Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bonnie & Clyde -- Killed 75 Years Ago Today and Reborn as Movie Anti-Heroes

Depression-era bank robbers and killers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were themselves killed 75 years ago today in a controversial police shoot out in rural Louisiana. The couple were romanticized at the time by some in a seemingly ambivalent public, perhaps reflecting widespread anger with the perceived failures of the banking system in particular and the capitalist system in general. This theme was picked up by Arthur Penn when he made the very successful 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde (link), which made stars of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

Reflecting on all this for a few moments today, to my memory it seems that this movie was one of the first somewhat revisionist American movies to celebrate the homicidal criminal as a somewhat sympathetic figure. To be sure, there were previous films about Depression-era gangsters (Public Enemy; Little Caesar), but none that seem to humanize and soften, in part with comedy, criminals that murdered policemen and civilians. Other such movies followed, most notably the Godfather trilogy.

It seems at least one Hollywood producer thinks the American gangster as romantic anti-hero theme still has legs -- to wit, the soon-to-be-released movie about John Dillinger, who eventually met his own demise, two months after that of Bonnie and Clyde, outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater at the hands of lawmen tipped off by the Lady in Red.

R. Balsamo

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