Directed by: Arthur Penn
“Some day, they’ll go down together / They’ll bury them side by side / To a few, it’ll be grief / To the law, a relief / But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.” — Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, reading her poem
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There are plenty of ways to analyze Bonnie and Clyde. We could talk about its lasting effect on cinema, and how the true crime drama made violence and sex more prevalent in Hollywood films. I could dig deep into the final sequence, which to that point was one of the bloodiest scenes in movie history. If I was interested, I might even discuss its impact on fashion in the late 1960s.
But there’s only one thing I want to talk about, and that’s how this movie won one of the least-deserved Academy Awards of all time.
Bonnie and Clyde is full of solid — but by no means legendary — acting performances. Warren Beatty shines as the devastatingly handsome Clyde, and Faye Dunaway expresses a remarkable inner conflict in her portrayal of Bonnie. Gene Hackman is solid if not necessarily memorable, and a surprising Gene Wilder appearance (his first film!) is absolutely delightful.
But there’s one character that doesn’t fit. One character that makes the scenes she’s in particularly unbearable. One character I would do anything to travel back in time and ask David Newman and Robert Benton to rewrite: Blanche.
Blanche is played by Estelle Parsons, who somehow walked away with an Oscar for best supporting actress for this role. Parsons is an actress who went on to have a long and successful film, TV and Broadway career following this 1967 film. And I by no means want to rag on her for the rest of this blog — it’s not her fault that she was cast as one of the worst characters I’ve ever seen in film.
Blanche screams. That’s it. That’s what she does. Really, she shrieks, in an ear-shattering tone that over the course of nearly two hours can easily cause a migraine.
Storywise, Blanche is married to Gene Hackman’s Buck Barrow, the brother of Clyde. She gets pulled into the Barrow gang against her will, and is along for the ride as they go on their violent crime spree. And that could very well be an interesting character, but it seems the writers didn’t know how to craft a dissenting gang member without making her yell at the top of her lungs every single time a gun is fired (which in this movie, is quite often).
In real life, Blanche was one of the few members of the Barrow gang to survive. And the real Blanche wasn’t too happy with her portrayal in the film, saying: “That movie made me look like a screaming horse’s ass.”
It’s true. That’s exactly what Bonnie and Clyde does.
When I found out that Parsons won the Oscar, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It’s not necessarily that Parsons is a bad actress, but there’s just not a lot of difficult acting being done with Blanche. Scream, run and cry. Scream, run and cry. That’s all there is to it. If that’s what it took to win an Academy Award in 1967, well, I’m sure glad the standards have changed since then.
That being said, anyone interested in the transformation of cinema in the second half of the 20th century should sit down and watch Bonnie and Clyde. Just have the volume control at the ready, or shrieking Blanche will blow out your eardrums.