I certainly paused before including Bonnie and Clyde in this series. This film, from 1967, combined two novelties of its period: one, a cynical view of gangsters as victims of society, and two, the unflinching depiction of violent death and injury. Squibs were used for almost the first time in the movies. They are little packages of imitation blood concealed in the actors’ clothing that burst when gunshots are simulated. This picture almost invented the concept of the poetry of violence in film. We’ve seen many examples of it since then. Remember early gangster films like, for instance, the classic trio of Little Caesar, Public Enemy and Scarface, three pictures from 1930, 1931 and 1932. In each case no matter what redeeming characteristics the protagonist displays, he must be punished for his crimes against society by the last reel. The same structured resolution functions in every gangster film made under the film production code. That satisfying outcome is not what we will see depicted tonight – these are poor people fighting against a system in which they had no say and which then took its revenge against them.
This was a movie whose style was extremely influential, partly because of those two novelties. Warren Beatty was producer on the project. After both François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard passed on directing the picture, Arthur Penn was chosen to direct. Some observers find influences from the French New Wave in his direction. The script was by David Newman and Robert Benton, with additional uncredited help by Robert Towne. It takes some liberties with the lives of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Benton wrote and directed two subsequent films we will see in this series. Bonnie and Clyde was photographed by Burnett Guffey. The music is by Charles Strouse, using Flatt and Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. It starred Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons. It was filmed from October through December 1966, mostly on location in small towns around Dallas. It was released in August, 1967.
The story goes this way. Warner Brothers management reportedly saw the film as a short-run drive-in programmer and offered Beatty 40% of the gross instead of a minimal fee, which he accepted. The company released the film to a few urban theatres where it did very good business, and got good press. There were only limited releases of the film to general audiences. Beatty threatened to sue Warners unless they did a general release of the film. They caved, did a general release, and the film became a major box office success. The film grossed over $70 million worldwide in its first six years, making Beatty a wealthy man. Bosley Crowther, the lead film critic for the New York Times, was shocked by the film and began to crusade against brutality in films as a result. Pauline Kael wrote a long appreciation of the film for the New Yorker. After the tremendous success of the film Crowther was fired by the Times because he seemed so out of touch with the public. Kael became the New Yorker’s new staff film critic.
Estelle Parsons won an Oscar for best supporting actress and Burnett Guffey won one for best cinematography. The film was nominated for best picture, Arthur Penn was nominated for best director, Newman and Benton were nominated for best writing – story and screenplay, Warren Beatty was nominated for best actor, Faye Dunaway was nominated for best actress, Michael J. Pollard and Gene Hackman were both nominated for best supporting actor, and Theadora Van Runkle was nominated for best costume design. In 1992 the Library of Congress selected its first hundred films worthy of preservation in the National Film Registry. Bonnie and Clyde was among them.
I hope you enjoy watching Bonnie and Clyde with me tonight.