Throw a rock in any direction these days and you’ll draw the blood of a movie critic marking the 40th anniversary of the release of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. To hear them tell it, Bonnie and Clyde changed the rules, changed Hollywood, changed the course of history, changed the world, changed us, blah-blah-blah... hadn't any of these people been to a kiddie matinee?

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Throw a rock in any direction these days and you’ll draw the blood of a movie critic marking the 40th anniversary of the release of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. To hear them tell it, Bonnie and Clyde changed the rules, changed Hollywood, changed the course of history, changed the world, changed us, blah-blah-blah... hadn't any of these people been to a kiddie matinee?

" />

Throw a rock in any direction these days and you’ll draw the blood of a movie critic marking the 40th anniversary of the release of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. To hear them tell it, Bonnie and Clyde changed the rules, changed Hollywood, changed the course of history, changed the world, changed us, blah-blah-blah... hadn't any of these people been to a kiddie matinee?

" />

After the Blood Rush

Bonnie and Clyde

Throw a rock in any direction these days and you’ll draw the blood of a movie critic marking the 40th anniversary of the release of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967).1 To hear them tell it, Bonnie and Clyde was the movie that changed the rules, that changed Hollywood, changed the course of history, changed the world, changed us, blah-blah-blah, Bosley Crowther, blah-blah-blah, Pauline Kael, blah-blah-blah, balletic violence, blah-blah-blah, catharsis, redemption, ho-hum. The critics aren’t talking about the whole film so much as The End, when Dustbowl bank robber/lovers Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are caught in a police ambush and aerated in a fusillade of bullets that have them both doing the St. Vitus Dance for what seems like five full minutes. Over at Newsday, Gene Seymour heralds “a movie with… a pervasive and resounding impact on culture and society” while New York Times’ critic A. O. Scott recalls that Bonnie and Clyde “seemed to introduce a new kind of violence into movies… raw and immediate, yet at the same time… almost gleeful.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a good movie and I think Bosley Crowther was wrong (albeit more fun to read than Pauline Kael). But I was 5 or 6 when that movie came out and I didn’t see it for many years. Ditto many of the movies that followed the example set by Bonnie and Clyde’s ultra-violence: Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1972), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). I saw none of these films in their first run and only heard about them in a roundabout fashion, word of mouth, from fathers and mothers and the older brothers of friends who had been of age to buy a ticket. I remember thinking these movies sounded interesting but I had all the blood I could handle at the kiddie matinee, thank you very much.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

Blood? We had it in gouts. In Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965), a man is murdered, strung up by his feet and his body slit open like a piñata to reanimate the dry bones of Count Dracula. Later in that same film, a female vampire is pinned to a table by several bearded monks while a stake is driven between her breasts. In Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), the Count is staked not once but twice – the first time with a hunk of wood that looks like what Ishmael clung to at the end of Moby Dick and the second time by being impaled on a big metal cross. The film ends with Dracula struggling to pull this thing out of his back while blood rolls out of his eyes… I think that beats Bonnie and Clyde’s “ballet of violence” all to hell. I wasn’t one of the lucky kids permitted by dint of adult inattention to see a matinee of Night of the Living Dead (1968)2 but I was there for Paramount’s Chuka (1967), a western of exquisite sadism in which everyone dies3 – Ernest Borgnine, John Mills, The Mod Squad’s dreamy Michael Cole (shot in the face) and even hero Rod Taylor. Rod Taylor! Thank God my mother was playing tennis that Saturday.

I’m sure adults weaned on a diet of Rock Hudson and Doris Day comedies and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and Clambake (1967) probably were, in their own way, traumatized by the violence of Bonnie and Clyde. I suppose it was a rite of passage for them, the rounding of a corner. Things had changed. The movies weren’t safe for adults anymore… but we children knew the score, we’d seen it all by then and at half price. While their parents squinted at the violent world through trembling fingers, the kids4 were all right.

Notes:

  1. Okay, since when did 40 years become an anniversary to celebrate? To my way of thinking, celebrations jump from Silver (25 years) to Gold (50 years) and everything in between is forgotten as if it never happened.
  2. Ebert’s Chicago Sun Times review (later reprinted in Readers Digest) chronicled his dismay at seeing Night of the Living Dead booked into a Chicago cinema and shown to kids. For forty years, Ebert has been erroneously knocked for condemning the film when in reality he was merely speaking out against the negligence of the adults who booked the movie without knowing what they were showing to children. Ebert admired Night and was one of the first major critics to get behind George Romero's 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead.
  3. I half suspect Chuka was, along with Invisible Invaders (1959), Carnival of Souls (1962) and The Last Man on Earth (1964), a partial influence on Night of the Living Dead.
  4. The kids being, of course, the youthful likes of Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Leigh Wannell and many other future boosters of what has been stamped (with starchy Crowtherian disdain) "torture porn" by the generation who thought Bonnie and Clyde the solution to the problem.
10 Responses After the Blood Rush
Posted By Todd : August 14, 2007 6:08 pm

CHUKA makes me wanna puu-ka! Actually I really want to see it now but wouldn't have probably liked it as a 6 year old at the theatre. And what a cast!

