The Story (continued)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The gang continues their cross-country ride to find a safe haven. As they drive by a rural mailbox, they steal a newspaper. A printed account describes their many crimes and exploits throughout the Southwest, how they are being chased from state to state by law enforcement officers, and their earning of the status of romanticized, celebrity folk heroes. [This scene emphasizes the beginnings of their immortal myth-making - and their lack of awareness of the approach of the law.] They listen with child-like fascination as Buck reads outloud of their actions; they think of themselves as legendary stars in an on-going movie, aware of their notoriety, public image, and exaggerated prowess:
Law enforcement officers throughout the Southwest are frankly enraged at the way in which the will-of-the-wisp band that Clyde Barrow and his yellow-haired companion Bonnie Parker continue to elude their would-be captors since engaging in a police battle on the streets of Joplin, Missouri - and slaying three of their number...The Barrow gang has been reported as far west as White City, New Mexico and as far north as Chicago. They have been credited with robbin' the Mesquite Bank in the forementioned White City and the J. J. Landry Oil Refinery in Arp, Texas, the Sanger City National Bank in Sanger, Indiana, and the Lancaster Bank in Denton Texas on three different occasions. In addition to these robberies, the fast-traveling Barrows have been rumored to have had a hand in the robbing of two Piggly-Wiggly stores in Texas and one A & P store in Missouri.
When they park by the side of a large pond on a deserted road, they are determinedly followed and stalked by mustachioed Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle) - their major nemesis for the remainder of the film. Clyde, who has circled around behind the man after taking a leak in the woods, shoots the gun from his hand [a typical action of traditional Westerns]. They capture the Ranger and handcuff him with his own handcuffs. Clyde belittles the bounty hunter for being in Missouri, so far from home:
I don't think he's lost. I think the bank's been offerin' extra reward money for us. I think Frank just figured on some easy pickins, didn't ya Frank? You're no Texas Ranger. You're hardly doin' your job. You ought to be home protectin' the rights of poor folk, not out chasin' after us.
Rather than shoot him or hang him, Bonnie wants to humiliate him and "take his picture" during their horseplay:
Listen. We take his picture. We send it to all the newspapers, and then everybody's gonna see Captain Frank Hamer of the Texas Rangers with the Barrow Gang, and all of us just as friendly as pie.
Bonnie puts her arm around the stiff-lipped and glaring Ranger, flattens out his moustache with his own gun, and then she and Clyde pose for Buck to "shoot" a picture (a deadly one with a camera): "When his Texas Ranger friends see this, he gonna wish he was dead." With Hamer in the picture with them, they superstitiously believe that the end result will be a negation of his power and pursuit. After one picture with the captured Ranger, Bonnie puckers up and kisses Hamer on the lips for a second, degrading, sexually-charged pose - trying to get a picture that will convince the public that she and Hamer are having a sexual relationship. Hamer spits in her face in contemptuous disgust, appalled by their myth-making and humiliation of his respected Ranger status. With overblown rage (and possible jealousy), Clyde almost drowns the handcuffed Hamer in a challenge of anger, but he is restrained. Finally, Clyde pushes him out into the pond in a rowboat to drift. [In historical fact, Hamer never caught up with the bandits until the final ambush and shoot-out.]
For their third bank robbery, Clyde formally introduces the well-dressed gang with their big guns drawn as they burst into the front doors of a small-town bank: "Good afternoon. This is the Barrow Gang." During their bank robbery, Clyde allows a poor farmer-depositor to keep the cash that he is withdrawing, and threatens to shoot "a little lower" at a bank guard. As Buck departs, he removes the sunglasses from one of the bank guards (for a birthday gift for Blanche), proclaiming with proud bravado:
Take a good look, Pop. I'm Buck Barrow - from the Barrow boys.
Their 'Mack Sennett' style getaway is accompanied by more twangy, upbeat banjo music, as they are exuberantly pursued by police cars - past Burma Shave signs on the road. Even those who vicariously witness the group's exploits are in awe, as the myth of Bonnie and Clyde grows. Intercut with their flight and getaway (filmed with a mood of ribald and reckless laughter and fun) is a montage of short scenes: the bank guard becomes a celebrity after his brush with the famed gang. He brags to reporters about his experience of being a 'victim' as his picture is taken: "There I was, starin' square into the face of death." The farmer who was allowed to keep his money tells an assemblage of listeners: "All's I can say is, they did right by me, and I'm bringin' me a mess of flowers to their funeral." The gang escapes by crossing the border into Oklahoma, as one of the policemen comments at the state line: "I ain't goin' to risk my life in Oklahoma."
