Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, slightly incompetent bank robber
Rural Louisiana, May 1934
Film: Bonnie & Clyde
Release Date: August 13, 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
The sun was shining brightly on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on Wednesday, May 23, 1934. An old Ford Model A truck idled by the side of the road. Hidden in the bushes by the side of the road, six lawmen sat in wait, armed with heavy duty Colt Monitors and Remington hunting rifles. They’d been there all night, sacrificing their skin for the many hungry insects in the woods. By dawn, they’d waited long enough. Tired, hungry, and dirty, the men planned to head back to their motel rooms after another half hour. Almost at that same time, the unmistakable sound of a Ford V8 engine was heard up the road.
Inside the car was a young couple. The scrawny man was at the wheel, working the pedals with shoeless feet. His light-haired companion munched on a sandwich, purchased around 8:00 that morning at Rosa Canfield’s Cafe in nearby Gibsland. Despite her small frame, the coffee and donuts weren’t filling enough. A .45-caliber pistol was between her scarred and burned legs, and a 10-gauge shotgun wasn’t far from her reach. Near the man sits a Browning Automatic Rifle, likely stolen from a National Guard armory.
The couple, known to history as Bonnie and Clyde, continued driving towards their hideout southwest of Mount Lebanon. Clyde recognized the broken-down truck as a gift he had given to Ivy Methvin, the father of fellow gang member Henry Methvin. Clyde slowed the car down, unaware that Ivy was with the men lying in wait. Whether or not Ivy was handcuffed to a tree, as he claims, is up for debate, but the next sequence of events is not. Former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, in charge of the operation, called to the others: “It’s him!” Simultaneously, Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Bob Alcorn realized, “This is it! It’s Clyde!” Upon making his realization, Alcorn called for the car to halt, but it was probably too late as the lawmen begin pouring 167 rounds of high-powered rifle ammunition into the car.
It was certainly overkill; the first shot blew out the back of Clyde’s head, but the impact of the shot slipped his foot from the clutch pedal. The Ford, in low gear, rolled forward about thirty feet, finally coming to a stop in a ditch. The lawmen, assuming that Clyde is somehow getting away again after two years of attempted ambushes, continued pouring bullets into the car until even Stevie Wonder could tell you it wasn’t necessary. Shocked and still scared, the weapons were slowly lowered. Ted Hinton, a Dallas County Deputy Sheriff who had been Bonnie’s customer when she was a waitress at the local diner, accompanied Hamer to the car to identify the corpses. With 25 rounds in Clyde and 23 in Bonnie, there was no doubt that the couple had finally run out of luck.
This ambush set the precedent for how the police would deal with dangerous outlaws. Just one month earlier, John Dillinger had embarrassed federal agents by escaping the Little Bohemia lodge in Wisconsin without firing a shot. Meanwhile, the agents had shot three innocent, unarmed men, killing one. No longer would lawmen take the risk of giving outlaws a chance to surrender. After Bonnie and Clyde were killed, all other “Public Enemies” quickly followed their example, all shot dead by law enforcement. Dillinger was finally killed in July, Homer Van Meter was shot up by St. Paul detectives in August, “Pretty Boy” Floyd was run aground in October, and “Baby Face” Nelson made his last stand against federal agents on a rural road on November 27, 1934. In just over six months, American law enforcement had developed a foolproof plan for stopping the unstoppable.
Bonnie and Clyde’s violent end became the most important part of their legend. Indeed, the thought of being trapped in a car and shot to pieces was considered romantic by some. Movies started popping up, with Gun Crazy in 1949 and The Bonnie Parker Story in 1958 clearly drawing inspiration from the couple. In those films, the outlaws’ end was strangely ignominious and glamorous at the same time.
That changed in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde, the first attempt to honestly adapt the couple’s “adventures” into film using real incidents as storylines and the real names of those involved (Clyde Barrow became “Guy Darrow” in the aforementioned 1958 film, although Bonnie got to keep her real name). Warren Beatty, who was producing the film, cast himself over his own first choice (Bob Dylan) for the role of Clyde, while relative newcomer Faye Dunaway filled Bonnie’s shoes. Beatty and Dunaway are arguably more attractive than the couple was in real life, but the film wasn’t a documentary about their lives; it was a drama about all aspects of being human with the gang used as a vessel for storytelling.
