Combustible Celluloid
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With: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard, Dub Taylor, Denver Pyle, Gene Wilder
Written by: David Newman, Robert Benton
Directed by: Arthur Penn
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Running Time: 111
Date: 08/04/1967

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

4 Stars (out of 4)

We Rob Banks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Freed from the production code that drove most of the old Warner Brothers gangster films of the 1930s and 40s, Arthur Penn gave Bonnie and Clyde a new kind of thrilling glee.

When Warren Beatty, as Clyde Barrow, utters his famous line, "We rob banks," it's like a badge of fun, as if he were boasting of bungee jumping. Faye Dunaway plays Bonnie with as much sensuality and nerve as the movie requires, perfectly matching her powerful co-star.

Paradoxically, it was a product of its time, but also seems timeless. But Penn has a few tricks up his sleeve, and carefully layers the movie with little time bombs, such as the subtle references to Clyde's impotence and his violent reactions to Bonnie's attempts at lovemaking, or the dark cloud moving over the field where Bonnie tries to run away, and all the way up to the celebrated, and still devastating, final violence.

The presence of a young, worrying Gene Wilder, an Oscar-winning Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard add to the lightness. Gene Hackman rounds out the cast in one of his earliest and greatest performances.

Bonnie and Clyde eventually became a hit, but not before a few stumbles; initial reviews were bad (mainly because of the violence) and it took word of mouth a little while to build. The film was outpowered at the Oscars by two socially-centered dramas -- In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? -- neither of which has aged quite as well as Bonnie and Clyde (it won only 2 Oscars out of 10 nominations).

Screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman originally intended the film as a kind of homage to the French New Wave, and even approached Francois Truffaut about directing. Benton became a director in his own right, eventually winning an Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979. Robert Towne (Chinatown) supposedly worked on the screenplay, receiving credit as a "consultant."

A little past the film's 40th anniversary, Warner Home Video is re-issuing a brand-new 2-disc DVD (and Blu-Ray), which supplants the shoddy 1999 edition. Extras include several new talking-head documentaries; every single major player returns to be interviewed, including Beatty, Penn and Hackman. And why not? They all owe their careers to this film.

Robert Towne, who "consulted" and worked on the screenplay without credit is here. Even perpetual hottie Morgan Fairchild, who doubled for Dunaway, turns up. There's a Bonnie and Clyde documentary from the History Channel, Warren Beatty's costume tests and some deleted scenes (minus dialogue tracks).

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