The Barrow Gang Barely Robbed Banks–and Robbed a Whole Lot of Mom and Pops Instead
The most famous line in Arthur Penn’s movie is, “We rob banks.” This led audiences to believe that Bonnie and Clyde not only were slick and professional bank robbers, but that bank robbing was all that they did, and with a clear-eyed sense of purpose–to punish banks for their greed, but also to live large on nice things.
This idea–that Bonnie and Clyde–were dedicated bank robbers who dared to take on the banking industry is one of the biggest lies of the Arthur Penn film. Bonnie, Clyde and their accomplices were a couple of rank amateurs who just wanted to live day to day on the road as they were fleeing cops, after they were wanted for murder. They wanted, in other words, “easy money.” So, they had no interest in the type of major scores that would have them hitting banks. All they cared about was having enough food and supplies to live on for weeks at a time. Besides, hitting banks would’ve immediately alerted police to their whereabouts, anyway.
Because all the Barrow Gang wanted was spare cash–and because they didn’t want to draw too much attention to themselves while they were on the run–their targets of choice were actually the “small fry” of the finance and business world, not the banking industry. These places–incidentally–included the very mom and pop stores that Clyde Barrow’s father, Henry Barrow, ran–grocery stores, gas stations and drug stores.
That Bonnie and Clyde only cared about stealing the barest minimum from mom and pops and small businesses became such a bone of contention that one of their accomplices–Ray Hamilton–bailed in a huff. John Dillinger, the most famous gangster of the 1930s, openly mocked Bonnie and Clyde, feeling that such amateurs were making a mockery of what bank robbing was all about!
So, were the Barrow Gang a slick outfit that dared to take on the biggest financial institution in the country on behalf of the little people? Of course not. If anything, Bonnie and Clyde robbed the very “little people” who did what they could to support themselves and their families during The Great Depression.