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)

Do You Like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Now?

In real life, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and their friends were nothing more than a couple of sociopathic thrill seekers who murdered a lot of people for no other reason than selfishness, publicity and cowardice. Not only were their victims law enforcement officers just trying to keep the peace, but innocent civilians like Doyle Johnson and hardworking store owners and clerks like John N Bucher.

They were not cool, sexy, charming and fun to be or hang around with; they lived their entire lives with a dark cloud hanging over their heads. They also did not lead glamorous lives or look like fashion centerfolds. They lived and died like the thrill seeking rats that they were.

They had plenty of chances to turn themselves in peacefully, like almost all of their accomplices did. They just chose not to, choosing instead to gun down any police officer who they felt could turn them in, then later breaking out more LEO-killers in a prison raid.

Arthur Penn’s 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, which presented itself as a grittier and therefore more realistic portrayal of the Barrow Gang, was anything but. Instead of depicting Bonnie and Clyde as what they truly were, it reinvented them as a pair of slick star-crossed bank robbers who lived a glamorous life, were oh, so attractive and had a sexually charged relationship. The movie also said that they hardly killed anybody, that the Barrow gang were just a bunch of fun-loving yokels having a good time and were so charming that even their victims were endeared by them.

The movie, in short, was a carefully crafted lie designed to glamorize sociopaths, make a mockery of the people they killed and demonize the many members of law enforcement that were either wounded or murdered trying to stop them. Consider, the next time you watch this film, whether it’s worth affectionately clutching to as “groundbreaking”, a “masterpiece” or “watershed”. In my opinion, it is not.


  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

%d bloggers like this: