Bonnie And Clyde - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1967

Director: Arthur Penn

Production: Tatira-Hiller; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 111 minutes. Released August 1967. Filmed during 1967 on location in Texas.

Producer: Warren Beatty; screenplay: David Newman and Robert Benton; photography: Burnett Guffey; editor: Dede Allen; sound: Francis E. Stahl; art director: Dean Tavoularis; set decoration: Raymond Paul; music: Charles Strouse, theme "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs; special effects: Danny Lee; costumes: Theodora Van Runkle; consultant: Robert Towne.

Cast: Warren Beatty ( Clyde Barrow ); Faye Dunaway ( Bonnie Parker ); Gene Hackman ( Buck Barrow ); Estelle Parsons ( Blanche ); Michael J. Pollard ( C. W. Moss ); Dub Taylor ( Ivan Moss ); Denver Pyle ( Frank Hamer ); Evans Evans ( Velma Davis ); Gene Wilder ( Eugene Grizzard ).

Awards: Oscars for Best Supporting Actress (Parsons) and Best Cinematography, 1967; New York Film Critics Award, Best Screenwriting, 1967.



Newman, David, and Robert Benton, Bonnie and Clyde , in The Bonnie and Clyde Book , edited by Sandra Wake and Nicola Hayden, New York, 1972.

Penn, Arthur, Bonnie and Clyde , New York, 1988.


Gelman, B., and R. Lackman, The Bonnie and Clyde Scrapbook , New York, 1967.

Wood, Robin, Arthur Penn , New York, 1969.

Rubin, Martin, and Eric Sherman, The Director's Event , New York, 1970.

Pechter, William S., 24 Times a Second , New York, 1971.

Cawelti, John G., editor, Focus on "Bonnie and Clyde, " Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1973.

Shadoin, Jack, Dreams and Dead Ends: The American Gangster/ Crime Film , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977.

Murray, Edward, 10 Film Classics , New York, 1978.

Kolker, Robert Phillip, A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman , Oxford, 1980; revised edition, 1988.

Zuker, Joel A., Arthur Penn: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1980.

Giannetti, Louis, Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Cagin, Seth, and Philip Dray, Hollywood Films of the 1970s: Sex, Drugs, Violence, Rock 'n' Roll, and Politics , New York, 1984.

Haustrate, Gaston, Arthur Penn , Paris, 1986.

Thomson, David, Warren Beatty: A Life and a Story , London, 1987.

Friedman, Lester D., Bonnie and Clyde , London, 1999.

Friedman, Lester D., editor, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde , Cambridge, 1999.


Lightman, Herb, "Raw Cinematic Realism in the Photography of Bonnie and Clyde ," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), April 1967.

Gulshanok, Paul, in Cineaste (New York), Fall 1967.

Alpert, Hollis, in Saturday Review (New York), 5 August 1967.

Crowther, Bosley, in New York Times , 14 August 1967.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 24 August 1967.

Rhode, Eric, "A Middle Western," in Listener (London), 14 September 1967.

Kael, Pauline, in Saturday Review (New York), 21 October 1967.

Ciment, Michel, "Montréal 1967, le règne de l'image," in Positif (Paris), November 1967.

Penn, Arthur, in Positif (Paris), November 1967.

Geduld, Carolyn, " Bonnie and Clyde: Society vs. the Clan," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Winter 1967–68.

Johnson, Albert, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1967–68.

Macklin, Anthony, " Bonnie and Clyde: Beyond Violence to Tragedy," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Winter 1967–68.

Kauffman, Stanley, in New American Review (Cranford, New Jersey), January 1968.

Benayoun, Robert, in Positif (Paris), March 1968.

Laura, Ernesto G., in Bianco e Nero (Rome), March-April 1968.

Chevalier, Jacques, in Image et Son (Paris), April 1968.

Samuels, Charles T., in Hudson Review (Nutley, New Jersey), Spring 1968.

Comolli, Jean-Louis, and André S. Labarthe, " Bonnie and Clyde: An Interview with Arthur Penn," in Evergreen Review (New York), June 1968.

