When the title characters in 1967's Bonnie And Clyde first lay eyes on each other, they smile in what seems like immediate recognition. They both consider themselves exceptional people bound for glory, and they're each pleased to encounter a kindred egotistical soul who's ready to act as an admiring mirror and enabler. Within seconds of that first encounter, they've already formed the mutual admiration society that will lead them through years of crimes, and straight to the grave.
Granted, Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) is stark naked, and Clyde (Warren Beatty) is trying to steal her mother's car, so they each have an extra reason for wry amusement. But the easygoing charm of that first meeting summarizes what made Arthur Penn's Bonnie And Clyde so controversial upon its release, and what still makes it memorable today. Forty years ago, charming, likeable, fun criminals were a licentious shocker; today, they're old hat, but Bonnie And Clyde still maintains its amiable charisma.
Bonnie And Clyde was the Natural Born Killers of the '60s, criticized as too violent, too campy, and above all, too affectionate toward its reprehensible protagonists, based on real-life bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. It was simultaneously praised as stylish and modern, leading the American charge toward the French New Wave with its swerves between existential angst and comedy, and its pugnacious, fast-cut editing. Mixed critical and public reaction aside, younger audiences embraced the film, for obvious reasons: It was about being young, beautiful, in love, and outside established societal rules, and about going out in a blaze of glory.
Bonnie And Clyde is crammed with historical inaccuracies, as an informative but tedious History Channel mini-doc on the new two-disc DVD reveals, but it was never about historicity. It's about Dunaway and Beatty as excitable thrill-seekers, robbing banks, squabbling with their gang, and basking in their own sweet mythos as they were making it. Much like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid two years later, it now comes across as a little ramshackle in its attempts to merge American and French cinematic innovations into something fresh, but the playful performances haven't aged, and it still finds all the carefree thrills of being young, dumb, in love with life, and ready for death.
Key features: Two short but significant deleted scenes, shot in brilliant color but with no sound; regrettably audio-free Beatty screen tests; a making-of featurette.