The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde serves as a secondary source for the criminal lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. It also serves as a primary source for the Hollywood industry and America in the late 1960s. The film was controversial upon its release, but is now considered a classic. The film also made “Bonnie and Clyde” household names, immortalizing the pair.
As a secondary source about the 1930s, Bonnie and Clyde portrays the hardship of the Great Depression and the basic story of these two outlaws with expert vision. The motive for Bonnie to join Clyde on his journey was for her to find fulfillment. She was poor and felt trapped in her waitress lifestyle. Their motive to rob banks (according to the film) was due to the injustices against the poor working-class individuals like themselves. In one scene, Bonnie and Clyde come upon a foreclosed farm and a family taking one last forlorn look at the place. Clyde gives the farmer his gun to shoot at the foreclosed sign and sympathizes with the family’s hardship. It is at this time that Clyde declares “We rob banks.” The story of these outlaws is vastly simplified, but their motives are portrayed well. Some of their missions were edited out, such as their jail break of several of Clyde’s prison mates in Eastham prison.[i] In addition, several gang members were combined into the film’s character, C.W. Moss. Overall, the film serves as a respectable source on the pair’s crime spree and the time period in which they lived and died.
Bonnie and Clyde provides ample information as a primary source about the 1960s. At this time television became a vast problem for Hollywood. Television took away audiences from film. Another large scale change in the industry was disallowing major companies to monopolize the system. The decision was enforced by federal courts, and it led to a less elitist, yet more complicated system.[ii] It was also a time in which films could push boundaries, since the 1930 Production Code was becoming obsolete. The code stated that films could not have sex, violence, or portray sympathy for criminals (all of which occur in Bonnie and Clyde). Bonnie and Clyde was released during the transition between the Code to a ratings system for films.[iii] Culturally, Kennedy’s assassination, the ongoing struggle for racial equality, and the controversial war in Vietnam were still fresh in the minds of Americans, forcing violence to become an integral part of American lives. Violence was less foreign to audiences and, to Director Arthur Penn and others, it became more acceptable for it to be shown in film.[iv]
Bonnie and Clyde had its fair share of critics, but overall it was a big hit for audiences. Those who endorsed the movie, including Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, were enthralled by the film’s exciting chase scenes, romanticism, and qualified actors.[v] Critics such as Bosley Crowther felt that the excessive violence and sympathy toward criminals in the film were sending the wrong message to the youth of America.[vi] The younger generation could relate to the Barrow Gang because they too felt abused by the power system. Instead of fighting banks and the law, this generation protested against the war and pled for Civil Rights.
[i] Lester D. Friedman, ed., Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 65.
[ii] John Monaco, History of the American Cinema: The Sixties: 1960-1969 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001), 9-23.
[iii] Monaco, The Sixties: 1960-1969, 56-66.
[iv] Sandra Wake and Nicola Hayden, The Bonnie and Clyde Book (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 9-10.
[v] Roger Ebert “Bonnie and Clyde” Chicago Sun-Times. September 25, 1967. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19670925/REVIEWS/709250301/1023/ (accessed September 8, 2008).
[vi] Bosley Crowther, “Bonnie and Clyde” New York Times. April 14, 1967. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review/ (accessed September 8, 2008).
For another negative review of the film, see: A. O. Scott “Two Outlaws, Blasting Holes in the Screen” New York Times. August 12, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/movies/12scot.html?scp=1&sq=Two%20Outlaws&st=cse/ (accessed September 8, 2008).
For an in-depth discussion of several film reviews, see: John G. Cawalti, Focus on Bonnie and Clyde (Englewild Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1973).