Feb 062014
 

Bonnie and Clyde MiniseriesA & E, 2013, 240 minutes
Cast: Holliday Grainger, Emile Hirsch, Lane Garrison, Sarah Hyland, Austin Hebert, Elisabeth Reaser, Desmond Phillips, Garrett Kruihof, Holly Hunter and William Hurt
Screenplay: John Rice and Joe Batteer
Producer: David A. Rosemont
Executive Producer: Neil Meron and Craig Zadan
Director: Bruce Beresford

Historical Background

Bonnie Parker (October 1, 1910-May 23, 1934) and Clyde Barrow (March 24, 1909-May 23, 1934) were outlaws during the Public Enemies Era (1933-1935). Bonnie and Clyde were poor, young people with little hope for the future when they met in Dallas, Texas in January 1930. Clyde was arrested shortly after, which would have ended most relationships but Bonnie’s love was true. Despite a brutal experience in prison, Clyde hated the drudgery of honest work, so he returned to a life of crime, bringing Bonnie with him. After a drunken encounter with police officers at a dance resulted in a dead deputy on August 5, 1932, surrender was no longer an option for Clyde because he would get the electric chair. Recently released from prison, his elder brother Buck met Clyde, Bonnie and new recruit, 16-year-old W.O. Jones, hoping to persuade Clyde to surrender, but the vacation ended on April 13, 1933 when two police officers died in a shootout, and Buck and his fiance Blanche found themselves part of the gang.

bonnie & clyde posingThe gang became national celebrities after pictures of them posing with guns were found in their abandoned apartment. Several months later, Buck was severely wounded in another shootout with police, and died of his wounds shortly after a posse discovered the gang’s campsite. Hoping to gain more members for the gang, Clyde helped several prisoners break out of Eastham Prison Farm on January 16, 1934. Angered by the attack, the warden persuaded the governor of Texas to hire former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to hunt down the gang. Betrayed by gang member Henry Methvin in exchange for a pardon, Bonnie and Clyde were lured into an ambush where they were killed on May 23, 1934.

Plot Summary

Clyde's vision of Bonnie

Clyde’s vision of Bonnie

Seriously ill as a child, Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch) recovers but starts seeing visions of Bonnie Parker (Holliday Grainger), even though they had never met. Tired of scraping out a living, he starts robbing stores with his older brother Buck (Lane Garrison). Once he has stolen enough money to buy a sharp suit, he introduces himself and asks Bonnie out. Arrested during a police raid on a speakeasy, Clyde is thrown in jail but Bonnie smuggles him a gun, and he escapes. After robbing a bank together, Clyde brings in Henry Methvin (Garrett Kruihof) because he does not want to involve Bonnie in crime. Unfortunately, they are arrested, and he is sentenced to fourteen years in Eastham Prison Farm, where life is brutal.

Paroled, he returns to a life of crime, encouraged by Bonnie, who has little interest in domestic tranquillity. Needing an extra man, they break Raymond Hamilton (Desmond Phillips) out of Eastham, so the warden hires famous former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (William Hurt) and Dallas Deputy Ted Hinton (Austin Hebert) to hunt them down. Hamilton is soon kicked out of the gang for hitting on Bonnie, so Clyde recruits Buck, who is tired of living with his fiancee Blanche (Sarah Hyland) and her father. Seeking favorable press, Bonnie contacts reporter P. J. Lane (Elizabeth Reaser), and agrees to send her scoops. They start robbing banks, lots of banks. However, Hamer is relentless, and eventually finds the gang, capturing badly wounded Buck and Blanche. The couple hides out at the Methvin farm, but Methvin’s father has already contacted Hamer, seeking a pardon for his son.

Historical Accuracy

The miniseries is boring and inaccurate. The visions…we are not going to talk about the visions. Aside from the silly visions, the key problems are: Bonnie is the mastermind behind the Barrow Gang; they are skilled bank robbers, not experts at holding up gas stations; and the order of events is scrambled beyond recognition.

It’s all about Bonnie.

