Blanche Barrow was not a fan of “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Estelle Parsons may have won an Oscar for portraying her in Arthur Penn’s 1967 film, but the real Blanche, Clyde Barrow’s sister-in-law, later complained: “That movie made me look like a screaming horse’s ass.”
To be fair, it kind of does, positioning her character mostly as a foil to Bonnie, and as a buzz-kill who panics at the worst possible moment.
But Google up Blanche’s actual mugshot from the summer of 1933: Exhausted but stubborn, her narrowed eyes peer out from beside police notes: “5’ 1,” 81 #, 22 yrs... murder fugitive.” This is not the Blanche we get in the film.
“Bonnie and Clyde,” however, was never aiming to tell a straight biography.
Even before they finished its script, screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman knew they wanted to infuse a standard American caper with two distinct ingredients: Bluegrass music, and the jumpy, meta energy of French New Wave films, specifically “Breathless” and “Shoot the Piano Player.”
The result was Francois-Truffaut-meets-Flatt-and-Scruggs, and in the increasingly heady summer of ’67, its young outlaws became a sensation. “Bonnie” and “The Graduate,” from later that year, are often seen as the first studio films through the door into the gritty, golden era of ’70s cinema. “Bonnie” inspired so many tropes that, today, it’s actually marginalized a bit by the breadth of its influence.
Its cast is its trump card: Faye Dunaway vaulted to stardom before her first scene ended. Gene Hackman, still in his 30s, was a mere four years from “The French Connection.” Gene Wilder pops up for a sequence that’s like a perfect short story. And although Warren Beatty hadn’t yet figured out how to channel his full charisma into a performance (his teeth do way too much of the acting here) it was his clout and taste and hustle that pulled everything together behind the scenes and got “Bonnie” safely past Warner Bros., which early on liked the movie about as much as Blanche Barrow did.
By the time “Bonnie” became a blockbuster Best Picture nominee, however, the studio had come around.
”Bonnie and Clyde” screens Saturday at 10 a.m. as part of The Grandin Theatre’s free Classic Film Series. For more information: grandintheatre.com.