The Barrow Gang, as Shown in the Film, were Composites of Another Couple–Raymond Hamilton and Mary O’Dare
While the circumstances behind how Buck and Blanche got involved with Bonnie and Clyde happened in real life, their personalities and the conflict that broke out between them was based on a completely different couple. Not only that, it seems as if the screenwriters also used this couple to base Bonnie and Clyde on.
As we will learn later, the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde didn’t end with the death and capture of Buck and Blanche Barrow, like shown in the film. After the loss of his brother and sister-in-law, Clyde went back to his old prison to spring the inmates there. Several successfully escaped and became new accomplices, including his old partner-in-crime, Raymond Hamilton.
Unfortunately for both Bonnie and Clyde, Raymond was not only an annoying chatterbox, he had a girlfriend, Mary O’Dare, who he insisted on coming along for the ride. Bonnie immediately disliked Mary, and Clyde found Raymond aggravating. On top of his chatty nature, Raymond had become a hotshot, getting very opinionated about Bonnie and Clyde not striking big, as well as insisting on taking a larger cut of the profits from holdups.
After much tension, Raymond took Mary and split from Bonnie and Clyde, seeing themselves as having outgrown a pair of amateurs who only wanted to hit small places for a few measly dollars a week.
There is nothing wrong with composites; the problem, as in the case of C.W. Moss, is that the film used it to paint a picture of the Barrow Gang that wasn’t true. For one, the filmmakers used Raymond Hamilton’s personality and his relationship with Mary to make Buck and Clyde more charismatic than they really were. For example, Buck Barrow was the last thing from being a chatty cutup who cracked jokes. If anything, he was the very opposite. A steely-eyed, brooding Buck wouldn’t have flown in a movie meant to make life on the run look glamorous, and so he was saddled with the more affable, devil-may-care personality of Raymond Hamilton (as depicted by Gene Hackman).
Clyde was said to be much like his older brother, Buck–solemn and very quiet, but prone to violent fits of anger. He was not the charming, sociable braggart as depicted by Warren Beatty in the movie–that was Raymond Hamilton. Clyde was not the flashy dandy, either. Raymond Hamilton was the dandy. Not only did he look it, he made a public statement disassociating himself from Bonnie and Clyde, calling himself a “gentleman bandit.”
On top of giving Buck and Clyde Barrow Raymond’s personality, the screenwriters of Arthur Penn’s movie also used his relationship with Mary to base Bonnie and Clyde on. For instance, in an earlier scene in the film, Clyde is shown trying to sweep Bonnie off her feet with promises of silk dresses. It was Raymond who was providing Mary with a lavish lifestyle from his ill-gotten gains.
Lastly, the friction between Clyde and Buck over giving Blanche money from a holdup really happened between Clyde and Raymond when Mary wanted a cut of the money from a recent score. It was this incident that led Raymond and Mary to strike out on their own, and also resulted in a scathing letter (handwritten by Bonnie) in which he was called a coward and Mary a “prostitute sweetheart.”
Why did the 1967 film do all of this? Again, as with the C.W. Moss composite, Raymond Hamilton and Mary O’Dare were morphed into the movie’s two main couples for cynical reasons. By all accounts, Raymond and Mary were somewhat colorful, albeit comical figures and would’ve definitely outshone Bonnie and Clyde had they been included in the film. Such a fun-loving, interesting couple would’ve made the main characters look about every bit as dour as they were in real life, so naturally, it made sense to give Bonnie, Clyde, Buck and Blanche their personalities.
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.