Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is nothing if not sensuous about violence. Perhaps lyrical would be closer to the mark. Director Arthur Penn was trying for nothing less than folk tragedy in this saga of a gun-happy couple in the '30s. (I thought the subject was handled more movingly some years ago in an obscure movie called Gun Crazy.) The trouble with Bonnie and Clyde is that it oscillates between the distancing of period legend and the close-ups of contemporary psychology. Penn is characteristically good with the scenes calling for physical exuberance and sustained hysteria as in the best moments of The Left Handed Gun and The Miracle Worker. Warren Beatty has shaken off his nervous ticks and ponderous longeurs to give the most forceful performance of his career but Faye Dunaway seems as mannered as ever. I never managed to accept her as a '30s woman. There was something too knowing in her smile, something too self-aware in her swagger. Beatty, by contrast, never seemed to know the final score. Unfortunately, Penn's form, too much a thing of parts, is closer to pathos than to tragedy, and half-baked pathos at that. Much of the film is so strikingly original ... unexpectedly funny and endearing. Call for showtimes. (PG) ANDREW SARRIS

Sept. 30-Oct. 5, 2011

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