What has to go askew in your brainpan to white-knight Bonnie and Clyde because someone made an influential movie about their lives?

I was looking through newspaper archives Monday night to see how the papers covered the end of the pair. Los Angeles put it on the front page, but didn't name them. The Minnesota papers didn't care. The Austin American went deep on it, and included an interview with an early associate who noted that Clyde once "broke a bird's wing and laugh(ed) loudly at its attempts to fly. He got into trouble with several families for torturing their pets."

Sounds about right. It might be hard to picture Warren Beatty bothering puppies with a pocket knife, which is why the film might have omitted those tender scenes of childhood.

Which brings us to this week's iteration of . . .






Watched "The Highwaymen" on Netflix. It's a movie about the cops who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde. When I saw the first poster I thought "this is going to annoy the hell out of some people, because the wrong people will be interested in this story.

Not a novel observation, but accurate.I was reasonably sure the reviews from Real Reviewers would be uncomfortable with a movie that upends the Penn classic, because, after all, that was the movie that made crime sexy!

Never happened before, that. Criminals never had any charisma in movie.

Also, it was bloody, very violent, and ushered in an era of artistic violence we were supposed to enjoy not for its lack of artifice, but it had a higher level of artifice. You could feel better about yourself for getting it, and pity those who didn't understand the fierce necessity of this new style.

Eh. It's been a while since I watched it, and really don't have any desire to watch Faye Dunaway pitch a fit in a lead shower, although I'd watch it again if it was available. It's an important movie, if only to see what people insisted was necessary to defend. Plus, it has Gene Hackman hollering in the middle of the night because his head's been half-shot off, one of those harrowing moments where the audience thought say, there might be a downside to this. Looks like the less-attractive people get the bad business first.

Is "the Highwayman" great? No; few things are. But it's solid and its main characters are interesting in different ways. Some critics liked it; others found it rote. The usual suspects took issue with its existence.

Rolling Stone called Highwaymen a “conservative” take on the story, because it’s concerned with the lawmen.

So no, this isn’t your hippie pinko father’s take on the Barrow/Parker story, though it may be your grandfather’s, and is definitely your great-grandfather’s. And you don’t have to be AARP-aged to appreciate what Costner and Harrelson are doing, or to audibly squeal when character actors like W. Earl Brown and John Carroll Lynch show up, or to be impressed by the period-piece production design and John Schwartzman’s tony cinematography. As for digging the distinct law-and-order vibe, however, it may help if you voted for Nixon twice.

Or you just may be disinclined to glamorize criminals, as the review itself is pained to note:

The Highwaymen does what it needs to in terms of handing the spotlight over to the men who ended “that jackass and his girlfriend’s” reign of terror and reminding us that “Robin Hood never shot a gas attendant point blank in the face for four dollars.”

CNN also points out that you have to be old to root for the people who stopped Bonnie and Clyde from killing ore gas attendants:

What looks like a can't-miss concept -- the aging lawmen who hunted down Bonnie and Clyde -- yields a dutiful, uninspired movie in "The Highwaymen," pairing Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as the taciturn Texas Rangers called out of retirement, which roughly approximates what will likely be the film's target demo.

This is a recurring point: old white men will probably like the movie, and that really tells you everything you need to know, because old white men, amirite?

Despite the star power, "Highwaymen" rather simple-mindedly follows a familiar road map, nostalgically hearkening back to a day when nobody needed to worry about reading Miranda rights and a cop could say -- as Costner's Frank Hamer does -- "You know you're gonna have to put this man down.”

This would be germaine if the policemen said “you know, one day we’re going to have to (pause, grimace) read them their rights,” and another anachronisms, but it doesn’t. The sin of the movie, in other words, is not anticipating the future and apologizing for the reality it inhabits.