After the robbery, Clyde divides up the meager amount of cash among them: "It ain't much, is it?" Buck admits that the Depression is difficult for bank robbers: "Well, times is hard." Bickering breaks out between the gang members. Scornful of Bonnie, Blanche demands her share of the loot (after prompting Buck to defend her interests):
Well, why not? I earned my share same as everybody. Well, I coulda got killed same as everybody. And I'm wanted by the law same as everybody...I'm a nervous wreck and that's the truth. I have to take sass from Miss Bonnie Parker all the time. I deserve mine.
When Clyde acquieses, Bonnie storms away, angered by Clyde's favoritism to his side of the family:
Clyde: Blanche is married to Buck, and Buck is family.
Bonnie: My family could use some of that money.
Clyde: Well you know how them law's been hangin' around your Mama's house till all hours. It's too risky to go up there now.
Bonnie: Where can we go now? We rob the damn banks. What else do we do?
Clyde: Well, whatcha want to do?
When their own stolen car is found to be leaking oil, they sneak into town and steal an auto. In the film's most pleasant and humorous sequence, mild-mannered and overly polite car owner Eugene Grizzard (Gene Wilder in his screen debut) and his fiancee Velma Davis (Evans Evans) chase after them in her car. When the pursuers turn back to alert the police, Clyde turns the gang's vehicle around and catches up to the terrified couple. The two lovers are kidnapped and taken for a joyride in the back seat of their own stolen vehicle - this brief episode slightly relieves the desperation and loneliness of the two bandits.
Eugene's eyes grow wide when he hears they are captives of the Barrow gang. Tension is eased when Bonnie warmly tells them they are "jus' folks," and when they exchange more corny jokes. Later while driving along, they all eat take-out hamburgers and french fries, and Clyde jokingly asks them to join them:
Clyde: Maybe you all want to join up with us.
Eugene: Boy, they sure would be surprised to hear that back home.
Velma: What would Bill and Margaret say if they heard that?
Eugene: Lordy, they would have a fit.
Bonnie: Hey, what do you do anyhow?
Eugene: I'm an undertaker.
Bonnie (to Clyde): Get them out of here.
After Bonnie learns that Eugene is a mortician, she is suddenly panicked at being reminded of death and senses their own impending doom. She abruptly orders Clyde to leave them off by the side of the road in the dark.
In one of the more affecting scenes, Bonnie runs off without saying anything to Clyde - fleeing the gang to go home and "get away." He spots her and chases her down in a harvested, golden cornfield, while portentious shadows of clouds pass over them - they are tiny specks amidst the brownish, dead and dried-up stalks. She falls into his arms, begging: "I wanna see my Mama." After their embrace, he plaintively begs her: "Please honey, don't never leave me without sayin' nothin'."
The next lyrical and dream-like homecoming scene is filmed with a red filter to create a reddish, misty haziness and a nostalgic, haunting mood - soft-focus images appear like faded color photographs in an album. Bonnie enjoys a clandestine reunion with her family at an abandoned quarry on a barren sand hill, marked by a montage of horseplay with the children, rolling down the slopes, and casual conversation, while C. W. stands guard. Her relatives have been creating a scrapbook of clippings of the gang's exploits, "cuttin' and pastin' everything we could find about you."
After their outdoor picnic and get-together in the desolate location to hopelessly attempt to recapture Bonnie's past life, Clyde describes their planned movements:
At this point, we ain't headed to nowhere. We're just runnin' from.
Bonnie's mother, a thin, white-haired woman with round black-framed glasses and a wrinkled face, is resigned to their almost-certain death. Clyde (while eating an Eskimo Pie and wearing a drab slouch-cap) confidently downplays their notoriety:
Bonnie's Ma: You know, Clyde, I read about you all in the papers, and I just get scared.
