Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are ‘Bonnie and Clyde’

TCM presents classic, path-forging gangster movie

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star in “Bonnie and Clyde” Saturday on Turner Classic Movies.

Simply put, “Bonnie and Clyde” endures as a major two hours in screen history.

The first film produced by star Warren Beatty, the Arthur Penn-directed 1967 gangster saga — which Turner Classic Movies shows Saturday, July 9 — still stands as a trendsetter in a variety of ways. Being shown as part of an Alicia Malone-hosted evening that will highlight fashions in crime films, the picture was notorious in its own right for its violent content, one of the aspects that was of great concern to studio chief Jack L. Warner in releasing it.

Beatty and then-relative-unknown Faye Dunaway play Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, whose bank-robbery spree takes them across the Depression-era South. As their heists become more daring, their legend grows, to the chagrin of the lawmen who are on their trail. The criminals and lovers know how famous they’re becoming, with that self-awareness an intriguing element of the script by David Newman and Robert Benton.

Also getting big boosts to their careers from “Bonnie and Clyde” were co-stars Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons (who won an Oscar for the film, as did cinematographer Burnett Guffey) and Michael J. Pollard, playing the rest of the robbery gang. Gene Wilder had one of his earliest film roles as a hostage of the group, and later “The Dukes of Hazzard” staple Denver Pyle also has a sizable part as the felons’ main badge-wearing nemesis. (Beatty had worked with Hackman before, in the 1964 drama “Lilith,” and Penn had directed Beatty in 1965’s “Mickey One.”)

“Bonnie and Clyde” came along at a time when Hollywood was making a sharp change to keep pace with a general cultural shift in America, with less-conservative and more frank depictions of subjects. The title characters here certainly were a lusty duo, particularly for a major-studio offering … and as many moviegoers as that might have turned off, it also appealed to a younger generation (of critics as well as ticket-buyers) looking for something fresh and unexpected.

Not only was the costuming of “Bonnie and Clyde” innovative for the times while also being a throwback to an earlier era, so was the music. Flatt and Scruggs’ banjo-heavy “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” became hugely popular, adding yet another distinctive element to a movie that was added to the National Film Registry in 1992, and also holds spots on a couple of versions of the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest American films of all time.

Though other contemporary-times-contoured gangster movies followed “Bonnie and Clyde,” it stands on its own as a thoroughly unique work. Through reasonably frequent TCM showings including the upcoming one, audiences continue to be reminded of that fact.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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