Bonnie and Clyde Terrorized the Very Farmers and Country Folk who Are Seen in the Movie
One of the biggest piles of horse shit in Arthur Penn’s movie is this idea that Clyde, who came from humble beginnings, had such an affinity for poor people that he refused to hurt the very demographics he came from, particularly farmers and Okies. For instance, in one scene, he is shown robbing a bank but then giving money back to an elderly farmer.
The reality is that Clyde Barrow couldn’t have cared less about the poverty-stricken folks of the American Southwest. All he cared about was helping himself and other members escape the police and survive on the run as long as possible without getting killed, and at the expense of anyone who got in their way, particularly farmers.
To make matters worse, there were also many instances when the Barrow gang terrorized and even injured people in farmland country, precisely because rural residents were most likely to call the authorities at the first sign of trouble, and would get ensnared when their willingness to help got the best of them. A common scenario was a farmer helping the Barrow gang in trouble without realizing who they were, only to have guns drawn on him or get carjacked as soon as there were signs of recognition.
The worst example of how the Barrow gang treated farmers was when Bonnie was injured in a horrific car accident that burned her leg from hip to ankle. A family, not knowing who Bonnie and her friends were, rescued them and brought her to their house. However, the Barrow Gang became nervous, sensing that this very same, kind family would immediately call the authorities if they had an inkling of who they were dealing with. When a female family member opened the door, a nervous W.D. Jones shot her, crippling her hand in the process.
Not surprisingly, incidents like these made farmers all over the Southwest and American Heartland the biggest threats to the Barrow Gang–not the allies depicted onscreen. Not only did farmers become the eyes and ears of law enforcement, in a few instances, they even took up arms as soon as word got out that Clyde and his accomplices were in the vicinity.
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.