Bonnie and Clyde had no idea that total devastation was just around the bend as they drove their stolen Ford V8 on May 23, 1934.
Bonnie Parker had taken one bite of her bologna sandwich when her outlaw boyfriend Clyde Barrow cruised into a waiting trap. The car was riddled with 167 bullets in less than 20 seconds, one of history’s most famous and gruesome killings – the brutal end to the romanticized Depression-era criminal couple. The destroyed car became a carnival-like attraction touring the country.
“The Highwaymen” (in theaters Friday in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, streaming on Netflix March 29) tells the tale through the eyes of former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), who were enlisted to stop Bonnie and Clyde’s killing spree. The film aimed to do dramatic and historical justice to the moment their posse opened fire on the duo.
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“I wanted the audience to see that this is brutal. This is violent, overkill,” director John Lee Hancock says. “Once those guys started firing, they were not going to stop until their guns were empty.”
The scene is more historically accurate than the famous film moment when Warren Beatty’s Clyde and Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie were riddled with bullets in director Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic “Bonnie and Clyde.”
“The Highwaymen” was shot in the exact spot, after a strategic bend, on the road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, where the final showdown took place. The now-paved road was covered in dirt to replicate the original look.
Costner could feel the import every time he looked down the tree-covered expanse and contemplated Bonnie and Clyde’s final moments.
“I cannot tell you how many times I stood at that same point and realized that when that car appeared on that turn, those two had only 500 yards, maybe 25 seconds. Then they were going to be dead,” Costner says. “Knowing that they had just come from a diner where they had ordered bologna sandwiches. They had no idea they were going down.”
In “The Highwaymen,” Hamer strong-arms Ivy Methvin (played by W. Earl Brown), whose son Henry was a member of Clyde’s Barrow Gang, into supplying information about Clyde’s appearance and pretending his truck has a flat tire. When Barrow slows to help, the film shows Hamer stepping out into the road from his posse hidden in the bushes. Taken from Hamer’s own account, the lawman said “Stick ’em up!” while pointing his rifle.
But Bonnie and Clyde had blown through their share of roadblocks and other arrest attempts, leaving dead lawmen in their wake. Their car was a virtual arsenal, according to Jody Edward Ginn, official historian for the Former Texas Rangers Association — with three Browning automatic rifles (with armor-piercing ammunition), three loaded shotguns and 10 Colt automatic pistols.
Historical accounts differ over who started the firefight.
“Who shot first? No one is alive to arbitrate that. That car was loaded with guns. And they were not going to go down without a fight,” Costner says. “And we should think more about the man who chose to step out in front of that car.”
Hancock re-created the town of Arcadia, Louisiana, where the bullet-riddled car was towed to a furniture store with a morgue in the back room. The startling scenes of the crowd mobbing the dead criminals in the moving car are accurate.
“It was even more macabre than it’s shown on-screen,” screenwriter John Fusco says. “People tried to cut off Clyde’s trigger finger, they were dabbing blood off Bonnie, trying to cut her hair. It was a horrible scene that really weighed on Hamer.”
But Hancock felt it was important to portray on-screen.
“In a grotesque way, they wanted a piece of these two, dead or alive,” he says. “It’s the closing chapter on the cult of celebrity surrounding Bonnie and Clyde, which hits a little too close to home in today’s world.”
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