Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) was lying naked in her bedroom, bored out of her mind, when she heard a noise outside and went to the window to see Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) standing around, apparently sizing up a car to steal. She called his attention and as she was still not wearing any clothes she got it, then rushed downstairs pulling on her dress to the street where she struck up a conversation with him, realising he was more exciting a personality than the locals she was used to as he pulled out his gun and invited her to caress it. To further impress her, he decided on the spur of the moment to rob a local grocery store, and on emerging with the cash they both jumped into the nearest car and drove off. Then they introduced themselves...
Barrow and Parker were the leaders of one of the most notorious gangs in Depression-era America, their story capturing the imagination of the public who would lap up newspaper and radio reports of their activities as if this was some soap opera playing out in real life, only in this case people were genuinely getting killed. Their spree didn't last too long in the great scheme of things, but their love affair continued to stir something in the popular culture, though by the mid-nineteen-sixties those thirties-style gangster flicks had gone the way of the dinosaur as tastes had changed from three decades before. Then came this film which few had high hopes for, yet somehow changed cinema forever.
It wasn't simply its use of violence, which was the most savage a Hollywood movie had ever been, taking one act of brutality then topping it with each successive one until it ended in an orgy of bloodshed, but the sexual angle was played up as never before, as Clyde was impotent yet began to feel more up to the task with Bonnie the further they progressed in their crimes, the act of shooting guns explicitly connected to the act of love. Of course, they were lifting from the French New Wave in this frankness, which in turn had been influenced by American B movies like Gun Crazy, which director Arthur Penn's efforts looked to be highly indebted to even as it took the blazing colour of the French works.
But Bonnie and Clyde had something even fresher than that: they had the youth vote. As the sixties went on, the generation gap widened as the younger folk seemed not to share their parents' conservative values and were determined to head off on their own path. This was a generalisation, naturally, as there were plenty of conservative teens and twenty-somethings, but their counterparts of the same age were becoming more vocal, and a lot of that was down to the Vietnam War that had grown to be the most controversial topic of the day, even surpassing the Civil Rights movement to which it was associated with in some ways. Bonnie and Clyde was not a faithful retelling documentary-style of the outlaws' tale, it was making a statement on how the young were viewed by the authorities.
They did keep various biographical details in the script by Robert Benton and David Newman, hastily fine-tuned by Robert Towne, so the characters were recognisably drawn from life, yet the parallels between the rebellious nature of the lovers and that of the moviegoers who were so taken with this were hard to ignore. It started out a bit of fun, not really harming anybody other than the banks who were turfing their customers out of their homes for non-payment of their increasingly extortionate bills, but when the police got involved and essentially said, "You can't do that" the bullets started to fly, kicked off with the groundbreaking shot of one bank teller chasing the getaway car and Clyde's bullet smashing his face for his trouble. There would be more of the red stuff to come, as this led to one of the most famous endings of all time.
It had to be said, this would not be half the film it was without the excellent casting, each of the lead actors and some of the support going onto superstardom for quite some time. Warren Beatty was the most established of the players, and this was possibly his finest performance, his Clyde a mixture of innocence, bemusement and remorselessness when pushed, but Faye Dunaway matched him beat for beat as the earthy woman driving her man on as much as an act of defiance to the world as it was a method of getting by with other people's money. Michael J. Pollard might not have had the greatest range, but his getaway driver was inspired, and Gene Hackman as Clyde's brother amply demonstrated why he was one of the most aggressively exciting actors of his generation; Estelle Parsons as his wife was amusingly pathetic, rubbing Bonnie up the wrong way time after time. Even Gene Wilder was blessed with one of the greatest debuts in film history, a terrific sequence of humour and sudden darkness. All in all, Bonnie and Clyde was serious about its violence and how this was summing up the new attitudes exploding across the world; no wonder it struck such a chord. Banjo music by Charles Strouse.
American theatre and film director whose depiction of the rebellious character in movies found its most celebrated example in Bonnie and Clyde, which was hugely important in ushering in a new style of Hollywood film, not to mention new styles in Hollywood violence. Before that he had helmed psychological Billy the Kid story The Left Handed Gun, the much acclaimed The Miracle Worker, and Warren Beatty-starring experimental flop Mickey One, which nevertheless led to the both of them making the gangster movie that was so influential.