Bonnie and Clyde

Year: 1967
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Arthur Penn
Writer: David Newman/Robert Benton
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hacjkman, Gene Wilder

Today, as I write this review almost 50 years after it came out, Bonnie and Clyde probably wouldn't give the casual viewer any idea why it was such a big deal.

To appreciate it, you have to see the depiction of Depression-era bank robbing lovers Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) in the context of movie history.

1967 is remembered as a year when cinema was going through an urgent, vibrant change. Movies were coming out that didn't have clear-cut heroes and villains, where criminals and killers were depicted with an almost romantic sheen.

The style would lead almost directly to The Godfather and the mobster films of Martin Scorsese and eventually became mired in its own murky waters, the cultural palate cleansed again when movies returned to the straight arrow divisions between good guys and bad guys of Star Wars.

Today such casual (almost fetishistic) depiction of violence can be seen everywhere from the straight-to-video schlock industry to the commanding style of Quentin Tarantino, but back then it was uniquely shocking to see violence emerge from such moral grey areas and go unpunished by moral codes for so long.

Of course, the most violent and memorable sequence in the film – where Bonnie and Clyde are graphically blown away in an ambush – represents their moral comeuppance in near-Biblical terms. You certainly couldn't level charges of glorifying the criminal life like later critics did at movies from Natural Born Killers to The Wolf of Wall Street.

But it had a youthful, flashy, exuberant style, and the characterisations were something audiences had never seen before. Instead of the normal heterosexual relations hinted at (though never depicted) on screens all the way from the birth of cinema to the 60s, the most interesting thing about the couple is Clyde's sexual impotence. It's dealt with in the script as painful territory both would like to address but don't have the fortitude.

Instead, it seems Bonnie and Clyde robbed banks and killed people to express their intimacy the way most people make love – after all these years I wonder if there was something deeply Freudian about subverted passions and sexual deviance in David Newman and Robert Benton's script.

The overall plot isn't terribly memorable and it's not as important as the intent. It merely depicts the couple meeting, their life of crime and their increasing fame (maybe that gave Clyde the sense of manhood he lacked in another crucial area) before it all ran out in a bloodbath on a dusty country road.

It's actually much more comical than you remember, the ultraviolence mixed in with campy chases accompanied by rootin' tootin' banjo music, the rest of the film (even the bursts of bloodshed) strongly at odds with the tragic and horrifying final sequence.

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