A few days from now, three networks are rolling out a re-re-re-make of “Bonnie & Clyde.” My triple repeat reference isn’t meant pejorative, but simply noting that this isn’t the story’s first cinema rodeo by a long shot.
I’ll watch and enjoy. I’m fond of good “shoot’em up” tales, and this one produces clouds of gun smoke.
My interest in this particular pair of infamous criminals is layered. First and foremost, it’s real history that wonderfully parallels our tastes for “good conquers evil” storylines.
That’s why western heroes have such deep universal appeal. Virtually all successful movies regardless of genre apply that same formula.
Even cartoons use the recipe. What American cheers for Wiley Coyote?
Bonnie and Clyde’s story feeds ageless appetites, although this most recent production will contain a hefty measure of pure imaginative spice flavoring it to contemporary political tastes. But notwithstanding factual lapses, at the bottom of the bowl will be hard bones of fact.
My second layer of interest resides in my father. Bonne and Clyde were ambushed by the law southeast of Texarkana, Texas, where my father and his brother lived, and where I was to be born seven years later.
Although no instant social media existed outside of radios and telephones, word of the successful ambush spread like wildfire. Dad and Uncle Charlie drove down to Bienville Parish in Louisiana to check it out.
By then the “death” car had been towed to a funeral parlor in downtown Arcadia. Within a few hours after the shooting stopped, Arcadia’s population had swelled from 2,000 to more than 12,000.
A miniscule fraction of that 12,000 was the Gardner brothers. Dad satisfied his morbid curiosity about the car by sticking his head through the window to get a close-up look. He picked up a pair of sunglasses wedged behind a cushion.
One lens was missing. He stuck them in his pocket as a memento of the day. Based on pictures published later, he became more and more convinced they’d belonged to Bonnie.
He thought the glasses to be more curiosity than treasure. Having heard them mentioned in passing over the years, I asked about them in the 1960s when my age and historic curiosity finally intersected. He had no clue regarding their eventual fate, probably into some trash heap after an attic cleaning.
My third layer of interest is emotional. The car toured by tractor-trailer truck in the 1960s, charging the public admission to inspect it.
It came to a shopping center in Havelock, so naturally I went to see it. The emotion came when I leaned through the window and imagined my teenage father doing the same thing three decades earlier. Surreal.
In the vernacular of the Wild West, Bonnie and Clyde were “shot to doll rags.” The coroner’s report lists 43 entrance wounds between them. Bonnie beat Clyde at stopping bullets, 26 to 17.
Local and state government rewards totaling $26,000 were reneged upon. Can you imagine?
Eventually, each of the six participating lawmen received a check for $200.23 and 15 minutes of fame.
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.