The Globe and Mail likewise expresses annoyance at who the movie seems to be made for:

Maybe the streaming service determined that a large portion of its audience consisted of dads. More specifically: dads of a certain age (post-50) and conservative sensibility (their favourite show is True Detective, but only Season 1, and their favourite filmmaker is Taylor Sheridan, but they don’t tend to pay attention to credits). These are the Netflix subscribers, I imagine, who only want to chill (but not that kind of chill) on a Sunday night while watching Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson shoot the breeze in-between shooting scoundrels. No subversion or complicated ideas about masculinity and violence necessary.

See, that’s what the smart people wanted in a movie about Texas Rangers: something that subverts and complicates ideas about masculinity. At some point the most decorated Texas Ranger of all time should have turned to his grizzled partner, slapped the flask out of his hand, said “you’re just using liquor to put distance between your own heart and society’s expectations.”

. . . the film’s politics read as MAGA-esque vigilante evangelicalism (the movie is perpetually on the verge of having Hamer say, directly to the camera, something along the lines of, “the only good criminal is a dead criminal”).

Except they are not vigilantes. They're out of their jurisdiction, but they're not citizens who've decided to go shoot people - like, you know, Bonnie and Clyde. But it’s MAGA-esque to hunt down killers.

He concludes:

Perhaps The Highwaymen is just an excuse for Netflix to stick it to Penn and the other mavericks who changed cinema, instead of just streaming it.

Yes, I’m sure that’s it.

After all, the original Bonnie and Clyde starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty is nowhere to be found on the streaming service. What is available, though: the 2013 movie Bonnie & Clyde, starring Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch. If you only realized that was a real thing at this very moment, then welcome to my journey.

Someone writes a sentence like that last one is not going to like a movie about taciturn lawmen. By the way:

Bonnie & Clyde is a revisionist 2013 miniseries about Great Depression-era outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.

The series was widely criticized for its historical inaccuracies, particularly as it was aired on History.

The Guardian called it odious and dimwitted, if you can believe that.

It was French New Wave great Jean-Luc Godard who memorably mused that in order to criticize a movie, you must make another movie. Now, under this precise principle, Netflix’s new period piece The Highwaymen has arrived to set the record straight about Arthur Penn’s 1967 take on the legend of Bonnie and Clyde.

"Legend." I know the term applies to them, but unlike the Legend of King Arthur, we know a bit more. Perhaps for some it was necessary to make their crime into a "legend" so they could tell a Meaningful Story about the Times, and not bother with the stories of the people they killed.

After 50 years vaunted as a masterpiece of New Hollywood film-making and 60s zeitgeist, it’s finally getting taken down a peg, courtesy of some fogeyish cop-aganda furious that the world won’t follow its moral code.

And that moral code might be don’t kill people and take their property? Is that it?

The earlier film, promoted with the flirty tagline “They’re young … they’re in love … and they kill people”, submitted the ravishing Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as icons of countercultural style.

Because killing people while being ravishing gave the target audience a delicious little thrill, perhaps. Oh to be footloose, fancy-free, not working, and accompanied on all our journeys by enthusiastic bluegrass that mythologized our greed!

I'd also note that a good sign you live in a secure, prosperous, relatively safe society is the idea that " “They’re young … they’re in love … and they kill people” is flirty.

They stole from the corrupt Depression-era banks as an act of working-class protest

We got us a coupla Woody-Guthrie types here! And they done had them some machines what actually killed fascists, too.

Penn spawned a seductive new breed of antihero, societal rebels that audiences would like both despite and because of their lapses in character.

That’s because they had the right enemies at the time: banks, hence capitalism, and police, because duh, pigs? Unless you want to say that the critics would have embraced the “Death Wish” and “Walking Tall” series if the actor playing the characters was good looking, and hey sure he shoots community activists and college administrators, but it’s so seductively done.

John Lee Hancock’s newest feature wants you to know that Bonnie and Clyde were not cool.

Well, they weren’t. They were sociopathic assholes. Random Wikipedia moment: "Bonnie and Clyde's next brush with the law arose from their generally suspicious— and conspicuous — behavior, not because they had been identified. The group ran loud, alcohol-fueled card games late into the night in the quiet neighborhood. The men came and went noisily at all hours, and Clyde discharged a Browning Automatic Rifle in the apartment while cleaning it."


