A Movie About The 30’s Actually About The 60’s


Title: Bonnie and Clyde

Rating: 4 Stars

I’ve been re-reading Nixonland, a story about the rise of the youth movement in conjunction with the rise of the modern conservative movement. It discussed the release of the movie Bonnie and Clyde, and what it represented. A couple of years ago, I re-read Public Enemies, a story of the depression era gangsters, of whom Bonnie and Clyde were featured prominently.

I hadn’t seen the movie for several years, so I went ahead and watched it. It still holds up pretty well, especially considering the time that it came out of.

Bonnie clearly is a proto-feminist. She knows what she wants and is not willing to settle for less. Although clearly beautiful and smart, she does not want to just be some rich farmer’s wife. She wants excitement and thrills. She is overtly sexual and open about expressing it, must to Clyde’s dismay.

Clyde does not care about conventions. He has no interest in working hard and trying to get ahead. He has no respect for authority, especially the police. He thinks that he should be able to take whatever he can without consequences. He’s robbing a grocery story and is flabbergasted that one of the proprietors actually tries to fight back. He had no intention of hurting anyone; the fact that he had to club a person into unconsciousness is entirely the fault of the person for trying to get it in his way.

This is an early call-out to the celebrity culture. They regularly read the newspapers and whenever they find an article about themselves, they read it to each other. The fact that they appear in the newspaper somehow validates them and makes them feel more alive. In fact, when one of Bonnie’s poems, about their life on the run, appears in the local paper, Clyde, who is impotent, feel so empowered that for the first time he successfully has sex with Bonnie.

The movie is clearly a paean to youth and to the youth movement, flouting notions of convention and tradition for that of freedom.

Although they have the basic facts right, the movie was definitely oriented to that message. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t glamorous. Bonnie was under 5′ tall and by the end of her life was crippled by painful burns. Clyde was a stone cold killer. He was apparently brutally raped while in prison so was determined not to be taken alive. Although taller then Bonnie, he weighed something like 115 pounds. They had very little money and basically lived most of the time in difficult conditions in their car. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty they weren’t.

One thing that they did get mostly right was the ending. One of their henchmen’s father made a deal with the police to turn them over for leniency for his son. The police riddled both of the bodies with dozens of shots with not even an attempt to allow them to surrender. It was a pure ambush.

So, as a historically accurate movie, like all movies, it had its ups and downs. However, it still holds up as an important statement regarding the mood of the 1960’s.


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