Warren Beatty’s initial effort as a producer, “Bonnie and Clyde,” incongruously couples comedy with crime, in this biopic of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, a pair of Texas desperadoes who roamed and robbed the southwest and midwest during the bleak Depression days of the early 1930s. Conceptually, the film leaves much to be desired, because killings and the backdrop of the Depression are scarcely material for a bundle of laughs. However, the film does have some standout interludes, and with a hard sell exploitation campaign should do big. Beatty and Faye Dunaway are the only cast names of any established marquee value. (Feature was opener at Montreal Film Festival last Friday (4) –Ed.)
The David Newman-Robert Benton screenplay depicts the Parker-Barrow gang as clowns and good-natured oafs most of the time, even during some of their holdups. Characterizations are, in the main, inconsistent and confusing. When Bonnie Parker, in a moody moment, as she senses the end is near for them, asks her lover, Barrow, what he would do differently if he could start all over again, he drawls unhesitatingly, that he would rob banks in states other than the one in which he lived.
Thus it is for the entire film. Scripters Newman and Benton have depicted these real-life characters as inept, bumbling, moronic types, and if this had been true they would have been erased in their first try. It’s a picture with conflicting moods, racing from crime to comedy, and intermingling genuinely moving love scenes between Faye Dunaway as Bonnie and Beatty as Clyde. Bonnie is a sexy, lusty, beautiful femme, and discovers with deep frustration that Clyde is impotent, but stays with him. Late in the film, it is inferred that he becomes a man in every sense of the word.
These are sensitive and well-executed scenes, yet made all the more incongruous against the almost slapstick approach of much of the picture. When the gang heists a bank and kills someone, they barrel off in the car, to accompaniment of a soundtrack which is built-in for laughs, music which seems to be right out of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
This inconsistency of direction is the most obvious fault of “Bonnie and Clyde,” which has some good ingredients, although they are not meshed together well. It has a lot of violence, climaxed with the killing of Bonnie and Clyde by lawmen who pour many bullets into them in an ambush.
Like the film itself, the performances are mostly erratic. Beatty is believable at times, but his characterization lacks any consistency. Miss Dunaway is a knockout as Bonnie Parker, registers with deep sensitivity in the love scenes, and conveys believability to her role. Michael J. Pollard and Gene Hackman are more clowns than baddies as gang members; Estelle Parsons is good, as Buck Barrows’ wife, and there is some substantial support from Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor and Evans Evans.
Arthur Penn’s direction is uneven, at times catching a brooding, arresting quality, but often changing pace at a tempo that is jarring. Color camerawork by Burnett Guffey is excellent. Music by Charles Strouse is in the hillbilly comedic vein, seems out of tune for an outlaw yarn.
1967: Best Supp. Actress (Estelle Parsons), Cinematography.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Warren Beatty), Actress (Faye Dunaway), Supp. Actor (Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard), Original Story & Screenplay, Costume Design