It was 90 years ago that Bonnie Parker chanced to meet Clyde Barrow at a family gathering. As a result of that
January 1930 encounter and what followed as they crisscrossed the central US, filmmakers have rolled out the metaphorical red carpet for gun-toting lovers, real and fictional.
Why? “Criminal couples provide a level of entertainment lacking in men committing crimes on their own,” says Jeff Guinn, author of the authoritative Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde (2009). Adds Guinn, “The added element of romance (and also the very titillating possibility of a good-girl-gone-bad subplot) elevates our voyeurism from enjoying crime stories to a sense of more multi-dimensional drama.”
Add to this the notion of being on the move, and the drama amps up.
We’ve rounded up 10 of the screen’s greatest outlaw couples (while acknowledging a few escapees, due to constraints of time and spac).
YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE (1937)
We begin with the film that defined the genre: In this indictment of societal injustice, repeat offender Eddie Taylor (a young Henry Fonda) is trying to go straight—but the odds are against him and his sweet-faced wife, Joan (Sylvia Sidney).
Linked to a deadly bank robbery, Eddie is sentenced to be executed. When he gets hold of a gun smuggled into the prison, he kills a priest—the only man who believed in him. “They made me a murderer. I can’t beat this rap,” he tells Joan.
She won’t let him flee without her. “We’re going on together. We have a right to live.”
Directed by Fritz Lang (whose M is one of the earliest police procedurals), the melodrama doesn’t sugarcoat. (After having a child, the couple doesn’t bother to name it. They just call him “Baby.”) One reviewer warned it wasn’t for “sissies.”
BOOKMARK: Bonnie and Clyde were the obvious inspiration for the film, so kudos to the first (of many) books about the duo: Jan Isabel Fortune’s Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker, as Told by Bonnie’s Mother and Clyde’s Sister, was published in August 1934, three months after the couple’s violent deaths.
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948)
“This boy...and this girl...were never properly introduced to the world we live in...to tell their story...” is superimposed over the angelic face of Cathy O’Donnell and movie idol handsome Farley Granger, playing star-crossed lovers.
Keechie and Bowie meet when Bowie and fellow escaped prisoners Chickamaw (aka “One Eye”) and T-Dub show up at the drab cabin Keechie shares with her alcoholic father, Chickamaw’s brother.
They go on to bond, marry, and run off— dogged by the law.
This was the directorial debut of Nicholas Ray, who later helmed the quintessential young outsider's film, Rebel Without a Cause.
Though remade efficiently by Robert Altman in 1974, the earthy Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall never engage our hearts like O’Donnell and Granger and their dashed dreams.
BOOKMARK: The film is based on Edward Anderson’s 1937 book Thieves Like Us.
GUN CRAZY (1949)
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