Gene Hackman as “Buck” Barrow, Depression-era ex-convict looking to go straight
Joplin, Missouri, Spring 1933
Film: Bonnie & Clyde
Release Date: August 13, 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
BAMF Style’s been focusing a lot on law-abiding BAMFs lately, and – while their behavior may be admirable – it’s always welcome to shift back to characters with murkier legal histories. 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde is stylish in many regards, including the rugged outlaw style sported by Clyde’s older brother Buck, played charmingly by Gene Hackman in his first major on-screen role.
The real Marvin Barrow (aka “Buck”) was born in March 1903, making him six years older than his more infamous little brother Clyde. (Similarly, Gene Hackman is seven years older than Warren Beatty.) Buck had a reputation with local West Texas police as a tough scoundrel who never shied away from crime, although he didn’t display the psychopathic traits for which Clyde would be so feared by lawmen across the South and Midwest. Never more than a petty thief in the eyes of Dallas cops, Buck’s most notable early crime was just before Christmas 1926 when he and a 17-year-old Clyde were arrested with a truck full of stolen turkeys which they intended to sell for the holidays. Buck characteristically took the rap for he and Clyde and spent a week in jail.
Over the next three years, Buck continued making ends meet with the occasional odd job and the more occasional car theft. In November 1929, he met and instantly fell in love with Blanche Caldwell, a lovely preacher’s daughter from Oklahoma. Two weeks later, he was in police custody after a failed robbery in Denton where Clyde again left his older brother to pay the piper while the wily younger Barrow brother scrambled off to relative safety. As Buck began his sentence in the Texas State Prison, Clyde met a vulnerable young waitress from Rowena, and criminal history was made.
March 1930 was an eventful month for both the Barrow brothers and the lawmen who had been hounding them. During his budding romance with Bonnie Parker the previous month, Clyde was embarrassingly arrested at her mother’s home and sent to Waco to face charges. On March 5, Clyde was given two 7-year terms in the Texas State Prison in Huntsville. The only potential upside of this for the young criminal was that he would get to see his older brother Buck. However, Buck took the opportunity on March 8 to escape from the Huntsville pen by hopping into a guard’s car and making for Dallas. Three days later, Clyde himself would pull off an escape with the help of a reluctant Bonnie and an old .32 revolver.
Buck reunited with Blanche, and she became his third wife on July 3, 1931. Although later portrayed as an uptight shrew who couldn’t abide her husband’s criminal past, she actually would later admit to author John Neal Phillips that he had been very forthright with her about his career and that she had even participated in a few robberies with him. The criminal life doesn’t suit her, however, and she joins Buck’s mother Cumie in a campaign to convince him to return to prison and fulfill his four-year sentence to allow them to live a more peaceful life.
After spending Christmas with his family, Buck shocked the Huntsville warden when he drove up to the main prison facility of the Texas State Penitentiary and announced that he was back to complete his sentence after 21 months on the run. His only request was a safe assignment inside “the Walls” of Huntsville rather than a prison farm like Eastham, especially since his legs still bothered him after being wounded in the 1929 Denton robbery. Impressed prison officials gave Buck the placement he suggests and don’t add any additional time for the escape to his sentence. Cumie and Blanche again teamed up to petition the governor’s office for a parole on Buck’s behalf.
Despite Clyde’s growing notoriety at the time, Governor “Ma” Ferguson grants Buck a full pardon on March 23, 1933. He makes a brief stop home in West Dallas before heading to Denison to pick up Blanche and begin their lives together as free, law-abiding citizens.
The “happily ever after” story would have (and should have) ended there, but – unfortunately – Clyde returned to West Dallas the next day and learned from his family that Buck was paroled. Clyde jams his Ford’s pedal to the floor to make it to Wilmer by midnight to visit Buck and Blanche at her family’s farmhouse. After four hours of Blanche pleading for her husband not to team up with his murderous brother, Buck agrees to a “family reunion” in Joplin, Missouri, a town considered to be a safe haven for the era’s criminals. By dawn, Clyde, Bonnie, and their young “apprentice” W.D. Jones have left after making plans to meet up in Joplin. Blanche is allowed to bring her little dog Snow Ball. Ostensibly, Buck agrees to the trip on the condition that he will only be there to talk Clyde into following his example of giving himself up. Whether or not he knew subconsciously what would happen is unknown.