Clyde SaxophoneThe initial meeting between Clyde and Bonnie has been dramatized. The screen Clyde first sees Bonnie when he crashes her wedding, and he even catches the garter. Learning that she has finally tired of her husband, he simply shows up and asks her out. Their first date is an evening at a speakeasy, where he literally sweeps her off her feet. Actually, Clyde was completely unaware of Bonnie’s existence until they were introduced by a mutual friend. The scene in the speakeasy is fun, but while Clyde did play the saxophone, he did not play with bands in a speakeasy, and the real man was less flashy. However, they did fall in love really fast, and a little glamor is never a bad thing.

Bonnie snarlingBonnie is portrayed as the instigator and a thrill freak even though she was basically an accomplice. When Clyde is first arrested, she decides to smuggle him a gun, so he can escape. Bonnie helps plan their first big job, but he brings in Henry Methvin, and leaves her behind, so they are arrested because they did not have her as a lookout. When they do rob their first bank together, Bonnie snarls “Don’t mess with Bonnie and Clyde,” which angers Clyde, not because he thinks it is unwise to introduce yourself while committing a crime, but because he is a male chauvinist pig, and thinks it should be Clyde and Bonnie. To be fair, Bonnie and Clyde does sound better.

Whether this switch was in the original script or Holiday Grainger pushed for a more aggressive role for her character is unknown. It does lack any historical basis. While it is true that women’s options in society were still limited at the time, and male newspaper editors might have refused to accept that Bonnie was an equal partner in the gang, none of the surviving members of the gang ever claimed that she took part in the robberies, none of the witnesses ever stated that they saw Bonnie participate in a robbery, and none of the family members ever said that she had helped rob banks. If it is part of a male-dominated conspiracy to deprive Bonnie of an equal role in the gang’s exploits, it is a damn good one.

As part of the increased focus on Bonnie, Ted Hinton is a failed suitor of Bonnie, and a key subplot is his refusal to believe that she is really a criminal and murderer. The real Hinton knew the Barrows because the Dallas police were always picking up Clyde and Buck on suspicion, but he never met Bonnie until he was staring down the barrel of a rifle at her during the ambush.

Bonnie TestifyingAfter a botched bank robbery early in their criminal career, Bonnie surrenders to the police to let Clyde escape, knowing that she will be able to talk her way out of prison. She teases the all-male jury with lurid stories of bondage. It is true that Bonnie avoided a lengthy prison term by claiming that she had been kidnapped by Clyde, but the tantalizing testimony is an exaggeration, although entertaining.

Bonnie and Clyde can’t be the scourge of gas stations and grocery stores, they have to be bank robbers.

The portrayal of the couple as bank robbers is understandable since robbing banks is far more thrilling than robbing grocery stores and gas stations. People struggling to make a living in cities or communities far from the areas robbed by the gang would sympathize with outlaws who were fighting back against the banks that had foreclosed on so many, and the police, who enforced the banks’ orders. Since the deposits were insured, the only consequence was a rise in the insurance rates, so it could be claimed to be a victimless crime. Grocery stores and gas stations were owned by ordinary people who probably did not have insurance and were just trying to get by during the Depression. Definitely not victimless crimes, therefore Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed as bank robbers, even though the real couple robbed very few banks. Most of their robberies were small-scale: filling stations, groceries or pharmacies.

I had thought that the extra time would let the screenwriters introduce more characters, instead the time is spent showing Clyde dreaming of Bonnie performing as a ballerina for an audience composed of him.
Ralph Fults

Ralph Fults

During the course of their relatively brief criminal career, the real Bonnie and Clyde worked with quite a few criminals, but the only a handful are presented, and most are shown as incompetent, causing more trouble than they are worth.

While robbing a store at Hillsboro, their new partner, Ralph Fults, accidentally shoots the grocer, John Boucher. Their first killing, it drives poor Bonnie to start drinking, since she only wanted to steal people’s money, she did not want to hurt anyone. It is unknown whether Clyde or one of his two partners killed Boucher, and the fictional version is plausible. However, Fults was not involved and Bonnie was still in prison when the shooting took place.

EasthamRealizing that they need a third person to rob banks, the couple break Raymond Hamilton out of Eastham Farm, Clyde’s alma mater. The real breakout was considerably larger. Bonnie and Clyde, along with Hamilton’s friend James Mullen, helped Raymond Hamilton, and several other prisoners escape from Eastham Farm in January 1934. Originally, only Hamilton and his friend Joe Palmer were supposed to be freed, but two more prisoners, Henry Methvin and Hilton Baybee, invited themselves along. Palmer and Baybee are written out of the script, and Methvin is only brought in for a job at the beginning.

