Bonnie and Clyde
(United States, 1967)
Much as I love Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, Bonnie and Clyde has to rank as my favorite all-time gangster movie (I am not counting The Godfather in that group, since it deserves a classification of its own). The film grabs you at the very beginning, with that oh-so-sexy shot of a mostly-naked Faye Dunaway applying lipstick, holds you through the early bumbling robberies and the formation of the "Barrow Gang," and doesn't let go until the tragic, inevitable ending. Bonnie and Clyde are certainly criminals, but, by the time the two hour fictionalized biography draws to a close, we're rooting for them to change history. The amount of blood in this film scandalized audiences in 1967, especially in the context of a semi-comedy. Today, with the viscera and gore in something like Pulp Fiction, it's not going to shock anyone. But it's still effective. There's something vaguely disconcerting about a movie that can make you laugh one moment, then wince the next. The cast is top-notch. There's Warren Beatty before he became a self-parody, Gene Hackman in top form before anyone knew who he was, and the supremely sexual Faye Dunaway before she developed a reputation. Some might argue that Bonnie and Clyde doesn't work as well today as it did in 1967. I can't participate in that argument because I didn't see it in 1967 (it was released about a month before I was born). But it certainly holds up as well as it did when I first saw it, and that's strong enough to be in the upper half of my Top 100.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film starts at the beginning – or at least the beginning of when the names Bonnie and Clyde became linked. One lazy day in the midst of the Great Depression in a dead-end Texas town, a young, frustrated woman, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), gazes out of her bedroom window to see a man covertly preparing to steal her mother's car. She confronts the charming stranger, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), and, within minutes of their first meeting – before they have even exchanged names – she has challenged him to perform an armed robbery, and he has accepted the dare. Soon, they're on the run, with bigger crimes yet to come. Their first attempt at a bank robbery is hilariously disappointing – the bank is out of business and there's no money to steal – but that doesn't stop them. Soon, with the help of an aimless gas station attendant, C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), who becomes their getaway driver, they are not only wanted for robbery, but for murder as well. With the addition of Clyde's brother, Buck (Gene Hackman), and Buck's high-strung wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons), the Barrow Gang is complete. For a while, these five people become celebrity criminals, with nearly every bank robbery across the country being attributed to them, until the forces of the law band together and hunt them down, one-by-one.
Like Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde was a revolutionary motion picture – a movie that had such a powerful impact upon audiences and filmmakers that it influenced how Hollywood approached this genre. If Bonnie and Clyde's overall trajectory seems familiar to modern-day audiences, that's because so many subsequent features have adopted it. Yet, even for a viewer who is unaware of the movie's importance to the industry, it should readily be apparent that there is something special about the production, with its brash, vivid style, indelible performances by movie icons, and bold mixture of violence and comedy, romance and tragedy. Even for those without an historical perspective, Bonnie and Clyde stands apart as a great motion picture.
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