Brode, Douglas, "Reflections on the Tradition of the Western," in Cineaste (New York), Fall 1968.

Farber, Stephen, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1968.

Comuzio, Ermanno, "Gangster Story," in Cineforum (Bergamo), September 1968.

Penn, Arthur, in Cineforum (Bergamo), September 1968.

Free, William J., "Aesthetic and Moral Value in Bonnie and Clyde ," in Quarterly Journal of Speech (Fall's Church, Virginia), October 1968.

Lawson, John Howard, "Our Film and Theirs: Grapes of Wrath and Bonnie and Clyde ," in American Dialogue (New York), Winter 1968–69.

Cook, Jim, in Screen (London), July-August 1969.

Gould Boyum, Joy, and Adrienne Scott, in Films as Film: Critical Responses to Film Art , Boston, 1971.

Kinder,Marsha, and Beverle Houston, in Close-up: A Critical Perspective on Film , New York, 1972.

Cawelti, John, "Bonnie and Clyde Revisited," in Focus! (Chicago), Spring 1972 and Autumn 1972.

Childs, James "Closet Outlaws," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1973.

Corliss, Richard, in Talking Pictures: Screenwriters in the American Cinema , New York, 1975.

Yacowar, Maurice, "Dick, Jane, Rocky and T. S. Eliot," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Bowling Green, Ohio), Winter 1977.

Corliss, Richard, "The Hollywood Screenwriter, Take 2," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1978.

Eorsi, I., "Veszelyes egyensuly: Penn: Bonnie and Clyde ," in Filmkultura (Budapest), March-April 1979.

Leroux, A., interview with Arthur Penn, in 24 Images (Montreal), June 1983.

Combs, Richard, in Listener (London), 18 July 1985.

Pym, J., "Black Hat Yellow Hat," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 4, 1990.

Wilmington, Michael, "Road Warriors: Outlaw Lovers on the Run," in Chicago Tribune , 28 August 1994.

Miller, Joyce, "From Bonnie and Clyde to Thelma and Louise : The Struggle for Justice in the Cinematic South," in Studies in Popular Culture (Murfreesboro, Tennessee), vol. 19, no. 2, October 1996.

* * *

To speak of Arthur Penn is to address the question of what might be termed, somewhat paradoxically, the "post-classical" American cinema. On the one hand Penn belongs with that group of post-World War II directors which came to cinema from the stage and from the early days of television—people like Nicholas Ray, Sam Peckinpah, Franklin Schaffner, Martin Ritt, and Joseph Losey. In that respect Penn is indeed an inheritor of the traditions and forms of the classical Hollywood cinema, the Western ( The Left Handed Gun ), the biography picture ( The Miracle Worker ), the gangster/detective film ( Night Moves ), etc. Perhaps Penn's loyalty to Hollywood tradition is most clearly seen in his frequent reliance upon the star system to infuse his films with certain qualities of intensity and resonance—Dustin Hoffman's performance in Little Big Man and Marlon Brando's and Jack Nicholson's in The Missouri Breaks stand out in this regard. Yet on the other hand Penn is also frequently associated with the more overtly intellectual traditions of the European art film, especially those of the French New Wave films of the early 1960s. Penn's Mickey One , for example, is frequently discussed in such "art film" terms. But arguably it was with Bonnie and Clyde that Penn's special status as a post-classical director was most forcefully asserted and confirmed.

