Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1960s Movies, Classic Movies, Crime Drama, Film Criticism and Analysis, Historical Drama, Opinion, Overrated, Rants

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)

Bonnie and Clyde Had Almost Two Years to Turn Themselves in Peacefully, But Chose to Murder Cops Instead

The only lie in this movie more egregious than the one involving Frank Hamer is that Bonnie and Clyde were hastily ambushed without getting their day in court–and for robbing banks, no less. Arthur Penn’s film did such a good job selling it to the public that to this day, you will see people fuming with rage that the cops were cowards who never gave them the chance to surrender.

You had every chance, lady.

You had every chance, lady.

The reason why this is a lie is that for the first year and a half of their crime spree, Bonnie and Clyde had the freedom to surrender themselves peacefully. All they had to do was turn themselves into any police station or allow themselves to be taken in on suspicion of something else. Instead, not only did they immediately kill any police officers that approached them, they launched a brazen prison break that got yet another person killed.

That they could’ve surrendered the entire time is evidenced by how all of their less trigger-happy accomplices not only lived to survive police ambushes, but were even able to make public appearances or conduct interviews after the fact. Below, you can see one of their accomplices–W.D. Jones–alive and well in spite of being known accomplices of Clyde Barrow and being up on charges:

Ray Hamilton, another accomplice, not only got to surrender peacefully, but seized the opportunity to escape prison and continue his life of crime, before getting caught again–peacefully.

So, literally, the reason why Bonnie and Clyde were never given a chance to surrender peacefully is that–unlike W.D. Jones, Blanche Barrow, Ray Hamilton and all the other people they knew–they made perfectly clear that they weren’t going to be taken in without a fight.

Now, for the last lie of Arthur Penn’s movie–


  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.

Leave a Reply

© Films, Deconstructed, 2017-2023. All written content is the intellectual property of this website and subject to copyright laws. No copying, downloading, reselling or archiving of material without express permission of the author. For any inquiries pertaining to licensing and archiving of content, please contact me.
%d bloggers like this: