(7 of 10)
As director, Beatty signed up Arthur Penn, 45, a narrow, sparrowish Broadway veteran (Two for the Seesaw), whose Hollywood record included a few hits (The Miracle Worker), several flops (The Chase, Mickey One). Penn wanted the film edited in Manhattan, which meant that the choice of which scenes would end up on the cutting-room floor would take place 2,500 miles from the home base of Warner Bros. To Jack Warner, 75, who liked to make his own pick of the rushes, everything but salami should be cut in the studio. More problems were to follow arguments about sound, music, casting, script, going on location in Texas. To solve them, Beatty poured on the charm and indulged in some mock histrionics.
During one argument with Warner, Beatty prostrated himself before the old man, dug his nose in the rug, and moaned: "Look, Jack, please do what I say. I won't waste your money." Warner looked down and grunted: "Get up off the floor, kid, you're embarrassing me." Beatty got his way.
Most of the film was shot on location around Dallas. It was in a motel there that Beatty felt the first trickle of the torrent of controversy that would follow the film. "A huge waiter came in," he recalls, "and said to me, 'Hey Warren, 'at trew yew gone play Clahd Barra? Sheee! I knowed Clahd Barra, and he wuz much better lookin' than yew are.' " As it happens, Clyde Barrow was not much better looking than Mr. Hyde. The encounter was simply an initial indication that Texas folk heroes are never to be taken lightly and that the story of Bonnie and Clyde had the power to shock and disturb anyone anywhere, from the simple to the most sophisticated.
It may have shocked audiences, but it brought them to the box office in record numbers. Bonnie and Clyde also stirred up a battle among movie critics that seemed to be almost as violent as the film itself. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was so offended by it that he reviewed it negatively three times. "This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste," he wrote. TIME's review made the mistake of comparing the fictional and real Bonnie and Clyde, a totally irrelevant exercise. Newsweek panned the film, but the following week returned to praise it.
The New Yorker ran a respectful appreciation by guest critic Penelope Gilliatt, followed nine weeks later with an ecstatic 9,000-word analysis by another guest critic, Pauline Kael. In Chicago, the Tribune's reviewer sided with the naysayers. He called it "stomach churning": the American said it was "unappetizing." But the Daily News acclaimed it as one of the most significant motion pictures of the decade; the Sun-Times said it was "astonishingly beautiful." It seemed as if two different Bonnie and Clydes were slipping into towns simultaneously.