However, there is no way to tell the story of Bonnie and Clyde without including their deaths. The film’s final ambush was shocking; never before had such violence been portrayed on screen. Audiences watched as part of Warren Beatty’s head was blown off while Faye Dunaway writhed helplessly inside the car. The romance was gone, and the realistic consequences of crime and immorality took over.
Did You Know…? The death scene from Bonnie and Clyde served as Francis Ford Coppola’s inspiration for the Sonny Corleone death scene at the tollbooth in The Godfather?
What’d He Wear?
I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Clyde’s attire for the final scene is the only time he wears gray in the film, having previously only worn blue and brown. Now, having lost all of clothes at the Dexfield Park escape, he would’ve needed to buy more. This is likely the explanation, but it still doesn’t explain why he never wore gray before. And, you’re right, it doesn’t matter. It certainly wasn’t based off of what Clyde was actually wearing that day. Maybe Warren Beatty was in the mood to wear a gray vest.
And what a vest it is! It is dark gray wool with six black horn buttons down the front, but Clyde wears his open the whole time. The most distinctive part of the vest is the rear and inside lining, which is black silk with diamonds in various shades of gray. No other vests in the film had this sort of ornate lining.
The vest additionally has two hip pockets. There is no adjustable rear strap.
Clyde also wears a pair of light gray trousers with the vest. They are flat front with a traditional rise, sitting at the natural waistline. The trousers have open side pockets and jetted rear pockets; the left rear pocket fastens with a black button. Like many trousers at the time, Clyde’s have cuffs (or “turn-ups”) and a short break.
The trousers also have belt loops, through which Clyde wears a black leather belt that tightens through a brass rounded square buckle.
Just like the real Clyde, who died in his socks, Beatty’s Clyde removes his shoes before hitting the road. His shoes are a well-worn pair of black leather plain-toe oxfords, worn with high black socks.
Clyde’s shirt is a regular white dress shirt, as he wears throughout the film. It has a point collar with a moderate spread, which flaps around loosely. As always, he fastens the top button, which sits at the top of the front placket. Rather sloppily – but necessary for the pyrotechnic charges – he leaves the left side untucked. He wears the cuffs buttoned, but the sleeves are evidently a bit too short for Beatty’s arms and they bunch up at the open gauntlets.
Clyde’s only accessory is also based on the real Clyde. As he prepares to drive away from Gibsland, he tries to put on a pair of sunglasses with translucent brown plastic rims. To be era-correct, they have dark rounded lenses. The left one pops out, but Clyde elects to leave the glasses on anyway and “drive with one eye closed”.
Despite all of this, the most important items of Beatty’s attire here were to remain unseen. Just as he was to be killed, Beatty was fitted with squibs and charges from head to toe. Literally head to toe; Clyde’s death was meant to evoke the famous Zapruder footage of the JFK assassination according to Dede Allen, the film’s editor. Thus, a fragment of Clyde’s skull was shown being dislodged by a bullet. This was achieved by a fake scalp fitted over Beatty’s real hair with a line that would pull part of his “head” away as he fell. The fruit in Beatty’s hand was a prop that was supposed to signal the makeup artist to pull the line when it was squeezed. However, the nervous artist forgot to pull the line. Luckily for the artist, the line worked and Clyde’s head can distinctively seen being blown apart. This was the first major time in a film that a gunshot wound was actually seen as it happened.
The real Clyde was dressed much differently from Beatty’s version. Although he also wore a pair of sunglasses, his had thin metal frames and octagonal lenses. The real Clyde also wore a full suit in dark blue wool. The single-breasted suit jacket had peak lapels, flapped side pockets, and 4-button cuffs. The flat front suit trousers, like Beatty’s, had cuffed bottoms. 1″ square swatches of his trousers, with a letter of authenticity signed by Marie Barrow, are sold to collectors. Seriously. The trousers were worn with a belt, but it was a much thicker Western-style belt than the standard dress belt seen in the film. (For anyone who is curious, Bonnie was wearing a red dress.)
Underneath, Clyde wore a light blue cotton Western-style shirt. This shirt had a front placket, a button-flapped chest pocket on the left side, and buttoned cuffs. A small white pattern was present throughout the shirt, much like James Bond’s “enjoying death” shirt from Zara Youth in Skyfall. The shirt was made by Wasson’s Towneshirt Indianapolis and was a size 14-32. The shirt is currently stored in a museum with Clyde’s sister Marie’s signature on the inside of the hem to guarantee its authenticity.
