Historical Accuracy

Historical Accuracies

  • The perils of the Great Depression are portrayed in several scenes of the film.
    • First, in the previously mentioned scene, Bonnie and Clyde encounter a family who has lost their house and land to the bank, which is accurate for the period.
    • Second, there is a scene where Clyde attempts to hold up a bank that is closed for business due to the Depression (which was true for many banks at the time).
    • Finally, due to the poor economic situation the Barrow Gang did not make much money from their robberies. This was depicted in the film when the gang sits around to divvy up the bounty, only to be disappointed by how little there was. Clyde says bitterly, “Well, times is hard.”[i]
  • Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was a real person and was intimately involved with the case. He was responsible for finally killing Bonnie and Clyde. Hamer had been on the gang’s trail for exactly 102 days before the ambush took place.[ii]
  • The Barrow Gang spent most of their days in a car driving, and they took pictures holding guns and tough poses. Their preferred cars were Ford V8s, which were the fastest automobile for that period. They also chose accomplices who were knowledgeable about cars, much like the film’s C.W. Moss, to be their drivers.[iii]
  • The Barrow Gang became more myth than reality by the time they were caught. Newspapers and police were pinning incidences on the gang, as mentioned by Clyde’s character in the film, which the Barrow Gang couldn’t possibly have committed.[iv] Bonnie also notes this in her “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” with the line “hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.”[v] Another example comes from a Clyde Barrow wanted poster. The poster gives a detailed description of his physical attributes, including “…he is said to walk with a limp….” The phrasing of this suggests that the real truth is not known about Barrow.[vi] The media also built up an outlaw image of the pair.
  • Clyde walked with a limp and the injury occurred during his time spent Eastham Prison. He convinced another inmate to cut off two of his toes in order for him to get out of work detail.[vii]
  • Bonnie writes original poetry while on the road and sends it into the paper to see it published.[viii] From all accounts Bonnie and Clyde were excited to become celebrities in the newspapers.
  • Buck and Blanche Barrow did accompany the pair for part of their rampage, during which Buck was mortally wounded.[ix]
  • The ambush killing of Bonnie and Clyde is described in great detail in the Historical Inaccuracies section, but there are some noteworthy historical accuracies.
    • It is true that Bonnie and Clyde had gone into town for a few things that day and were on their return trip to their hide-out when they were ambushed.
    • The circumstance of a person who Clyde knew and trusted conspiring against him was also true.[x]
    • Finally, the film correctly depicts a sense of fear on the side of the law. The officers fired enough bullets to kill fifty men, and were still uneasy about approaching the bodies.

Historical Inaccuracies

  • The character in the film, C. W. Moss, is “a conglomeration of four different side-kicks in the history of the Barrow Gang.” This is said to have been done for simplicity’s sake, but does leave out some important persons such as: Floyd Hamilton, Ralph Fults, W. D. Jones, and Henry Methvyn.[xi]
  • Bonnie and Clyde’s death scene was correct in a few ways as mentioned in the Historical Accuracy section, but overall was revised for the film.
    • C.W. Moss’s father contributed to the police ambush in the film. In real life it was Henry Methvyn’s father. Henry Methvyn had previously served jail time with Clyde and “had been with him on several robberies and in two gun battles where officers were killed….”[xii] C.W. Moss is a similar character to the real friend of Clyde.
    • Both the real and film story included a friend’s father having car trouble on the side of the road. Bonnie and Clyde pull over to offer him help and subsequently are killed by an ambush of bullets. The difference is again in the details – in the film, Clyde gets out of the car to help Mr. Moss. In reality, Clyde pulls the car in front of Mr. Methvyn’s truck in direct line of fire of the awaiting officers. Clyde was killed before he could escape the confines of the driver’s seat, and the car rolled to a stop on the other side of the road, having never been in a parked position. [To see the film version of this scene, click here. Please be forewarned that it is a graphic clip.]

  • The real Clyde was rumored to be a bisexual (especially during his stint in jail).[xiii] In the film he is portrayed as impotent until the very end when Bonnie immortalizes his fame by writing her last poem. In the original script there was a love triangle of sorts that would have taken place between C.W. Moss, Bonnie, and Clyde. There is little to no evidence about any of this – just speculation – and there is no proof of how intimate Bonnie and Clyde were together.

[i] Lester D. Friedman, Bonnie and Clyde, (London: British Film Institute, 2000), 57-58.

[ii] Webb, Texas Rangers, 539-43.

[iii] Treherne, Strange History, 91-97.

[iv] Wake and Hayden, Bonnie and Clyde Book, 18.

[v] Bonnie Parker, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” as documented in Treherne, Strange History, 192-194.

[vi] J. W. Freeland, “$250.00 Reward” poster, 1933, reproduced in Texas Treasures, “Clyde Barrow wanted poster #1,” Texas State Archive and Library
Commission, November 2, 2005, http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/treasures/law/clyde-barrow-01.html (accessed September 20, 2008).

[vii] Friedman ed., Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, 56.

[viii] Wake and Hayden, Bonnie and Clyde Book, 16.

[ix] Treherne, Strange History, 147-167.

[x] Special to the New York Times, “Barrow and Woman Are Slain by Police in Louisiana Trap” New York Times, May 24, 1934, http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/ (accessed September 10, 2008).

[xi] Treherne, Strange History, 91-146.

[xii] John G. Cawelti, Focus on Bonnie and Clyde (Englewild Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1973), 122-123.

[xiii] Cawelti, Notes, 147-149.

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