Bonnie Parker…With Electric Guitars.

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When you go for the free movies on your cable provider’s on-demand menu, you can’t complain. And I wouldn’t anyway, even though American International Picture’s 1958 The Bonnie Parker Story starring Dorothy Parker (1935 – 2010) in the title role as the ‘better half’ of the notorious Depression era outlaw duo bears little resemblance to their real-life escapades…or even the now-mythical Arthur Penn-Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway 1960’s anti-hero film classic.

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In this half of a drive-in double feature (paired with Machine Gun Kelly), Dorothy Provine’s Bonnie Parker is a broke, bitter, take-no-sass small town waitress saddled with a husband doing life in the pen. She teams up not with Clyde Barrow, but for some reason, ‘Guy Darrow’, played by Jack Hogan. Bonnie doesn’t set her eyes on him so much as the very lethal Thompson submachine gun he drags around in an enormous wooden tool box. After an exciting (albeit frustrating) series of small-time armed robberies, the duo briefly join up with Guy Darrow’s brother Chuck Darrow (not Buck Barrow) and his wife, the gang on the run now from Texas Ranger Tom Steel (a stand-in for Frank Hamer). After busting Bonnie’s husband, Duke, out of prison, an ill-conceived armored car robbery goes bad, Mister Bonnie Parker’s gunned down, and soon the outlaws are brought down in a hail of bullets by the Texas Ranger and his posse in a Louisiana backroads ambush.

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This is strictly an AIP B-movie (if that) production, obviously made fast, on a tight budget, with a script that could’ve used a revisit or two, and visibly aimed at the studio’s drive-in teenage audience, right down to the out-of-place twangy Rockabilly electric guitar and saxophone film score (which is really pretty cool, albeit out of place). Swap out the 1930’s automobiles for fifties cars with fins and it would play like a pair of doomed juvenile delinquents aiming for the big time, right down to Dorothy Provine’s long blonde tresses, snug pencil skirts and slender heels.

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She’s really something to see in this film, and the director makes sure we see a bunch (for the time), from the opening credits to several other scenes in which the camera lingers on Bonnie getting dressed or undressed. If she’s not shooting someone, Bonnie’s likely in a slip and rolling her nylons off or putting them on. We’ll leave that stuff for the horny teenage boys in the 1958 audience, and focus instead on Provine’s wicked performance. Small-time crook Guy Darrow and jailbird husband Duke Jefferson might be lusting after Bonnie (without success), but this femme fatale’s all about shooting back at an ugly world and the useless men in it…with a big, noisy and very lethal Tommy Gun.

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Bullets On Broadway?

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Mixing murder and mayhem with romance, sixties-style damn-the-man social justice and humor was an odd if inspired choice in Warren Beatty’s and Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde (written by David Newman and Robert Benton). It may not have had very much to do with the real-life escapades of the Depression era crooks, but it made for one hell of a good film that still stands up today.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow singing?

Now that may be pushing it a bit, even straining the notions of sympathetic anti-heroes past the broadest definitions.

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No, I’ve never seen the Broadway musical Bonnie And Clyde (script by Ivan Menchell, music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, with Emmy, Tony and Oscar nominations and awards among them). No one’s a bigger fan of dark, flawed anti-heroes than me. Do I fall for hapless fools in over their heads? Yep. Do I have a soft spot for mid-twentieth century crime sagas? If you stop by here at this site, you know better than to ask. But Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (to say nothing of Buck, Blanche and sundry lawmen) bursting into song after a bloody shootout? Hmmmm.

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Well, apparently it played well, starting in 2009 in La Jolla, California and then Sarasota, Florida, though the musical’s 2011 Broadway run was short-lived, closing after only 36 performances. Still, there was enough popular and critical interest to warrant overseas productions in Japan, South Korea, the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic through 2016.

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No one’s saying gangsters and music don’t mix. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 Cotton Club is but one example, and I for one look forward to seeing the fully restored version of that film.  I honestly never minded the 1967 Bonnie And Clyde film’s romanticizing of those two rural southwest 1930’s nut-jobs, guilty of killing at least nine police officers, four civilians, and more inclined to rob small town grocery stores and rural gas stations than banks. I simply choose to appreciate the film as an entertaining work of art in its own right, divorced from the much more banal evil of the real-life crooks.

But sometimes theatre creatives have to understand that not everything makes for a good musical.

Bienville Parish, Louisiana. May 23rd, 1934.

Bonnie And Clyde Poster

The 1934 Ford V-8 was shot up pretty bad on that rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, about 150 rounds from pistols, shotguns and automatic rifles. The man behind the wheel took 17 shots, the woman beside him was hit 26 times, both with several head wounds. It probably was every bit as gruesome as the slow-mo climax of Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde, which did so much to revive interest in the Depression era crooks, romanticizing the duo into legendary status far beyond anything their real life short-lived crime spree deserved. By most accounts, Clyde Barrow died instantly from the first volley, Bonnie Parker lasting only a moment more as the fusillade continued.

Boonie CLyde MinI Series

You can picture the real Bonnie Parker, Faye Dunaway or Holliday Grainger, as you wish. Fashion magazine art directors want to do something with gangsters or gun molls? They do a Bonnie & Clyde pictorial. There’s been no shortage of non-fiction books, novels, feature films, TV/cable and direct-to-DVD films about Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, from Dorothy Provine in The Bonnie Parker Story in 1958 to this year’s The Highwaymen, each taking its own license. Lets guess that Bonnie And Clyde Vs. Dracula may not have been the most historically accurate of the bunch.

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But it was eighty five years ago today on May 23rd, 1934 that the real duo met their end in a roadside ambush led by Texas lawman Frank Hamer and various Texas and Louisiana state and local police.

Good or bad, the legend lives on.

Bonnie & Clyde

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