The Other Side Of Bonnie & Clyde

Director: Larry Buchanan
Jo Enterentree, Lucky Mosley

When it comes to famous people, it's easy to get swept up with what the general feeling of the public is towards these infamous figures. But one should remember that frequently arguments can be made so that members of the public could have the opposite opinion. Let me give you an example concerning different perspectives about a real life figure - Dracula. No, I am not talking about the fictional vampire Dracula. Instead, I am talking about the real person who inspired writer Bram Stoker to name his fictional vampire after him. That person being Prince Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, the ruler of the eastern European territory of Wallachia (now part of Romania) in the fifteenth century. Multiple reports of the time portray him as the worst kind of monster, not just for the fact that the thousands of people he had impaled on wooden stakes gave him his nickname. For example, there is one report where he invited all of the elderly, poor, and handicapped people in the area for a grand feast and plenty of liquor. During the feast, Vlad asked all of his guests, "Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world?" Naturally, his well fed and intoxicated guests replied in the affirmative. So what did Vlad then do after getting this response? He had the building that his guests were in boarded up with the guests still inside, and promptly had the building set on fire, killing everyone. Vlad later said of this, "I did this so that no one would be poor in my realm." More likely than not after reading this, your opinion of Vlad is decisively negative. So you may be surprised to learn that there are a lot of people who think the opposite of this man. Specifically, the people who live in Romania today. Although they acknowledge that Vlad was at times very cruel and brutal, all the same they consider him some kind of hero, because not only did Vlad fight off Turkish invaders trying to conquer the country, but imposed a kind of strict morality to his people.

While it is certainly interesting to see a society as a whole judge a famous figure, it is also equally interesting to see one part of society present their impression of the famous. Of course, what I really want to get into is how the motion picture industry has taken famous figures and made movies about them that are quite often far from the truth. For example, there was the famous baseball player Babe Ruth, who in 1948 had a movie made about his life (The Babe Ruth Story). The movie has earned a reputation as being one of the worst baseball movies of all time. Naturally, that got me to search for a copy to watch if its reputation was accurate, and I have to say that I agree with that declaration. The movie portrayed Babe Ruth as a simpleton, albeit one that was very lovable in private life - which was far from the truth. Actually, I can understand why the filmmakers glossed over his life in that film. That's because in 1992, Hollywood released The Babe, a Ruth biopic that showed the baseball star in a darker and more accurate viewpoint. But the public wasn't very interested in seeing an American hero look so sordid, even if it was accurate. The box office and critical failure of this movie may also explain some certain kind of biopics that have confused me since I was a kid. What I'm talking about are movies that take notorious real-life bad people and make them into heroes. This can be seen best in westerns that were made for decades during the golden age of Hollywood. Billy the Kid and Jesse James are just two real life outlaws that had multiple movies made about them that portrayed them as being not all that bad at all, instead of the downright evil robbers and killers that they really were.

But there are certainly a number of non-western movies that take people who were bad and whitewash them to a degree. One such movie is the 1967 critically acclaimed movie Bonnie And Clyde, which of course concerned real life bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The Other Side Of Bonnie & ClydeCertainly, the movie did show them robbing banks and killing people... but at the same time, I could sense that the movie was romanticizing these two criminals, such as the fact the movie cast two famous actors in the role who were significantly older than the real ages of the criminals. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie, but at the same time I wanted to know the real story. So you are probably guessing that when I got into my hands a copy of the documentary The Other Side Of Bonnie & Clyde, I was happy. Actually, I had a somewhat queasy feeling, because the documentary was made by notorious filmmaker Larry Buchanan, who made during his career a bunch of awful movies like The Loch Ness Horror and Mars Needs Women. But at the same time, Buchanan taking a change of pace and making a documentary did sound somewhat interesting. And Buchanan managed to wrangle a sizable star to narrate The Other Side Of Bonnie & Clyde, that being Burl Ives (Earthbound). Ives starts narrating as soon as the documentary begins with displaying archival photographs of the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, uttering, "Wanted for murder in three states." Ives then proceeds to describe the pair's vital statistics, illustrating that they were in no way like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the 1967 movie. For example, Barrow was only 25 years old, and Parker was only four feet and ten inches tall and dyed her hair red.

