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BONNIE AND CLYDE
Two Disc Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle, Gene Wilder
Director:  Arthur Penn
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  111 Minutes
Release Date:  March 25, 2008

“I’m Miss Bonnie Parker, and this here’s Mr. Clyde Barrow…we rob banks.”

Film ****

It’s hard to go back in time and understand how much of an impact Bonnie and Clyde had on audiences 40 years ago.  Written by David Newman and Robert Benton, it was an Americanized version of a French New Wave film that had a new kind of energy and restlessness, and also elevated the level of on-screen movie violence to what was a shocking level at the time.  The brutal finale in which the title characters meet their fate seems tame compared even to modern television, but for moviegoers in 1967, it really pushed the envelopes.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were bank robbers in the era of the Great Depression, and like Jesse James and so many other notorious outlaws before them, it’s a bit hard to separate myth from reality.  This film, directed by Arthur Penn, may have been authentic to the period of the criminal characters, but there was an immediacy about it that seemed quite modern at the time.

When Bonnie (Dunaway) meets Clyde (Beatty), he’s trying to steal her mother’s car.  Their instant attraction sends Bonnie on the road with him, where the recently released from prison Clyde is ready to pick up where he left off, living a life on the run from the law.

Their sexual energy was also quite new at the time, and perhaps even more so the blatant references to Clyde’s impotency problems.  But he’s good with a gun, and soon others are in on the action:  a simple gas station attendant named C. W. Moss (Pollard), Clyde’s brother Buck (Hackman), and Buck’s wife Blanche (Oscar winner Parsons).  They don’t intend to hurt anybody, but when you brandish guns and steal for a living, people to tend to end up dead.

As mentioned, the film owed a lot to the then-current New Wave tradition of France…in fact, if Warren Beatty’s Clyde wasn’t modeled on Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless, there’s no such thing as allusion.  Penn directed the script with a loose and restless energy, and the film is mostly remembered for episodes, like Bonnie’s strangely sad reunion with her mother, C. W. parking the getaway car making escape difficult, or when the gang takes Gene Wilder and companion on an amusing ride while stealing his car.

There’s also the scene where they capture a cop (Pyle) and pose with him for photos.  In the movie, that turns out to be a fatal mistake.  Who knows how real any of it is?  But Bonnie, who knows how to make a good picture and writes a good poem, helps keep the Barrow gang in infamy from coast to coast.  Clyde is even bemused at how many robberies end up attributed to them when they were nowhere near most of them.

One scene I always think of involves a bank robbery where Clyde asks a fellow at the window if the money on the counter in front of him is his or the bank’s.  When the man says it’s his, Clyde says, “You keep it, then.”  A small bit of business, but one that demonstrates how criminals and, yes indeed, killers, can become celebrated by the masses.

The film wasn’t liked by Jack Warner and got many negative reviews upon release from critics who weren’t ready for this new style of thinking in American movies.  But Warren Beatty, a sharp producer as well as an actor, kept pushing.  Bonnie and Clyde could have died a gruesome death like its title characters, but instead, it went on to earn acclaim, become Warner’s biggest hit of the year, and earn an impressive 10 Oscar nominations, including ones for all principal cast members.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to look at today’s star directors like Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Oliver Stone and others and to say that they are all the children of Bonnie and Clyde.  The film’s place in history is secure, and like Citizen Kane decades before, became a distinct marker showing an exact moment in cinema when the rules were forever changed.

Video ***

This restored anamorphic transfer from Warner is quite good…there are some aging artifacts here and there like grain or softness, but overall, the colors look clear and the definition is solid throughout.

Audio ***

For a mono track, this audio delivers quite a punch, including many shootouts, car chases, and the ever present music of Flatt and Scruggs to accent the action.

Features ***

The first disc contains a pair of trailers.  The second disc starts with the History Channel documentary on the real Bonnie and Clyde, plus a new multi-part documentary on the making of the movie, featuring interviews with Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and others.  There are also a couple of deleted scenes and Warren Beatty’s wardrobe tests.

Summary:

Bonnie and Clyde went out in a horrific blaze of glory, but the movie that told their story lives on today as a landmark classic in American cinema.

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