Arthur Penn, RIP


Je tremble pour Clyde Barrow.

Arthur Penn, who just died at age 88, is best known for directing Bonnie and Clyde, but his most influential work behind the camera might have come seven years earlier. As Dave Kehr reports, Penn

advised Senator John F. Kennedy during his watershed television debates with Richard M. Nixon in 1960 (and directed the broadcast of the third debate). Mr. Penn's instructions to Kennedy—to look directly into the lens of the camera and keep his responses brief and pithy—helped give the candidate an aura of confidence and calm that created a vivid contrast to his more experienced but less telegenic Republican rival.

I'm not sure how Kennedy's debate coach managed to get a gig as a debate director as well, but Nixon was probably stewing about it for years afterward.

Penn's other credits include the revisionist western Little Big Man, the paranoid thrillers Mickey One and Night Moves, and the Arlo Guthrie vehicle Alice's Restaurant, described by my colleague Nick Gillespie as "the greatest anti-hippy movie this side of Joe." He also directed Penn & Teller—a duo infinitely preferable to Kennedy & Nixon—in the cult favorite Penn and Teller Get Killed.

I suppose Bonnie and Clyde is Penn's most "important" movie: It set off the whole New Hollywood period, so even if you don't care for the film in itself you have to give it credit for paving the way for all those great early-'70s flicks starring the likes of Jack Nicholson and Warren Oates. But my favorite Arthur Penn picture is Night Moves, with Gene Hackman as a pro football player turned private eye pursuing a mystery that never quite resolves itself. In a sane world, it would have had an impact far greater than that of any mere president.

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  1. Oh, so this is the guy to blame for why people today think looking good for the camera is more important than actual policy positions and intelligence. Thank you, Arthur Penn.

  2. Night Moves is a good film, and as an added bonus it does not feature Warren Beatty.

    1. I like Night Moves, and Target was actually pretty good (and both have the bonus of starring Gene Hackman and not starring Warren Beatty), but the rest of his stuff is meh.

      1. Hmm, an 80’s thriller I haven’t seen. Might be worth a look.

        1. Spy intrigue, 80s style. Pretty damn good.

  3. I disliked Bonnie and Clyde long before it was cool to do so. But Night Moves is a good movie. Haven’t seen that one in years.

    1. As good as Nighthawks with Sly Stallone and Rutger Hauer? I think not.

      1. What does disliking a shitty movie have to do with the culture war?

        1. Don’t mind Corn Sugar, his brain got messed up from all that toxic fructose.

          1. Actually, it’s from all the self-abuse, but good try.

  4. I like Bonnie and Clyde, but I didn’t appreciate it until I saw it the second time, because I wasn’t coming in with inflated expectations.

    1. I am the opposite. I saw it as a ten year old on TV and thought it was pretty cool. Re-watched it as an adult and thought it was garbage. Honestly, I would rather watch some forgotten good early 70s camp like They Only Kill Their Masters of The Doberman Gang than Bonnie Clyde. One of the most overrated movies ever.

      1. They Only Kill Their Masters? With James Garner? I thought I was the only person who remembered that movie. June Allyson as a dyke. Excellent movie. It was made for TV I think.

        1. Yes. June Allyson as a dyke and the always ravishing Katherine Ross. And it was a theatrical release. It just got played on TV so much back in the day it seemed like a movie of the week.

          And James Garner is a seriously underrated actor.

          1. Agreed. Remember “tit for tat”?

              1. Garner’s deputy gets a call about a guy who bit his girlfriend’s nipple off because of something she did to him. The two of them (Garner and the deputy) are rolling on the floor after the deputy calls it a case of tit for tat. Just a very funny, realistic scene that has nothing to do with the plot.

    2. This role made Faye Dunaway’s career, but she was not the first choice. Others who nearly got it: Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley, and Sue Lyon. Any of them would have made it quite a different movie. I can imagine Fonda in the role, but not any of the others.

      1. Ann-Margret got into movies on the basis of her tits. She would have been a disaster. Natalie Wood could really act. I think she could have played Bonnie as more of a really insecure poor girl from Dallas. I think I would have liked the movie better with her in it. Fonda would have just been a better looking Dunaway in the roll. Weld would have been a less effective better looking Dunaway. Not sure about Lyon since her body of work is so small.

