It’s hard to believe that Arthur Penn’s masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde is 41 years old. This movie is like Susan Sarandon — it seems to defy the rigors of time, looking just as good as its contemporaries. Everything holds up. Because it’s such a beloved movie, anything I write is going to sound like something from the mouth of a greeting card writer or an overly proud parent. However, there are four things that should be appreciated.
David Newman and Robert Benton’s Script: It’s so good because it tells you volumes about the characters without saying much at all. When sweet-talking, bank-robbing Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) first meets bored stiff Texas waitress Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway, at the peak of her hotness), his description of her mundane life is spot on. What’s great about the dialogue is that it sounds so casual and free-wheeling; it’s not a speech, but an extended observation that summarizes Bonnie’s life in a minute and establishes the movie’s credibility. This is a girl who wants to do some living regardless of cost, and Clyde is her golden opportunity.
Later, Bonnie and Clyde’s bank robbing operation grows to include driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Clyde’s brother, Buck (Gene Hackman, his big break), and Buck’s wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons). How are the new additions? In one car, Buck tells Clyde a corny joke; they laugh uproariously. In the other car, Blanche and Bonnie sit in stony silence. And there are other scenes like this (C.W. crying in the getaway car as the gang’s success suffers a major hit; Bonnie’s visit with her mother), potent and economic, that keep the movie breezing along.
The Supporting Cast: All of the principal actors mentioned received Academy Award nominations, and rightfully so. Parsons received one of the film’s two -two!? – Oscars. But the acting from the folks listed further down the cast list is excellent. As the humiliated Texas Ranger on the robbers’ tail, Denver Pyle is all silent, steely determination and fascinating to watch. Gene Wilder’s work as a nervous undertaker apprehended by the gang is one of the funniest things he’s ever done. And Dub Taylor’s performance as C.W.’s duplicitous country bumpkin father is beautifully underplayed. You’d watch each of these characters in their own movie.
It Hasn’t Been Co-Opted by the Hip-Hop Community: Beatty and Dunaway’s gun-toting images haven’t been brandished on XXXL t-shirts; no line of dialogue or image has really entered the rap world like anything from Scarface. In fact, one could say that in not being rehashed by every mechanism of pop culture, Bonnie and Clyde has retained its relevance, its ability to amaze. Try saying the same thing about Easy Rider or The Graduate, which you’ve seen repeatedly, even if you haven’t seen a single minute of either movie.
Dede Allen and Burnett Guffey: The movie’s editor and cinematographer, respectively. Without those two, would moviegoers get to witness such a powerful last scene, and such a great movie?
Check out the two-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition DVD release of the film, which includes making-of featurettes, a History Channel documentary on the infamous duo, wardrobe tests, and two deleted scenes (sadly, without audio).