Clyde Barrow wasn’t the sort of guy to buy a car. If he was, though, he would have certainly purchased one of the zippy new V8s, introduced by Ford in 1932. Clyde famously wrote a letter to Henry Ford in 1934, proclaiming the Ford V8 to be “dandy”:
Mr. Henry Ford
Dear Sir: —
While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 —
Clyde Champion Barrow
Thus, it makes sense – poetically and practically – that Clyde would have met his end in a Ford V8, specifically a 1934 Ford V8 Fordor Deluxe Model 40B. As a “Fordor Deluxe”, the car gained the additional tag of Model 730, officially* making it one of the longest car make and models ever. Much of this information was also gathered from the excellent Bonnie & Clyde’s Hideout site, maintained by Frank Ballinger. He has three pages about the “death car”: here, here, and here.
Ford unveiled its brand new 90° flathead V8 engine in 1932. Prior to that, its line consisted mostly of the four-cylinder Model A, an incredibly popular car at the time. The Model A’s engine was updated at the same time for the Model B, but Ford still didn’t have a car for the V8 engine. Ford recognized that they would need a completely new model to show off the V8, so they developed the Model 18, the first low-priced and mass-marketed car to have a V8 engine. The V8 in question had a size of 221 cubic inches (3.6 L) and was initially rated at 65 horsepower. Due to improvements to the carburetor and ignition, this rating would climb by increments of ten, eventually hitting 85 horsepower in 1934.
Ford’s V8 was an instant success, with the large 3.6 L engine eclipsing the four-cylinder engine in popularity. In 1933, the car’s design was updated to the Model 40. The V8 engine, now rated at 75 horsepower, was a clear victor against Ford’s four-cylinder Model B, which only achieved 50. The original Ford flathead V8 proved to be a lasting and venerable design, popular with 1950s hot rodders who drove “little deuce coupes”. Weighing in at under a ton (typically around 1,825 lb.), the Ford was well-propelled by the powerful V8 engine.
In 1934, the Ford V8 (now the Model 40B) was only subtly updated cosmetically, but its popularity was enough to drive the struggling Model B out of production totally after the model year. The Model B’s 50-horsepower engine was simply no match for the Model 40B’s updated 85-horsepower V8. There were fourteen body styles offered, with the Tudor being the top seller. Hopefully, you are realizing that “Fordor” is the actual name Ford used for their four-door sedans and not a grievous misspelling on my part. Thus, Ford offered a Tudor and a Fordor. Please tell me that doesn’t require any additional explanation.
In addition to the Model 40B, the various body types received their own individual model numbers. There was the Model 700 (Tudor Standard and Tudor Deluxe), the Model 710 (Roadster Deluxe), the Model 720 (3-window Coupe Deluxe), the Model 740 Victoria which was discontinued after this year, the Model 750 (Phaeton Standard and Phaeton Deluxe), the Model 760 Cabriolet, the Model 770 (5-window Coupe Standard and Coupe Deluxe), the Model 850 (Station Wagon Standard and Delivery Wagon Standard), and – of course – the Model 730 Fordor, which included both the Standard and Deluxe trims.
I keep saying Standard and Deluxe without explaining myself. The Standard was, obviously, the standard model. A base model, if you will. The Deluxe had a few more external frills, including pinstriping, twin chromed horns, and twin back lights. Inside, the Deluxe also had more elaborate wood graining. Of the 563,921 Fords produced in 1934, 102,268 of them were Deluxe Fordors.
1934 Ford V8 Fordor Deluxe (Model 40B)
Body Style: 4-door sedan
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 221 cu. in. (3.6 L) Ford flathead V8
Power: 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS) @ 3800 RPM
Torque: 150 lb·ft (203 N·m) @ 2200 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 112 inches (2845 mm)
Length: 147 inches (3734 mm)
Width: 57 inches (1448 mm)
Height: 63 inches (1600 mm)
On April 29, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were lurking in a residential area of Topeka, Kansas, with Henry Methvin keeping lookout. Keeping a special eye out for his favorite car, Clyde spotted a brand new 1934 Ford V8 Fordor Deluxe sedan – “Cordoba Gray” in color – in front of Ruth Warren’s house at 2107 Gabler Street. Mrs. Warren had just purchased the car for $835 from the Mosby-Mack Motor Company, a used car lot at 6th and Quincy in Topeka. It was fitted with Firestone 525/550×17 tires and the optional Arvin hot water heater. The car had only been assembled two months earlier, completed at the Ford River Rouge plant near Dearborn, Michigan in February.
