The Barrow Gang Had a Zillion Accomplices–and Not All were Loyal
In the 1967 movie, the Barrow Gang is shown starting out with just Bonnie and Clyde, then expanding to three more members. The movie then shows the Barrow Gang consisting of a tightknit group of five people who may have squabbled but stuck with each other through thick and thin throughout the duration of their crime spree. The idea was to make the audience see the Barrow Gang as a cool clique that you would give your left arm to be a part of.
This picture, as seductive as it was, couldn’t have been further from the truth. In the nearly two years that the Barrow Gang was active, it consisted of a seemingly countless number of accomplices who would drop in and out with dizzying regularity. The size of the Barrow Gang also changed considerably because of the high turnover rate, with as few as two members (Clyde and one other recruit) and as many as six. Below are the more well-known accomplices; however, there were many others.
As one would expect, there was very little honor among thieves. One accomplice, W.D. Jones, bailed, then played the victim later (claiming that he was forced by Clyde to enter a life of crime). Other accomplices, like Raymond Hamilton, would become Clyde’s bitterest enemy, to the point where he and Bonnie wrote a letter (in her handwriting) calling him a coward and saying that they should’ve killed him when given the chance.
So, contrary to the Arthur Penn film, the Barrow Gang were not a tightknit group of five happy-go-lucky bandits who partied it up. Accomplices came and went, and not all of them liked or respected each other.
Wow, you touched on everything I dislike about this movie. Great article! The only way I can come close to enjoying this movie is to pretend I’m watching a fictional film whose lead characters happen to be named Bonnie and Clyde.
The only thing I wonder is how much of the blame can be placed on Warren Beatty himself. He was the producer and the star, and from what I’ve read he had just about influence on the tone of the picture as Arthur Penn. A moot point, possibly, but worth mentioning…
In researching this article, I do believe you’re correct about the extent of his influence. I remember reading that the real life Blanche Barrow and some other people were either approached by him personally or were made to understand that he was the one who was behind the entire project.
Fortunately, there were a few people that, when the film was released, saw it for what it was. Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko wrote a piece where he used quotes from of some of the pair’s victims to show that they were not heroes in any sense of the word. Also, the Mad Magazine parody ended with Beatty announcing his next picture – a film about another cute, fun-loving couple of the 1930’s: Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.
Unfortunately, much of the cultural elite of the time got on the ‘New Hollywood’ bandwagon, even going so far as to lambast film critics that saw the film for what it was, a cynical effort to cash in on youth coulture.
I remember reading a book on the history of film criticism that belittled an older NYT critic by saying “and he didn’t even get Bonnie and Clyde!” Well, maybe he did, and just didn’t like what he saw.
I’m currently trying to fill in the gaps of what I thought I knew about New Hollywood (to counter the decades of propaganda), and in all the material that I’ve read, it’s been nothing but infuriating to read how the cultural elites you talked about successfully used this movie as a cultural flashpoint. From what I understand, it was Pauline Kael who led the vanguard, who–ironically (or maybe not)–later got screwed over by Warren Beatty himself out of spite for having poorly reviewed Heaven Can Wait.
What’s so ironic about the movie being lauded as oh, so countercultural was that it was actually subverting it. Folk music had exploded in the 1960s when American youth rediscovered the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who had been the voice of the dispossessed and laborers during The Great Depression. When the folk music renaissance was at its peak, this movie appropriated it to glamorize two criminal sociopaths who killed police and robbed and steal out of cowardice.
What resulted were two things: a subliminal message to The Establishment that this is what the countercultural movement really stood for (violence and mayhem), as well as spoiling the folk music renaissance so that the true members of the counterculture would immediately abandon it. This subversion was so beautifully played that I have to wonder if it wasn’t planned.