Friday, May 28, 2010

Bonnie and Clyde

From 1932 to 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow took their gang on a crime spree across the American Southwest. Thirty-three years later, Arthur Penn made a movie about it. A combination of Prohibition and the Great Depression created the conditions necessary to breed a certain type of criminal; bank robbers, thieves, and kidnappers who evaded police and captured the imagination of a public that was predominantly composed of poor people who were none too happy with bankers and other monied interests themselves. John Dillinger was like a movie star to his public. Pretty Boy Floyd was immortalized in a Woody Guthrie song that transformed him into a modern-day Robin Hood. When Bonnie and Clyde hit the papers, they added a new element; sex. The two young and attractive lovers led the Barrow gang from state to state knocking over stores and banks along the way and the news reading public couldn’t get enough.

Although their story had been told on film before, once by the great Fritz Lang, this was the first time the story became a massive box office smash. It was the fourth biggest money maker of the year. Looked at from today’s standards it isn’t a terribly violent movie, but in 1967 American audiences hadn’t seen anything quite like it. It wasn’t as bloody as the films that Sam Peckinpah was getting ready to make and while Bonnie and Clyde got torn up by machine gun fire at the end it paled in comparison to the shooting of Sonny Corleone at a New York tollbooth just five years later. Nonetheless, it was a huge step away from the bloodless shootings that populated the golden age films of Bogart, Cagney, and Raft.

The film was nominated for ten Oscars and won two of them. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Director for Arthur Penn, Best Actor for Warren Beatty, Best Actress for Faye Dunaway, and two noms for Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard. The wins were for Best Cinematography for Burnett Guffey and Best Supporting Actress for Estelle Parsons.

When I give my consideration for acting Oscars at the end of 1967, I will be considering the following group of people…

For Best Actor, Warren Beatty for playing Clyde Barrow.

Although he had received some notice for 1961’s Splendor in the Grass, it was Bonnie and Clyde that put him on the A-list. Beatty’s Clyde was boisterous and braggadocious, yet insecure and somewhat delusional about his future prospects. It was also very apparent how much he loved and depended on Bonnie.

For Best Actress, Faye Dunaway for playing Bonnie Parker.

This was her first major role and she took Hollywood by storm for several years and starred in great films like Chinatown and Network. She was one of the sexiest performers of the year. Her Bonnie Parker set many young hearts aflame and started a fashion trend.

For Best Supporting Actor, five performers will get consideration.

Gene Hackman for playing Clyde’s brother, Buck Barrow.

The newly married ex-con who joins his brother’s gang, tells the same bad joke over and over, and eventually becomes the first of the gang to fall. Hackman was perfect in the role, but Hackman is usually perfect, so that’s no surprise.

Michael J. Pollard for playing C.W. Moss, the young gas station attendant who joins the gang as mechanic and sometime get-away driver.

Pollard made Moss a very sympathetic character. Smitten by Bonnie and greatly admiring of his hero Clyde, he stuck with his fellow gangsters through all sorts of dangers and protected them in their time of greatest need.

Denver Pyle for playing Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.

You probably remember him best as Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard, but he had been an established character actor for thirty years before meeting Bo and Luke. He played Hamer as an angry and determined Texas Ranger who held his cool while captured. At least until Bonnie kissed him on the mouth.

Dub Taylor for playing Ivan Moss, C.W.’s father.

Dub was another long time character actor mostly known for Westerns. He was Cannonball Taylor in at least 50 westerns throughout the 1940s. He gave a strong performance as a man so worried about his son’s predicament that he would help Frank Hamer set up the ambush that killed Bonnie and Clyde using himself as bait.

Gene Wilder for his movie debut as Eugene Grizzard, the kidnapped undertaker who loses his car and gets left out in the middle of nowhere.

It’s a small role, but his anger as he chases the Barrow Gang and his stolen car, repeating over and over how he would tear those punks apart, turns so quickly to fear and anxiety as they turn the car around and pursue him. It was vintage Wilder. He was the king of the fit of anxiety as he would show in The Producers the very next year. It was just so good that I have to give him due consideration.

For Best Supporting Actress, I’ll be considering two people.

Estelle Parsons, who won the Oscar for playing Blanche Barrow, the wife of Gene Hackman’s Buck.

The real Blanche Barrow, who lived to see the film, wasn’t too happy with the performance. She said, “That movie made me look like a screaming horse’s ass.” Estelle was a bit over the top, but it worked for the role. Personally, I think she was the best part of the first big shootout with the police scene. Watching her scream her head off as she runs away with a spatula in her hand cracks me up every time.

Mabel Cavitt for playing Bonnie’s mother.

She was a local school teacher when the producers decided to cast her in the part. She had never been in a movie before or since. I’m going to give her consideration because she was just so real. When she gave her advice to Bonnie and Clyde to run away and never stop running, I couldn’t help but think how similar she was to many old ladies that I had encountered growing up in Alabama.

The film received great critical acclaim at the time and is today considered a genuine classic. I loved it. The soundtrack was wonderful, if a bit anachronistic. That kind of bluegrass didn’t actually come around until the 40’s. The cinematography, which won the Oscar, was tremendous. The cinematographer and the art direction crew were very fortunate in that most of the Texas locations where the film was shot hadn’t changed a great deal in the years since the Depression. Much credit must also be given to the costumers for capturing the period so well.

The story, while not entirely accurate historically, is highly compelling. The leads are very likable despite the fact that they do kill several people. Nonetheless, you root for them and are sad to see them die. All in all, a classic film that I highly recommend and expect to do well in my final 1967 list.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Thank you for your interest.

1 comment:

nyrdyv said...

Considering the timing for Bonnie and Clyde, is it any wonder they are consider a modern version of Robin Hood?


Steven G. Willis