“Bonnie and Clyde” might have indelibly captured the spirit of the anti-authoritarian’60s with a pair of devil-may-care bank robbers from the ’30s. But it didn’t exactly roar into theaters when it opened 50 years ago.
The film, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the fatalistic outlaws, would become a cultural sensation, one of the biggest box office hits up until that point and a 10-time Oscar nominee. But on its initial release on August 13 in the midst of the Summer of Love, “Bonnie and Clyde” was virtually gunned down by bad reviews and a tepid reception at the box office.
“Sometimes you make a movie where everyone gets the joke immediately,” said Warren Beatty in an interview looking back on “Bonnie and Clyde.” ”And then you have a different situation with other movies.”
“Bonnie and Clyde” returned to theaters Sunday to mark its 50th anniversary and it will again play nationwide on Wednesday as part of Fathom Events’ TCM Big Screen Classics series. It remains an epochal landmark in American movies: the first bullet fired in the coming storm of the American New Wave — the “New Hollywood” of Coppola, Scorsese, Altman and others.
It’s fitting, in a way, that “Bonnie and Clyde” should be celebrated with a re-release. That’s how it established itself, in the first place.
“Bonnie and Clyde” made a small dent in its 1967 release, but it sparked a delayed response. This was before the days of wide release, and critics had considerable influence on the months-long rollout of films. Most outlets slammed the film, with many objecting to its cavalier violence. The New York Times called it “a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cutups in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.'”
But “Bonnie and Clyde” caught on with others, notably Pauline Kael. Her 9,000-word New Yorker review called it the most exciting American movie since “The…