After giving the audience a few more facts about the notorious pair, Ives moves on to reminding the audience of the rise of the "frightening importance" of the movie Bonnie And Clyde, which had been released the previous year. In case we forgot, Ives reminds us that the movie was based on the crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in 1934, as well as of Texas Ranger Frank Hamer's drive to stop the pair. Ives notes that the movie was a big influence on youths all over the world, from changing their hairstyles to their dress and language. Ives then adds, "The motion picture has raised certain sobering questions. Was this film and others like it a... fad for audiences that need to be shot to feel any kind of emotion? When viewers in Tokyo, London, and New York City applaud and cheer at the death of law enforcers on the screen, is it more fuel for the violence that grips our cities?" I guess that is something to think about, but I did wonder about the footage that was being displayed during this particular questioning - newly shot footage of an actress playing Bonnie Parker shooting a police officer in the face. I guess Buchanan wanted his particular audience to really think about these questions - right?

Ives then goes on to say that the documentary we are about to see will be as factual as three decades of research can make it. "We are searching for the answers to these questions: Is the cult for Bonnie and Clyde cause or effect, or both? It is escapism or a sedative? Is it myth or madness?" The opening credits start to unfold, and when the title for the documentary is displayed, it is clearly not the original title of the movie, seeing that it's video generated over a freeze-frame. Maybe Buchanan wanted us to see the other side when it came to movie titles. The credits go on to state that this "document" was produced in association with "The Estate of Captain Frank Hamer and the Publishers of I'M FRANK HAMER 1968 The Pemberton Press" All these capital letters are nothing to shout about. After the opening credits, we very abruptly jump (and without any real proper introduction) to Hamer's widow, reading out loud a letter from a twelve-year-old girl. She starts off by reading, "'And I am interested in Captain Frank Hamer.'" Either the girl didn't know how to properly start a letter, or Hamer's widow skipped some of the letter. Hamer's widow goes on to read that the girl and her friends liked the movie Bonnie & Clyde, and they hated the character of Hamer in the movie. But when the girl subsequently learned the real facts of Bonnie, Clyde, and Hamer, she saw that the real Hamer was a good person.

What does Hamer's widow think about that? Sorry, we immediately cut to someone else. This new person is introduced with the blurb "John Jenkins, Biographer" Some more detail would have been nice, but maybe that's just me. He goes on to say that Clyde was "paranoid" and Bonnie was "worse", and lists some ways as to how troubled the two were thanks to "interviews". With whom? Sorry, he doesn't tell us. He finishes by saying that the two didn't deserve their glorification, and then we abruptly cut to Sofia Cook, listed as a captive of Bonnie and Clyde. She states going to the Warren Beatty movie because it was so popular, and being somewhat appalled by that glorification, stating that they were just "terrible characters" in real life. Then once again, we abruptly cut to another person, this being Frank Hamer Jr. He shows off one of the real guns that Bonnie Parker used, and that Bonnie in real life tried to use it mere seconds after she and Clyde were ambushed for a final time. While he's telling us this, Buchanan shows us real footage of Bonnie and Clyde's car after they were shot down by the authorities. If you look carefully at the footage, you can see what appears to be Bonnie's body still in the car. It's pretty tasteful under the circumstances, I guess, which makes me annoyed that the Hollywood film censorship code started just earlier that year.

Next, Burl Ives talks more about earlier that year for Bonnie and Clyde, giving a very very very long list of towns and cities that the infamous two visited. Yes, I want accuracy, but that's going too far. We then return to the subject of Hamer Sr., where we learn a few interesting tidbits, like the fact Hamer didn't actually meet Bonnie and Clyde until the day he demanded their surrender. Until that day, Hamer was a dedicated detective, studying the abandoned hideouts and camps thoroughly for clues. Then abruptly, we change course again, this time so that narrator Ives and Jenkins can talk about the social climate of the time. It's not at all surprising, since we already know about the Great Depression and ruthless cops, so Ives and Jenkins basically just say that life sucked at that time. Cook also gets to basically say this, as well as reminding us that most people at the time were good and Bonnie and Clyde were bad. I was wondering at this point if she'd ever get specific with her experience with the duo, especially since at this point the documentary changes direction again. This time, Ives start going into more depth about the backgrounds of Bonnie and Clyde. Unfortunately, it has all the depth of a kiddie pool. We learn next to nothing about Bonnie and Clyde's lives up to the point when they met, and a few interesting details (like Bonnie being married to another criminal before meeting Clyde) are not expanded upon.

