Bonnie & Clyde
That all changed in 1967 when Arthur Penn’s film version came out with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and created the Bonnie and Clyde most people remember: vibrant, beautiful movie stars with witty ripostes on their lips and grace in their limbs and superbly tailored haberdashery on their shoulders, while bluegrass legends Flatt & Scruggs plucked away brilliantly behind them. Quickly, they commanded the allegiance of Baby Boomers hungry for anti-establishment heroes, killed (virtually crucified) by ruthless officers out of mean-spirited vengeance. It was an easy generational transference for the nascent Boomers to see themselves as so beautiful, so in love, so radical, so entitled to self-expression, so embittered by a failing economic system, so martyred by a crusty older generation that despised them for those attributes exactly.Bonnie and Clyde were romanticized and glamorized in a movie in 1967. Thence liberalism was born.
Bonnie and Clyde pandered to and fed on the vanities of a generation hell-bent on avoiding an inconvenient war and exploring its awesome power in the marketplace. In fact, even now it’s difficult to know whether to regard the two outlaws as figures of the far-off Dust Bowl 30s, or symbols of the more insane 60s. If they’re famous today, it’s certainly because of the Penn film, not because of anything that happened in 1934.One reason The Iraq War™ turned out to be as popular as it was is that we matured as a society. Baby boomers grew up and found jobs writing about turning corners every 6 months or so, while others talked about mushroom clouds drifting off to Syria. And we all agreed that we'd found what we'd longed for all these years: a convenient war.
That point is that the legendary Penn movie that invented the New Bonnie and Clyde was such a ideological crock that it deserves placement in that list of other leftist crocks mistaken by gullible critics and film lovers as somehow great: Beatty’s own Reds, the appalling JFK, and the toxic oeuvre of Michael Moore and his tribe of screwball clones in the documentary field, as well as the recent spate of angry, misguided Iraq war films.But alas, our society has fallen from the heights it has only so recently achieved. "Suck on this" no longer holds the same meaning it once did and Bonnie and Clyde are yet again being romanticized. Communism is not far behind.
Clyde and Bonnie were far more interesting than the moviemakers portrayed them to be. They were far from the sleek beauties embodied by the thirty-year old Beatty and the twenty-eight-year-old Dunaway (who in truth delivers a stunning performance that absolutely sustains the movie). They were essentially homeless: they lived in their car, wandering from town to town in a kind of loose circuit that always placed them close to state lines in the days when police agencies were unable to cross such borders. They robbed banks, once in a while. More frequently they robbed gas stations, broke into warehouses, held up family groceries and the like, each time securing as swag what was basically soda pop money to keep them going a few more days.That doesn't count as romanticizing. As everyone knows, Betty Boop was a leftist.
They were kids. (A more accurate contemporaneous movie would have starred Judy Garland and Alfalfa; in the late 60s, Cher and Opie.) They were tiny kids. They were brave kids, after a screwy fashion. And they appeared to be genuinely in love. And of course, they were extremely nasty. To stand against them in their infantile greed was to face Clyde’s superb marksmanship with the same type of Browning automatic rifle (his preferred weapon) that ultimately tore his body to shreds at the age of 25.
They were both West Dallas slum rats. She was a dim romantic and self-styled poet who dreamed of appearing on Broadway but had to settle for waitressing, after an early broken marriage (to another career criminal) and non-existent prospects. She was under five feet tall and weighed about 90 pounds. Everyone agrees she had a kind of charisma; she was the live wire, the jazz baby, Betty Boop.
By far the movie’s gravest insult to posterity, however, is its treatment of the Texas Ranger captain, Frank Hamer, who may (or may not) have been instrumental in bringing them down. As seen in the movie, Hamer (played by Denver Pyle in an uncharacteristically dour performance) is a kind of harsh Puritan ideologue, so righteous that when Bonnie (whom Dunaway has made us love) flirtatiously poses for a funny snapshot with him, he spits savagely in her face. He considers her so morally tainted that he is sickened by her. Then later, like a serpent in a garden, he coos and caresses the blind Blanche (Estelle Parsons in a great, Oscar-winning performance), gulling her into giving up a vital clue that leads to his ambush murder by Thompson submachine gun.Truer words have never been written. Instead of shooting first and then shooting again, and again, Obama forces our law enforcement officials to drink beer with the criminal elements in our society. But there is hope, and we don't mean the kind that Obama talks about with his high-falutin' ideas about bringing back the dinosaurs and all. Hard working middle class citizens have taken John Wayne's manliness to heart and are rising up across the country to stop the tyranny that is the Bonnie and Clyde addled left. What we need right now is more Batman and Robin or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and less Bonnie and Clyde.
In fact, Hamer was almost a prototype of the kind of man the Boomer generation would be taught to distrust, both in life and in fiction. Almost insanely brave and almost unbelievably tough, he was Texas’s most famous man hunter. He wouldn’t sell his life story to the movies; he was too dignified, too suspicious of the alien (even then) West Coast culture and of “dramatic license.” But if he had, John Wayne would have played him, with all 50 of his shoot-outs accounted for, as well as his numerous wounds.
The Duke would have been portrayed standing up against lynch mobs murderously incensed by African-Americans (Schneider re-creates this scene), uncovering murderous bounty-hunter schemes. And Wayne would have yelled out fair warning to the pair, as both he and another posse member, the selfsame Ted Hinton, claimed occurred in their written accounts of the incident. And the Duke would have replicated Hamer’s odd body posture so evident in the photographs, his almost contemptuous slouch, off center always and listing one way or the other as he refuses to look at the lens, sucking on an always-present tailor-made cigarette.
That movie, however, certainly could not have been made in 1967 and it certainly can’t be made in 2009: Hamer is too straight, too commanding, too uncompromising for such a treatment. The irony is that Hamer is forgotten while Clyde and Bonnie live on. Hamer stood for something: the idea of right and the guts to make it stick. Clyde and Bonnie stood for nothing, except perhaps infantile nihilism, unformed, incoherent, vicious. If they were ambushed without warning, it’s because each had weapons at hand, and so they wouldn’t widow and orphan other police families. If they were shot to pieces, it’s because the old-time law enforcement guys knew you shot them, and then you shot them some more.
Hamer stands for your grandfather’s authority, annoyance at fools, and the willingness to kill in the belief that he was saving the weak by eliminating their predator. He was a righteous killer, a dinosaur whose time has passed. He’s what Barack Obama swears he’ll change about America.