Clyde: Now Ms. Parker, don't you believe what you read in all them newspapers. That's the law talkin' there. They want us to look big so they gonna look big when they catch us. And they ain't gonna catch us. Cause I'm even better at runnin' than I am at robbin' banks. Shoot, if we'd done half that stuff they said we'd done in that paper, we'd be millionaires by now, wouldn't we?...Look, I ain't gonna risk my little girl here just to make money - uncertain as times are...
Bonnie's Ma: Maybe you know the way with her, then. I'm just an old woman and I don't know nothin'.
Clyde: But Ms. Parker, this here's the way we know best how to make money. But we gonna be quittin' all this, as soon as the hard times are over. I can tell ya that. Why just the other night, me and Bonnie were talkin'. And we were talkin' about the time we're gonna settle down and get us a home. And uh, she says to me, she says, 'You know, I couldn't bear to live more than three miles from my precious Mother.' Now how'd ya like that, Mother Parker?
Bonnie's Ma: (squinting into the sun) I don't believe I would. I surely don't. You try to live three miles from me and you won't live long, honey. You best keep runnin,' Clyde Barrow. And you know it. Bye, baby. (Bonnie's mother hugs her.)
With her mother's words, Bonnie senses that the end is near, and tears well up in her eyes.
At a cheap Tourist Court in Platte City, Iowa, the gang hides out in Clyde and Bonnie's cabin, entertained by looking at C. W.'s newly-acquired tattoo of a bluebird (and a rosy-cheeked female emblazoned with the word LOVE) on his chest. Again, Bonnie is short-tempered (with a "nasty disposition") and quarrels at Blanche. To get rid of their vapid company, Blanche and C. W. are sent up the road to get chicken dinners for everyone. Because of what her old Mama said, Bonnie "got the blues so bad" - she curls up and cowers in Clyde's lap - overwhelmed and despairing about her social isolation from her family. She also feels miserable about their entrapment and their continual flight - desirous of some human dignity and fulfillment:
Bonnie: I don't have no Mama. No family either.
Clyde: Hey, I'm your family.
Bonnie: You know what, when we started out, I thought we was really goin' somewhere. This is it. We're just goin', huh?
Clyde: (tenderly) I love you.
At a roadside cafe, one of the customers spots a gun in the front of C. W.'s pants as he and Blanche pay for their dinners, and he notifies the sheriff.
Police cars, an armored car and officers surround the autocamp and the desperadoes at Platte City. The bloody ambush that night begins immediately after Bonnie shows Clyde how she has taken in her dress. Buck is shot in the face ("half his head is blown off") - and confusion highlights the deathly assault as the gang struggles to escape in the dark. Blanche is blinded by another gunshot - only C. W. remains uninjured. As a preacher's daughter, she agonizingly prays for deliverance from their problems when they finally make their way into a dark, wooded field:
Dear Lord in Heaven. Please help and Buck will never do anything wrong again in his life. My eyes! I think I'm blind.
Buck lays in Clyde's arms, his life slowly ebbing away. His last words are of childhood memories: "I believe I lost my shoes, Clyde. I think the dog got 'em."
By morning, the police, led by Frank Hamer, have found their trail outside Dexter, Iowa, and they are again attacked by a force of lawmen from the shelter of trees surrounding the field - they call out: "Surrender." As Clyde drives in circles trying to find a way out, he is wounded in the left shoulder. Helpless, Buck and Blanche are taken prisoner. She rants and raves, screaming out total denial of the massacre: "Daddy, don't die!! Daddy!!" On the ground, Buck bleeds to death with death throes while surrounded by federal marshals, but the other three gang members escape. Abandoning their car and becoming more vulnerable (this is the first time that they can't escape in a vehicle), Bonnie receives a shoulder wound during their crossing of a stream. Clyde steals another car from a farmhouse and they head for cover at C. W. Moss's father's rural Louisiana home.
On their way - with C. W. Moss driving, they stop at a "Okie" shanty town and receive a helping hand from the reverent group [the scene is the film's second homage to John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940)]. In the stylistic scene at the squatters camp near a lake, the displaced and devastated Okies give Moss drinking water from a canteen. The immobilized, awe-struck farmers and poor families crowd around and peer into the backseat of the car, paying fearful but respectful homage to the wounded, blood-stained outlaws as if they were magical Robin Hood characters. They ask: "Are they famous?" and: "Is that really Bonnie Parker?" One man touches the well-known, infamous Clyde Barrow as if he was a religious, sacrificial figure. The fugitives are presented with a can of soup and blankets as they depart.
