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  • Writer's pictureMichael W Rickard II

They're Young, They're in Love, and They Kill People: "Bonnie and Clyde" Turns 50.

Originally presented in Fall 2015 edition of Jack Lord's Hair.

"They're young, they're in love, and they kill people." With this tagline, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) took America by storm, going on to become one of the most iconic road movies of all time. The film is original and unique for many reasons including its outstanding acting, a compelling love story with a countercultural subtext, and good cinematography.

Warren Beatty does an excellent job portraying Clyde Barrow as a flawed character. Like Kit in Badlands, Clyde is not a genius but he has the survival instincts of a predator. Beatty, known for his good looks, does a terrific job of portraying an ordinary looking low-level criminal whose exploits attract notoriety. Beatty plays against type in the film:

In an ironic contrast to his public image as playboy, Beatty would play Barrow as impotent - an audacious move which launches his sexual appeal to Bonnie (Faye Dunaway), in a film about 'stick-ups', while the yearning to connect with each other would become a core subtext to Bonnie and Clyde's drama, realised (sp) in the final poignant exchange of looks between the lovers in the final moment before they are murdered. (Lennon)"

Beatty's performance captures Barrow as more of an antihero who is emotionally troubled and whose love for the sexually aggressive Bonnie is hampered by his impotence.

Faye Dunaway really shines as Bonnie Parker. This film propelled Ms. Dunaway into the spotlight and it's easy to see why. While she may be a bit too good-looking for the part of the plain-Jane Bonnie, she captures Bonnie's love for Clyde and her love for adventure. This is seen early on in the film when she stands next to Clyde who tells her about armed robbery. When Clyde pulls out his revolver (clearly a phallic symbol), Bonnie eyes it seductively then strokes it. After Clyde robs a store and he and Bonnie escape in a stolen car, Bonnie is all over Clyde. Ms. Dunaway does a splendid job of showing how turned on she is by Clyde's criminal activities. She does a great job changing emotions when she expresses shock after Clyde tells her to stop her amorous advances. Dunaway captures the depth of her character as Bonnie throughout the film such as when Bonnie tries to express her artistic side by reading a poem only to be frustrated by Buck's boorish comments, the time when Bonnie gets mad at Clyde and insults him about his impotence, or when she assures him later on that their love-making was perfect. One of the elements of a road movie is the characters that the travelers encounter during their journey. As Bonnie and Clyde take to the road to escape society's stifling confines and the wrath of the law brought upon them by their actions, they meet interesting characters including C.W. Moss, Clyde's brother Buck, Buck's wife Blanche, and Eugene Grizzard and Velma Davis, a couple who find themselves taken for a ride by the outlaws. C.W. is a catalyst character whose error leads to Clyde having to take someone's life, thrusting Bonnie and Clyde on a road of no return.

Buck and Blanche provide a family dynamic that shows Clyde's love of family and the challenge that Blanche's presence presents to Bonnie and Clyde's relationship along with their law-breaking activities. Finally, Eugene and Velma show Bonnie and Clyde's playful nature when they bring the couple along. They also show Bonnie and Clyde's mercurial nature when Bonnie demands the couple leave when she learns that Eugene is an undertaker. One of the things that makes Bonnie and Clyde so memorable are how its performers bring these characters that Bonnie and Clyde meet to life.

Gene Hackman's portrayal of Buck Barrow is typical of his ability to play any kind of character. Hackman plays Buck as someone caught up in the heat of the movement. Hackman captures Buck's genuine affection for his brother and the conflict caused when Blanche's behavior affects Buck's relationship with Clyde. Topping things off is Buck's death scene where he captures Buck's agonizingly slow death without turning it into an over-the-top performance.

Estelle Parson's award-winning performance as Blanche Barrow adds more realism to the story. Her character is annoying but she is supposed to be. Furthermore she is believable in showing how Blanche, someone unaccustomed to the criminal life, reacts to violent situations. One example is when the police raid the gang's hideout. While everyone else in the gang is shooting at the police, Blanche panics and begins screaming hysterically. Clearly, she is out of her element and she opts for the flight response, running out of the house and jeopardizing the rest of the gang. This shows how a normal person sometimes reacts in stressful situations and it makes the film more believable. Parson's acting captures Blanche's return to passivity when the reality of a criminal life sets in after Buck is mortally wounded and she is injured. Like Hackman, she knows how to show extreme emotion without overacting.

Works Cited

Bonnie and Clyde. Dir. Arthur Penn. Perfs. Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway. 1967. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2008.

Lennon, Elaine. "Riding the New Wave: The Case of Bonnie and Clyde". Senses of Cinema 38 2006:.Senses of Cinema. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

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