The real Blanche Barrow sued Warner Brothers over the way she was depicted in the film. In reality, Barrow was the same age as Bonnie Parker, arguably better looking than her, she was not a preacher's daughter and had married Buck knowing full well that he was an escaped prisoner and twice divorced.
Gene Hackman was on the set one day when he noticed a guy standing behind him and staring. The man said, "Hell, Buck would've never wore a hat like that." Hackman turned around and looked at him and said, "Maybe not." He looked like an old Texas farmer. The man introduced himself and said, "Nice to meet you - I'm one of the Barrows."
Warner Brothers had so little faith in the film that, in an unprecedented move, it offered its first-time producer Warren Beatty 40% of the gross instead of a minimal fee. The movie then went on to gross over $50 million.
In the Special Edition DVD Documentary, Estelle Parsons says she was the only member of the cast who actually researched the history of the Barrow Gang. She also says that early in the filming, she wanted to meet the real Blanche Barrow but Warren Beatty, in his capacity as the producer, was against the idea. Finally, after a week, Warren relented and set up a meeting with Blanche, but at that point Parsons lost interest and never met Blanche. In fact, Warren Beatty brought the script to Blanche for her to read for her approval before she would give permission to use her name. She agreed the script was factual and approved it. While there he played her piano and sang for her. She was very fond of Warren even though the director completely changed the script to make her look as in her own words, "A screaming horse's Ass." She took her third husband Eddie to see the movie with her for the first time and nearly died of embarrassment.
In one scene, while holding up a bank, Clyde Barrow tells a farmer he can keep his own money. ("Is that your money or the bank's?" "It's mine." "You keep it then.") In real life, it was bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd who allowed a farmer to keep his own money during a holdup.
In a 1968 interview, Warren Beatty mentioned that his last conversation with ex-girlfriend Natalie Wood took place in the summer of 1966 when he tried unsuccessfully to get her to play Bonnie Parker in his film. Later that evening, she attempted to take her own life and was discovered by her live-in housekeeper.
Michael J. Pollard didn't realize in eating scenes that you don't actually eat all the food because of the possibility of repeated takes. Sure enough, he soon regretted it in the scene in which the outlaws kidnap a couple and eat their lunch in the car. By the 12th take, Pollard was feeling decidedly ill, having had to eat 12 whole hamburgers.
In a TV interview director Arthur Penn pointed out that this film shows for the first time the firing of a gun and the consequences in one single frame. Before that you would see a gun being fired, then cut and the next scene shows the bleeding body. In Bonnie and Clyde you see a gun being fired into the face of a person without inter cut. This was incredible at the time and would have been censored in the past. (Such a shot had, however, had already been used in all three of the films Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy.)
Producer Warren Beatty requested that the sound of gunshots in the movie should be much louder than the rest of the soundtrack. He was greatly influenced by Shane (1953) in this regard. However, at a screening in London he noticed that the gunfire sounds were much softer than intended. He went to the projection booth, where the projectionist told he that he had "helped" the film by adjusting the gunfire sounds. The projectionist said that he had not come across a film as poorly mixed since "Shane".
When Warren Beatty was on board as producer only, his sister Shirley MacLaine was a strong possibility to play Bonnie. But when Beatty decided to play Clyde himself, for obvious reasons he decided not to use MacLaine.
A screening for Jack L. Warner went very badly for Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn - Warner got up three times to pee. Warner initially dumped the film into drive-in and second run theaters and apparently went to his grave still hating the film.
Arthur Penn originally turned the script down but after various other directors did likewise - including William Wyler - Warren Beatty was compelled to take it back to Penn. The director agreed only on condition that he could make some important changes, the main one being making Clyde impotent as opposed to bisexual.
In the movie, Bonnie catches Clyde stealing her mother's car and that is how they meet. In reality, it is believed that they met when a mutual friend broke her arm and Bonnie was staying with her to act as caretaker. Clyde happened to come pay the friend a visit and discovered Bonnie making hot chocolate in the kitchen. It was claimed that it was love at first sight. That was on January 5, 1930 at Clarence Clay's house. The address was 105 Herbert Street in West Dallas.
The scene in which C.W. Moss parallel parks the getaway car while Clyde and Bonnie are in the bank, and then has trouble getting the car out of the space, is based on a true event--but it didn't happen to Bonnie and Clyde. It occurred on June 10, 1933; the bank robbers in question were John Dillinger and William Shaw, and the driver was Paul "Lefty" Parker. This is documented in Bryan Burrough's "Public Enemies: American's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34," upon which the film Public Enemies (2009) was based.
The story of Bonnie Parker smoking a cigar in a picture is accurate. She did it as a joke. But after the shootout at the bungalow in Joplin, MO, police found the photos the gang had taken and published the photo of Bonnie, thereby leading to her unearned rep as a "Cigar Smokin' Gun Moll".
Before deciding to play the role himself, producer Warren Beatty's first choice for the role of Clyde Barrow was musician and composer Bob Dylan, who resembled the actual Barrow more strongly than Beatty.
Jane Fonda appeared on the December 6, 2012 episode of Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" and confessed that she auditioned for Bonnie, a role she wanted desperately, and was still angry for losing it to Faye Dunaway, ending decades-long rumors that Fonda had turned down the role.
During one of the bank robberies, Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman) does a leap over the tellers' cage. This was a stunt routinely pulled by John Dillinger, who in turn learned it from watching Douglas Fairbanks in the "Zorro" movies.
While it was most likely W.D. Jones' interview with police shortly after his capture that lead to rumors of Clyde being a homosexual (as well as Bonnie supposedly being a nymphomaniac), in a November 1968 interview with Playboy, W.D. claims he does not know where those rumors started. In the interview, he is quoted as saying, "I've heard stories since that Clyde was homosexual, or, as they say in the pen, a "punk," but they ain't true. Maybe it was Clyde's quiet, polite manner and his slight build that fooled folks. He was only about five feet, six inches tall and he weighed no more than 135 pounds. Me and him was about the same size, and we used to wear each other's clothes. Clyde had dark hair that was wavy. He never had a beard. Even when he didn't shave, all he had on his chin was fuzz. Another way that story might have got started was his wearing a wig sometimes when him and Bonnie had to drive through a town where they might be recognized. He wore the wig for disguise and for no other reason. Clyde never walked right, either. He'd chopped off his big toe and part of the second toe on his left foot when he was in prison, because he couldn't keep up, with the pace the farm boss set. Or the story could have come from sensation writers who believed anything dropped on them and who blew it to proportions that suited their imagination. I knew alot of convicts the years I was in prison - some of them years on Eastham Farm where Clyde had served his time-and none of them had a story on him being a punk. Matter of fact, nobody - not the police who asked me questions for hours and hours or the reporters who got in to see me-ever mentioned it. The subject just never come up then. It's just here recently, more than 30 years since Clyde was killed, that I've heard the story. I was with him and Bonnie. I know. It just ain't true."
The family gathering scene was filmed in Red Oak, Texas. Several local residents were watching the film being shot, when the filmmakers noticed Mabel Cavitt, a local school teacher, among the people gathered. She was chosen then and there to play Bonnie Parker's mother.
Since this was Estelle Parsons's first film, she was amazed at the extent of the special effects. When she and Gene Hackman attempt an escape from a motel room using a mattress for protection from police gunfire, Parsons was required to crank a concealed wheel that sequentially detonated squibs embedded in the foam, simulating police bullet hits.
Half a dozen of the cars used in the movie, including the one stolen from Gene Wilder's character were loaned to the studio by a private owner who specialized in the restoration of Model A's, Roadsters, and Model T's, Mr. Seng of Castro Valley, California. His only requirement in loaning the studio his cars was that they were not to be shot up.
After François Truffaut's departure from the project, the producers approached Jean-Luc Godard. Some sources claim Godard didn't trust Hollywood and refused; other allege he planned to change Bonnie and Clyde to teenagers and relocate the story to Japan, prompting the film's investors to force him off the project.
Arthur Penn was particularly fascinated with the way Akira Kurosawa handled violent action and death in his films. In particular, he drew on Kurosawa's balancing of slow motion and real time that he employed in Seven Samurai (1954).