Outside Arcadia, Louisiana, C. W.'s father Ivan (or Malcolm) Moss (Dub Taylor) appears genial and hospitable to Bonnie and Clyde and takes them in to recover and heal from their injuries. Clyde lambasts the newspapers when they print a story, headlined "WHERE IS HE?" He believes that the media is criticizing him for cowardice - for fleeing from his dying brother. Although the fatherly Moss expresses his enjoyment of their company, in reality, he is not star-struck by the gang leaders but angered by his son's association with them (and his son's tattoo):
Ivan: You look like trash all marked up like that. Cheap trash.
C. W.: Bonnie says it looks good.
Ivan: What does Bonnie know? She ain't nothin' but cheap trash herself. Look what they do to you. You don't ever get your name in the paper. You just get them pictures printed on your skin by Bonnie and Clyde. Shoot! They ain't nothin' but a couple of kids.
C. W.: But Daddy...
Ivan: I'm so glad your Ma ain't alive to see this here thing. All jellied up like that.
C. W.: I don't see what's so, uh, bad about it.
Ivan: You wouldn't!
In a Sheriff's office, Frank Hamer questions Blanche (with bandages wrapping her entire head) to try to find Clyde's trace after they fled. He plays on her emotions and knowledge that she is a preacher's daughter. Guilt-ridden, she inadvertently reveals C. W.'s full name - allowing Hamer to pinpoint where Moss lives - just outside of town.
During their brief respite from police pursuit, Bonnie writes a poem for the two of them, called The Story of Bonnie and Clyde while sitting in the back seat of their car during a torrential rainstorm. She reads her poetry to Clyde who sits in the front seat eating ginger-snaps. Behind and around them, the rain drips down the windows:
The Story of Bonnie and Clyde:
You've heard the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you're still in need
Of something to read
Here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde...
Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang.
I'm sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dyin' or dead.
They call them cold-hearted killers
They say they are heartless and mean
But I say this with pride
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.
But the 'laws' fooled around
Kept takin' him down
And lockin' him up in a cell
Till he said to me: 'I'll never be free
So I'll meet a few of them in Hell.'
If a policeman is killed in Dallas
And they have no clue or guide
If they can't find a fiend
They just wipe their slate clean
And hang it on Bonnie and Clyde
If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-guns' rat-a-tat-tat.
Some day, they'll go down together
They'll bury them side by side
To few, it'll be grief -
To the law, a relief -
But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.
The sentimental, imperfect poem (that Clyde sends into a newspaper to be published) compares their gang to the famous western gang of James and Younger of the past century. Finding that they satisfy a need to be portrayed as mythological Robin Hoods, the poem also shows the depth of her tragic awareness - it foretells their deaths. As Bonnie reads her doggerel verse to him, her off-screen voice accompanies another scene of Marshal Hamer studying the newspaper account. The montage scene shifts a second time to them having a picnic in an open field while Bonnie is reciting her own poem from the same newspaper - the Dexter, Iowa newspaper (with headlines: FARMERS ATTACK AAA POLICIES). Clyde reacts positively with glee. Once anonymous, he now feels fulfilled and omnipotent ("You made me somebody...") after having been famously immortalized and assured in mythic legend:
You know what you done there - you told my story - you told my whole story right there, right there. One time, I told you I was gonna make you somebody. That's what you done for me. You made me somebody they're gonna remember.
[A short, inter-cut scene with no dialogue reveals a Judas betrayal in ironic juxtaposition.] In order to obtain a more lenient sentence for his son C. W, the couple are betrayed by C. W.'s father Malcolm, a traitor who discusses with Ranger Hamer at Eva's Ice Cream Parlor (near a poster picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt) how a trap can be set to ambush them the next day.
