“We rob banks.”
BONNIE AND CLYDE
Arthur Penn . 1966
In 1964, US producer Lewis Allen had a script by Robert Benton and David Newman. They were fans of the French nouvelle vague icon François Truffaut. They wanted him to direct. Contact was made, everyone met up in New York and the realisateur eventually agreed - for a mere $80,000, “advanced against 10% of the producer's net receipts” - to direct his friend, Alexandra Stewart, and Terence Stamp... “whom, I admire very much and who hopes to play Montag in Fahrenheit 451. He’s very particular about hiscareer, it’s possible he may want to do Fahrenheit and not Bonnieand Clyde. This is a question mark.”
No such query about Alexandra. “She corresponds perfectly to the character. She is English Canadian, fully bilingual and takes on any accent whatsoever with great facility.”
Truffaut was confident about her as actress and friend, she would beanother “reassuring presence,” alongside his personal assistant Helen Scott, while making his first film in English. He first talked to Alexandra about Bonnie when she was shooting Mickey One with, ironically... Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn.
Stamp refused both films and . anyway by then Truffaut preferred Anthony “Scooter” Teague and Robert Walker Jr to his producers’ suggestion of Paul Newman for Clyde (no longer bi-sexual in the Frenchman’s script).
Truffaut quit for Fahrenheit (with Newman, at first) and suggested hisfellow French New Wave icon, Jean-Luc Godard. “I let him read it, and he loved it as well (‘I love Bonnie and I also love Clyde’). He’s made more films than me because is works rapdily:on preparation, shooting, and editing.” Godard collided America in New York when the the writer and their then producers - Lewis Allen and Elinor Jones - thought him quite mad when saying the story - in and of Texas - could be made anywhere, ”even Tokyo” with two Japanaese teenagers as the titular couple!
He wasn’t mad. Just too Godard. Truffaut told his friend Elinor Jones…
“Of all the screenplays I’ve turned down…
Bonnie and Clyde was by far the best.”
When Warren Betty took charge, Godard had a similarly disastrous meet with him in London in January 1966. While Beatty and Arthur Penn went on to do their classic thing, Godard reverted to a Clyde of his own. Well, three... His Pierrot le fou, 1965, was based on Pierre Loutrel, a French Public Enemy #1 of the 40s, In 1979, Godard tried to get together with his Pierrot, Jean-Paul Belmondo, again for a film about Jacques Mesrine, the 60s Public Enemy #1 and by 1979, the bilious realisateur was planning a Bugsy Siegel story, with Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton, for Coppola’s Zoetrope. (Keaton, who was not yet sharing Beatty’s aura, had played Clyde Barrow in a home movie made by her mother in 1967. “And that became our central problem. I wanted to be Warren Beatty, not love him.”)
At his beginning, Beatty immediately went backtoa previous Truffaut choice, Jane Fonda. Living with director husband Roger Vadimin France, she had zero interest in moving back to LA.
Truffaut told Warren Beatty of the script (Warren’s lover Leslie Caron translating). Beatty saw it as a Western- and Westerns were out. Leslie advised him to buy. At first, they intended to play the leads until realising Bonnie had to be American.And so, the film split up the couple. “Warren wasaway working on locationin Texas for months, then in post-production in Hollywood, whereas I was in England.”
Carol Lynley looked far too young for Beatty (Faye Dunaway was just 13 months older). Beatty also considered Cher, even his sister, Shirley MacLaine.
“That,” said Shirley, “was
adding incest to injury.”
”Warren wanted another star,” said Arthur Penn. And Natalie Wood “loved the script, loved the part,” but recalled working with Warren had been difficult - during Splendor in the Grass, 1961. And she did not fall for his notorious, silver-tongued sweet-talk. After a succession of flops, she lacked confidence, could not be away in Texas from her daily analysis. - she was through.
Quite the opposite, Beatty insisted. “At that point, I wasn't getting a lot of offers and Natalie was riding the crest of her career. Well, it didn't take long to see she wasn't interested in doing a picture with me. Besides, she figured the idea didn't have a chance.”
Next stop: Tuesday Weld. “You’re crazy! Do you think I want success? I refused… because I was nursing [her first child, Natasha Harz] at the time, but also because down deep I knew that it was going to be a huge success. I may be self-destructive, but I like taking chances with movies. I like challenges, and I also like the particular position I’ve been in all these years, with people wanting to save me from the awful films I’ve been in. I’m happy being a legend. I think the Tuesday Weld cult is a very nice thing.”
Ann-Margret was just plain scared of Arthur Penn. “And I'd never read for a film before.”
Warren was close to signing Sue Lolita Lyon when Penn suggested an actresss who had impressed him in the Hogan's Goat play. “I hadn't felt so sure of an actress for a part since Anne Bancroft and Two For The See-Saw. ” Faye Dunaway!
"Faye was more right than I - and I knew it," commented another contender, Katharine Ross. So Faye it was, and Morgan Fairchild began her movie career as her stand-in.
Arthur Penn assured me there was
no truth to the legend of Jack Nicholson
being dropped as their driver CW Moss
He was never eve chosen because he and pal Beatty looked alike. Potato-faced Michael J Pollard became CW (based on Barrow gang members WD Jones, and Henry Methvin) . Nicholson was talked of for Clyde's brother, Buck. That role would make a star of Gene Hackman - who had made his screen debut in Lilith, 1964, with Beatty.
“That was only one day's work,” recalled Beatty, “but I suddenly woke up when talking to him.” He discussed Buck when visiting Hackman in a New York hospital with blood poisoning.
“It was so he would make me good.
It’s impossible to be bad in a scene
with Gene Hackman.”
Penn had seen Hackman and Estelle Parsons in a play “and knew they'd be great together.” In her screen debut, Parsons won one of the film's two only Oscars from ten nominations. Academicians (or their wives, lovers, secretaries, barbers or gardeners) never - well, rarely -vote for violence.
Legend says that Beatty kissed Warner boss Jack Warner's feet to get the budget. When his backer first saw the film - “If I have to pee, the picture stinks” - he called it the longest 130 minutes ever. “A three piss picture.”