Study Guide

Bonnie and Clyde Director

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Arthur Penn

Nope. This isn't the father of everyone's favorite El Chapo-interviewing method actor, Sean Penn. Sorry to disappoint.

After directing a bunch of TV dramas in the early and mid 1950's, Arthur Penn turned to film in 1957, directing an offbeat western about the outlaw Billy the Kid called The Left-Handed Gun. It failed, and hurt his career for a while. But, after a big comeback in 1962 with The Miracle Worker, Penn was again in demand…only to have another big failure in 1965 with a film called Mickey One, the story of a standup comedian who feels he's being pursued by sinister forces.

Oddly enough, though, his two big failures shared important similarities with his biggest success, Bonnie and Clyde. The Left-Handed Gun dealt with similar subject matter, a young outlaw who's misunderstood and treated sympathetically. Mickey One was very "New Wave" in its sensibility and style, and it marked Penn's first collaboration with Bonnie and Clyde's producer/star Warren Beatty.

What Penn did in both of these films, and especially in Bonnie and Clyde, was to capture the restless, disenchanted mood of the times, particularly among young people. Although Bonnie and Clyde is set more than thirty years earlier, during the most difficult years of the Great Depression, its tone is very much in the counter-culture 1960's spirit.

After Bonnie and Clyde, Penn continued to direct films regularly until the early 1980's, when he began to work more infrequently. Among his other major films are Alice's Restaurant (1969), Little Big Man (1970), Night Moves (1975) and The Missouri Breaks (1976). He died in 2010 just one day after turning eighty-eight.

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