Four months after Buck’s pardon, he is bleeding from a grievous head wound in an abandoned amusement park in Dexter, Iowa, surrounded by his now-blinded wife and their three criminal confederates. The gang is bloodied and nearly beaten, and it is decided that Buck should be returned to West Dallas as quickly as possible so that he would at least be granted the comfort of dying at home.
On the morning of July 24, 1933, the gang is alerted to an approaching posse. Bonnie screams, and the entire gang – Blanche included – scrambles to grab weapons. The shooting commences with rapid fire from both the hidden lawmen and the exposed bandits. Blanche tries to shield Buck from any fire. Clyde determines that the only way he and Bonnie could be saved is to abandon his dying brother. Buck tries to convince Blanche to run on without him and makes a final stand against the posse, but he is shot five more times. Blanche cries out: “Stop, for god’s sake, stop! Don’t shoot anymore! You’ve already killed him!” Although he is mortally wounded, Buck would hang on for five more days before finally dying in a Dexter hospital.
What’d He Wear?
Hackman’s Buck reunites with Clyde in a comfortable traveling outfit that fits the character’s more practical, lighthearted nature. The primary garment of his early outfits is a distressed brown leather jacket that resembles the classic U.S. military A-2 flight jacket. The only notable difference between Buck’s jacket and the A-2 is the lack of epaulettes – or shoulder straps – on Buck’s coat. Given the natural distressed state of his leather, it’s both possible and likely that the version worn by Hackman in the film was made by a private contractor to meet personal military demand after the U.S. Army Air Force stopped officially issuing them in 1943.
Following the U.S. Army Air Forces Class 13 Catalog describing the Jacket, Flying, Type A-2 with Spec No. 94-3040, Buck’s jacket can be described as “seal brown horsehide leather” with “knitted wristlets and waistband”. His jacket also has the shirt-style collar and flapped hip pockets characteristic of the A-2. These patch pockets – located on both the right and left side – close with a snap on a pointed flap. There are no handwarmer pockets as the A-2 was designed without them to maintain a man’s military posture without stuffing his hands into his pockets.
Buck’s jacket also has the leather storm flap over the front zipper; it’s worth noting that the A-2, which was adopted as standard issue on May 9, 1931, was one of the first pieces of clothing that was designed to use a zipper as its primary method of closure. The previous flying jacket, the Type A-1 adopted in 1927, used buttons on both the front and the pocket flaps.
Buck’s jacket has a tan lightweight cotton inner lining and, as its likely a civilian garment, lacks the military spec tag under the back collar. The stitched shoulder straps, which the military added when it developed the A-2, are also missing.
When he first meets up with Clyde, Bonnie, and C.W. at their motor cabin, Buck is sporting his jacket with an ivory shirt, patterned silk tie, and charcoal trousers. By the time they hit the road for Joplin (ostensibly the following day), he switches to a blue chambray shirt, striped tie, and tweed trousers. His belt and shoes remain the same.
Buck’s first shirt is light ivory poplin with a slim, moderately spread collar. It has a breast pocket, button cuffs, and a plain front with no placket. His tie is cream silk with a Deco motif consisting of small, interconnected maroon, gray, and gold diamonds. Both the pattern and the shape of the tie is very ’30s with its wide bottom. He ties it in a tight four-in-hand with a small knot that hangs just below the top collar button of his shirt.
His charcoal flannel trousers are flat front with a considerably low rise. The cuffed bottoms have narrow turn-ups with a slightly flared leg and a short break. Buck’s trousers all appear to be similarly styled with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, and no rear pockets.
For the drive to Joplin (and subsequent gunfight), Buck now wears a light blue chambray shirt. Other than the button cuffs (which he wears rolled-up for most of the scene), it is styled very differently from his last shirt with no breast pocket and white buttons down a front placket.
Buck’s second tie, which he quickly abandons after settling into the gang’s Joplin hideout, is dark green with sets of thin, lighter green stripes crossing from right-down-to-left.
