Feminism In Movies Inspired By Bonnie & Clyde Throughout motion picture history, women have experienced more transition in their roles, as a result of changing societal norms, than any other class. At first, both society and the movie industry preached that women should be dependent on men and remain in the home, in order to guarantee stability in the community and the family. As time passed and attitudes changed, women were beginning to be depicted as strong willed, independent minded characters, who were eager to break away from convention.
The genre of the crime film represents such a change in the roles handed to women. Two films that can be contrasted, in order to support this view, are: The Public Enemy by William Wellman (1931) and Bonnie &Clyde by Arthur Penn (1967). In The Public Enemy, women are portrayed as naive and/or objects of carnal pleasure by men. In this period, women were often categorized as mothers, mistresses, sisters, or ladies.
Ma Powers (played by Beryl Mercer), the lead character Tom Powers'(played by James Cagney) mother, is easily fooled by Tom’s fake stories about where he get his money and doesn’t believe that her “baby boy” could be a vile gangster. At one point during prohibition, when Tom brings home a barrel of beer, she doesn’t even question where he obtained it, but rather takes a drink for herself. Ma Powers is the prototypical mother of the 1930’s. She is blind to the ways of the world and doesn’t see the danger of things, even in regard to her own children.
She is a widow who does not work, but is supported by her sons. She is even blind to the fact that her sons hate one another. Even though, her Tom was sadistic killer and gangster, she always welcomes him back lovingly with open arms. At the end of the movie, she gets a phone call saying that Tom will be coming home from the hospital, where he had been treated for a gunshot.
She rushes upstairs to make his bed and get his room ready, when the doorbell rings and the rival gang drops of Tom’s gun riddled body. The other women who appear in the movie are portrayed as fast women who are sexual object to be enjoyed by Tom, until he gets tired of them and then throws them away. In one famous movie seen, Tom doesn’t appreciate what his mistress moll Kitty (played by Mae Clarke) said to him, so he wickedly squeezes half of a grapefruit into her face. She is left there belittled, too afraid to stick up for herself. With the 1960’s, came confusion in the dominant culture about women’s roles in the cinema. Women were now being portrayed as powerful, unpredictable, and possessing a mysterious sexual power, which they used to elude male control.
The 1960’s also brought with it his tensions that resulted the escalating war in Vietnam, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, black ghettos going up in flames, the women’s liberation movement, the youth anti-war rebellion and free love theme, and the Civil Rights movement. It was safe to say that the American public had violence on its mind and the movie industry capitalized on the public’s apprehensions. Director Arthur Penn used Bonnie & Clyde as his medium to imprint the rebellious tone of the 1960’s and the uncertainty of the dominant values and norms of society. When we’re first introduced to the character of Bonnie Parker (played by Faye Dunaway), the camera focuses on her as she is admiring her naked body in the mirror. She then falls back on her bed and the camera views her from the outside of her bed rails, in order to give the viewer the impression that she feels imprisoned by her everyday life.
Then, she looks out her window and sees a man attempting to steal her mother’s car on their front yard lawn. She calls out to him and hurriedly puts on clothes to meet him outside. He quickly intrigues her curiosity by saying that she looks like a movie star stuck in a boring waitress’ job, while telling her that he is a bank robber. She asks him to prove that he is not a “faker”, so he shows her his gun and, immediately turned on by it’s erotic dangerousness, dares him by saying, you wouldn’t have the gumption to use it.
To impress her, he lets her witness a robbery of a small town country store. As they make their getaway in a hot-wired car, he introduces himself as Clyde Barrow (played by Warren Beatty). She instantaneously smothers him with kisses so that he has to pull over on the country road and tells her to “slow down.” Clyde informs her that he is “not much of a lover boy”, but instead challenges her mentally by offering her the possibility of leaving the routine behind and becoming someone special and notorious when he says: “You wake up every morning and you hate it. You just hate it. Them truckdrivers come in there to eat your greasy burgers and they kid you, and you kid them back.
But they’re stupid and dumb boys with the big old tattoos on them, and you don’t like it. They ask you on dates, and sometimes you go but you mostly don’t because all they’re ever trying to do is get in your pants whether you want them to or not. So you go on home and you sit in your room and you think, ‘Now when and how am I ever gonna get away from this?’ And now you know.” Appealing to Bonnie’s sense of rebellion and discuss with social norms, she decides to leave with Cylde and start robbing banks. The next morning, Clyde teaches Bonnie how to fire a gun by using an old spare tire. There is great significance in this scene because Bonnie takes her first step towards self empowerment.
The gun also serves as a diversion from sex. She is satisfied, almost obsessed, with the phalicness of the gun and becomes sexually charged by using it; the gun becomes her substitute for sex because of Clyde’s impotence. On their way across Texas, the duo stop at a gas station where they meet C.W. Moss (played by Michael J.