Clyde immediately swapped out Mrs. Warren’s Kansas license plate (#3-17832) for a set of 1934 Arkansas plates (#15-368) he had stolen earlier in Fayetteville. For an interesting and fun bit of trivia, the plates’ owner, Merle Cruse, was watching newsreel footage of the impounded “death car” in a local theater when he noticed his stolen plates on the car. He immediately jumped up and exclaimed, “That’s my license plate!” I’m typically annoyed by people who talk at the movies, but I would have made an exception for Mr. Cruse.
Less than four weeks after driving away in Mrs. Warren’s Ford, Bonnie and Clyde were dead in Louisiana. The odometer read 2,500 additional miles driven since leaving Topeka 25 days earlier; thus, Clyde averaged 100 miles behind the wheel each day. Mrs. Warren arrived in Louisiana to pick up her car after the ambush. After sorting out the resistance from posse member and parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan, Mrs. Warren had the car shipped back to Topeka and eventually sold it to a carnival operator for $3,500, more than four times what she had originally paid for it. The car was seen in various exhibitions and displays, currently at home at the Primm Valley Resort and Casino in Primm, Nevada.
When making his film in 1967, director Arthur Penn was well-aware of the iconic status of the Bonnie and Clyde death car. Although other cars ranged in makes and models, Penn ensured that he would have a ’34 Ford V8 Fordor sedan – identical to Bonnie and Clyde’s death car – for the final scene. Since Penn’s characters steal the car in Iowa after the Dexfield Park gunfight, it has a set of Iowa plates (#3-6126) rather than the Kansas or Arkansas plates that were actually on the real car.
I don’t know who provided the film’s “death car”. Six of the vintage autos seen in the film were loaned by a Mr. Seng from Castro Valley, California, who specialized in restoring old Fords from that era. As Mr. Seng’s only requirement was that none of the cars be shot up, he was clearly not the lender of the final Ford.
Did You Know…? Faye Dunaway’s leg was tied to the gear shift to prevent her from falling out of the car as it rocked during the ambush.
How to Get the Look
Although it wasn’t what the real Clyde was wearing at the time of his death, the white shirt and light trousers allow for the blood to create a shocking contrast. If you plan on getting shot to bits by a posse of angry policemen, wear light colors to really make yourself stand out!
- Dark gray wool single-breasted vest with 6 black horn buttons and a distinctive dark diamond-patterned silk lining
- Light gray flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted right rear pocket, button-through left rear pocket, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White dress shirt with point collar, front placket, and buttoned barrel cuffs
- Black leather belt with a rounded square brass single-prong buckle
- Black leather plain-toe oxfords/balmorals
- Black dress socks
- Brown plastic-rimmed sunglasses with round dark lenses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. And, if the film has taught you anything, don’t lead a life of crime.
The last words of Beatty’s Clyde are, rather fittingly, an insult to the family that will betray him.
I tell you, if that boy didn’t have his head strapped on him, he’d lose it.
Roman, an excellent and astute commenter on this blog, suggested that “I Fought the Law” would be a very appropriate song to accompany Clyde and Bonnie’s final moments.
Originally recorded by Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets in 1959, it was made popular by Bobby Fuller’s 1966 version and was still very popular around the time of the film’s release the following year. The song was doubtlessly on the minds of both the filmmakers and the audience as they watched Clyde and Bonnie succumbing to the law “winning”!
(Thanks for the suggestion, Roman!)
Interestingly, the famed ambush wasn’t even supposed to be filmed. The original screenplay reads…
The gun fight takes just seconds during which law fires eight-seven shots at BONNIE and CLYDE, giving them absolutely no chance. The sound is rapid, deafening.
