Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Bonnie and Clyde - 1967 film review

I'm more than half a century late, which even by my standards is exceptionally tardy, but I've finally got round to watching Bonnie and Clyde, the highly successful movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway which (among other things) inspired a song by Georgie Fame. The director was Arthur Penn, whom I know best as director of a rather good crime film, Night Moves.

It was a historical film, set in 1934, and it's a tale of two outlaws. There are some similarities to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which came along soon afterwards, although the latter is more of a comedy, and has a superior soundtrack. Clyde Barrow (Beatty), recently released from prison, picks up an attractive young waitress (Dunaway), who is fascinated by his looks and his refusal to conform to society's norms.

Patricia Highsmith famously argued that such characters are dramatically interesting because they have a kind of freedom in the way they behave (I'm paraphrasing), and although I don't entirely buy into this argument, I can see its force. The trouble is that the likes of Bonnie and Clyde are essentially doomed figures. They are really not very bright, and neither is their hapless sidekick C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard). They also team up with Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). The stellar cast also includes Gene Wilder.

It's a film that doesn't shy away from violence, and it was shocking in its day. Some saw it as glorifying violence, and historical accuracy certainly is not a strong point. But it was enormously successful and influential. I found it very watchable, and the relationship between the impotent Clyde and Bonnie is cleverly presented. Does it glorify violence? On balance, I'd argue that it doesn't, because you'd have to be very stupid indeed to see someone as brainless as Clyde as a role model. I suppose the counter-argument is that people with a propensity to violence are often very stupid, and crime should not be made to seem attractive. But you only have to consider what happens to the criminals in this film to see that there's nothing attractive about dying young and painfully. 

1 comment:

Mike Gray said...

I have to agree with everything you say about BONNIE AND CLYDE. The only problem I have with the movie - and a good many films in other genres, as well - is the subtle theme of moral equivalence; that is, the authorities are just as bad as the criminals. Like them or not (and I don't always), we need cops.