powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Bonnie and Clyde ride again (but you knew they would) on PBS' American Experience series


Still with staying power: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. PBS photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
No matter how many times it’s told, the story just never gets old.

PBS’ American Experience series at last gets around to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after four previous big- and small-screen treatments of their murderous crime spree and love story in and around Depression era Texas. The one-hour documentary premieres on Tuesday, Jan. 19th at 8 p.m. (central), with narrator Michael Murphy supplying the gravitas while historians and a trio of relatives re-hash it all.

Famously riddled with bullets during a May 23, 1934 ambush in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, they drew tens of thousands to their separate funerals in Dallas. Bonnie & Clyde begins with footage of those long lines. “Everyone wants to see how such a bad boy looks in death,” an unidentified news commentator says of Clyde’s final day of reckoning.

“It was a non-stop soap opera,” according to the cowboy-hatted Buddy Barrow, one of Clyde’s nephews. Not that he was there at the time. Nor were Rhea Leen Linder, a niece of Bonnie’s, or L.J. “Boots” Hinton, son of a Dallas County deputy who was part of the posse that fired more than 150 bullets into the pair’s high-powered Ford V8.

“That had to be such a lonely life, ya know,” Rhea speculates. Not that she’d really know. But the presence of the three does give the documentary a modicum of generation-to-generation authenticity.

The famous pictures of Bonnie and Clyde playfully posing with their guns were discovered on a roll of film they left behind after escaping from a shootout in Joplin, Missouri.

“With the photos, the duo went from two-bit Texas hoods to mythic outlaws,” narrator Murphy says. That sounds about right. But at least the public was spared what would have been breathless, 24/7 coverage on today’s CNN. News still traveled at a comparative snail’s pace back then.

390px-bonniestoryposter1957 images

The much-acclaimed 1967 feature film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, later lionized the pair indelibly after 1957’s little-seen The Bonnie Parker Story barely made a blip. That film’s star, Dorothy Provine, went on to play flapper Pinky Pinkham in the 1960 ABC series The Roaring Twenties, which survived for two seasons.

Television so far has taken two cracks at the twosome. Fox’s 1992 movie, Bonnie and Clyde: The True Story, starred Tracey Needham and Dana Ashbrook, who was fresh from ABC’s Twin Peaks. The film wasn’t noteworthy. But your friendly content provider does remember being on location in North Texas when Ashbrook, splattered with fake blood for the big death scene, decided to pop in on a local merchant as a joke. Good times.

In December 2013, a solid four-hour Bonnie & Clyde miniseries aired simultaneously on the Lifetime, A&E and History networks. Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger played the leads. But William Hurt made the biggest impression as flinty Capt. Frank Hamer, the dogged Texas Ranger who was coaxed out of retirement (he didn’t need much coaxing) to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde.

American Experience does a capable job of retracing the dirt-poor upbringings of the two principals and the bank robberies that endeared them to some before a growing attendant body count hurt their standing. Amazingly, throughout their exploits, the Texas-bred duo still managed to arrange a series of clandestine, joint family reunions. For the last one, Bonnie left her mother with a prophetic poem that also became widely quoted. Last stanza: “Some day they’ll go down together. They’ll bury them side by side. To a few it will be grief. To the law a relief. But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”

They in fact ended up buried in separate cemeteries after Mama Parker decreed that Clyde couldn’t have her daughter in both death and in life. For those who don’t yet know the story, this latest Bonnie & Clyde tells it quite well. For those who do, well, it’s still hard to put that book down.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net