        1. Fonda, a better-looking Dunaway? Pfft. Fonda was gorgeous and sexy but Dunaway was divine. I do think she was a bit too polished and mature looking for the role of Bonnie.

          1. To each his own. But always found Dunnaway to be annoying. Something about her features bugs the hell out of me. I never found her attractive.

        2. Ann-Margret got into movies on the basis of her tits.

          Said like that’s a bad thing. What kind of monster are you?

          1. Well if you are going to get into movies on your tits, those are definitely the tits to use.

              1. She was spectacular. And was up until her health failed her, an avid motorcyclist. Used to be a spokes model for Triumph back in the 60s. And was a loyal wife to the same guy for over 40 years now. All things considered, one of the most awesome women ever to roam the earth.

                1. How does a man manage to marry something as spectacular as this?

          2. Warty|9.29.10 @ 4:41PM|#
            [Ann-Margret got into movies on the basis of her tits.]

            “Said like that’s a bad thing. What kind of monster are you?”

            Libertarian aesthetics defined.

      2. Why not Weld? She was pretty effective in Once Upon a Time in America.

        1. I forgot about that. She really could act.

        2. Two words. Pretty Poison. Not a great movie, but she could definitely kill people.

        3. To me, Dunaway and Fonda have a certain edge that works for the role. The others seem too delicate and feminine. I know Wood could act and was short like Parker, but it still seems too much like Betty Boop playing a bank robber. She was just so gorgeous and tiny that I don’t think it would have worked.

          One more I forgot: Cher. I can sort of see her in the role.

    3. I enjoyed it except for Beatty (he nearly ruined McCabe and Mrs Miller too). Badlands was quite a lot better though.

      1. McCabe and Mrs Miller is not only the hands down greatest Warren Beatty-starring movie, it is one of the best pictures of all time.

  5. For the record New Hollywood died when Boorman’s Excalibur was excreted onto unsuspecting moviegoers.

    1. Curse you and all of your spawn. Excalibur kicks ass.

    2. Night Moves was a great movie. Excalibur sucks. As does Zardos. And whoever called me a shithead a couple of weeks ago for saying that can kiss my ass. Boorman’s Point blank was an excellent movie. But the drugs definitely affected his brain shortly thereafter. And not in a good way.

      1. Zardos is awful. But Excalibur is great. It looks fabulous. And it is a lot of fun. Yeah it is over done. And no it is not a classic. But thirty years on, I will still watch it. I don’t see how you can say it is bad.

        1. I only have a soft spot for it because my dad loved it. And of course, the use of Sigfried’s Funeral March is terrific. But, I just can’t get past Williamson’s Merlin. Sorry. It beats the hell out of Zardos.

          1. It doesn’t bother me, although the funky helmet/skull cap he wears is pretty annoying.

          2. I love his Merlin! The only other major role I can remember for him is Holmes in The Seven-Percent Solution.

            1. Merlin is portrayed as Fruitpie the Magician. Cameras and lights are visible in the knights’ armor at least 15 times. So much scenery is chewed it gives meaning to the term “dinner theater.” The only redeeming quality is naked Helen Mirran.

              1. I consider a naked Helen Mirren to be more just any redeeming quality.

              2. I like it, and I don’t care what you say about it. So there!

                It had a killer cast, by the way.

      2. You can kiss my ass, shithead! Zardoz is great. Just get really fucked up and try it again.

        1. I have to admit, I never saw it fucked up. I stopped doing serious drugs over 30 years ago, and only saw the movie for the first time recently. Movies are very personal. I have tried to stop saying movies suck for that reason. I am properly chastised.

        2. I saw it while extremely drunk, and it still sucked.

        3. It’s warped, but at least that makes it fun.

          Unlike, say, Robert Altman’s Quintet.

    3. Jeff, we’ve been over this before. Excalibur kicks ass.

      Any movie where the director puts his daughter on screen to have sex with a guy in armor cannot be dismissed so cavalierly.

      1. Put me in the pro-Excalibur camp.

      2. Had to hurt. I mean the armor.

        1. That’s why he had to use his daughter. Regular actresses had issues with the armor.

  6. the whole New Hollywood period

    Didn’t click the link. Does it mention the rise of the “anti-hero” in cinema? That’s hardly a commendable thematic turn for Hollywood, but it is what it is. And we’re all closer to villains than heroes anyway, aren’t we?

