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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)

A Different Person Other than Frank Hamer Ordered the Ambush of Bonnie and Clyde–and Not for Anything Having to Do with Revenge

Now, we are getting to the more egregious stuff in Arthur Penn’s movie, one of them being how Bonnie and Clyde died. The movie paints a picture that Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed because they had humiliated Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer. Although Hamer did, indeed, lead the posse that finally got the couple, he was not the person who orchestrated the ambush, and certainly not out of revenge. To explain what really happened, we have to backtrack to an earlier part of the Penn movie.

The film falsely paints Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree ending after they get wounded, and Buck and Blanche are captured. In reality, after this shootout, Bonnie and Clyde not only continued their crime spree for another 10 months, they stepped things a notch by breaking out several dangerous inmates from Clyde’s former prison.

So, not only had the crimes of Bonnie and Clyde escalated after the departure of Buck and Blanche, they and their accomplices were now in the business of breaking out dangerous prisoners. To make matters worse, the prison break added another body count to the growing numbers of people they had killed. A prison guard was murdered by one of the inmates Bonnie and Clyde sprang, and another one seriously wounded.

Lee Simmons–who was the administrator of the Texas prison system–was understandably upset over the jailbreak and death of one of the guards. On top of everything else, the prison break was so brazen that it made a mockery of the prison system and law enforcement in general. Now, the public was either beginning to snicker at how buffoonish officials were or snarl with anger as the bodies kept piling up. It wouldn’t be far long before the public would start shifting the blame of all this murder and mayhem Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for onto people like Simmons and other high ranking members of law enforcement.

Humiliated, upset over the death of one of his prison guards and feeling the pressure from growing public outcry, Simmons called the Governor of Texas, Miriam Ferguson, and asked permission to hire Frank Hamer to capture Bonnie and Clyde–dead or alive. Governor Ferguson agreed, and this is how and why Hamer became involved in the entire affair. It had nothing to do with the movie’s fake scenario of Hamer seeking revenge after a picture of him ended up in the newspaper being forced to pose with Bonnie and Clyde.

Oh, and speaking of that–


  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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