MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #42. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

“You made me somebody they’re gonna remember.”

A story about a legend, that became a legend itself.  When Warren Beatty decided to produce a movie about notorious bank robbing couple Bonnie and Clyde, I’m sure he set out to make the best movie he could.  But I’m not sure even he had an inkling that he’d be creating his own legend.  With Bonnie and Clyde, Beatty and director Arthur Penn took a quintessentially American true life story, they took film making influences from the French New Wave, and they added their own visceral touch to change American cinema forever.


One day, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) looks out of her bedroom to see the handsome young Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) trying to steal her mother’s car.  Instead of calling the police, Bonnie is immediately infatuated by this exciting guy passing through her tiny Texas town.  To show off for Bonnie, Clyde robs a bank and she’s more than happy to jump in the getaway car with him.  Soon, they’re on a spree, knocking over banks all across Texas, with the help of an accomplice they pick up along the way, CW Moss (Michael J Pollard).

At first small time and so amateur Clyde tries to rob a bank that went bust weeks earlier, things get a little more serious when Clyde recruits his older brother, Buck (Gene Hackman). With Buck’s wife (Estelle Parsons as Blanche) in tow, the scores get bigger and more frequent, as does the violence.  Soon enough, killing becomes a part of robbing, and the Barrow Gang grows enough notoriety to instigate a full blown man hunt.

It might be a little hard to see now, if you were watching it for the first time in 2015, but Bonnie and Clyde redefined what violence was on the big screen.  The bullets and blood were more extreme than anything mainstream American cinema had released before this time.  And at first, the critics and audiences weren’t ready for it.  It flopped and quickly disappeared.  Until Warren Beatty convinced the studio to give it a re-release.

Soon, two then-new and up and coming critics gave it raves.  Roger Ebert, and more importantly, Pauline Kael both declared it a masterpiece.  A few months later, Bonnie and Clyde was a hit and scored a swag of Oscar nominations.  And those two upstart critics went on two be of the most celebrated voices in film criticism in the years since.


I wish I could have seen Bonnie and Clyde in 1967.  Not because I think I would have been cool enough to be an early adopter, but because I’ve spent the last 20 years as a movie nerd reading about its release and its game changing impact.  Bonnie and Clyde is an amazing movie, and it’s never failed to impress me the few times I’ve watched it.  But the almost half century of cinema since, which has pushed grittiness and violence so much further, means it’s lost a little of its punch.

But if a movie is only, worth watching for its violence, then it’s probably not really watching at all.  And it’s all the other things on top of the violence that Bonnie and Clyde does so well that make it still stand up all these years later.  Long after the shock value wore off, you still have the amazing performances from the core quintet, you still have the amazing direction of Arthur Penn, and you still the classic story that has made the real life inspiration, and this movie version of the titular couple, so enduring.

Bonnie and Clyde
Directed By – Arthur Penn
Written By – David NewmanRobert Benton

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to In the Heat of the Night)
Best Director (Penn nominated, lost to Mike Nichols for The Graduate)
Best Actor (Beatty nominated, lost to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night)
Best Actress (Dunaway nominated, lost to Katherine Hepburn for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)
Best Supporting Actor (Hackman nominated, lost to George Kennedy for Cool Hand Luke)
Best Supporting Actress – Parsons
Best Original Screenplay (nominated, lost to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner)

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