At no point in the gun fight do we see BONNIE and CLYDE in motion. We see, instead, two still photographs cut into the sequence: one of Clyde, half out of the car, taking careful dead aim with his gun, just as he did in the teaching scene: one of BONNIE, in terror, a pack of cigarettes in her hand clutched tight, looking as fragile and beautiful as she can be. The noise stops at once. Utter silence. It has been a massacre. BONNIE and CLYDE never had a chance to return the gunfire. We see the car, a complete shambles. We never see BONNIE and CLYDE dead, though for a moment we discern their bodies slumped in the car. The camera pulls above the car until it is on a level with the opposite side of the road. Then, slowly, the six lawmen stand up in the trench. On the faces of the five deputies, horror and shock at what they have just done. HAMER, however, registers no emotion. His face is a blank. He lights a cigarette. Slowly, slowly, the five men begin to edge closer to the car to see the result. Music, the wild country breakdown music, begins on the sound track. Before they reach the car, the camera swings away from them, past them, and zooms out and above into the meadow where the two truck drivers are standing--tiny, distant figures. The truck drivers begin to walk toward the camera, coming back to the road to see what happened. They get closer and closer to the camera until they have reached a middle distance and, as they continue to walk at us, it is-- THE END CUT TO BLACK.
A lot of information from this page, as I mentioned, comes from Frank Ballinger’s excellent Bonnie & Clyde’s Hideout page. If you’re a Barrow Gang historian, please visit the site. I can’t recommend it enough! I’ve been visiting it for more than ten years and I’m still always seeing or learning something new.
Did any of you happen to catch the two-part mini-series, also titled Bonnie and Clyde, last week on A&E/History Channel/Lifetime? What’d you think?
My thoughts: If nothing else, the 2013 mini-series was very aesthetically pleasing. Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger (why have I never heard of her before this?!) looked remarkably like the outlaws, with the costumes – especially Bonnie’s “photo session” dress – looking dead on. They also had many small details that were pleasing to see, like the dates, Clyde’s preference for BARs, and settings like the Barrow service station on Eagle Ford Road.
There were obvious bits of we-need-to-do-this-for-dramatic-purposes like Clyde at Bonnie’s wedding, Clyde meeting Frank Hamer, and the reporter with the bad wig, and there were moments of why-the-hell-couldn’t-they-just-tell-the-straight-story like cutting out the fifth member of the gang during the Buck & Blanche era, fucking up the timeline and stuffing pretty much everything into 1932, etc.
In fact, yeah, it was the timeline stuff that bothered me the most. It was almost as though they had a good chronological script, then some head honcho at Lifetime said, “Oh, no, let’s move this fun prison break scene to halfway through the first part! Instead of where it should be.” Even if they weren’t in the right places, I was glad to see coverage of oft-ignored incidents like the car crash, the initial Denton crime that landed Buck in jail, and the Hillsboro and Stringtown shootings. The circumstances weren’t correct, but it’s a start and it invigorates these as part of the Barrow Gang legend for new viewers. I missed seeing the Joplin gunfight though 🙁
I’m not sure where I stand on the emphasis of Clyde’s “second sight” and Bonnie’s proto-Kardashian dreams of success. Both are certainly rooted in truth, as Clyde had an uncanny way of avoiding detection and Bonnie’s diaries reveal her hopes for stardom. She was more timid in real life than the show’s femme fatale, but Ms. Grainger did an excellent job with the material and made a very lovely Bonnie.
A highlight, in addition to the performances, was the final ambush. Played very true to fact, unlike the 1967 film, the shot of the trapped couple being shot to pieces inside the car was horrifying in just the right way. Clyde’s valediction of love just before the gunfire is especially poignant. (Although in real life, he probably just asked her for a bite of the sandwich or something. We’ll never know.)
For a breakdown of the miniseries’ interpretation of Clyde’s death suit, check out my post from May 2014 on the 80th anniversary of their deaths.
All in all, it was an entertaining series for fans of the era who don’t mind a lack of historical authenticity and want to see a refreshment of the Barrow Gang saga. If I was expecting a documentary, I’d be sorely disappointed. It was probably unnecessary to make, especially since it wasn’t as accurate as it could have been, but I was very entertained and I certainly hope to own it and watch it again. This review echoes some of my more positive thoughts. The most important thing is that it’s another tool to introduce the legend to a new generation of enthusiasts.