Bonnie and Clyde

Ring a Ding Ding

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

A movie such as Bonnie and Clyde is one that makes me pause and realize that only through film could a true-life story of murderous bank robbers leave the viewer rooting for a criminal. This flick is more than a yarn of lovable villains, however,  thanks in large part to one of my favorite aspects of filmmaking: the editing.

My Faye Dunaway vocabulary is fairly limited, but (excluding Mommy Dearest) it seems the actress has a tendency to be ogled by the camera lens. A great bit of editing presents itself in Bonnie and Clyde that reminded me of a particularly memorable scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. In this case our main characters are newly acquainted and Bonnie questions Clyde’s (Warren Beatty) legitimacy as an armed robber. The latter draws a gun from his jacket and holds it at waist height. What follows is a clever bit of film assembly and expression by Dunaway as close-up shots and short takes are cut together depicting the woman’s excited gaze as she glances at what we know to be the gun but by the direction of her eyes could just as easily be Clyde’s genitals. One can draw the natural analogy between guns and male members in addition to Dunaway’s caressing of the gun barrel to conclude this short exchange has little to do with the weapon. The use of close ups never allows the viewer to see Dunaway and the gun in one shot, so one can never be sure on what her glance is fixated.

It is Dunaway’s petting of the gun that had me thinking of the famous chess scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. This much longer interaction between Dunaway, Steve McQueen and some chess pieces has the same seductive effect both on the audience and McQueen.

     Lastly, one could not discuss Bonnie and Clyde without covering the final death scene. I do not feel I’m issuing any spoilers here as most are aware the tale of the two murderous thieves ends poorly for the pair. Excellent editing and emotion again come into play for this sequence. Once the characters pull their car off the road and Clyde exits the vehicle, a number of things occur:

  1. A flock of birds flutter out of the shrubbery across the road, seemingly disturbed by something therein.
  2. A vehicle approaches from the opposite direction causing nervous glances between the car and the bushes from Ivan, the man who knows what is about to occur.
  3. Ivan dives under his tractor.

Quickly inserted between these shots is a close view of the foliage across the street from the position of our anti-heroes. The viewer knows what lies therein but Bonne and Clyde do not until we visually see them putting the previously mentioned pieces together. What next occurs are close ups of the characters faces as they realize their fate, prepare for it and convey their feelings for each other. Make note how the close up on Bonnie’s face endures slightly longer than the others as her expression softens. This clip is a bit long, so skip to about 3:30 in.

Source: The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing

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4 Responses

  1. One of the “Must Sees.” This movie, just as much as the Godfather series has caused debate for decades about movies’ ability to glamorize gangsters and killers. Producers, directors, actors and writers have all claimed that these pictures do not make “good” guys out of criminals, but they clearly do. What movies cannot portray and never even try is to show the reality of what happened. Consequently, one must really make a decision as to the moral value of these films.

  2. One of my all time faves. I never bought the glamorization argument. I think the film shows that all human beings have varying degrees of good and bad in them. Although, no question, Dunaway and Beatty are a sexier more attractive couple than the real life B&C!

    The film shows Bonnie and Clyde to have a human, caring side, they aren’t “bad guys” like Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer, based on Henry Lee Lucas, a man who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

    Like the Godfather films, there are varying degrees of criminality and you do root for the characters who show a degree of humanity. But the films do show that eventually a life of crime will catch up to you and you may end up as a Swiss cheese carcass.

    I contend that because of this the films have great moral value.

    I have to tell you when Estelle Parsons as Blanche “loses it” after Buck is shot, I had a strong compulsion to put a cap in her ass! Really great performances by all!

  3. I was 14 when Bonnie and Clyde was first released, and I sneaked out to see the movie with a friend and her older brother. My Mom and Dad would not have been happy. It is a wonderful film, with incredible chemistry between Dunaway and Beatty. I think that the gangsters of those Depression years were glamorized not only by the movies, but by poor people as well in some cases. People had been kicked off their land by banks, their lives destroyed by corporations, and some may have been a little pleased to see bank robbers who also came from poverty do it to the powers-that-be. Of course, these movies do not show real cold-blooded murder, and I suspect there was more of that than is depicted.

    In any case, the movie was great, and the ending scene was a first of its kind, very powerful to see for the first time in a theatre.

  4. It’s been awhile since I saw this film, but isn’t the “moral” that society glamorizes criminals like Bonnie and Clyde and that’s why the characters in the film seem more concerned with their image and press coverage than any money they steal. That doesn’t mean that the film is glamorizing criminals.

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