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Exposing the Lies of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

C.W. Moss Never Existed

In Arthur Penn’s film, Bonnie and Clyde are seen picking up a cute, slightly dopey teenager named C.W. Moss (played by Michael J. Pollard), that they find at a gas station.

Michael J. Pollard as C.W. Moss

In reality, C.W. Moss never existed; he was a combination of two of Bonnie and Clyde’s accomplices, W.D. Jones and Henry Methvin. The first two-thirds of the character’s story arc is based on Jones. The story arc in the last act, when Moss’s father works out a deal with Hamer’s posse to turn in Bonnie and Clyde, is based on Henry Methvin.

Composite of real life W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin and fake C.W. Moss character from Bonnie and Clyde film

Comparisons of real life W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin and fake C.W. Moss character from Bonnie and Clyde film

Ordinarily, making composites of people for the sake of artistic license is fair game; the problem is that Penn’s movie also made a brand-new character out of this composite to misrepresent Bonnie and Clyde, as well as downplay their crimes.

For instance, C.W. is blamed for why Bonnie and Clyde kill an innocent man and are forced to finally go on the run as fugitives. He is also shown gunning down tons of police officers later on. Lastly, he is made out to be the gang’s mechanic, to lead the impression that he was the getaway driver.

In reality, the only person who was responsible for killing anyone and setting the Barrow Gang on its two-year crime and murder spree was Clyde Barrow. Although some of his accomplices killed people, Clyde was definitely responsible for many of the deaths, either killing victims himself or letting it be known to his accomplices that they were to shoot to kill any time the police ambushed or came close to arresting anyone.

Clyde was also the driver almost all of the time, as it was his knowledge of cars, roads, as well as his exceptional driving skills that enabled him to evade authorities for two years. As W.D. Jones explained in a 1968 Playboy interview, Clyde didn’t dare trust anyone to drive and the most he ever did was help change a tire or be the driver when Clyde was too tired. So, the C.W. Moss character was more than artistic license; it was a cynical attempt to make Bonnie and Clyde look more innocent than they truly were.

C.W. Moss was also created to make them look cooler, hipper and more attractive by completely downplaying how attractive and stylish W.D. Jones and Henry Methvin were in real life. If you have any doubt as to this, all you have to do is look at the photos below:

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As you can see, W.D. Jones and Henry Methvin couldn’t have been less like Moss in real life. They dressed in sharp clothing, were clean cut and looked even more stylish and cosmopolitan than the real-life Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, both had the “movie star looks” that the Arthur Penn film tried so desperately to give the lead characters.

Looking at how Jones and Methvin appeared in real life, you can see why a movie wanting to sex up and glamorize Bonnie and Clyde couldn’t have a composite that reflected how they looked and dressed, so Moss was crafted to look as unhip, slovenly and country bumpkin-ish as possible.


  1. Scott Lueck

    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…

    • Comment by post author

      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.

  2. Scott Lueck

    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.

    • Comment by post author

      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.

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