Read a book instead. History and Lionsgate have released Bonnie & Clyde: The Real Story, a pairing of two "movies" (that's what they call them on the DVD cover...) that are actually crappy old episodes from A&E and The History Channel documentary shows: 1996's Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde, from A&E's Biography series, and 2005's Hunting Bonnie and Clyde from History's Man, Moment, Machine series. No doubt dragged out to capitalize on 2013's biggest non-event (at least in terms of quality) in television--A&E Network's much ballyhooed miniseries, Bonnie & Clyde, with Emile Hirsch and Holiday Grainger--Bonnie & Clyde: The Real Story's episodes are alternately dull and repetitious, making for bad history. No extras for these fullscreen transfers.
I'm not going to waste any more time than I need to on these two marginal-at-best outings, so let's get down to the blood-letting. 1996's Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde may have held my disinterest for a few minutes if History hadn't gone back for this DVD and cut out host Jack Perkins' intros and bumpers. The "Ted Baxter of TV Presenting," Perkins' grotesquely portentous pauses and smiles and folksy intonations are hilarious, and they might have provided momentary solace for this excruciatingly pedestrian exercise (just another indication of how shady this release is: the back DVD cover advertises the unseen Perkins as the host here...after the Lionsgate copywriters get the name of the doc wrong--Bonnie and Clyde: The Story of Love & Death. Amateur hour). So, instead I had to wade uninterrupted through 46 minutes of tedious talking heads, consisting of authors, historians, and other interested parties, including Clyde's sister, Marie, trying to convince me that Bonnie and Clyde weren't all bad, and that the Depression and poverty and prison and a general air of national discontent is what turned them young'ins mean (everyone conveniently forgets to mention the most obvious refutation to that specious argument: the vast majority of people who lived through those various conditions didn't turn to crime...except the yardbirds already in prison). Hoots include Roger McGrath insisting the homicidal pair were really Robin Hoods (such a cliche), sticking it to the "institutions" that were holding them down (when these sick, murdering creeps robbed those stores, and payrolls, and banks...they were taking money away from "the people," genius...and keeping it for themselves), and Clyde's sister, Marie, blaming everyone but her brother for his deeds ("He just didn't have no choice," apparently, is her blameless catch-all for his crimes). Facile, junk history.
As for Hunting Bonnie and Clyde...at least I get a few minutes of a BAR slicing through a postal Jeep. An episode from the dopey, repetitive, one-off Man, Moment, Machine History series, hosted by Hunter Ellis, former naval aviator and now, apparently, male model (the constant posing is a stitch), Hunting Bonnie and Clyde is certainly faster-paced than the previous doc--but quick editing can't hide the hollowness at the center of this disposable time-waster. Concentrating mostly on Bonnie and Clyde's ("The Man!") last day ("The Moment!") with their beloved Browning Automatic Rifles ("The Machine!"), by using quite a bit of cheapo recreations with anonymous actors, this doc somehow tries to straddle the line between straight history doc and one of those military firepower shows, with decidedly mixed results: the history is thin, and the firepower is momentarily distracting. I learned more about how a gas-powered BAR works than I did on why Bonnie and Clyde were homicidal maniacs, so we're basically talking one step forward, one step back. About the only compensations left are a series of cliches from Vanity Fair writer (hee hee!) Bryan Burrough (Public Enemies), who trots out weighty observations such as, "They [Bonnie and Clyde] weren't gangsters; they were kids running around, playing at crime," and "People could identify with who they were." I know it's a lot to ask from a 46 minute cable doc to give at least some depth on whatever subject it's covering, particularly one as complex as the Bonnie and Clyde phenomenon...but why is it we only seem to get generalized tripe like that in these shows? If you're into BAR porn, I suppose it's worth a look....
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.