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Bonnie and Clyde back in theaters to celebrate 50th birthday

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), one of the most popular and controversial films of its time – if not all time. The fact-based saga of Depression-era bank robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker made instant superstars of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the title roles. The film also provided major career boosts to co-stars Michael J. Pollard, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder (in his screen debut) and, perhaps most importantly – at least to this movie maven – Gene Hackman (who had just been fired from playing Mr. Robinson in The Graduate).

To commemorate this event, Fathom Events and the TCM Big Screen Classics Series will be presenting Bonnie and Clyde back on the silver screen, exactly 50 years to the day on Aug. 13 when the film opened. Of the 700 cinemas nationwide hosting the event, two are right here in the Triad: The Cinemark Brassfield Cinema 10 located at 2101 New Garden Road, Greensboro and the Regal Greensboro Grande Stadium 16 located at 3205 Northline Ave., Greensboro. There will be two screenings at each theater Sunday, followed by encore screenings Wednesday.

“They’re young … they’re in love … and they kill people.”

That was the tag line for the film’s poster, and it was certainly accurate. Bonnie and Clyde was Beatty’s baby all the way. Determined to call the shots and control his own career, he set out to produce the film, supervise casting and hire director Arthur Penn (with whom he worked on the 1965 film Mickey One), and hone the screenplay by then-novices Robert Benton and David Newman.

Beatty was able to convince Jack Warner to bankroll the film – something Warner had almost zero interest in doing. After an initial, unsuccessful theatrical run, Beatty lobbied the studio relentlessly to re-release the film on a wider platform. The result was instantaneous. Bonnie and Clyde was a smash, a period piece that also captured the zeitgeist of mid-’60s rebellion, social unrest and violence. For a time, the film ranked in the top 20 box-office hits of all time. It even set off a retro ‘30s fashion trend.

Critical reaction to the film was fiercely divided. Some critics called the film a masterpiece, a landmark that set new standards in screen violence and intensity. Others, including Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, were vehemently dismissive. Crowther would soon leave his position as the Times’ top film critic, and many have speculated it was his disdain of Bonnie and Clyde that hastened his departure. In the ensuing years, however, critical consensus regarding the film would be overwhelmingly positive, with many critics considering it among the greatest American films of its time. (Just ask Dale Pollock, professor at the UNCSA School of Filmmaking; he considers Bonnie and Clyde his favorite film.)

The film would receive 10 Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (both Hackman and Pollard), Best Original Screenplay and Best Costume Design, with Oscar wins for Parsons as Best Supporting Actress and for Burnett Guffey’s cinematography. The latter was something of a surprise win, because Guffey did not enjoy working on the film and fell ill during the later stages of production. (That didn’t stop him, however, from accepting the award!)

TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz will offer insights and observations about the film before and after each screening. Although Bonnie and Clyde was released before the Motion Picture Association of America had established its ratings system, a very persuasive argument could be made that the success of the film was a major impetus for for the ratings system, which was instituted a year later. As a result, Bonnie and Clyde is rated R for violence, profanity and sexual situations.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.  © 2017, Mark Burger.

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