The removal of Palmer, Baybee and Clyde’s partners before Fults are not critical, but the absence of W.D. Jones is a major error. Jones, a sixteen-year-old, who had hero-worshipped Clyde as a child, was a member of the gang from the fall of 1932 to November 1933, so he took part in most of the major events. Apparently, Jones was not as important as numerous scenes of Bonnie performing ballet for Clyde. Ballerina

It is not a big deal to show that Raymond Hamilton was kicked out of the gang for making one move too many on Bonnie, even though it is unlikely that Hamilton hit on Bonnie, since his girlfriend was travelling with them. The real Hamilton left the gang because he wanted to rob banks and Clyde wanted to stick to gas stations, since there was far less risk. Arrested, the fictional Hamilton reveals that Clyde loves Ford V8s and keeps a stack of licence plates, which is true. The genuine Clyde had realized that it was easier to change licence plates than steal new cars, and then transfer all of their possessions, including guns and ammunition, from one car to another, hoping that no one noticed the mini-arsenal. Unfortunately, the screenwriters did not keep Hamilton’s comment when he was arrested: “I’m Raymond Hamilton and I don’t intend to give you any trouble. I’m just fresh out of ammunition, money, whiskey and women. Let’s go to jail.”

While it is possible, if unlikely, that Bonnie was the driving force in the gang, the movie has made major changes to the historical record, changes that are so stupid that…words fail me. At least words that are not profanity.

Bonnie and Clyde posingOffended that the newspapers are publishing unappealing mugshots of them, a demented, glory-hungry Bonnie arranges for Hamilton to take pictures of the two of them dressed up, and the pictures are then mailed to reporter P.J. Lane. F**k me. The pictures in the movie are modelled exactly on real pictures found after Buck joined the gang. Yes, the genuine outlaws had passed the time taking pictures of themselves posing with their guns, but the pictures were meant for themselves. The absolute last thing that the real Bonnie and Clyde had wanted was for their holiday snapshots to be published. Previously, they had only been known in Texas and parts of Oklahoma, but the capture of their possessions made them national celebrities, since newspapers were hungry for stories that would sell papers. Pictures of bank robbers, including a scandalous photo of Bonnie posing with a cigar between her lips in a time where women were supposed to smoke discreetly, proved popular, especially since the young couple were not married but obviously slept together, thus adding the allure of illicit sex to their story. The reality was less glamourous. The notoriety made it impossible to stay in motor courts, instead they camped by the road and bathed in streams with someone constantly on guard.

P. J. Lane

P. J. Lane

While newspaper editors sensationalized the stories to sell papers, P.J. Lane is a fictional character, and the outlaws did not have a direct connection with any reporter.

The script scrambles the order of events beyond recognition.

In the movie, Bonnie and Clyde break Hamilton out of prison, but after robbing a single bank together, the couple suggest that he seek new employment opportunities. Bonnie convinces Clyde to recruit his brother Buck, who remains with the gang until he is captured; Bonnie is badly injured in a car crash immediately after Buck’s capture; and they are ambushed relatively soon after, which makes a nice, tidy, little narrative: Bonnie forces Clyde to keep robbing banks, so she is responsible for the death of his brother. Except that the narrative is a Bizarro-world version of the real record.

Buck and Blanche

Buck and Blanche

Buck and his fiancee Blanche were only with the gang for the relatively brief period of three months, but Buck’s role is expanded to show that Bonnie caused his death. Recently released from prison, the real Buck met Clyde, Bonnie and new recruit, 16-year-old W.O. Jones, hoping to persuade Clyde to surrender, but the vacation ended on April 13, 1933 when police officers arrived because the neighbors were suspicious about the number of guns in the apartment. While it is not clear if Buck had met Clyde to reform him or to join him, it was a moot point after that. They escaped, leaving two families without breadwinners, but the police found their possessions, including Bonnie’s poetry and pictures, and Buck’s pardon.

