Film nostalgia

(This is about the 1967 film, not the 2013 remake.)

When I first saw the film ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I was fifteen years old. I liked it so much, I went to see it again the following week. I didn’t know a lot about Warren Beatty or Faye Dunaway at the time. I had never heard of Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder, or Gene Hackman either. I thought I recognised the strange face of Michael J. Pollard, but I didn’t know where I might have seen it. The man playing the Texas Ranger was Denver Pyle, and I knew him immediately, from old westerns. The same applied to Dub Taylor, who played the father of C.W. Moss in the film.

I had been going to the cinema for as long as I was old enough to sit up straight in the seat. I had seen all kinds of films, including many gangster classics. But I had never seen anything like this. I didn’t care that Beatty and Dunaway were too good-looking to be realistic in the parts, or that events and incidents had been altered or compressed. I just knew that I loved it. And I sensed it was cool.
In later life, I would appreciate the varied pace of Arthur Hill’s direction, and realise just how effective Charles Strouse’s musical score was. But I was fifteen, and it was all about sitting back, and letting this marvellous new style of film just wash over me.

For anyone unlucky enough to have never seen it, the story is simple enough. Based on the real-life adventures of the Barrow Gang, bank robbers who ranged across a wide area of the USA during the early part of the 1930s, at a time when America was in the grip of a nationwide financial depression. Clyde has just been released from prison, and meets Bonnie, who is a slutty waitress at a nearby diner, with dreams of a better life. He heads off with her, teaming up with his brother Buck, and Buck’s snobbish wife, Blanche. They enlist the help of a garage mechanic, C.W. Moss, and begin to rob banks in states all over the country. They are soon being hunted, and constantly move from place to place to avoid capture, becoming involved in car chases with the police, and shoot-outs where most of the gang are injured.

The film cannot decide whether they are romantic figures, Robin Hood characters, or just plain bad. It seeks to supply reasons for the choice of a life of crime, and at times to suggest that they helped poor people, at the expense of banks and financial institutions. They were not averse to shooting first, and wounded and killed many police officers, and some civilians too. Bonnie is shown as a frustrated poet, Clyde as a man uncomfortable with his sexuality. None of this matters. The cast all do a fine job with their roles, and even the cameo from Gene Wilder is priceless. Laced with comedic moments, exciting set-pieces, tragedy, and an ever-present sense of doom, it was a standout film, at least when I was fifteen. The sense of period is also immaculate, and never once did it feel like a set.

I would argue that it still holds up today. The flawless casting, the sharper moments in the script, and the fast-slow-fast pacing all comes together so well, offering a near-perfect gangster film, a million miles from the B-Movie roots of the genre. If you have never seen it, you are missing out.

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19 thoughts on “Film nostalgia

  1. To think I may have been conceived after my parents went to the cinema to watch this! Perhaps not. I must hunt this film down and try and watch again as I was probably fifteen the last time I saw it. Cheers for the reminder Pete, I’m looking forward to long winter nights.

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  2. Pete, oh my has it really been that long ago, it seems like only yesterday watching this jewel of a movie for the first time. Actually, it recently came on t.v. just last month and I totally enjoyed watching it again ~ perhaps for the 10th time… or more…

    Watching the old movies for me is like returning home ~ back when everything was fresh and new, with a message at the end…. Oh those were the days…

    Thanks my friend again for the sweet memories. Take care and happy blogging to ya, from Laura

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    1. They did a remake in 2013, and of course there was ‘Public Enemies’, with Johnny Depp, in 2009.
      But they are slicker, use special effects, and are more aware of themselves. ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was something new at the time, and it felt like it too.
      I hope you get to see it one day, Arlene.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. “Bonnie and Clyde” is one of my top ten films. About 130 rounds were fired into the stolen V8 Ford by Frank Hamer and his men in Louisiana, and I’ve probably watched this film about that many times. Anyway, I have repeatedly analyzed its every scene, and to this day I still consider it a cinematic masterpiece. By the way, the Bonnie and Clyde “Death Car” has been on display at Primm, Nevada for many years. I worked down there 1997-2002, and walked by it practically every day, but have also stopped by the casino to ponder it numerous times since then. I’ve also read an historical account (in French) of the infamous couple (http://www.amazon.fr/BONNIE-PARKER-BARROW-amants-terribles/dp/2735701824). “Bonnie and Clyde” is widely praised as one of the most important films of the 1960’s, and I am in total agreement. I’m thrilled that you decided to review it, Pete.

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    1. Thanks very much, David. It deserved a full and better review of course, but this post was a combination of a nostalgic memory about the film, and how I was in 1967, as much as about the film itself.
      I have seen many documentaries about the real people, and interviews with some who knew them well, or were involved in hunting them. They are interesting, but I prefer the film!
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  4. Bonnie and Clyde’s ability to wow viewers today speaks volumes, both of it’s influence and timeless quality. I only saw it for the first time quite recently,but it was one of those films I felt like I’d already watched.
    It’s a prophetic yet age-old film; and biting into a pear just before the brutal ending was a wonderful touch!

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