Bonnie and Clyde is considered a landmark film, and is regarded as one of the first films of the New Hollywood era, in that it broke many taboos and was popular with the younger generation. Its success motivated other filmmakers to be more forward about presenting sex and violence in their films. The culmination of this trend may have been The Wild Bunch.
Bonnie and Clyde received Academy Awards for "Best Supporting Actress" (Estelle Parsons) and "Best Cinematography" (Burnett Guffey), and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
The duo's crime spree shifts into high gear once they hook up with a dim-witted gas station attendant, C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard). The three are joined by Clyde's brother, Buck (Gene Hackman), and his wife, Blanche (Estelle Parsons), a preacher's daughter. Soon a long-simmering feud between Bonnie and Blanche begins; the once-prim Blanche views Bonnie as a harpy corrupting her husband and brother-in-law, while Bonnie sees Blanche as an incompetent, shrill shrew.
With their gang now assembled, Bonnie and Clyde turn from pulling small-time heists to robbing banks. Their exploits also become more violent. When C.W., the get-away driver, botches a bank robbery by parallel parking the car, Clyde shoots the bank manager in the face after he jumps onto the slow-moving car's running board. The gang is pursued by law enforcement, including Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle), a Texas Ranger who is captured and humiliated by the outlaws, then set free. With a score to settle, the ranger leads a raid that kills Buck, injures Bonnie and Clyde, and leaves Blanche sightless and in police custody. Hamer tricks Blanche, whose eyes are bandaged, into revealing the name of C.W. Moss, known in the press only as an unnamed accomplice.
The Ranger locates Bonnie and Clyde and C.W. hiding at the house of C.W.'s father, Ivan Moss (Dub Taylor). Because Ivan thinks Bonnie and Clyde have corrupted his son, he strikes a bargain with Hamer: in exchange for a lenient jail sentence for C.W., he reveals Bonnie and Clyde's location and helps set a trap for them. When Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed while stopped by the side of the road, the police riddle their bodies with bullets in a blood bath.
The film is forthright in its handling of sexuality. When Clyde brandishes his gun to display his manhood, Bonnie suggestively strokes the phallic symbol. Like the film Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde portrays crime as alluring and intertwined with sex. Because Clyde is impotent, his further attempts to physically woo Bonnie are frustrating and anti-climactic.
Bonnie and Clyde was one of the first films to feature extensive use of squibs — small explosive charges, often mounted with bags of fake blood, that are detonated inside an actor's clothes to simulate bullet hits.
The family gathering scene was filmed in Red Oak, Texas. Several local residents were watching the film being shot, when the filmmakers noticed Mabel Cavitt, a local school teacher, among the people gathered, who was then chosen to play Bonnie Parker's mother.
The film considerably simplifies the facts about Bonnie and Clyde, which included other gang members, repeated jailings, and other murders and assorted crimes. One of the film's major characters, "C.W. Moss", is a composite of two members of the Barrow Gang: William Daniel "W.D." Jones and Henry Methvin. In 1968, Jones outlined his period with the Barrows in a Playboy magazine article "Riding with Bonnie and Clyde" In that same year, he also filed a lawsuit against Warner Brothers, claiming that the film Bonnie and Clyde "maligned" him and damaged his character. There is no record of him having collected any damages.
The film portrays Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (played by Denver Pyle) as a vengeful bungler who had been captured, humiliated, and released by Bonnie and Clyde. In reality, the first time Hamer met either of them was when he staged the successful ambush and killing of them in 1934. In 1968, Frank Hamer's widow and son sued the producers of this movie for defamation of character over his portrayal. They were awarded an out of court settlement in 1971.
The only two members of the actual Barrow Gang who were still alive at the time of the film's release were Blanche Barrow and William Daniel Jones. While Blanche Barrow approved the depiction of her in the original version of the film's script, she objected to the later re-writes, and at the film's release, complained loudly about Estelle Parsons' Oscar-winning performance of her, stating "That film made me look like a screaming horse's ass!"
The poem that Bonnie Parker is reading as the police raid their hideout is 'The Story of Suicide Sal', , one of only two poems by the real Bonnie Parker known to exist (The other is 'The Trail's End', also known as 'The Story of Bonnie and Clyde' ; which she is shown reading out loud later in the film).
The film was controversial on its original release for its supposed glorification of murderers, and for its level of graphic violence and gore, which was unprecedented at the time. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was so appalled that he began to campaign against the increasing brutality of American films. In addition, the film was criticized by many reviewers for making the subject matter too comical. Dave Kaufman of Variety also criticized the film for uneven direction and for portraying Bonnie and Clyde as bumbling fools.
The film was also nominated for: