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5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Bonnie & Clyde'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 14, 2012 at 3:05PM

It's almost impossible to overstate the influence of Arthur Penn's "Bonnie & Clyde." It wasn't alone as one of the film breaking down the walls of a "new cinema" -- Michaelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" had turned heads the previous year, and Mike Nichols' "The Graduate" helped with the impression of the changing of the guard when it followed a few months later. But it was Penn's film (written by journalists Robert Benton and David Newman, with a polish from Robert Towne and produced by Warren Beatty), which told the story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the Depression-era bank robbing duo, that really felt like the lightning strike, bringing the techniques, sexuality, violence and cool-factor of European cinema to a mainstream audience for the first time.
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Bonnie & Clyde Faye Dunaway
3. DoP Burnett Guffey quit the film, only to be swiftly re-hired.
Beatty was keen for the film to be crewed with a young, hungry team for the most part. But the major exception was director of photography Burnett "Bernie" Guffey, a 61-year-old with screen credits going back to 1929, who'd worked on films including "All The King's Men," "In A Lonely Place," "From Here To Eternity," and "Birdman Of Alcatraz." Guffey was an old pro, and swiftly became concerned that Penn's European influence was going to result in an ugly film. According to art direct Dean Tavoularis, who feuded with the cinematographer: "The famous scene where they were running in the fields and the light changed -- Bernie hated that. He hated flash, or lens flare, or bumps. Having the light change was to him a taboo." Things quickly came to a head with Penn too: "It was really the lack of light that upset Bernie," Beatty would later tell Mark Harris, "He was an older man - he wanted to use a lot of light, and Arthur did not... Bernie would say 'Well, this is not gonna play well in the drive-ins!'" Guffey eventually quit, with the crew being told that he had a heart attack, and another old hand, Ellsworth Fredericks ("Invasion Of The Body Snatchers," "Seven Days In May") was brought in in his place. But things were even worse with him. Actress Estelle Parsons remembered, "It was impossible. The shots were so conventional that it became like a typical Hollywood movie. The guy would set up a shot, and Arthur would just throw up his hands." Penn fired Fredericks, and managed to convince Guffey, who'd at least been prepared to compromise, to return. He ended up winning his second Oscar (the first was for "From Here To Eternity") for his work.

Bonnie & Clyde
4. The film only became a success on re-release, and led to the firing of New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, who was replaced by Pauline Kael.  
Warner Bros. head Jack Warner had, in the midst of negotiating the sale of his company to Seven Arts, not taken much interest in "Bonnie & Clyde" which was greenlit by his subordinate Walter MacEwen, but soon expressed reservations about the project, sending a memo before production got underway saying: "Who wants to see the rise and fall of a couple of rats. Am sorry I did not read the script before I said yes... This era went out with Cagney." And when it was complete, he hated the finished product, exclaiming after the screening, "That's the longest two hours and ten minutes I ever spent. It's a three-piss picture!" It didn't help that when the film premiered at the Montreal Film Festival on August 5th, some of the nation's biggest critics tore it apart. Bosley Crowther, the influential critic at the New York Times, ran three separate attacks on the film in the lead up to its release, calling it "a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cut-ups in 'Thoroughly Modern Millie.'" The film did decent business on single screens in New York, L.A. and elsewhere, but was essentially buried when the time came for its midwest release, and disappeared soon after. But over time, the critical swell had come out in favor of it. Many, including Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris (who hadn't especially liked the film) wrote pieces attacking Crowther. Newsweek critic Joe Morgenstern, who'd initially panned the film, wrote a second review singing its praises saying, "I am sorry to say I consider that review grossly unfair and regrettably inaccurate. I am sorried to say I wrote it." And in December, the film made the cover of Time Magazine, under the headline "The New Cinema: Violence... Sex... Art." Beatty had been campaigning to the new Warners leadership (Jack Warner having since resigned as production chief) for some time to give the film a fair shake. The day after the film received ten Oscar nominations, it was given a wide release, and went on to be a huge hit, the second biggest in the studio's history at that point. A few weeks earlier, Bosley Crowther had been removed as the New York Times' chief film critics, the backlash against his take on "Bonnie & Clyde" seemingly being one of the major reasons, and Pauline Kael was one of those brought in to fill his shoes. Interestingly, Crowther later reversed his stance; a decade later, he wrote that the film was "a landmark... No film turned out in the 1960s was more clever in registering the amoral restlessness of youth in those films."

Bonnie & Clyde Musical
5. The film was turned into a short-lived Broadway musical last year.
The film's ending has obviously prevented a sequel from coming to pass, but in recent years, attempts have made to cash in on the film. Back in 2009, teen stars Hilary Duff and Kevin Zegers were cast in  an unofficial remake of the film, "The Story Of Bonnie & Clyde" (the presence of the former Disney Channel star caused Faye Dunaway to publicly exclaim "Couldn't they at least cast a real actress?"). But last year, Duff's pregnancy caused her to drop out, and the film has thankfully since failed to get off the ground. However, a musical take with music by Frank Wildhorn ("Jekyll & Hyde") and lyrics by Don Black ("Sunset Boulevard," a number of lyrics for James Bond themes) did make it to the stage. Following the plot of the film relatively closely, though not officially connected to it, the show opened in La Jolla California in 2009, before making it to Sarasota, Florida the following year. Both runs proved a success, and the show opened on Broadway on December 1st 2011, with Jeremy Jordan ("Joyful Noise") as Clyde, and Laura Osnes ("Anything Goes") as Bonnie. Reviews weren't poisonous, but critics were mostly unimpressed (Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times "this Bonnie and Clyde don’t seem convincingly hot for each other or for the thrill of being on the run") and it closed on December 30th, after just 36 performances. However, months later, it did pick up two Tony nominations, for Osnes' lead performance, and for Best Score.


This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, The Story Of Bonnie & Clyde, On This Day In Movie History, Features


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