Bonnie and Clyde Weren’t Turning Over a New Leaf When They Died–the Opposite, In Fact
Arthur Penn’s film implies that after getting seriously wounded, Bonnie and Clyde convalesced at the home of C.W. Moss’s father, then started to reflect on their lives. By the time they are healed, it seems as if the couple are looking to turn over a new leaf the very morning they will be ambushed.
In reality, Bonnie and Clyde not only became more active after the shootout in which Buck and Blanche were captured, but increasingly murderous when it was obvious that the end was near. On top of a prison guard that was killed because of their orchestrated prison break, Clyde killed two more LEOs in what would later be referred to as “the Grapevine Murders.” These murders, which happened on Easter, were so egregious that the public finally turned against him and Bonnie, and it became obvious that there would be no escaping the electric chair if captured.
Expecting the worst, Clyde collected a huge arsenal of weapons and ammo in anticipation of the police ambush he knew was just around the corner. Besides finding a huge cache of weapons in the so-called “death car”, officials also found weapons within reach of Bonnie’s and Clyde’s slumped bodies. Even in their last seconds of life, they were ready to shoot–and kill–at the first sign of trouble.
To reiterate, there’s nothing wrong with artistic license. However, the scenario presented in Arthur Penn’s film was a lie. Bonnie and Clyde killed more people in their last months alive than each year they were active and made it be known that they were now operating according to a “kill or be killed” ethos.
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.