Bonnie and Clyde: 5 Movies That Influenced the Groundbreaking Hollywood Classic

Bonnie and Clyde premiered at the Montreal Film Festival on August 4, 1967 before opening in New York on August 13.

Critic Roger Ebert stated in his contemporary review of Bonnie and Clyde (1967): “This is clearly the best American film of the year. It’s also a landmark. Years from now, it is very likely that Bonnie and Clyde will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s.. Fifty years later, at least in terms of American cinema, Ebert’s visionary comment still seems valid.

Based on the real-life story of Depression-era outlaws, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, from a script by two young Esquire magazine employees (David Newman and Robert Benton), the film seemed to be the starting gun in the so-called new American cinema, hastening the demise of the regime. The already declining studio opened the doors to a director-led Hollywood cinema in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the era of the Vietnam War, civil rights protests and the power of flowers, Bonnie and Clyde resonated with a disappointed young audience ready for something new, American cinema talking about a radical, non-conformist generation.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde’s depicted violence, outspoken recognition of female sexuality and a morally ambiguous attitude toward her charming outside criminals—the diabolically handsome Warren Beatty and the frustrated and liberated Faye Dunaway—all contributed to a film that helped topple the production code. But perhaps its most significant legacy has been the innovative marriage of traditional European and American filmmaking styles, while utilizing the best of both worlds to create a more sophisticated and complex approach to specifically American themes.

Watching the film today, director Arthur Bain’s conscious and astounding sense of cinematic style remains impressive. From the opening credits, depicting period images accompanied by the sound of camera clicks suggestive of gunshots, right up to the film’s bold original setting, using windows, glass, and mirrors as recurring visual motifs, Bonnie and Clyde constantly experiment with cinematic instruments, a clear echo of movements like the French New Wave. The shocking jumps in tone and confusion of literary genres have been largely invisible in mainstream Hollywood, and it’s no surprise that they divided critics. Indeed, Bonnie and Clyde put a bullet in the belly of Old Guard movie criticism, as Pauline Kyle’s 9,000-word New Yorker proved to be an influential new voice.

Obviously, Ben’s movie touched a chord. Together with other pioneers such as The Graduate (1967) and Easy Rider (1969), he would change the face of the American film industry. But what were her cinematic predecessors? How did we get to that point where a Hollywood movie might help destroy the system it (reluctantly) allowed to create? Here are five movies that offer some clues.

Scarface (1932)

Scarface (1932)

A film that transcended the boundaries of violence and sexuality was nothing new. In 1932, Howard Hawks-directed Scarface wrestles with Hayes’ office over his perceived fascination with Chicago smuggler Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte (Paul Mooney), based on gangster Al Capone. With Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (both 1931) already ramping up the body count, Scarface once again upped the ante, depicting a brutal machine gun shooting of rival gang members in a scene based on the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, fantastically captured using silhouettes. . But its impact has gone beyond challenging the boundaries of screen violence. Similarities to Bonnie and Clyde include breaking sexual taboos (incest in Scarface, impotence in the Pennsylvania film), 1930s-era crooks using cars, guns, and sharp-clothed costumes, as well as suggesting weapons that produce female arousal.

Crazy (1950)

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Crazy (1950)

In 1964, François Truffaut arranged a screening of Joseph H. Louis’ cult classics for Bonnie and Clyde screenwriters, Newman and Benton, whom they hoped the Frenchman would direct their screenplay. Lewis delivers distinct visual flair in his version of criminal lovers on the go, with tight close-ups, stunning framing, and creative long shots – and it’s notoriously a three-and-a-half-minute bank robbery series apparently filmed from the back seat of a car. Jean-Luc Godard, also considered to be Bonnie and Clyde’s directing duties, was a popular fan, and Gun Crazy heavily influenced his debut Breathless (1960). To complete the fan list, Arthur Penn would put Faye Dunaway in a hat in honor of Crazy bad girl Annie (Peggy Cummins).

Seven Samurai (1954)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai (1954)
© Toho Co., Ltd.

Perhaps best known for his influence on films such as The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Star Wars (1977), Akira Kurosawa’s epic adventure of seven samurai saviors of farmers has proven to be an unlikely inspiration for Arthur Penn’s most famous scene: the disturbing violent ambush. Bonnie and Clyde. Ben liked Kurosawa’s use of slow motion in violent death scenes, but felt that in his movie he wanted to “change the pace and then have some kind of worn score through the cut.” The result is a brutal assassination that lasted about a minute and brought more than 50 shots together – a spectacle of profound strength designed to make audiences experience the true brutality of violence and leave viewers in shock.

breathless (1960)

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

breathless (1960)

Stylistically, Breathless was pleased to flip through filmmaking traditions and experiment with new techniques (jumping stories, the freedom to work on location by hand, and fast and relaxed gameplay with genre and tone lore). But aside from its aesthetic impact, Breathless also felt modern, lively, and youthful rebellion. Her attitude, exemplified in the carelessly gentle presence of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Lucky Strike-smoking hustler, and fortified-haired Jean Seberg and a free-spirited soul, appealed to a generation increasingly at odds with their conservative elders. Penn took style and demeanor advice from Godard’s noir-influenced romance, explicitly citing debt in a number of scenes, most notably Clyde’s wearing sunglasses with one missing lens Belmondo-style.

Shoot The Pianist (1960) / Jules et Jim (1962)

Director: Francois Truffaut

Shooting The Pianist (1960)

Bonnie and Clyde can be seen as an amalgamation of the Truffaut films of the early 1960s, combining rapid color shifts from clown to gangster violence of Shoot the Pianist – complete with jarring and impulsive musical interludes – and the camaraderie and doomed romance, the bleak and nostalgic mood of a love triangle Famous for Jules and Jim. Writer Benton was so impressed with the latter that he saw him 12 times – and although Truffaut was not persuaded to direct, he made a number of suggestions for Bonnie and Clyde’s final script. It seems fitting that it complements The New Wave, heavily influenced by classic American crime plays—Godard even named Scarface the best American soundtrack—and help inspire bold, complex, and exhilarating new American cinema.

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