After the newspaper cartwheels away from them in the wind, the crude poem that Clyde has heard causes him to overcome and lose his impotency (a contrived and unconvincing transformation!) - the articulation and realization of his fantasy of ultimate fame and fortune overrides his sexual powerlessness. When the scene returns to Bonnie and Clyde in the field, he has just finished consummating his love for her. For the first time, they communicate their love physically and become sexually compatible. Bonnie reassures an uncertain Clyde about his sexual, love-making performance: "You did just perfect."
That evening in their bedroom at the Moss farm, romantically-inclined Clyde proposes to Bonnie "to make an honest woman" out of her. She has a mistaken dream of their ultimate escape and end to their thievery, while Clyde has a different but similarly impractical and superficial idea about the implications of his actions:
Bonnie: What would you do if some miracle happened and we could walk out of here tomorrow morning and start all over again - clean. No record and nobody after us, huh?
Clyde: Well, uh, I guess I'd do it all different. First off, I wouldn't live in the same state where we pull our jobs. We would live in another state. We'd stay clean there and then when we'd want to take a bank, we'd go into the other state.
In a conversation with his father Malcolm, C. W. is forced to accept his elderly father's pre-arranged ambush of his friends. Out of loyalty to his blood-parent (forsaking his alternative family), hero-worshipping C. W. is forced to agree to not accompany them as they return home from Arcadia, Louisiana: "When they go to get in their car to come on home, don't you get back in there with them...I made a deal and got you off with a couple of years." C. W. is unrealistically convinced that no lawman can catch the immortal pair.
In town, Bonnie (in an off-white dress) excitedly shows Clyde a little china figurine of a pastoral shepherdess that she has purchased. [Bonnie's room was decorated with similar figurines in the opening scene.] Clyde wears dark sunglasses with one lens missing ("drive with one eye closed" - symbolic of his blindness). [The image of Clyde with one missing lens pays homage to French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) (1963), a New Wave film.] Clyde also removes his shoes for their drive down the country road from town (without C. W. due to the unexpected arrival of a sheriff's car). Bonnie offers Clyde a bite from a green pear.
The most classic of all scenes is this shocking and tense "ballet of blood" finale - an ultra-violent, country backroads ambush set for Bonnie and Clyde, the doomed lovers. The ambush scene is marvelously choreographed and edited, with multiple cameras shooting at different speeds. Knowing that the couple will be driving by, Moss' father Malcolm flags down their car for help while faking a flat tire on his truck by the side of the road. He speaks the last lines of the film: "I've got a flat tire, and I ain't got no spare." Quick shots jump through each moment:
- Malcolm notices an unexpected car coming down the road from the opposite direction - a possible shield for the two criminals
- a flock of birds flies upward and startles everyone
- thick shrubs rustle across the road
- Malcolm dives beneath his truck for safety
In their final freeze-frame of life, with a silent glance at each other, Bonnie and Clyde reveal both panic and love in their faces - knowing that something is ominously wrong and that they are facing their ultimate destruction, the natural result of the escalating violence. Clyde is outside the car and Bonnie is trapped in the car behind the sedan's steering wheel. Then from the point of view of Hamer's deputies, their frenzied corpses writhe in slow-motion as they are gunned down, 'shot,' and riddled with bullets - even a piece of Clyde's brain is propelled from his head [a deliberate reference to the JFK assassination, in which a piece of Kennedy's brain is seen flying in the Zapruder film]. They die cinematically-beautiful, abstracted deaths to accentuate the romance of the myths and the larger-than-life legends that surrounded them. Their corpses twitch to life and are re-animated by gunfire - involuntary dances of death. Their last moment of 'life' occurs when Clyde rolls over gently in slow-motion and Bonnie's arm dangles unnaturally and then stops moving. Bonnie's flowing blonde hair, streaked in sunlight and gently blowing in the breeze, cascades down in many arcs as she hangs out of the car.
The two Negroes from the other vehicle run toward the scene to observe, joined by Malcolm. The camera pans to the right behind Bonnie and Clyde's vehicle and stops in a position behind one of the bullet-pocked car windows, and then watches as Ranger Hamer (successful in his personal, vengeful vendetta against them after an earlier encounter), wearing a black shirt, walks up with the other officers gathering around, lowers his carbine, and stares awe-struck at the scene of carnage. The screen goes black.
Also Worth Considering:
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)