In her classic essay on the film, Pauline Kael situates Bonnie and Clyde' s place in American film history by reference primarily to Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once , itself a version of the Bonnie and Clyde story, and to Frank Capra's It Happened One Night. Kael's essay was written in reply to those who saw Bonnie and Clyde as a glorification of violence as personified in the actions of Warren Beatty's Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway's Bonnie Parker, and Kael quite rightly points out that "Bonnie and Clyde are presented not as mean and sadistic, [but] as having killed only when cornered." Indeed, most of the film's explicitly graphic violence is directed not at society but rather at the members of the Barrow gang. This is especially clear in the film's last two ambush scenes, the first of which concludes with Buck Barrow's death throes and Blanche Barrow's agonized screams, the last of which sees Bonnie and Clyde riddled with machine gun fire. Kael's larger point, however, involves the particularly American theme of innocence at hazard and on the run, which makes Lang's melodrama and Capra's screwball comedy spiritual ancestors of Penn's alternately comic and tragic parable of the outlaw couple. The central characters in all three films long mightily, often awkwardly, to realize aspirations of spiritual and social stature. But in Lang and Penn society provides no real outlet or model for the realization of such dreams. And even in Capra it takes an act of theft (like Bonnie and Clyde, Gable and Colbert literally steal a car at one point; Ellie's father has a "getaway" car standing by during the wedding ceremony) to ensure the dream's survival.

In terms of its story , then, Bonnie and Clyde is quite properly considered a classical Hollywood film. But this story of Bonnie and Clyde is mediated by or through a very self-conscious form of visual discourse; hence the critical commonplace of Penn's indebtedness to the generically-derived film of Truffaut and Godard. Partly this self-consciousness is seen within the film's depicted world: Bonnie writes her own legend in doggerel verse throughout the film, and she and Clyde both willingly pose for Buck Barrow's Kodak. Or consider the moment after the first killing, after the scene in the movie theatre, when Bonnie dances in front of her motel room mirror while singing "We're In The Money," as if she were herself a character in a film, La Cava's Golddiggers of 1933 perhaps. The limited self-consciousness of Penn's characters is set in thematic context by the more inclusive self-consciousness of the film's discourse. For both the characters and the director, it's a matter of images—of living up to them, of taking responsibility for them.

Perhaps the greatest irony in Bonnie and Clyde is the degree to which the characters drift into big-time crime, without real premeditation. Clyde's first hold-up is undertaken in response to Bonnie's sexually loaded dare. And the first bank job—from which all else follows inexorably—evolves from a similarly innocent responsiveness on Clyde's part. He and Bonnie are taking target practice when a farmer and his family pull up in their truck to take a final look at their repossessed farm. Out of sympathy Clyde puts a slug into the Midlothian State Bank's "No Trespassing" sign. Clyde offers the gun to the farmer and to his black field hand. As the farmer turns to leave, Clyde says, almost hesitantly though somewhat boastfully, as if to cement the bond between them, "we rob banks." He hasn't robbed one yet—but now he is committed to trying; though the first bank he tries is empty both of money and customers. More significantly, in wanting to live up to his "bank robber" image, Clyde unknowingly begins the progress of his own entrapment, an entrapment made chillingly clear in Penn's images. As Clyde steps through the door, gun drawn, Penn frames him through the teller's cage. Perhaps Clyde thinks of the holdup as an expression of his own freedom from restraint; but Penn's framing of him within the constriction of the teller's cage and through its bars shows how wrong Clyde is. This motif of freedom delimited and constrained is elaborately developed through the course of the film via a whole range of internal frames— windows, mirrors, doors, car windows, etc.

Implicit in Penn's framing is the question of responsibility—of Clyde's for stepping into the frame, of Penn's (and ours) for standing on the other side and choosing to see him framed. The film's self-awareness is most clearly evident in the way it critiques the camera, as if our need to see Bonnie and Clyde as images of a freedom we both envy and fear were very directly responsible for their deaths. "Shooting" with a gun and "shooting" with a camera are explicitly equated in the sequence with Texas Ranger Hamer, where Bonnie proposes to humiliate Hamer by taking his picture ("He'll wish he were dead," as Buck puts it). In the credit sequence, moreover, Penn's name is immediately preceded by a snapshot of three riflemen kneeling, as if he (the camera) were a gunman. And in the final ambush sequence we see Bonnie and Clyde's agonized death from a vantage point almost identical to that of Hamer and his deputies, from across the road, as if we , like Penn, were "shooting" the scene. No wonder the film was condemned; who wants to take that kind of responsibility? Arthur Penn, for one.

—Leland Poague

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