Originally writers Robert Benton and David Newman wrote Clyde Barrow as a bisexual, a point which they felt was non-negotiable. Warren Beatty had no objections but Arthur Penn did. He felt that to have Clyde be part gay on top of all the other social dysfunctions featured in the film would just make the audience think they were watching a bunch of freaks. Benton and Newman couldn't help but agree.
Michael J. Pollard's character, C.W. Moss, is a fictional conglomeration of all of Bonnie and Clyde's minor sidekicks including: Ralph Fults (their first sidekick), William Daniel Jones (nicknamed "W.D." and "Deacon", and was an attendant at the gas station owned by Clyde's father), Ray Hamilton, and Henry Methvin (who's father made the deal with Frank Hamer to set Bonnie and Clyde up).
Leading Newsweek film critic Joseph Morgenstern hated the film when he first saw it, but then later took the unprecedented step of admitting that his original review was completely wrong. His revised version raved about the film.
Warren Beatty really wanted his then lover Natalie Wood to play the part of Bonnie Parker but Wood wanted to concentrate on her therapy at the time. She also didn't want to work professionally with Beatty again who she considered "difficult".
Cinematographer Burnett Guffey was dismissed during this production due to artistic clashes with director Arthur Penn (Guffey wanted more light - Penn wanted a more subdued tone). In the meantime, veteran cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks replaced Guffey, but only for a brief period. Penn, realizing that he'd misjudged Guffey, ultimately reinstated him and Guffey went on to win a second Oscar for Best Cinematography for his efforts.
Warner Bros. gave the movie a limited, "B" movie-type release at first, sending it to drive-ins and lesser theaters. When critics began raving about the film and young people began to show up at screenings, it was better promoted, given a wider release and became a huge hit.
The family gathering scene was filmed in Red Oak, Texas. Several local residents gathered to watch the film being shot. When the filmmakers noticed Mabel Cavitt, a local school teacher, among the people gathered, she was cast as Bonnie Parker's mother.
In planning her performance, Faye Dunaway wanted to wear slacks as Bonnie Parker, since the character would need to move freely to race in and out of getaway cars. In contrast, designer Theadora Van Runkle suggested a more glamorous look with long skirts, a beret and a short jacket. The "Bonnie and Clyde Look" became a fashion rage, and for years afterwards Dunaway would insist on having Van Runkle design her costumes.
Cher auditioned for the role of Bonnie Parker, but when her husband/manager at the time, Sonny Bono, heard about the audition, he was furious at Warren Beatty for letting his wife audition for such a "controversial film".
The first choice for director, François Truffaut, expressed a keen interest in the project and may have even been involved in the development of the screenplay. However, before filming could begin, the opportunity arose for Truffaut to make Fahrenheit 451 (1966), a long-cherished project of his, and he dropped out to make that film instead.
C.W. Moss mentions, in the first scene with Buck and Blanche, that Myrna Loy is his favorite movie star. Loy was supposedly a favorite actress of John Dillinger. In fact, when he was gunned down outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, the film he had just seen was Manhattan Melodrama (1934), in which Loy starred.
When Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn showed the finished picture to Jack L. Warner, he called it "the longest two hours and ten minutes I ever spent." A few weeks later, he sold his share in the studio to Seven Arts Productions for almost $200 million dollars, but the new management was no more interested in selling the film. They decided to premiere it at a Texas drive-in, then dump it in second-string theatres. Even when the film had a triumphant preview for industry insiders at the Directors Guild, they refused to change their plans. Finally, Beatty convinced them to premiere the film at the Montreal Film Festival, where the stars were given 14 curtain calls and a standing ovation. And still studio management stuck to their original distribution plan.
To avoid censorship problems, Warren Beatty held off sending a script to the Production Code Administration (PCA), the industry's self-censorship organization, until just before shooting began. Even so, PCA head Geoffrey Shurlock fought, unsuccessfully, to remove the intimation that Bonnie was nude in the first scene, the suggestion of oral sex in one bedroom scene and the scene in which a bank teller is shot in the face when he jumps on the getaway car's running board. Later Beatty had another fight to convince the head of the National Catholic Office of Motion Pictures (the successor to the Legion of Decency) that Faye Dunaway was properly covered when she runs downstairs to meet Beatty in the film's first scene. The official kept insisting that he could see her breasts.
