Another Pair with Gene Hackman

This is the second installment of my winter project of investigating the filmography of a male film star I know too little about. According to Allen Hunter’s biography, Gene Hackman, he grew up in his grandmother’s house surrounded by the unremitting cornfields of Danville, Illinois. He dropped out of high school, joined the Marines on a whim, and served from 1946-51. Acting school followed at the Pasadena Playhouse and the cementation of friendships with peers Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall. You can read about their unique 50-year-old friendship in Vanity Fair HERE.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 

Warren Beatty produced the film and likened to the role of Clyde because he was a character who wanted to “be somebody’ in the uncooperative climate of the Depression. This motivation was the force behind Clyde; Bonnie coaxed that motivation. Clyde saved her from a boring life and she was willing to do anything for the thrills of their partnership. When her poem, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” was published, they had a national audience. Bonnie finally gets the passion she craved. The violence of the film pushed the envelope (a shot to the face of an apprehender smears blood on the getaway car) and the emergence of Faye Dunaway as the reckless Bonnie elevated the film to lofty heights. Dunaway reminded me of a young Bette Davis. The nuances, the body language, and her loveliness were exceptional. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen by a female performer. But wait. What about Gene Hackman? As brother Buck to Clyde, he gave an enthusiastic, convincing performance as did the rest of the cast, but no one surpassed Faye Dunaway. Fifty years later, the film still stands.  4/5.5  

If you like crime history, here is information about the FBI case of Bonnie and Clyde.

What stood out:

1. Gene Wilder‘s bit-part facial expressions. “Step on it, Velma!”

2. Blanche (Estelle Parsons) screaming; a most annoying character and perfect antithesis to independent Bonnie. Parsons won the Oscar for her role. I love her final scene when the Sheriff coaxes information with false sympathy. She is blind and bandaged and clueless til the end. Awesome role.

3. The opening sequence with Faye Dunaway, bored, restless and naked. Bonnie and Clyde sizing each other up in a matter of minutes, each cool and confident.

4. The famous ending directed by Arthur Penn. I liked the hard cuts, the montage that revealed the final thoughts of Bonnie and Clyde, and the sequence of events to their end.

Scarecrow (1973) 

What is best about the script of these unlikely friends is the 180 degree flip-flopping of their characters. (Lion) Al Pacino and (Max) Gene Hackman are allowed the space to give full-bodied performances. While the story-line was dull at times during its first half, it more than made up for any lags by the last half. Lion’s phone call to his estranged wife Annie was heartbreaking, and the anticipation of Lion’s fall was painful. Max goes from an unlikable character to someone who has benefited from a sincere friendship. It has been compared to Of Mice and Men; if Steinbeck’s classic engages you, you would no doubt enjoy Scarecrow.  4.5/5. 

What stands out:

  1. Watching a young, kindhearted Pacino (instead of later scene-chewing roles) teach the irascible Max a better philosophy of life even though the script seemed heavy-handed at times.
  2. Watching Hackman’s Max change. Usually Hackman is hard and mean and stays that way. It was great to see such a fine transformation. I smiled broadly when I found out why he slept with the shoe under his mattress. When Lion asks him why he picked him to be his partner since he trusts no one, Max responds, “Because you gave me your last cigarette. And you made me laugh.” The chemistry between the two characters was real and showcased great acting .
  3. I loved that open scene with the stormy sky and gold wheat field. The across the highway exchange was wonderful.

29 thoughts on “Another Pair with Gene Hackman

Add yours

  1. Both of these films showcase how great Hackman was – too bad he chose to retire, even rejecting Alexander Payne’s script for “Nebraska”, which the Director said he wrote specifically for Hackman. Now get into his 70’s “B” movie stuff, like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Prime Cut” – or the moody film noir “Night Moves!”

    1. Bruce Dern was fantastic in Nebraska but I sure would have love to see Gene come out and do one more film. Even one scene like his cameo in The Mexican would be enough for me. Have you seen The Package from 1989, John?

  2. Scarecrow left me with mixed emotions. In my ‘film heart’, I sort-of knew it was a great film, but I never truly warmed to it. I have only ever watched it once.

    I watched ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ twice in the same week, at the same London cinema. Since then, I have seen it perhaps another six times. I thought (and still do) it was a landmark film. Beatty’s best performance, Estelle Parsons’ best performance, Michael J. Pollard’s best performance, and perhaps Dunaway’s finest hour. You had to be around at the time, to appreciate just how marvellous it was, and how different back then. I was only 15 years old, and completely blown away by it. There had NEVER been anything close to it before, in that gangster genre. Hackman was outstanding as Brother Buck, but Parsons and Wilder stole the film for me, with small but perfect performances in every detail.

    Best wishes as always, Pete. x

    1. I appreciate you sharing your personal connection with these two films. I agree that
      Scarecrow is a fine example of great acting, but I doubt I will watch it ever again. B&C has a lot more going for it. The bio I’m reading talks about how hard Beatty worked to get it into the theaters. And, it was due to the British watching the film that convinced the powers that be to release it to a larger audience.

  3. I only recently saw Bonnie and Clyde and can understand why it was such a big deal at the time. I think it still holds up. I’m always happy to see Gene and knew that this was his big break-out role. I have a copy of that Vanity Fair issue, it was the first one I ever bought because of that article. I loved the idea of young people being friends before hitting it big. If I recall correctly some big names on that cover.

  4. Bonnie and Clyde one of those classic moments in movie history when all kinds of talent come together in an explosive fashion. The Hackman joke “Don’t sell that cow” is still referenced in my house when Dad comes to visit and supplies a smile and laugh for us all.
    Scarecrow I’ll need to revisit someday. Remember seeing years ago at an impressionable age and it wasn’t what a teenager was looking to see with Gene and Al.

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