It should come as no surprise that when Ives start to talk about when Bonnie and Clyde got together, he also rushes through their years together before they started to hold up grocery stores and banks in full force. So a lot of details are not really clear about the relationship between the two, especially when the documentary then shows us a recreation of an incident with Clyde... with another woman. The recreation shows us Clyde attempting to hold up a gas station for money and gas, but for some unknown reason deciding to shoot the gas station owner two seconds after making his demands to the surprised man. Maybe this is what exactly happened in real life, but I am sure that the reactions by the real participants weren't as broadly theatrical as they are here. Also, Buchanan shoots the scene without giving us a clear look at the faces of Clyde and the other woman, a strange choice because this seems to be a technique to give people in movies an aura of sorts. Maybe he thought this was the other side of these deadly criminals. Then Buchanan cuts to telling us about Raymond Hamilton, a fellow criminal who spent time with Bonnie and Clyde for a while. Buchanan seems to want to tell us that Raymond and Clyde had some sort of sexual relationship, but remains pretty coy about it despite zooming into the clenched hands of a photo of Raymond and Clyde together.

Not long after that, we get another recreation, this being when the fugitive Bonnie and Clyde are in a motel and are surrounded by law enforcers. Actually "surrounding" seems to be inappropriate, since there are only four law enforcers (who are dressed in 1960s style clothing), and they all approach the same side of the motel. And the "motel" is clearly an abandoned building that was never built for that purpose originally. Once again, we never see Clyde and Bonnie's faces as they make their escape. Then eventually we return to Raymond Hamilton, who we learn had been captured and was in prison. Hamilton makes a daring escape, grabbing a stashed gun while out on work duty in the countryside, though it's not made clear who exactly provided that gun and got word to Hamilton about it. Ives then tells us that Hamilton escaped with four other prisoners, and we get to see the mug shots and hear the names of three of them. Why the fourth was not identified is never explained. This is when the authorities decided to bring in Frank Hamer to track down and stop Bonnie and Clyde. For the next few minutes, we get a biography of Hamer, and it's pretty poor stuff. Not because of the man's accomplishments - we learn how as a Texas Ranger he spent decades crushing various criminal deeds - but because we don't know what made Hamer tick. His childhood is covered in just a few seconds, we don't know what drove him into law enforcement, and we don't know what he felt of his job or accomplishments. His widow is shown to say that he felt like he owed it to his country to track down Bonnie and Clyde, but why? In short, he comes across as little more than that unidentified fourth prisoner.

That is approximately the first half of this hour-long documentary. In the remaining thirty or so minutes, we get to see a lot more. We get to see two more police officers get shot in the face by the criminal duo, complete with happy banjo music playing as the duo drive away. We (finally) get to hear Sofia Cook's story about being abducted by Bonnie and Clyde, and the most interesting thing about it is how she manages to make a perfect balance of being both rambling and a matter-of-fact about her experience despite getting multiple threats of death. We get to see a recreation of Bonnie and Clyde's deaths in the cheapest and laziest way possible. Afterwards, to prove to the audience that Bonnie and Clyde were dead, we get to see bloody autopsy pictures. Towards the end, a former associate of Bonnie and Clyde is interviewed with a lie detector in the room, though curiously the lie detector is both never mentioned again and doesn't seem to be connected to the former criminal. And Buchanan shows he feels that the world "shotgun" should be written with a capital "S". (By the way, certain film critics are allowed to use captial letters whenever they want.) By now you should see that The Other Side Of Bonnie And Clyde is simply not a good documentary at all. People who want an in-depth look at the infamous duo will be very disappointed. Yet oddly, to a certain degree, the documentary works. It's ironic, but the cheap and crude nature of the documentary do remove any chances of glamorizing Bonnie and Clyde. By the end of the documentary, you will feel that Bonnie and Clyde were really scummy people, even if you are hard pressed to explain why in detail. If Buchanan had kept this sordid tone while telling the history in a more extensive and coherent manner, we might have had something here. But as it is, it's hard to think of anyone who will take the side of this documentary.

(Posted May 4, 2022)

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See also: Dillinger And Capone, Mondo Mod, UFO's Are Real