The movie portrays Texas Ranger Frank Hamer as a bungler who is humiliated by Bonnie, Clyde and Buck, being forced to pose for pictures before being set adrift in a rowboat. In reality, Hamer, an already legendary Texas Ranger, came out of semi-retirement at the request of the Texas governor following the notorious Eastham Prison raid in 1934. He was tasked with hunting down and killing Bonnie and Clyde. He had never met the pair until the fateful ambush.
The film has a dynamic soundtrack that gets much louder during the gunfights. The British premiere of the film was notable because the projectionist previewed the film and thought the volume changes were a mistake, so he made careful notes for when to turn it up and when to turn it down so that the volume was "corrected."
After bad notices in The New York Times, Time and Newsweek, what turned things around for the film was a 9,000-word rave by Pauline Kael, who was just starting her career as a film reviewer. When the magazine for which she regularly wrote, The New Republic, refused to print the lengthy review, she sold it to The New Yorker, which marked the start of her long tenure there. According to rumour, she also got Joe Morgenstern to reevaluate the film in Newsweek. After initially panning the film, he reported that he had totally missed the point and gave it a rave.
Future film maker Curtis Hanson, who began his career as a photographer, took a series of modeling photos of Faye Dunaway which helped to get her the job as Bonnie Parker. According to Hanson on the Special Edition DVD Documentary, when Dunaway came under consideration, Warren Beatty called him and asked Hanson to bring a slide show presentation of the photos to show to both Beatty and Arthur Penn. After viewing the photos, Dunaway was cast. According to Hanson, Warren Beatty wanted to pay him for the photos but Hanson instead asked to accompany them to Texas so he could observe the filming to which Beatty agreed.
Although technically still the only film rated "M" by the MPAA (the early equivalent of the later "PG", introduced in 1973), since this rating no longer exists, all home video and DVD versions released after 1973 are marked "Not Rated". Bonnie and Clyde was released before the ratings so this may be the reason it is labeled unrated. The M rating was used for more than one year, and many movies were given that rating. It was changed to GP in 1970 and then later to PG.
In the movie, the Barrow Gang are ambushed in a field near where they escaped the Red Crown police raid. They are shown as being surrounded, with police shooting up both getaway cars. A deputy crawls out on a bridge and shoots Bonnie before Clyde kills him. In reality, local law enforcement and almost a hundred campers approached the gang, who were too busy tending to Buck's wounds to notice the unwanted company. When they did see the police, Clyde, W.D. Jones and Bonnie exchanged shots with the police and escaped on foot. During the escape, Buck was shot in the back and Blanche was captured while trying to help her husband. Buck is shown dying at the scene in the movie, but in reality, died of pneumonia in an Iowa hospital following surgery for his bullet wounds.
Estelle Parsons had been appearing on Broadway in the title role of Tennessee Williams' "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" at the time the Oscar nominations were announced, and had to be whisked out of New York by Warren Beatty to attend the L.A. ceremonies and receive her first Oscar.
The idea of shooting the final ambush in slow motion came from Arthur Penn, who wanted to make something more "balletic" out of their death scene. The scene as written depicted the shoot-out as a series of stills with screams and machine-gun fire played in the background.
With positive attention from the press and the critics, Warren Beatty pressured Warner Bros. to re-release the film. This was an unprecedented move at the time. At first, studio CEO Elliot Hyman said he would only do it if Beatty agreed to a cut in his profit participation. When Beatty threatened to sue, hinting that he knew more about Hyman's business dealings than he did, the bluff worked. The film went back into theatres a few weeks later.
While they were shooting Bonnie and Clyde's confrontation in the fields after she tries to run away from the gang, a cloud passed over the sun, casting an unexpected shadow over Faye Dunaway's face. Rather than re-shoot the scene, Arthur Penn kept it in as a means of foreshadowing the character's tragic end.
Initially, Warren Beatty refused to have Faye Dunaway billed above the title with him. Even during shooting, he fought efforts to raise her billing. Finally, after the film was shot, he realized how strong an impact she was going to make in the role and agreed to give her star billing.
