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Thirty-one years and five films after fugitives Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were ambushed and gunned dead, their legend is given a painstakingly factual bleaching: those two killers were not out to protect the Depression underprivileged, to right wrongs, and to change society. All that hogwash, says Treherne, arose from ""sexual titillation so thoroughly exploited by Hollywood and the Hearst press."" Their story took place on the Texas plains. Plain little jug-eared Clyde was a psychological cripple whose earliest car-thefts and burglaries were with his admired older brother Buck. Buck soon hit the slammer for a long sentence, with Clyde not far behind. But before Clyde was jailed he fell for a tiny Dallas waitress with cotton-colored hair, Bonnie Parker, a very attractive exhibitionist given to violence. Something about psychopathic Clyde rang bells in the girl, and soon she had smuggled a pistol into his Waco jail cell. Once out, Clyde was arrested again a week later while bungling a burglary. Bonnie's love wavered as he began serving another long term. Trying to get out of working on the prison farm, Clyde had a fellow convict chop off two of his toes--just as his parole came through. He returned home on crutches. Soon on the road again, and careening in and out of Oklahoma, Barrow proves himself a formidably stupid burglar, panicky wheelman and unstable murderer. But he improves during ceaseless driving over hundreds of thousands of miles, Bonnie now beside him, learning every back road in the nearby states. Barrow dyes his hair red, proves impotent in bed. Bonnie is un. stirred by the bodies Clyde leaves dying along the road-- ""they were just guardians of an affluence she could not share."" The bodies and bank robberies mount (with the gang newly enlarged by paroled Buck) but their takes are idiotically meager pittances. As a result of their eventual ambush in Louisiana and a massive infusion of lead (Bonnie's hand was shot off and the back of Clyde's head), the police preferred to let it be known that the couple had been betrayed. The betrayal theme fired the popular imagination, lending heroic qualities to the bandits. Treherne analyses all the film versions of the legend, as well as the patterns of earlier legendary criminals (Jesse James, Robin Hood and others). His grim sticking to the facts is admirable, but even they at last build into an existential blood-and-gunsmoke legend of the Depression plains. In this case, the facts alone are outlandish.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1985
Publisher: Stein & Day