetic portrayal of young gangsters who rob banks on a lark and become national celebrities for their efforts helped pave the way for countless other tales of “romantic couples on the run”. While old-school film critic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times infamously labeled it “a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were… full of fun and frolic”, audiences at the time — particularly young audiences — were thoroughly captivated, and most critics quickly realized what a watershed American film they had on their hands.
Notoriety aside, Bonnie and Clyde is a creative, well-acted drama, one which effectively portrays the alienation and frustration felt by many during the Great Depression. Dunaway (who’s never looked more beautiful) and Beatty (young and studly) are perfectly cast as the titular leads, who come together out of a desperate need for mutual recognition. They’re surrounded by a host of fine supporting actors — including Gene Wilder in a hilarious bit part, and the inimitable Michael Pollard in a role seemingly tailor-made for him. Ironically, Estelle Parsons’ Academy Award-winning performance as Beatty’s shrill sister-in-law is the least impressive of the bunch.
Those looking for historical accuracy should read a book about Parker and Darrow instead: Bonnie and Clyde is just barely more authentic than its ’50s predecessor, The Bonnie Parker Story (starring sassy Dorothy Provine). For instance, while Penn’s inclusion of Clyde’s sexual “issues” was a daring move for the time, it’s nonetheless inaccurate (Barrow was reportedly bisexual, not impotent); and the real Bonnie and Clyde (both short) looked nothing like glamorous Dunaway and Beatty. Ultimately, Bonnie and Clyde is more of a tragic romantic fable than a biopic, with the infamous final shoot-out (featuring superb, oft-analyzed editing by Dede Allen) providing a shocking yet appropriate end to this warped fairy tale — how else could Bonnie and Clyde go out but violently, together?
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker
- Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow
- Michael Pollard as C.W. Moss
- Gene Hackman as Buck Barrow
- The gripping opening sequence, which effectively “frames” Bonnie as longing to emerge from the cage of her small-town existence
- Bonnie and Clyde’s initial meet-cute, as they gradually divulge their mutual interest in each other
- The satisfying outcome of Bonnie and Clyde’s encounter with an itinerant farmer whose house has been taken over by a bank
- The surprisingly humorous sequence featuring Gene Wilder (in his debut) and Evans Evans as his fiancee
- Burnett Guffey’s cinematography
- The horrific closing sequence
- Masterful editing, particularly in the final shootout
Definitely; every film fanatic should see Bonnie and Clyde at least once in their lifetime.
- Genuine Classic
- Historically Relevant
- Noteworthy Performance(s)
- Oscar Winner or Nominee
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)