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Warner Home Video presents
"We rob banks."
DVD ReviewWith the slightly tardy release of this 40th-anniversary DVD set, it's kind of stunning to realize that we're now farther from the theatrical release of Bonnie and Clyde than the film itself is from the historical figures it re-creates so indelibly—the movie may be creaking into middle age, but it still remains vital and fierce and funny, one of those movies without which the history of movies is pretty much unthinkable. Along with Easy Rider, it's one of the crucial pictures of the late 1960s, marking the end of the studio system, the influence of the New Wave on American filmmakers, and the beginning of an undeniable renaissance in Hollywood moviemaking—and yet, in the best ways, it's tethered to the genre pictures of the past, and sometimes feels deeply conventional. That's probably a mark of just how influential it was, in its time and in ours, and it still remains a great shoot-'em-up of a gangster picture.
Robert Benton and David Newman's screenplay tells the tale of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker—he's fresh out of the big house, an unrepentant bank robber who has lopped off a couple of his toes to get out of prison work detail, and she's a wild young thing looking for adventure and a ticket out of small-town boredom. Leave them alone, and they're a couple of crazy kids; put automatic weapons in their hands, and they become the stuff of legend, and among the most wanted criminals in America. The film follows the coming together of their makeshift gang, and Arthur Penn's direction has a keen sense of time and place—you can see why Bonnie and Clyde would become folk heroes in Depression-era Texas, their mythology fueled by the anger caused by foreclosures and bank failures, generations of American dreams swept up and away in dust storms. All of that is convenient for Parker and Barrow, but they're not much interested in the politics of what they do—there's much more of an erotic charge to it for them, and it's clear that for Clyde especially, crime is a substitute for sex. There are no shortage of tight shots of barrels of guns getting caressed, and even if it's historically accurate, there's a good amount of comedy in Clyde's reluctance to get intimate with Bonnie and to declare, "I'm not much of a loverboy," since he's being portrayed by arguably the most famous Lothario in Hollywood history.
Beatty served as both producer and star, and it's almost like this was him throwing down the gauntlet—he's astonishingly handsome here, but you'd be a fool to dismiss him as just a pretty face, especially in light of the body of work he's put together, not just as an actor, but as a writer, producer and director. (The capstone is probably Reds, but Heaven Can Wait is almost as wonderful, and long overdue for its own special edition DVD.) And watching the movie again is a reminder that, in the boys' club that was this period of filmmaking (Scorsese, Spielberg, Friedkin, Coppola, Bogdanovich, and so on), Faye Dunaway was their lithe and dangerous gun moll, the necessary actress of the period—her work here, and in Chinatown and Network made for an incomparable trifecta. They're ably aided by Gene Hackman as Buck, Clyde's brother, who's got a unique combination of earnestness and danger; and Estelle Parsons as his high-strung wife, working Bonnie's last nerve and undoubtedly the weak link in the Barrow gang's chain. Michael J. Pollard does great character work as their wheel man, and Gene Wilder gives a fantastically manic little cameo as one of their marks.
Newman and Benton were candid about trying to write something inflected with the flavor of the nouvelle vague, but their story has obvious Hollywood antecedents as well, like Gun Crazy; Robert Towne is credited as a Special Consultant, and you can feel his reputation as Hollywood's pre-eminent script doctor taking shape. There's virtuoso work in just about every aspect of the production, too, including Dean Tavoularis's art direction, Burnett Guffey's slightly sepia cinematography, and Dede Allen's crackerjack editing. The whole film moves toward the necessary, iconic, horrible capper to the story of Bonnie and Clyde, and in truth much of the last third of the movie starts to get bogged down in a bit too much foreboding—but as many times as you may have seen the last moments of the film, the savagery is still startling. The reverberations of the shots still echo down to us, and all sorts of gangster pictures continue to owe an epic debt to this one.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The movie had been previously released in a bare-bones, pan-and-scan version, so it's a blessing to have this one, and Guffey's work generally looks sharp. The transfer is tough on the many matte shots in the film, however, which don't bear up so well under this sort of scrutiny.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: You'll notice occasional sync problems with the mono track, which can sound a little thin throughout.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Korean with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Extras Review: The feature is on the first disc in the set, which also includes an original teaser and trailer, sporting the movie's fantastic ad line: "They're young, they're in love, they kill people." Disc 2 kicks off with Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde (43m:10s), a History Channel documentary on the famous pair—it brims with biographical information and has lots of great documentary footage, including snapshots of scenes re-created in the movie, and among those interviewed is Marie Barrow, Clyde's sister.
Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde (01h:04m:49s) is a terrifically thorough documentary, interviewing every prominent member of the production from both sides of the camera, and with some additional folks you might not associate with the movie, like Morgan Fairchild (who was Faye Dunaway's double on the shoot) and Curtis Hanson (who took still photographs on location). It's a great look at the production, and the film's reception; as you might anticipate, much attention is devoted to the movie's final sequence, and the whole thing is a reminder that Beatty is in many respects the last link to a golden age long since past. Who else could tell us tales about Jack Warner and "Willie" Wyler with this sort of insight and panache?
A Beatty wardrobe test (7m:38s) is little more than the actor walking around silently, and trying on lots of hats. And a pair of deleted scenes (5m:22s) come without audio, and with subtitles instead—the prospect of more of the story is tantalizing, but these are little more than preparatory character stuff.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIt's forty years out, but they're still young, they're still in love, and yes, they still kill people. An iconic and titanically influential film gets the full-boat DVD treatment it has long deserved.
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