Today, the Shattered Lens wishes a happy 81st birthday to the one and only Faye Dunaway. In honor of this day, I want to share a scene that I love from 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.
Now, Bonnie and Clyde was not Dunaway’s first film. After appearing on Broadway, she was cast as a hippie kidnapped in a forgettable crime comedy called The Happening. Otto Preminger, who could always spot talent even if he didn’t always seem to understand how to persuade that talent to work with him, put her under contract and featured her as the wife of John Phillip Law in his legendary flop, Hurry Sundown. (Dunaway later said she had wanted to play the role of Michael Caine’s wife, a part that went to Jane Fonda and she never quite forgave Preminger for giving her a less interesting role.) Dunaway reportedly did not get along with Preminger and didn’t care much for the films that he was planning on featuring her in. One can imagine that she was happy when Warner Bros. bought her contract so that she could star opposite Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde.
Despite the fact that the real-life Bonnie Parker was notably shorter and certainly nowhere as glamorous as as the actress who was selected to play, Faye Dunaway proved to be the perfect choice for the role. Bonnie and Clyde proved to be a surprise hit and an Oscar contender. It made Dunaway a star, a fashion icon, and it resulted in her first Oscar nomination. Dunaway would go on to appear in such classic 70s films as Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Three Days of the Concord, and Network before her unfortunate decision to star as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest would slow the momentum of her career. Unfortunately, she would later become better known for having a difficult reputation and for engaging in some very public feuds, with the press often acting as if Dunaway was somehow uniquely eccentric in this regard. (To Hollywood, Dunaway’s sin wasn’t that she fought as much as it was that she fought in public.) Though Dunaway’s career has had its ups and downs, one cannot deny that when she was good, she was very, very good.
In this scene, from Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie Parker (played by Faye Dunaway) writes a poem and tries to craft the future image of Bonnie and Clyde. Though it has none of the violence that made Bonnie and Clyde such a controversial film in 1967, this is still an important scene. (Actually, it’s more than one scene.) Indeed, this scene is a turning point for the entire film, the moment that Bonnie and Clyde goes from being an occasionally comedic attack on the establishment to a fatalistic crime noir. This is where Bonnie shows that, unlike Clyde, she knows that death is inescapable but she also knows that she and Clyde are destined to be legends.
(Of course, Dunaway and Beatty — two performers who one epitomized an era but only work occasionally nowadays — are already legends.)