Gene Hackman as “Buck” Barrow, bank robber, ex-convict, and family man
Texas, May 1933
Film: Bonnie & Clyde
Release Date: August 13, 1967
Director: Arthur Penn
Costume Designer: Theadora Van Runkle
Happy birthday to Gene Hackman, who turns 86 years old today!
Bonnie and Clyde marked the first major role for Hackman, who had spent much of the ’60s as a struggling actor who shared rooms with fellow struggling actors Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall. 1967 turned out to be a banner year for the friends and roommates, earning Hackman and Hoffman their first Academy Award nominations.
Hackman brings an easygoing charm to the role of the more famous Clyde’s older brother Buck, and the film gets many of the “on paper” details right about Buck. As Clyde’s older brother, he had more experience tangling with the law and spent the first few months of Clyde’s criminal career in the Texas state prison. He had escaped once, but – as Hackman tells Warren Beatty’s Clyde – it was his new wife Blanche that talked him into returning to prison to serve out the rest of his sentence, and he would be pardoned 15 months later. Buck and Blanche journeyed to visit Bonnie and Clyde, ostensibly for a reunion and possibly for Buck to try and talk Clyde into following his good example. Of course, the murder of two Joplin policemen during this reunion meant Buck would be wanted again as well, and the brothers led the motley “Barrow Gang” in a string of small-town stickups and kidnappings over the next three months.
The charismatic Buck that Hackman portrays is far from the dangerous and serious criminal that had become so well known to Dallas police. Born Marvin Ivan Barrow in March 1903 in west Texas, the adventurous boy quickly gained a reputation for his restless spirit and was given the nickname “Buck”. Buck’s restlessness, combined with poverty and any existing psychological factors, made the young man’s descent into crime inevitable. The impressionable Clyde, six years younger and always looking up to Buck, would certainly follow in the same path. In November 1929, two weeks after Buck made the acquaintance of a lovely young Oklahoma girl named Blanche Caldwell, Buck was shot, wounded, and captured during a holdup in Denton, Texas. Clyde, who had been one of his accomplices, got away. (Perhaps if the family would have had the foresight to observe Clyde’s ability to run away from trouble while Buck was constantly being captured, they would have endowed the younger brother with the “Buck” moniker.)
While he enjoyed a joke as much as any other good ol’ boy, Buck was still a serious, deadly criminal who didn’t hesitate to pick up a shotgun or one of Clyde’s trademark Browning Automatic Rifles to fire back at the police when the gang was cornered. He was certainly the triggerman in at least one of the two Joplin policemen’s deaths, and he alone was responsible for the death of Henry D. Humphrey, the city marshal of Alma, Arkansas who nearly captured Buck and gang member W.D. Jones after a failed robbery.
(Blanche, who was still alive when Bonnie and Clyde was released in 1967, was incensed at her portrayal by Estelle Parsons and was embarrassed that she had taken her husband Eddie with her to see the film. She had previously approved the script and was fond of Warren Beatty, but Blanche said the finished product made her look like “a screaming horses’s ass!” Of course, Parsons had the last laugh as she was the only cast member to receive an Academy Award for her performance.)
What’d He Wear?
A curious choice for a warm Texas day, Hackman’s Buck accompanies Bonnie and Clyde on a bank robbery while wearing a brown Donegal tweed three-piece suit with light brown horn buttons on the jacket and vest. (Clyde himself wears a brown herringbone tweed suit, so perhaps the day was colder than it looks!)
Buck’s single-breasted suitcoat has notch lapels (with a buttonhole through the left lapel) that roll to the top of the jacket’s 2-button front. It has a breast pocket and straight hip pockets with flaps, although the flaps are often tucked in. The shoulders are padded with roping at the sleeveheads and 2-button cuffs. The lining is burgundy-colored, and a single vent cuts up the back to ease some of Buck’s more acrobatic bank robbery maneuvers.
Buck’s suit has a matching single-breasted vest with a single-breasted, 6-button front. It has four welt pockets and a notched bottom. Although Buck never takes off his suit jacket during these scenes, the tan-colored back lining can be seen when he leaps over the bank counter.
Much of the men’s costuming in Bonnie and Clyde is mixed-and-matched from various suits and outfits, adding a sense of verisimilitude since these people were constantly on the move, washing their clothes in rivers and streams when they couldn’t take the chance to visit a small-town laundry. Buck previously wore the tweed trousers from this suit while hanging out with the gang in Joplin, paired with his leather flight jacket and a blue chambray shirt. These low rise trousers have a flat front with on-seam side pockets but no back pockets. The legs are slightly flared with narrow turn-ups.