This was the final movie from Warner Bros. Pictures to use the classic WB shield logo until spring 1972; the following month after "Bonnie and Clyde's" release, movies from Warner Bros. Pictures had a stylized "W-7" shield to represent the then-recent merge of Warner Bros. and Seven Arts, which lasted until 1970. (The movie is copyright to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, however.)
Writer Robert Towne accompanied the crew during the location shoot. In part, he was there to do last minute re-writes during filming. But he was also working with Warren Beatty on a script that would later become their hit comedy Shampoo (1975).
On the day the company shot the scene in which Bonnie and Clyde wade through a river after they're shot, a cold front hit Texas. It took three days to film the scene as the actors fought not to shiver while the cameras were rolling.
During the shootout at the Red Crown Tourist Court near Platte City, Missouri, the movie depicts the Barrow Gang gunning down several police officers and blowing up an armored car before making their escape. In reality, it was a short gunfight that ended when a bullet knocked out the armored car's bullhorn. The ceasing of the irritating bullhorn requests to surrender was a prearranged signal for law enforcement to hold fire and stand down to avoid civilian casualties. The Barrows drove away unmolested. No law officers were killed and the only casualties were Buck, who received his grievous head wound and Blanche, who took glass shards in her left eye.
Faye Dunaway had tried to get an interview with Arthur Penn when he was directing The Chase (1966), but was rebuffed by a casting director who didn't think she had the right face for the movies. When Penn saw her in scenes from her first picture, The Happening (1967), before its release, he decided to let her read for the role of Bonnie Parker.
Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn quarrelled constantly during filming, as the star questioned almost every one of the director's choices. As a result, the rest of the cast spent hours waiting for them to settle their differences. One major bone of contention was Penn's insistence, early on, that they add a scene in which Bonnie and Clyde pretend to be dead. Beatty insisted the idea was ridiculously pretentious, but Robert Towne tried to write it anyway. The writer soon realized that Beatty was right, but cautioned him to avoid a confrontation on the matter. In his opinion, Penn was only holding onto the idea out of insecurity - he couldn't admit he was wrong. After a few weeks of filming bolstered Penn's confidence, Towne was sure he'd drop the idea, which is exactly what happened.
Initially, Arthur Penn went for a realistic depiction of rural life in the '30s. Many scenes were modelled on Walker Evans' photographs and NRA posters. When he shot Bonnie's reunion with her family, however, he was entranced by the more romantic aspects of the story and used slow motion and hazy photography to create a dreamlike feeling he would return to for other scenes.
For the climactic ambush, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were covered with dozens of squibs embedded in their costumes and makeup and wired to a central control that made them explode in sequence to create the illusion that they were being shot.
Originally, Warren Beatty intended to cast Leslie Caron, one of his girlfriends at the time, as Bonnie Parker. Then, according to Caron, "He told me bluntly, 'Let's face it, you're too old for me.' That hurt."
Jack Warner told Warren Beatty that he would only finance the film if it was filmed in the style of the Warner Bros. 30's and 40's gangster movies. When Beatty argued with him, Warner pointed to the Water Tower that dwarfs the Burbank backlot, and told him that it was his name over the studio and his name only. Beatty walked over to the window and said to Warner " They're my initials ". Warner relented but hated the final product.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
A crucial fact left out of the movie was that Bonnie Parker was virtually incapacitated for the last year of her life from a car wreck. Clyde Barrow was driving fast down a lonely country road in Texas when he came upon a washed-out bridge. Unable to stop in time, the car went over the edge crashed and into the creek. The force of the impact jarred Bonnie's seat forward, pinning her in the car as it began to catch fire. She received severe burns on the backs of her legs that made it difficult to walk. She would either limp or was carried by Clyde. She was, in fact, injured at the time of the nighttime tourist court shootout and the field shootout (where Buck was killed) that occur near the end of the film.
