It'd been a good long while since I'd seen Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway starring film loosely retelling the story of the very real life depression-era gang that cut a path through the central united states, from Texas to Iowa.
It's a great piece of filmmaking and one of those movies that both said quite a bit about the time of its release and manages to act one of the points of demarcation between filmmaking that had preceded it and what was to come as the 70's roared into cinemas.
I've talked before about how much I love Gun Crazy (1950),* and its not hard to see a bit of mashing of the facts around the Bonnie & Clyde case and the spirit and plotting of Gun Crazy in this movie. But, of course, unlike the 1950 film, Bonnie and Clyde is one of the earlier adopters of obvious violence on screen, not shying away from putting bullets in the faces of bankers or showing Faye Dunaway getting riddled with bullets (I'd say spoiler, but if you don't know what happens to Bonnie and Clyde, you guys need to seriously start watching more TV). It's also beautifully shot, well edited and the audio of the film presages a lot of what I think you'll hear in films to come as the mix attempts for naturalism, blending in the wind of the plains, a score that's semi-regional and period.
By the time I was a kid, Warren Beatty was known primarily for his romances and I think I was in college before I figured out he'd been a serious actor, director, etc... at one point. After all, the only Warren Beatty movie I'd intentionally sought out had been Dick Tracy. But he's committed here, right along with other powerhouses like Gene Hackman, who plays Clyde's brother, Buck.**
And what can you say about Faye Dunaway in this movie? She certain makes a beret seem like an excellent idea. She's also very young, and very able to dig deep into the arc of the driven force of Bonnie Parker, who has the most complicated, mostly unspoken character arc of the film. I mean, how many characters get scenes where their own mothers knowingly say goodbye to their poor, doomed daughters?
Before the movie (which I watched on Turner Classic) Robert Osborn mentioned the period in which the film was released, just as the wheels were beginning to come off in 1967 and the youth movement in the US was building (still two years away from 1969). The push back against "the system" was becoming a very real thing, and while the movie ends as it must, the major difference between Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy may be that there's little in the way of a play to make Peggy Cummins more than sexy, and she's never really portrayed as a protagonist, let alone romantically heroic. But Bonnie and Clyde are pushing back against the squares and the law. And what more romantic message for angry youth than that their love will martyr them?
The film is an American classic, and you don't need me telling you about it. If you haven't seen it, we recommend.
*or at least Peggy Cummins in her cowgirl outfit
**have we had the Gene Hackman is the best ever discussion? No? Watch The Conversation, Unforgiven and Superman back to back, then get back to me.