Although suspenders or braces are traditionally worn with three-piece suits, a true Texan like Buck wears a big brass horseshoe-shaped belt buckle on his tan tooled leather belt. Belts were also becoming more common on men’s trousers during the previous decades as waist lines began to fall lower.
Buck’s dress shirt looks solid white in most shots, but close-ups reveal subtle thin gray stripes. The shirt has a front placket and 1-button rounded cuffs.
Buck wears a solid red silk tie that reveals its surprisingly short length when he opens his vest while counting money after the bank job.
On his feet, Buck sports a pair of brown calfskin leather medallion wingtip bluchers with black socks.
Though he didn’t wear it during the heist itself, Buck’s hat is a black felt wide-brimmed fedora with black grosgrain edges and a red grosgrain ribbon.
Hackman recalls a story from the set when he noticed an old Texan farmer behind him, staring at him. The man said, “Hell, Buck would’ve never worn a hat like that.” Hackman turned to him and responded with, “Maybe not.” The farmer stepped forward to introduce himself by saying, “Nice to meet you. I’m one of the Barrows.”
Go Big or Go Home
The bank robbery that serves as the centerpiece of the movie would have been pure fantasy for the real Clyde, who hardly ever left a bank without more than a few hundred dollars clenched in his fist while tellers, guards, and police fired wild shots all around him. Clyde is given a heroic moment of allowing a poor farmer to keep his own cash since it doesn’t belong to the bank, an apocryphal story often attributed to either John Dillinger or “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
Buck is also given a Dillinger-esque moment when he swiftly leaps over the tellers’ cage in a stunt borrowed often times in real life by John Dillinger, who had himself lifted it from watching Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro.
And, of course, the always considerate Buck wouldn’t think to leave the scene of a crime without picking up a little something for his wife; Buck filches a pair of sunglasses from an elderly security guard for his wife, Blanche. This would turn out to be a fortuitous gift as Blanche is only a few weeks away from being nearly blinded!
How to Get the Look
- Brown Donegal tweed suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single rear vent
- Single-breasted 6-button vest with four welt pockets, notched bottom, and tan-lined back
- Flat front low rise trousers with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
- White gray-striped dress shirt with front placket and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Red silk short necktie
- Tan tooled leather belt with curved brass horseshoe-shaped buckle
- Brown calfskin leather medallion wingtip bluchers
- Black dress socks
- Black felt fedora with red grosgrain ribbon
Although both Clyde and his brother preferred .45-caliber Colt M1911 pistols, the .45 ACP blank round was notoriously unreliable in semi-automatic handguns at the time Bonnie and Clyde was filmed. Buck’s preferred sidearm throughout the film is thus a Colt New Service revolver, also chambered in .45 ACP.
The New Service was first produced by Colt in 1898 to fill both government and civilian contracts. The swing-out cylinder was still in its relative infancy after having been introduced for the 1889 model New Army & Navy revolver. For nearly fifty years, the Colt New Service was produced in a variety of heavy calibers from .357 Magnum and .38 Special up to .44-40 Winchester and .455 Webley. As a large-framed service revolver, barrel lengths ranged between 4″ and 7.5″.
The Colt New Service was first produced in .45 ACP during World War I when supplies of the M1911 pistol were unable to meet troop demands. The M1917 was developed, with Colt adapting its New Service and Smith & Wesson adapting its .44 Hand Ejector to fire .45 ACP cartridges loaded from half-moon clips.
Buck is seen with a few other weapons during the film, but the New Service appears to be his sidearm of choice. He fires a double-barreled shotgun during the Joplin gunfight, he holds a blued Smith & Wesson on Frank Hamer when they briefly capture the lawman, and he is seen loading Bonnie’s nickel-plated Smith & Wesson after the bank robbery featured in this scene. Hackman also holds a Winchester lever rifle in some promotional photos for the film, but these are never seen in the gang’s arsenal (either in the movie or in real life).
Do Yourself a Favor and…
I also was lucky to recently watch an episode of American Experience with a very good friend of mine who has been interested in learning more about the outlaw duo, and I found myself very pleased to be able to watch it without having to interject with corrections or commentary of my own! (Also, I think she’s now seriously considering bank robbery as a vocation.)
We’re the Barrow boys!