In the movie’s warped version of events, Buck happily leaves his home to join the gang, and they rob several banks, leaving a trail of dead law officers behind them. After tracking them to a motor court, Hamer learns that the outlaws have gone for the day and sets a trap. Returning to the motor court, Clyde is warned by his sixth sense (visions and psychic powers…sigh), so he drives away, abandoning their possessions, leaving a frustrated Hamer to shoot up their bed. Sometimes a man has to let it out even if it’s not as satisfying as the real thing.

Hamer orderingWhile Hamer’s repeated frustration at dealing with glory-hungry small-town sheriffs who screw up his carefully laid traps is entertaining, the real man spent his time following the outlaws’ route to get a feel for their habits. Lacking any official authority, he forged relations with numerous small-town sheriffs, exchanging information and building contacts. Most important, he refused any publicity, hoping that the outlaws would relax their guard if they did not know that they were being hunted. The script is unkind to the small-town sheriffs, most of whom were badly paid and barely trained but risked their lives to capture the outlaws. In the movie, Hamer orchestrates the hunt for the outlaws, which takes away the credit from the small-town sheriffs who actually did the hard work and paid with their lives far too often.

It would be natural to think that the strangest part of the movie was Bonnie’s decision to send photos to the reporter, but the ending tops everything, which is saying a lot. Clyde deliberately drives into the ambush because he realizes that there is no future for them, and at least Bonnie will have the big end she always wanted.

Bonnie crazyThe outlaw couple finds safety at the Methvin farm in Louisiana, but Clyde overhears Methvin’s father selling them out for the reward and a pardon for his son, so they leave. However, an incident makes Clyde realize that there will never be a happy ending for him and Bonnie. After a visit with Clyde’s family, they kill two motorcycle cops who were performing a routine check. Bonnie finishes one off and has clearly lost what little sanity she had, especially since she is taking painkillers to cope with injuries received during a horrible car crash. The crash had taken place but their only painkiller was alcohol. The traumatic experience is based on an actual incident. While the outlaws were waiting to meet their families for Easter, two motorcycle policemen attempted to perform a routine search, and were killed, although Clyde later said that he had only meant to capture them, but Methvin had panicked, misinterpreting his words “Let’s take them” to mean kill them. An eyewitness claimed to have seen Bonnie execute one of the wounded cops, even though other testimony contradicted it, but any chance of Bonnie simply receiving a prison sentence had evaporated.

carDespite the sexual raciness, it is sanitized. When the truck towing the car after the ambush stops in front of a school, kids crowd around and are shocked by the sight of the dead bodies. The reality was considerably more morbid. Every time the truck towing the car with the bodies stopped, people, including schoolchildren, swarmed over it to rip away parts of Bonnie’s dress and upholstery, or to place their hands in the blood, which is just a little sick, but true.

Comments

I hate, hate, hate predestination crap. Clyde’s premonitions are really weird, pointless and a waste of time.

After starring in the abysmal The Borgias, it is clear that Holiday Grainger has the crap touch, but she has a great role as a psycho in her future.

Frank Hamer

Frank Hamer

William Hurt had fun as Hamer, more fun than I did watching the miniseries. The best line in the movie occurs when Hamer admits to Hinton that he gave up his high-paying job for the valuable memorabilia, but mainly because there is no better feeling than putting a bullet in the brain of somebody you, God and any half-decent person knows needs a bullet put in them.

It definitely is more Lifetime than History. People were paid to write this???? Wow, they really threw out the facts. It is actually worse than the 1967 version with Warren Beatty, and I hate that movie. It is even more inaccurate, and the 1967 movie was at least enjoyable. The writers, John Rice and Joe Batteer, also wrote the screenplay for Windtalkers (2002), accomplishing the feat of making a boring John Woo film.

The happiest moment in the movie was when the lawmen fill the car with bullets because it is almost over. Yay.

Unbelievable crap. Nothing else to say.

  • the war movie buff

    If you would have led off with it was written by the same dudes who wrote “Windtalkers”, you could have saved a lot of typing. Seriously, excellent review and now I don’t feel bad about not watching it.

    • historyonfilm

      I should have titled the review: save yourselves, don’t watch it. Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed the review. I wrote a lot because the miniseries irritated me so much and I had to get it out. I had hoped it would be like Hatfields and McCoys, but it wasn’t.