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Bonnie and Clyde Director Arthur Penn Dies at 88

Bonnie and Clyde Director Arthur Penn Dies at 88

Thompson on Hollywood

Theatre and film director Arthur Penn died in his Manhattan apartment Tuesday night of congestive heart failure, reports A.P. Penn died a year after his brother, photographer Irving Penn.

Penn was a star director on Broadway, winning Tonys for All the Way Home and The Miracle Worker, which he later made into an Oscar-winning movie; he went on to score in Hollywood, forging a strong rapport with the demanding Warren Beatty as a star in Mickey One and star-producer of Bonnie and Clyde, which was Penn’s crowning achievement.

Bonnie and Clyde holds up extraordinarily well: it feels fresh, smart and very indie. It’s hard to imagine how bold and violent the film was at the time. Dede Allen‘s stacatto editing and the brutal action was too much for many moviegoers and critics. Pauline Kael was a champion who helped turn the tide in 1967, as did Roger Ebert. (Mark Harris’s account of Bonnie and Clyde‘s production is in Pictures at a Revolution; Peter Biskind’s is in his Beatty bio, Star.) Film clip below.

Penn also directed the lauded revisionist western Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman. His other western, The Missouri Breaks, is a classic case of a movie–and out-of-control movie stars Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson– run amuck. Night Moves is a great 70s film noir, starring Gene Hackman in a breakout role.

I met Penn in 1987 when we both attended the Havana Film Festival (along with Bob Rafelson, Oliver Stone, Alex Cox and Sonny Mehta). He lent me a grey t-shirt when I was shivering in an unheated airport waiting room. He was a gentle, soft-spoken, thoughtful and articulate man, and it’s a shame that Hollywood–as it tends to do–did not offer him more opportunities to share that filmic intelligence with the rest of the world.

Here’s the NYT obit, Bob Westal, The Wrap, and Moviefone.

Bonnie and Clyde clip:

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My favorite Penn film is THE CHASE (1966). It was notoriously taken out of his hands and edited by producer Sam Spiegel, but it’s still an extraordinary film. Screenplay by Lillian Hellman from a novel by Horton Foote, music by John Barry, and what a cast: Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Angie Dickinson, James Fox, E.G. Marshall, Robert Duvall, Janice Rule (hot!), Miriam Hopkins, Henry Hull, Martha Hyer, Richard Bradford, Clifton James, Bruce Cabot, Joel Fluellen, Paul Williams, Grady Sutton, and even Billy Bletcher (the voice of Bluto in Popeye cartoons)!
Feverish night in a small Texas town. Amazing stuff. I don’t think this film could have been made at any other time. Provocative enough not to have been made earlier, too heated up melodramatically to be made afterwards. Styles and audiences would shift to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, another film about a small Texas town five short years later. By then, of course, Fonda, Redford and Duvall would have been too big for such a movie.

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