Posted By Todd : August 14, 2007 6:08 pm

CHUKA makes me wanna puu-ka! Actually I really want to see it now but wouldn't have probably liked it as a 6 year old at the theatre. And what a cast!

Posted By Medusa : August 15, 2007 10:29 am

Yeah, leave it to sheltered adults to freak out at the least provocation.  Heck, in addition to being self-raised on monster movies, as a newly-minted teenager I saw Bonnie and Clyde multiple times at the movie theater, and wasn't shocked at all, not by the conventional gunplay.  I loved everything about the movie.  Far more than the ending, what affected me — but of course in a good way, in a philosophical way — was the terrifying scene when Buck Barrow lies dying in the field, mortally wounded in the head (gosh, is there anything more awful than that?), moaning horribly, and those cops won't let Blanche go to him.  Those lawmen holding her back while she screams to be allowed to comfort her dying husband…now that was what got to me.  And I'm glad it did.I'm no fan, particularly, of the current torture porn, just because these old eyes just don't want to see pain inflicted, really, on anything or anybody anymore.  But I doubt it will send anyone astray who isn't already headed that way.  (They should check guys for hard-ons when they leave the theater after one of those movies.  If they're getting off on it, you better keep your pets and kids far away.  Those are the future psychokillers.)But I digress.  Great article, RHS, as always.

Posted By Medusa : August 15, 2007 10:29 am

Yeah, leave it to sheltered adults to freak out at the least provocation.  Heck, in addition to being self-raised on monster movies, as a newly-minted teenager I saw Bonnie and Clyde multiple times at the movie theater, and wasn't shocked at all, not by the conventional gunplay.  I loved everything about the movie.  Far more than the ending, what affected me — but of course in a good way, in a philosophical way — was the terrifying scene when Buck Barrow lies dying in the field, mortally wounded in the head (gosh, is there anything more awful than that?), moaning horribly, and those cops won't let Blanche go to him.  Those lawmen holding her back while she screams to be allowed to comfort her dying husband…now that was what got to me.  And I'm glad it did.I'm no fan, particularly, of the current torture porn, just because these old eyes just don't want to see pain inflicted, really, on anything or anybody anymore.  But I doubt it will send anyone astray who isn't already headed that way.  (They should check guys for hard-ons when they leave the theater after one of those movies.  If they're getting off on it, you better keep your pets and kids far away.  Those are the future psychokillers.)But I digress.  Great article, RHS, as always.

Posted By RHS : August 15, 2007 10:49 am

<i>They should check guys for hard-ons when they leave the theater</i>I would, if it weren't for that darn restraining order! 

Posted By RHS : August 15, 2007 10:49 am

<i>They should check guys for hard-ons when they leave the theater</i>I would, if it weren't for that darn restraining order! 

Posted By Chris : August 15, 2007 2:02 pm

Wow. The blog and comments are taking a hard turn. While poking at the white underbelly, you harden up in such a strong resonse—well, I was taken aback. But I do agree the a lot of films preceded the "shocking ending" of B&C and maybe even outdid it, while today, the new shock-meisters take themselves and a few sundry others to new lows. Each trying to out-do the other. Like the critics, no-one wants to be passe, or, as in slasher movies, not on the cutting edge. ouch.And when Rob zombie was hosting the TCM Underground I was underwhelmed at the presentation, and choices. And as for his own movies, even the teens think they are pointlessly over-the-top. And they usually like the gore.Very interesting blog. Could use a sequel.

Posted By Chris : August 15, 2007 2:02 pm

Wow. The blog and comments are taking a hard turn. While poking at the white underbelly, you harden up in such a strong resonse—well, I was taken aback. But I do agree the a lot of films preceded the "shocking ending" of B&C and maybe even outdid it, while today, the new shock-meisters take themselves and a few sundry others to new lows. Each trying to out-do the other. Like the critics, no-one wants to be passe, or, as in slasher movies, not on the cutting edge. ouch.And when Rob zombie was hosting the TCM Underground I was underwhelmed at the presentation, and choices. And as for his own movies, even the teens think they are pointlessly over-the-top. And they usually like the gore.Very interesting blog. Could use a sequel.

Posted By Stoogey : August 20, 2007 3:24 pm

Good to see that I'm not the only one who thought that gunshot ending went on forever.  I saw Bonnie & Clyde as a 90's teenager, and the violence didn't shock me, either… in fact, I couldn't understand why the film was so revered.  Maybe it's been imitated to death, but B&C has aged poorly (just like another 40 year-old film, The Graduate).  For my money, the one '67 film that really stands the test of time is In the Heat of the Night.

Posted By Stoogey : August 20, 2007 3:24 pm

Good to see that I'm not the only one who thought that gunshot ending went on forever.  I saw Bonnie & Clyde as a 90's teenager, and the violence didn't shock me, either… in fact, I couldn't understand why the film was so revered.  Maybe it's been imitated to death, but B&C has aged poorly (just like another 40 year-old film, The Graduate).  For my money, the one '67 film that really stands the test of time is In the Heat of the Night.

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