'Bonnie and Clyde' Needlessly Attacked by Hypocritical Times Critic

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
August 24, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 45

Films
By Andrew Sarris

...Arthur Penn's "BONNIE AND CLYDE" (at the Forum and Murray Hill) has been the subject of a [New York Times' critic Bosley] Crowther crusade that makes the 100-Years-War look like a border incident. To use the pages of the New York Times for a personal vendetta against a director and actor one doesn't like is questionable enough. To incite the lurking forces of censorship and repression with inflammatory diatribes against violence on the screen is downright mischievous. Particularly at a time when too many bigots see a golden opportunity to lash back at the Negro with the fake rhetoric of law and order. Besides, isn't it a bit late for the Times critic to bemoan movie violence after smilingly benignly at the brutalities of James Bond for the past four years?

As Larry Merchant and Pete Hamill of the Post have observed of the recent Ortiz-Laguna riot-free bout at Shea Stadium, the biggest menaces to law and order were not the Puerto Rican and Panamanian fight fans, but the hysterical sports columnists who kept warning about violence at ringside as if to bring it into being through sheer suggestion.

Violence for Crowther is now some kind of moral issue. As Nichols and May once remarked in a skit, a moral issue is always more fun than a real issue. Even if all the movie screens in New York were restricted to revivals of "Mary Poppins," it is doubtful that the city's eight million rats would disappear of their own accord. Still, it is much easier (and cheaper) to imply that there is some link between violent movies and violence in the streets than to eradicate the slums.

The late Jimmy Walker showed more common sense when he observed that no girl ever got into trouble reading a book. Similarly, the most depraved movie ever made is a relatively restraining influence as far as actual physical violence is concerned. Cain was clobbering Abel long before even the first knock-down-drag-out fight in "The Spoilers," there were gangsters on the streets years before "Scarface." Actually, the early talkies exploited gangster films as much for their noise as for their violence. At least a footnote to film aesthetics should be devoted to the sensuousness of noise, particularly the noise of guns and cars.

"Bonnie and Clyde," is nothing if not sensuous about violence. Perhaps lyrical would be closer to the mark. Arthur Penn was trying for nothing less than folk tragedy in this saga of a gun-happy couple in the '30s. I thought the subject was handled more movingly some years ago in an obscure movie called "Gun Crazy" (directed by Joseph H. Lewis). The trouble with "Bonnie and Clyde" is that it oscillates between the distancing of period legend and the close-ups of contemporary psychology.

Penn is characteristically good with the scenes calling for physical exuberance and sustained hysteria as in the best moments of "The Left Handed Gun" and "The Miracle Worker." Warren Beatty has shaken off his nervous ticks and ponderous longeurs to give the most forceful performance of his career but Faye Dunaway seems as mannered as ever. I never managed to accept her as a '30s woman. There was something too knowing in her smile, something too self-aware in her swagger. Beatty, by contrast, never seemed to know the final score. Unfortunately, Penn's form, too much a thing of parts, is closer to pathos than to tragedy, and half-baked pathos at that. Still, much of the film is so strikingly original, so unexpectedly funny and endearing that the slanders in the Times emerge as exercises in dull spite...

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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