In the first few minutes, a press conference comes to a head when a reporter asks the Texas governor, “Ma” Ferguson, (a briefly glimpsed Kathy Bates) whether the crooks might be seen as Robin Hood figures by the commonfolk. She responds that they killed a civilian in cold blood, and that’s that, blunt law and order worldview established.

Where, I ask you, is the nuance? Where is the historical revisionism that would allow Ma Ferguson realize that her intersectional alliances laid with the agents of change, not in some useless sympathy for a store owner?

We instead follow the two ageing Texas Rangers (portrayed respectively by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, favored actors of your uncle who was in the army)

The sickest of burns, there; can you believe they are making movies aimed at men over 25 instead of trying to appeal to furries who are trying to deglamorous self-harm in the YouTube cosmetic demonstration video genre

Every time they cross paths with a sympathizer – which happens a lot, as if the film is helpless to deny the populist appeal of its ostensible villains – loose cannon Hamer gets so very, very mad.

Helpless to deny! The scriptwriter just couldn’t help it! The magic of Bonnie and Clyde swept into his words whether he liked it or not.

Ostensible villains. 1932: "W. D. Jones had been a friend of the Barrow family since childhood. Only 16 years old on Christmas Eve 1932, he persuaded Barrow to let him join the pair and leave Dallas with them that night. The next day, Jones was initiated when he and Barrow killed Doyle Johnson, a young family man, while stealing his car in Temple, Texas. Less than two weeks later, on January 6, 1933, Barrow killed Tarrant County Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis when he, Parker and Jones wandered into a police trap set for another criminal. The total murdered by the gang since April was five."

But Bonnie wrote poetry!

At the heart of all the bluster, all the impotent rage over the cop killers the public won’t stop idolizing, lies an old-fashioned notion of masculinity rooted in insecurity and smallness.

The author and hence arbiter of such things, if you're curious.

The long since retired Hamer and Gault have aged into geezerhood and the film has a slight sense of humor about it, dealing the latter an enflamed prostate necessitating numerous pee breaks. Mostly, however, it exists to affirm that these men and the men like them are still empowered and relevant.

I think the word he was looking for is “were,” not “are,” given that they were quite empowered and relevant to the task of finding Bonnie and Clyde.

The cruel irony of this film and its ideological brethren is that they cannot help but lay bare their anxieties while sweatily laboring to assuage them.

The whole damned mood of the thing is soaked - sweatily soaked, perhaps - with the idea that they're getting old. It's not an anxiety, but a fact a man bears and masters. Or does that sound like desperate anxious assuaging?

The harder that Hancock and Fusco shake their fists and stamp their feet and insist that Bonnie and Clyde were just your average dime store sociopaths, the less convincing their counterargument.

Wikipedia on their last crime: “Public hostility increased five days later, when Barrow and Methvin killed 60-year-old Constable William "Cal" Campbell, a widower single father, near Commerce, Oklahoma."

And now, the incoherent conclusion:

Watching Costner try in vain to scale a wooden fence, a viewer may see outmoded mores of manhood fading before their very eyes.

How that scene, and the aforementioned comments about the characters’ recognition of their own age, falls in to the sweaty labor of assuaging, I’m not sure. In any case, the outmoded mores on display are this: being the guy who leaves behind a comfy life to eliminate some bandits who are killing anyone who crosses them, and does so without bitching about his own problems. If the new more of manhood is to sit on Twitter all day and bitch incessantly about the world and occasionally write books about Vampire movies, you might be surprised to find that the idea is not universally celebrated.

Hamer and Gault won the day in a hail of submachine fire, but even their hagiography can’t hide that they’re history’s losers.

I'm sure this was consolation to Bonnie and Clyde for a half a second. You won't win in the end! Your reactionary morality can't survive a coming era where a new model of masculinity arises, and dinosaurs you like you AUGHUGHBRLUGHGOFFACK

There's a poker game scene in the movie, because movies like these always have a poker game scene. Woody Harrelson's character describes something he did with Hamer many years before, something that obviously left a scar. It's rote, but it's fine - and all the while Hamer sits out on the porch, hearing the story through the window, reacting not a whit.

