Frank Hamer Never Met the Barrow Gang–and was a Retired Texas Ranger
Out of Arthur Penn’s movie, the most egregious lie–one, so egregious, that it was taken to court–was that Frank Hamer was abducted by Bonnie and Clyde, then singlehandedly pulled together a posse to take them down as revenge for humiliating him and the Texas Rangers. Not only was the movie’s depiction inaccurate to the core, but so defamatory that Hamer’s widow sued for defamation of character–and won.
As explained in the previous section, Hamer was called in to round up a posse after the manager of the Texas prison system, Lee Simmons, called the governor of Texas to ask permission to hire Tim to apprehend Bonnie and Clyde. Again, the reason is that Clyde had orchestrated a brazen prison break that not only freed several prisoners but resulted in the murder of one of his guards.
Hamer was retired as a Texas Ranger but was nevertheless still a well-respected legend known for taking down the toughest criminals. So, unlike the movie, he wasn’t even working as a Ranger when he was called to take in Bonnie and Clyde. To make matters worse, he looked absolutely nothing like the version of himself played by Denver Pyle.
Hamer, once he accepted the job, pulled together a posse and successfully ended the career of Bonnie and Clyde. At no time did he ever meet the couple or was forced to take a picture with them. The ridiculous scenario, as seen in the movie, never happened.
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.