The ending of the film was quite romanticized in comparison to the real-life couple's death. In the film, Clyde stops his car on a country road to help a friend change a flat tire. Once they realize the friend has set them up, the bank-robbing duo look at each other lovingly, and make a desperate attempt to be in each other's arms once more before being cut down by machine-gun fire. In reality, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed just outside Gibsland, Louisiana, on May 23, 1934. They did not get out of their car, which was raked by 187 shells. Clyde had been driving in his socks, and Bonnie had a sandwich in her mouth.
In real life, Clyde Barrow was a highly dangerous marksman who had mastered most firearms including the Browning Automatic Rifle and the Thompson Sub Machine Gun. The lawmen chasing him were well aware of his ability with a gun which partly explains the ruthlessness behind the way he was gunned down.
In real life Blanche Barrow did not run from the Joplin apartment screaming with a spatula. In fact she helped Clyde push one of the police cars out of the driveway which was down hill. The car started rolling faster and rolled across the street into a large tree. They both were dragged by the momentum and that is what witnesses saw. Clyde was shot at that time and Blanche let out one yelp and kept moving to get out of the line of fire. That was about the last shot since the officer shooting ran out of ammo so Buck called her back and she returned to get into the escape car in front of the apartment rather than being picked up down the street as the movie portrayed.
Near the end of the film, Bonnie and Clyde are lying in bed discussing marriage. In reality, Bonnie was already married; she married her high school sweetheart, Roy Thorton, before meeting Clyde. Thorton was a petty criminal who was sent to prison for life for murder. Despite his conviction, Bonnie never divorced him and to the day she died, Bonnie Parker was officially "Mrs. Roy Thorton." Bonnie was still wearing Thornton's ring when she was killed.
The final moment of the field shoot out in which the posse surrounds a dying Buck and a hysterical Blanche is based on the rare "action" photo taken of that moment. In actuality, Blanche was screaming at an officer who had his foot on Buck's wounded head and a gun to his face threatening to shoot him again. She was begging him not to shoot him again because he was already dying.
Contrary to the film's portrayal of Blanche Barrow inadvertently divulging the identity of C.W. Moss to Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, thereby setting Bonnie and Clyde's deaths in motion, in real life Hamer found Bonnie and Clyde through simple tracking methods. Hamer knew that they traveled in a loop. They would routinely start in Dallas, move north through Oklahoma and Kansas, cut east to Missouri, south to Arkansas and Louisiana, and west back to Dallas. Knowing that gang member Henry Methvin (on whom the C.W. Moss character is partly based) had family in Louisiana, Hamer struck a deal with Methvin's father (as seen in the movie) to set up Bonnie and Clyde.
In reality, Buck Barrow's death was much more brutal. After being shot repeatedly, a police officer stepped on his face and was about to deliver the killer shot before Blanche's screaming alerted him to what he was actually doing.
According to the film's editor Dede Allen, the climactic massacre was meant to evoke Abraham Zapruder's footage of John F. Kennedy's assassination. As Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) goes to the ground in slow-motion, a fragment of his skull is dislodged by a bullet hit, a similar head shot captured by Zapruder's footage of the JFK assassination.
The car that the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met their fate in is on display (along with Barrow's bullet-riddled shirt) in Primm Valley Hotel and Casino in Primm, NV, 20 miles outside of Las Vegas near the California border. The prop car used in the film was displayed as part of a "Bonnie and Clyde" diorama at Planet Hollywood Dallas, in Dallas, TX. The Planet Hollywood in Dallas closed in 2001 and the car is now owned by a private collector.
According to Warren Beatty in the Special Addition DVD documentary, in the death scene, the make up department fixed a fake scalp over his real hair with a line so that while he was being shot, it would look like his head was being blown off. Beatty says that partially the reason why he had the fruit in his hand was that the moment he squeezed the fruit was supposed to signal the make up artist to pull the line and rip the scalp off. However, when the scene was being filmed, the artist was so nervous that he forgot to pull the line. By the same token, Faye Dunaway mentions that the make up artists also put appliances over her face that were also wired so that when she was being shot they would yank off the flesh colored covers.
Gene Hackman regretted his decision to film Buck's death scene in his vest. The scene was shot several times out of sequence; when they came to complete it, winter had set in and Hackman had to play it in his vest in near-freezing conditions.