Into which you can read a lot of things. but the Guardian author seems to have watched a movie where Hamer turned around grinning and shouts "we sure done killed a heap of Mexicans that night, didn't we? Not like today where they get three hots and a cot. These aren't my times, boys."

There's also a scene where they come across the clothes left behind by the outlaw pair, and Gault picks up Bonnie Parker's dress and says softly "she's just a little thing," or words to that effect. This is not an easy thing.

Speaking of which, I had to pause and snap a picture, because this is some nice detail work.


If you didn't know anything about the story, you might have missed it, and I'm sure it was intended to satisfy the people who made it.


She's play-acting in this picture. She didn't smoke cigars. But she was a proto-social-media selfie star or something, and was defying social norms. Also, she was Faye Dunaway, and banks were bad.

They really shouldn't make movies older people might like, because the fact that they're old means they'll like them for all the problematic reasons. Stop rewriting history to make it more like what actually happened.

It's just not helpful.


Remember this feature? We never met Bela Lanan himself. We never will.

This was a daily feature, with the solution on Saturday. We'll do it the way they did it then - one entry per day, with the expectation that you'll be following the story.




It’s 1941.

So bring a Weep Box into your house - today!

Imagine the power of the medium to make people empathize with disembodied voices. I don’t know what show the ad intended to suggest or whether the nets had lots of competing hard-luck-help-me reality shows. But you get a sense of the importance of radio.

I mean, look at the size of that thing.

I thought I’d die when that old dried-up matron had her thighs scalded! How can they be so horrid? Because women are vicious


Samson was the big name in card tables.

This company history is somewhat incomprehensible, but I think I can piece it together: the Shwayder brothers ran a trucking company which expanded into luggage. Both businesses were crimped by the crash of 29, so they went into other lines, such as card tables.

The linked story makes it sound as if Samsonite was always the company’s name, but that’s not so. I propose the following theory: Samson was the name of the card table first, and was chosen to indicate strength - the collapsable table was really as strong as Samson. The suitcase was introduced in 1939, and had a plastic fiber coating. It was called Samsonite luggage, and I suspect that this was a reference to the material itself, since the “-ite” suffix was popular for new materials.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Why are they working past 5?

LC Smith: Linus Cornelius. He had partners, three of them, also named Smith. They were gun . . . smiths, I guess you could say, and ran a rather famous weapons company for a few years before branching into typewriters. Natural fit. They merged with Corona in 1926, but obviously didn’t change the name.

So many case histories like this. Between bad breath and BO, the 40s must have been a rather odorous place:


I’m fascinated with 40s style as a reaction to 30s design austerity. This room is a fine example.

It seems a bit much for a silverware design, and a rather banal one that, but I’m not all that excited by the different style of knobby protrusions on eating utensils. I do like the picture of the store display, since any evidence of those things is welcome. They all went in the trash, eventually.

Then I started smoking weed


What a grand feeling it is - your family eating breakfast, and enjoying it for a change!

Think about that. The copy presumes that it’s common for entire families to choke down unpalatable breakfasts they do not like, and that this condition persists until someone - namely, you - stop giving them food they hate.

It takes an ad to do that?

It takes an ad for something as exotic as Corn Flakes?

Exhibit A in the lecture about the changing nature of the vernacular:

Dad is literally intending to beat the crap out of the kid.

I’m convinced that the percentage of stinky people in the general population was about 50% up to 1960.


The sort of average ad I include to remind us all of the original function of this feature: package design. Really, that’s all it was. Finding old boxes and cans once in a while. How it turned into this I’ve no idea.

Finally: I bought an original version of this - I mean, a paper copy from a period magazine - and had it framed on my wall for years. It’s such a nice piece of work, and it’s from the best run of Coke ads. Always loved that green.



We finish, as is customary for our Tuesday visits, with a visit to a sensibility that is 103 years old and not unfamiliar in the least. See you around!



blog comments powered by Disqus