Buck’s brown tweed trousers in Joplin appear to belong to the matching three-piece suit he will later wear for the gang’s big bank robbery in north Texas. (A tweed three-piece suit wouldn’t be my attire of choice for an action-packed summer day in Texas, but we’ll get to that in a later post.) These trousers are similarly styled to the charcoal flannel ones.
A proud Texan, Buck wears a tan tooled leather belt that fastens in the front through a large curved steel “horseshoe”-shaped buckle, evoking the state’s rugged reputation. Buck wears a pair of brown calfskin leather oxfords with high black socks.
Buck’s only other accessory is a beige wool newsboy cap that he removes soon after reuniting with his little brother. The newsboy cap is differentiated from a standard flat cap by its eight-paneled crown and top center button.
Go Big or Go Home
Learn a good joke. Just don’t overuse it.
Hey, you wanna hear a story ’bout this boy? He owned a dairy farm, see. And his ol’ Ma, she was kinda sick, you know. And the doctor, he had called him come over, and said, uh, “Uhh listen, your Ma, she’s lyin’ there, she’s just so sick and she’s weakly, and uh, uh I want ya to try to persuade her to take a little brandy,” you see. Just to pick her spirits up, ya know. And “Ma’s a teetotaler,” he says. “She wouldn’t touch a drop.” “Well, I’ll tell ya whatcha do, uh,” – the doc – “I’ll tell ya whatcha do, you bring in a fresh quart of milk every day and you put some brandy in it, see. And see. You try that.” So he did. And he doctored it all up with the brandy, fresh milk, and he gave it to his Mom. And she drank a little bit of it, you know. So next day, he brought it in again and she drank a little more, you know. And so they went on that way for the third day and just a little more, and the fourth day, she was, you know, took a little bit more – and then finally, one week later, he gave her the milk and she just drank it down. Boy, she swallowed the whole, whole, whole thing, you know. And she called him over, and she said, “Son, whatever you do, don’t sell that cow!”
How to Get the Look
Buck’s casual attire is simple but unique, establishing him as a tough but playful “good ol’ boy” with its military and Western influences.
- Brown horsehide leather flight jacket with shirt-style collar, storm-flapped zip front, snap-flapped hip pockets, and knit waistband and cuffs
- Light ivory dress shirt with slim spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Cream silk necktie with an interconnected maroon-gray-gold diamond Deco-style motif
- Charcoal flannel flat front trousers with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, no rear pockets, and cuffed bottoms/turn-ups
- Tan tooled leather belt with large curved steel “horseshoe” single-claw buckle
- Brown calfskin leather oxfords
- Black socks
- Beige wool newsboy cap
To switch up the look, opt for a blue work shirt or brown tweed trousers. Just be careful… Buck’s luck changed when he did that.
Buck isn’t looking for any trouble when he meets up with his brother. Nevertheless, trouble finds the Barrow boys in Joplin, and Buck reverts to his basic nature of defending his brother… and doing so with a gun. He picks up a classic coach gun, a double-barreled shotgun with exposed hammers and a sawn barrel, and gets to work.
While Buck is seen killing at least one policeman with his shotgun during the film’s version of the Joplin gun battle, it’s most likely that both officers killed in real life – Detective Harry L. McGinnis and Constable John Harryman – were shot by Clyde.
This evidently becomes Buck’s long arm of choice, as he later dramatically snaps the barrel into place when “questioning” Eugene Grizzard during the gang’s impromptu kidnapping. The variety of these shotguns made since the development of the boxlock action in 1875 makes it difficult to identify the exact manufacturer of Buck’s shotgun.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the Ultimate Collector’s Edition. It’s a must-have for all Bonnie & Clyde fans with its booklets and hours of supplemental material. As of yesterday, it was only $6!
You’d also be well-advised to visit Frank Ballinger’s page, Bonnie & Clyde’s Texas Hideout, the ultimate web source for Barrow gang knowledge and artifacts. For an additional fascinating perspective to the Barrow gang’s saga, you should read Blanche’s book, My Life with Bonnie and Clyde, edited by Barrow historian John Neal Phillips.
We gonna have ourselves a time, boy!