With the recent incidents in Colorado, the nation has once again focused on violence in film. Over the years, the debate over ultra-violent movies has gone on, with the quarrel coming to a head every few years. However, many of us don’t focus on the origins of the violence that we have grown so accustomed to. Now, one of the first films to feature explicit violence is available on DVD.When "Bonnie & Clyde" debuted in 1967, many were shocked by its graphic depiction of violence and gunplay.
Remember, this was two years before the blood-red action of Sam Peckinpah’s "The wild Bunch" and the average American filmgoer hadn’t been exposed to the low-budget gore films which haunted the drive-ins of the south. This was something different. This was a big-budget studio picture featuring up-and-coming talent that vividly depicted people being shot point-blank. Film would never be the same.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the film (or the true stories of Bonnie and Clyde for that matter), "Bonnie & Clyde" deals with bank robbers in the 1930s. Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) is a small-time hood who has just been released from a Texas prison. He meets Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), a West Dallas waitress who longs to leave her small-town life behind. The two immediately click and begin to rob stores and banks together. They soon hire a get-away driver, C.W. Moss (the always strange Michael Pollard), and are then joined by Clyde’s brother, Buck (Gene Hackman) and his whiny wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons). The group, who dub themselves The Barrow Gang, begin to cut a path of crime across the southwest, leaving many dead policemen in their wake. A Texas Ranger (played by Denver Pyle, who will always be Uncle Jesse Duke to me) begins to pursue the bunch. As the gang begins to unravel due to internal strife, the Ranger gets closer and we feel that the crime spree may soon come to a bloody end.
Even 32 years later, this film still comes across as fresh and entertaining. The film cleverly juxtaposes the glamorous look of Beatty and Dunaway against the decidedly unglamorous lifestyle that they lead. They don’t make much money from their robberies and they either sleep in run-down houses or the woods. Despite the fact that both are well-groomed and impeccably dressed, they are constantly on the run from the law. Add to this the fact that several of their capers yield nothing or go very awry, and the film’s message becomes quite clear. No matter how GOOD crime looks, it doesn’t pay in the end.
While director Arthur Penn is sending that not so subtle message, there are some other things in the film that may be a little harder to catch, most of which deal with Bonnie. When we first meet Bonnie, she flops on her bed and peers through the bars of the footboard, and then begins to beat on them, immediately signaling that she feels trapped. There are also many cues dealing with Clyde’s impotence/inability/unwillingness to have sex, most demonstratively when Bonnie seductively drinks a Coke. My favorite visual is the sunglasses with only one lens that Clyde wears at the end, symbolizing his inability to "see" the ambush that lies ahead. As I mentioned before, Beatty and Dunaway both look great in this film and both are excellent in the lead roles. Beatty plays cool and cocky like no one else and is perfectly suited for this role. Notice how Clyde never loses his cool, no matter what’s going on in a caper. On the other hand he does get a little freaky when it comes to his relationship with Bonnie. Dunaway is flashy and stylish as Bonnie, and we feel her frustration at life not turning out as she’d planned. Michael Pollard plays C.W. as such a dim-wit, that one has to wonder if there is an implied thought disorder. A very young looking Gene Hackman is great as Buck Barrow, and Pyle is great as the Texas Ranger of few words.
I mentioned earlier that at times the film belies its age and that is due in part to the DVD presentation from Warner Home Video. The image is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and appears to be accurately framed, as there is no warping of the picture. The DVD is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs and the transfer seems to have been taken from a pastiche of source materials. The majority of the film looks exceedingly good, and at times, the picture is crystal clear. At other times, there is some graininess and artifacting present. During the family reunion scene (which appears to have been shot hazily on purpose), the picture becomes particularly grainy. At the 1:01:23 mark, there are 1 to 3 frames missing. However, for a film that is 32 years old, it looks pretty good. The film’s fullscreen pan & scan presentation is also quite good but it crops the film’s image on the sides. The quality and level of detail however is comparable to that of the widescreen transfer.
The soundtrack on the disc is a simple Dolby Digital Mono track. For those of you who aren’t technically inclined, let me sum that up by saying it’s a whole lot of center channel. A remix in stereo would have been greatly appreciated, especially during the gunfights. Several extras can be found on this DVD, like the original theatrical trailer, which is letterboxed at 1.66:1. The trailer is very 60s and campy, but it plays very well, giving the audience a hint of the overall tone of the film. The cast and crew bios are through and interesting. The production notes however are a disappointment at a scant two pages. For an important film like this, which is also based in fact, it would have been nice to have further notes which provide information on how much of the film is historically accurate.
While many of us are looking for the next big thing on DVD, it’s always nice to look at film’s past. "Bonnie & Clyde" is a well-preserved film that has yielded a good DVD. The film will not only teach you about America’s history, showing what life was like during the Depression, but it will also show part of Hollywood’s history when the blazing guns of a handsome bank robber rang in a new era.