BONNIE AND CLYDE: TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (WB, 1967) D: Arthur Penn, w/ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNNN
Back in 1967, Bonnie and Clyde was new and shocking. Movies never portrayed gangsters as good guys. They didn’t show violence that hurt, violence mixed with humour and doomed romance, heroes with sexual problems. They shunned location shooting and never used bluegrass on the soundtrack. After 40 years and easily a dozen viewings, it still has the power to stir my emotions and please my eye as if it were brand new.
The high-intensity acting by supporting players Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard and the brilliant star turns by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway have a lot to do with it. So do Arthur Penn’s direction and the script; neither ever gets mired in plot mechanics or attempts at realism, and the result is a film that plays like a fairy tale in disguise.
The visuals help with a subtly elegiac tone that suggests long ago and far away more than a concrete time and place, though we’re specifically located in Texas, 1932. The new transfer does justice to Burnett Guffey’s Oscar-winning cinematography.
Somewhere in the retrospective making-of docs, Beatty suggests that the movie’s greatness has something to do with people who felt they were being given a much-desired chance do their best. That sense is conveyed by everybody from scripters David Newman and Robert Benton, who initiated the project, to editor Dede Allen. They have clear memories and good stories to tell.
Newman and Benton’s script is simple. Small-time crook meets small-town waitress. They go on the run together, robbing banks with his brother and sister-in-law and a henchman, until the law gets them. We’re given no sense of time elapsed, only that they didn’t run long, another smart way of giving a mythic dimension to what could have been an ordinary true crime story.
The real-life Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow evaded the cops for two years. The History Channel biography on disc two does a good job on their crimes, characters and the social background, though it has its own anti-realistic bias and neglects any mention of their sexuality while pumping up the notion of romantic love. The narration is a little overwrought, but the photos and letter excerpts are fascinating.
EXTRAS Disc one: Widescreen. English, French, Korean subtitles. Disc two: Three-part retrospective making-of doc, History Channel doc on real-life Bonnie and Clyde, more. Widescreen and full-frame. English, Korean subtitles.