Bonnie and Clyde on Arte: how this gangster movie revolutionized Hollywood

Bonnie and Clyde on Arte: how this gangster movie revolutionized Hollywood

The cult film Bonnie and Clyde is broadcast on Arte, the opportunity to focus on the exciting production of this New Hollywood film.

In 1967, Bonnie and Clyde landed in the cinema and marked the beginning of a revolution on the big screen. Violent and without concessions, the work signs the birth certificate of New Hollywood.

The story takes us to the United States in the 1930s. It is the Great Depression, following the stock market crash of 1929. A couple of criminal lovers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, crisscross the country robbing banks.

Soon America is just talking about these inexperienced outlaws. Some admire them. Others are horrified. Anyway, pursued by the police, they will soon have to face their fate.


In the mid-1960s, François Truffaut met Warren Beatty in Paris and told him about a screenplay by Bonnie and Clyde, written by Robert Benton and David Newman.

“Even more than their career as bank robbers, quite mediocre in fact, what touched us about Bonnie and Clyde was their aesthetic of the revolution.“, confide the authors in New Hollywood by Peter Biskind.

Benton and Newman being big admirers of Truffaut, they sent him the screenplay, hoping that the Frenchman would direct the film. Unfortunately, the latter is overwhelmed with projects and has absolutely no time to devote to it.

The director of Jules and Jim suggests that Warren Beatty call the authors to have him read the script. Very excited, the actor is then in full search of a role which would take a turning point in his career.


Despite the violence and the sulphurous side of the story, notably evoking a threesome, Warren Beatty rushes headlong and wants to turn it! However, he will change his mind about the realization, preferring to entrust it to his accomplice Arthur Penn, with whom he has already collaborated on Mickey One.

At the time, the director of The Merciless Pursuit was in disgrace in Hollywood and lives “almost as a recluse”, says Peter Biskind in New Hollywood. However, Beatty trusts him and the director accepts his offer.

Warren Beatty, extremely motivated by this project, harasses Warner to produce the film. The studio then negotiates a deal that seems acceptable to them:

“Beatty claimed only $ 200,000 initially but a very large final percentage, 40% on the gross margin. In return, it was understood that Beatty would not receive anything until the film had brought in 3 times its negative cost (cost of a film of its development at the end of post-production) “, explains Peter Biskind.

Absolutely not expecting the success of Bonnie and Clyde, Warner will obviously bite his fingers to have concluded this agreement, which will prove to be miraculous for Warren Beatty.


But before filming, the household 3 clearly mentioned in the story does not pass too much on the side of the actor of the filmmaker Arthur Penn.

“I am not going to play the tantouse. If the spectators see this, they will all piss on my leg”, protests the actor near the screenwriter Robert Towne, come to lend a hand.

“Your heroes are already marginal enough like that. They kill, they rob banks. If in addition you make them homosexuals, the public will never identify with them. It will screw up the film”, Penn argues with authors Benton and Newman.

The latter then propose that Clyde is helpless, an idea that seduced Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty. Once the shooting started, the two artists argued constantly. Every shot in the film was constantly challenged, while the tech crew waited for them to come to an agreement.

Anyway, they all agreed on one aspect of the film, the shock the viewer must have felt at the violence:

“Before, you couldn’t see one guy shoot and another take a bullet in the same frame; there had to be a cut. We wanted to break with that. The audience has the right to see things as they really are.”, argues Arthur Penn.

It is also the director who will have the idea of ​​the striking sequence of the feature film: the death of Bonnie and Clyde in slow motion, under a burst of bullets.


Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway

Once the film is finished, a test screening is organized at the studio: “I’m warning you, if I get up to take a piss, it’s because your movie is shit”, launches Jack Warner to Arthur Penn. The atmosphere was therefore very electric around this project.

Additionally, Warren Beatty didn’t get along very well with his playing partner, Faye Dunaway. The actor would have preferred to have Jane Fonda, who turned down the role.

After 2 hours 10 of film, the verdict falls … and the big boss hates it! “It’s the longest two and ten hours of my life! A movie in which we’re going to pee more than 3 times, I’ve never seen that!”, he exclaims, while Arthur Penn tries to explain his choices of direction to him.


Some time later, Jack Warner leaves and the studio changes direction, taking a new course, seeking to leave much more freedom to the filmmakers. It was with this in mind that Bonnie and Clyde arrived at the cinema in 1967, leaving her mark on the history of cinema.

Classic Hollywood was dead, long live New Hollywood and the emergence of new raw talents like Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma, Spielberg or Lucas. Arthur Penn’s work paved the way for all these directors, who were able to enjoy complete freedom within the Hollywood industry during the 1970s.

Thus, the Bonnie and Clyde revolution allowed Taxi Driver, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, THX 1138, Les Dents de la mer, Star Wars, The Godfather or Phantom of the Paradise to emerge. This feature film has very clearly broken all the rules, taking the 7th art to other horizons.


Bonnie and Clyde was a triumph for Warren Beatty. The film quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. It grossed nearly $ 70 million at the time, on a small budget of $ 2.5 million. In France, it gathered 1.8 million spectators.

Qualified as “best film of the year” by Time, Bonnie and Clyde received 10 nominations at the 1968 Oscars. The work, which helped to break many cinematographic taboos, won the statuettes of best actress in a supporting role for Estelle Parsons and Best Cinematography for Burnett Guffey.

A new wind of freedom was blowing in Hollywood. 50 years later, in 2017, the famous gangster couple Warren Beatty / Faye Dunaway reformed the time to hand the Oscar for best film to Moonlight, in a confusion with La La Land which has toured the world.

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