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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
"Bonnie and Clyde" was one of the most controversial films of the mid-sixties
for reasons that no longer seem important now. It was the
first feature to use squibs for most of the bullet hits specifically the
slow motion death of the two at the end. As I've mentioned elsewhere, they
started using squibs sparingly on some movies at that time but not for every
hit. "The Sand Pebbles", "The Dirty Dozen" and "Major Dundee" all had them
for some scenes but for other sequences, people just fell over dead without
any impact on their body.

Today squibs are used in virtually every action film and have become standardized
but back then they were something new and for many critics, disgusting and offensive.
At least part of it's controversy came from the fact that this was still the era where
they had a Production Code and Seal of Approval but no classification for content. "Bonnie and Clyde" passed code scrutiny and received a Seal which meant large screen cinemas and movie houses could book it and all ages could attend.
It now has an "R" rating which is justified because it's a very bloody film and disturbing in it's depiction of violence for reasons I'll detail below. I can see where a number of critics felt this was an inappropriate film to bring children too. As it turns out, they didn't have
to worry at first. Jack Warner, President of Warner Bros., disliked it and dumped in a handful of art house theaters and film festivals rather than a major release. To his surprise, it started generating a cult following with young people in part because of the negative reviews of the 'establishment'. Later Warners expanded it's release in additional cinemas until it became a smash hit...over a long period of time. Quite different than
today's saturation hit and run distribution. Back then a movie could take it's time
playing numerous theaters on a regional basis.

Warren Beatty (Shirley MacLaine's brother) had established himself as an upcoming
young leading man (and notorious womanizer) in Hollywood beginning with "Spendor
in the Grass" directed by Elia Kazan. Like so many actors, he really wanted
to produce and direct. The script by Benton and Newman had been floating around
LA for years but no one knew what to make of it.
David Newman visited my screenwriting class at NYU back in the seventies and
discussed the production problems of this feature.
Unlike Butch and Sundance, these were reasonably contemporary criminals that
some people had encountered a few decades before. And, unlike the two cowboys,
they were classified as ruthless psychos who randomly murdered anyone
who got in their way while they robbed failed banks of pocket change in the thirties.
Every studio in town turned it down as unfilmable because there was no way of making
the two killers sympathetic.

Beatty took on the script as producer then brought in Arthur Penn to direct and they came up with an interesting if not bizarre approach. They would turn Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker into a pair of counter-culture pop figures and pretty much ignore their real life counterparts. The pale and thin Faye Dunaway was hired to play Bonnie and a young Gene Hackman was cast as Buck, Clyde's ******* brother, Estelle Parsons as his hysterical wife and weirdo character actor, Michael J. Pollard as the dopey driver.
This strange gang played the first half of the film for laughs and it's outrageous fun.
An example would be the scene when they rob a bank but the idiot Pollard has
parked the getaway car delaying their escape. Pollard and Hackman overact, camp it up and are a riot. Parson shrieks like a lunatic during their inept hold ups while "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" is played on the soundtrack. There is lots of sixties sexual attitudes and innuendo. Bonnie fondles Clyde gun shaft despite the fact that he 'ain't no loverboy'. Not until he hears the hokey poem she wrote in the paper and the notoriety finally turns him on and he's able to consumate his relationship with her. The dialogue and attitudes of the actors are clearly too modern for the roles they are playing but perhaps that's the point. This movie isn't a biography but a "New Hollywood" art film.

Then Beatty and Penn did something controversial and disturbing. They shift the
tone completely at the midway point of the film and it gets very bloody, violent and grim.
The gang gets in some shoot outs with the Sheriff tracking them and local cops. They get shot up with Buck losing a chunk of his skull, Parsons is blinded, Clyde is wounded in the arm and Bonnie in her breast. All of this is extremelly graphic and horrifying and the remainder of the film plays out like a Greek tragedy climaxed with their slow motion massacre. I guess that's what makes this movie still relevant despite the sixties style screenplay, editing and attitudes. It's the strange shift that will still leave you a bit shaken after warming up to the goofy characters of the first part of the picture.

The Blu Ray disc is in good shape and shows off the warm Technicolor cinematography
by Burnett Guffey with saturated fleshtones and very red blood. The opticals and
sharpness are okay and the image pretty clean. I only noticed a couple of scratches
in the entire show. They lost the fullcoat sound mix (which contained separate
dialogue, music and sound effects) and all they had to work with was
the mono track. It's cleaned up with little hiss but you miss the surround sound possibilities had they retained the original separate elements to work with.

The acting is...shall we say...different. I'm not sure I'd use the word 'good' to describe Beatty's Method emoting which is twitchy, cross eyed and sometimes comes across like a James Dean impression. Had Dean survived, you could
see him in this role. Beatty's performance does seem to work within the context of this pop art movie. Dunaway is fine although she struggles with her accent at times. Hackman and Pollard are very funny. When Hackman first meets up with his brother
Clyde, he does a loud "Yeeooo, we're gonna have ourselves a time" and then adds,
"What're we gonna do?" It's hard not to laugh at Pollard's oddball mannerisms as he wanders around clueless amist the carnage. He steals every scene he's in. Gene Wilder has a cameo as a nutty undertaker they kidnap for a while. His role seems like an audition for the character he played in Mel Brook's "The Producers" made the next year. Very funny guy.

So, I recommend this period piece for those who like quirky sixties movies with lots
of style and extreme violence. And I do mean 'sixties' when I refer to 'period' not the thirties.

The suppliments are okay and give some historical background on the actual criminals
who were not really the subjects of this movie although some of their exploits
were utilized in the script.

There's an interesting book that chronicles the history of this picture along
with "The Graduate" and other controversial films called,
"Pictures at a Revolution" by Mark Harris. It's entertaining
although I found it hard to accept his premise at times. Some of the movies
he discusses don't hold up like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". You will get a feel of the times and the participants of the short lived New Hollywood movement so I recommend it on that level. Just to get a high risk project like this made and
shown was quite a challenge.

In summary: Picture quality A, sound design B, cinematography A, music score A,
performances, story and screenplay B +.
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