The biggest tragedy about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is not that they were brutally gunned down during an ambush; it’s that for all their robberies and hold-ups and illegal escapades, they never made much for themselves. After one of their bigger heists in Bonnie And Clyde, Clyde sits on the step of his car and counts his loot. “Well it ain’t much”, he laments. There was never much to go around in the first place. Bonnie and Clyde rob and steal not because they’re trying to survive during The Great Depression, but because they enjoy the thrill of notoriety.
Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) even goes so far as to write a poem about their adventures and submit it to the local papers. Crime for her is a spectacle. Something to be flaunted. When we first see her, naked in her bedroom, staring at the walls as if expecting them to speak, she is lost within herself. And then she meets Clyde (Warren Beatty) as he tries to steal her mother’s car in broad daylight. He charms her with his smile and fedora, and before long they’re strolling down the road together, almost like young lovers dancing around themselves.
Clyde represents for her an escape. She represents for Clyde a muse. Director Arthur Penn never makes their relationship obvious. There is a scene where they get physical, and then Bonnie discovers Clyde’s impotence. She is clingy, but she always keeps her distance. They work better as partners than lovers. Indeed, Bonnie And Clyde indicates that there is no love between them, only the excitement of their next robbery.
This movie is violent, particularly for its time. There is a lot of bashing and shooting. A poor bank teller gets shot in the face after a lackey of Bonnie’s and Clyde’s stuffs up the getaway. There is of course the infamous last scene that plays like a ballet of gunfire and death. Several years later Francis Ford Coppola would adopt a similar approach for Sonny’s demise in the first of his Godfather movies. From what I learn, Bonnie And Clyde pioneered violent cinema back in the late ’60s. Never before had an audience witnessed such extreme bloodshed. It glorified crime and sent its two leading villains to the grave as heroes instead of wanted outlaws. Today this means nothing to us. We’ve been numbed by movies that have more explosions than words. But before all the Expendables and Die Hards, there was Bonnie And Clyde.
And still I feel a little disappointed, more so after having read up about the real Bonnie and Clyde. The story — penned by David Newman and Robert Benton — is romanticised and blunt, and it takes liberties with the duo’s fragile relationship. I am saddled with the idea that Dunaway and Beatty are Bonnie and Clyde in name only, not persona. We never get the full scoop on them. They are always laughing and joking and driving and shooting. Seldom is there a serious heart-to-heart conversation that expounds deep and troubling issues (Clyde’s impotence aside). They look good in their getups, I’ll give them that. They rob in style, and die in style. And then they’re never heard from again.
Best Moment | Gene Wilder’s scene in the car. Or the final shootout.
Worst Moment | There’s a raid that happens somewhere in the middle of the movie (it’s the one where Clyde’s brother Buck gets mortally wounded) that doesn’t make sense. How do the police know where their hideout is?