Summer Under the Stars: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

TCM’s star of the day is Warren Beatty, and my film pick for the actor is Bonnie and Clyde, which airs today at 6:00 P.M. (EST).

This biographical crime film follows the lives of infamous, Depression-era gangsters Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty). Bonnie meets Clyde by chance as he attempts to steal her mother’s car. Bored with her life as a waitress, Bonnie is intrigued by Clyde’s criminal past and decides to take up with him and embark on a life of crime. The pair soon forms a gang of bank robbers and a violent crime spree through the South follows, as the law tries to catch up with them.

Bonnie and Clyde is considered the defining film of the New Hollywood era, which began in the mid-1960s as a new generation of young filmmakers was emerging and breaking cinematic taboos. Their influence though came from the French New Wave, which is especially apparent in this film. In fact, an early version of the script was sent to two of the movement’s most prominent figures, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Both directors passed on the project, though Truffaut made some contributions to the script. Actor Warren Beatty then heard about the project through Truffaut while visiting Paris, and on his return to Hollywood, he bought the rights to the script, and the project became his first film as a producer. Putting the film together though proved to be a big challenge.

Warren Beatty offered the film to several directors, ranging from George Stevens and William Wyler to John Schlesinger and Sydney Pollack, before Arthur Penn finally accepted, though he had turned down the offer a few times himself. Before Faye Dunaway was cast in the title role of Bonnie, numerous actresses were considered, including Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret, and Leslie Caron. Shirley MacLaine, Beatty’s sister, was also a possibility before he decided to take on the role of Clyde himself. He also reportedly begged his former co-star and girlfriend Natalie Wood to play the role, but she said working with Beatty on 1961’s Splendor in the Grass had been difficult. Beatty also faced some opposition from Warner Bros. studio head Jack L. Warner, who had little faith in the production and felt it was an unwanted throwback to the studio’s gangster period in the 1930s. But Bonnie and Clyde well exceeded the studio’s low expectations, becoming a major box office success and netting dozens of accolades. The film won two Academy Awards and received eight other Oscar nominations, including two for Beatty for Best Picture and Best Actor.

After spearheading Bonnie and Clyde, Warren Beatty pursued more opportunities to work behind the scenes. His next film as a producer came in 1975 with Shampoo, which he starred in and also co-wrote the screenplay for. In his first time working as a screenwriter, he received his third Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Just three years later, he added director to his resume after co-directing Heaven Can Wait (a remake of 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan… not to be confused with the 1943 film of the same name). With that film, he earned an unprecedented four Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay (in this case adapted). Beatty matched that feat three years later with 1981’s Reds (with a nomination in the original screenplay category this time), and he won his sole Academy Award to date as Best Director. He has since received three more Oscar nominations, for Best Picture and Best Actor for 1991’s Bugsy, and Best Original Screenplay for 1998’s Bulworth. Though he’s still best-known for his work as an actor, he enjoyed working in as many roles behind the scenes as possible to have greater control of a film’s final product. At the 72nd Academy Awards in 2000, Beatty received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in recognition for his work as a producer.

The legacy of Bonnie and Clyde is undeniable when seeing all that it’s influenced, especially other movies in the crime genre. Since its release, the film has been fairly criticized for its groundbreaking depiction of sex and violence as well as its simplification of historic events. Though it’s a period piece set during the Great Depression, it is inherently a film about the 1960s counterculture, and because of that, it was fully embraced by the era’s younger generation, leaving a great impact on our pop culture. But Bonnie and Clyde may have not been as big a sensation as it became if it weren’t for the persistence of its star and producer, Warren Beatty, in getting the film made.

I wrote this as a part of the 2020 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the image below to read more posts!

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