By most accounts, Charles A. Floyd — better known by the nickname “Pretty Boy” Floyd — was one of the nicer of the Depression-era outlaws. Though he robbed his share of banks, he was usually described as being rather polite and sensible while he did so. He didn’t steal from the poor. While he did kill a few men, they were all law enforcement officers who were also shooting at him. And while that may not sound like a good thing, with murder being murder and all, it’s still a marked contrast to Bonnie and Clyde, who were known for being as deliberately violent as possible. Pretty Boy Floyd reportedly had a strong dislike for Bonnie and Clyde and even told his relatives in Oklahoma not to help the Barrow Gang hide from the police.
The most violent thing that Floyd was ever accused of was taking part in the killing of four law enforcement officers in Kansas City. (This was the so-called Kansas City Massacre.) Since one of the victims was an FBI Agent, Floyd quickly became public enemy number one and was eventually gunned down in a cornfield in Ohio. (Some accounts say that Floyd was initially only wounded and was executed by the FBI after he surrendered.) Most modern historians agree that Floyd was not involved in the Kansas City Massacre. Even after he had been shot and told that he was dying, Floyd reportedly vehemently denied having had any involvement in what happened in Kansas City. In the view of most historians, Pretty Boy Floyd was a polite country boy who just happened to rob banks.
That’s certainly the way that he’s portrayed in the 1970 film, A Bullet For Pretty Boy. Though this low-budget movie from Texas-born filmmaker Larry Buchanan opens with a title card telling us that we’re about to see a true story, it’s highly fictionalized. Singer Fabian Forte plays Charles A. Floyd, who goes from getting married to going to jail on a manslaughter conviction in record time. (It was all because someone was making trouble at the wedding reception so really, you can’t blame Floyd for anything that happened.) Floyd is supposed to serve six years but he decides to break out after only serving three and a half. Again, you really can’t blame Floyd for doing that. No one wants to work on a chain gang. Eventually, Floyd ends up hanging out at a brothel, where he falls in with a gang of bank robbers and a prostitute named Betty (Jocelyn Lane) ends up falling for him. After several bank robberies and gunfights, Floyd ends up working with an outlaw named Preacher (Adam Roarke). Everyone does not live happily ever after.
While watching A Bullet For Pretty Boy, it’s pretty easy to see the influence of the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde. There’s a lot of sudden bursts of violence (though never quite as bloody as the violence from Bonnie and Clyde) and the film is clearly on the side of Pretty Boy Floyd as opposed to the cops trying to catch him. However, whereas Bonnie and Clyde presented its title characters as being rebels against the establishment, A Bullet For Pretty Boy is content to portray Floyd as just being someone who ended up in a bad set of circumstances and who did what he felt he had to do to survive. As played by Forte, Floyd is good at robbing banks but he doesn’t seem to really enjoy doing it. That, of course, is a polite way of saying that Fabian Forte is credible but slightly boring in the lead role. He’s likable enough but he’s not exactly compelling and he often finds himself overshadowed by more energetic performers like Adam Roarke.
That said, I enjoyed A Bullet For Pretty Boy. Certainly, this film is better than the typical Larry Buchanan film. There aren’t any slow spots and the film does a good job of capturing the feeling and atmosphere of rural Texas and Oklahoma. (Undoubtedly it helped that the film was directed by a Texan who actually knew something about the communities that he was portraying.) The shoot outs and the bank robberies are just well-staged enough to hold your attention and that’s really the main thing that one can ask from a film like this. A Bullet From Pretty Boy doesn’t exactly make a lasting impression but it’s entertaining enough while you’re watching it.