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.
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.
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.
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.