    1. Oh noes, every movie isn’t High Noon any more! We actually have variety! What will we do?!?

      Concern troll is concerned.

      1. Movies never were all high noon. Westerns were doing anti hero movies long before the New Hollywood. Fist Full of Dollars was made in 1964. Is there more of an anti hero than The Man With No Name? What about the Searchers? John Wayne is very much an anti-hero. The whole new hollywood invented the anti-hero is just bullshit boomer nostalgia.

        1. Tell it to the concern troll, who is clearly concerned.

        2. The Japanese invented when they stole it from early American cinema.

          1. The Japanese invented the genre. Which we invented, then stole back from them after they invented it again. The Europeans played no role except to supply directors, some actors, and location, location, location. Because nothing looks so like the Old West as Spain.

            1. Sergio Leone didn’t make westerns as much as fantasy pictures. His movies are as much about the old west and Excalibur is about the Middle Ages.

              And BTW, why the hell hasn’t someone made a computer RPG based on the world of the Man With No Name movies? That screams for a video game.

                1. Just got that for my birthday. Pretty cool game! Nice change from space, fantasy, and the Apocalypse.

                2. Seen the commercials. It kind of looks like it. But it takes place in the early 1900s. A little late I think. And the look is wrong. Damn punk kids can’t do anything right.

                  1. The game reproduces a “grainy film” effect and uses music from various Spaghetti Western films, including those composed by Ennio Morricone.

                    Try Red Dead Revolver.

        1. Yawning troll is yawning.

      2. Outland: Yes or no? I vote yes. In fact, I like it quite a bit.

        1. Yes indeed. It has Sean Connery…in space. Cannot fail. Oh wait, I forgot about Highlander II.

          1. Oh, he can fail. But he can also kick major ass.

            I like Peter Boyle in that flick, too. The evil golfer.

            1. Reliable Peter Boyle…was he ever bad? (thinking…)…

          2. Outland? So you are the one who wants every movie to be High Noon.

            1. I brought it up because of the High Noon reference. There are worse movies to be “inspired” by.

            2. Oh noes, it’s true!

          3. Shotgun to the face in space!

            Outland owns.

          4. Highlander II is a better film than Excalibur. As are Krull, Ice Pirates, Yor the Hunter from the Future, and any Hulk Hogan film.

            1. Really, when I become the Libertarian Overlord of Earth, I’m going to have you shackled, ? la Malcolm McDowell, and forced to watch Excalibur until you love it.

              1. Oh, I can watch it. I’ve seen it many times. I find its retchedness almost beautiful.
                And, of course, Helen Mirren.

                1. Of course. She still looks pretty decent, even now.

                  1. Also, seeing Clive Swift and Patrick Stewart is a hoot. Makes you want to see Arthur’s adopted father drive a longsword through Hyacinth Bucket.

                    As for Patrick Stewart, who’s up for a viewing of Lifeforce?

                    1. Were other people in that? All I remember is some naked chick.

                      Yes, I’m kidding, but if a movie could ever be summarized in three words or less, that would be the movie.

                    2. Mathilda May’s Boobs
                      Mathilda May’s Boobs
                      Mathilda May’s Boobs

                    3. When people who know nothing about that movie talk about that movie, they say, “The film with the naked chick.” I mean, that’s all it is–a movie with a naked woman walking around.

                    4. Pshaw I say! Steve Railsback is the consumate actor!

                      Walkabout, now THAT was a film about a naked chick…

          5. Or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

        2. Yes. SC can bring it when he wants to. And he clearly wanted to in Outland.

          1. I think it’s an underappreciated movie.

            1. I liked Outland, but was always bothered by the fact that at the beginning the son is a wisecracking kid, but when he calls from the shuttle he is maudlin and borderline-autistic.

              1. Something weird about that–I agree. Maybe that was John Boorman’s son, freaked out about what happened to his sister in Excalibur.

    2. Yeah, all those 70’s and 80’s hollywood movies like The Friends of Eddie Coyle really sucked. Too bad they made all those noir flicks as well.

      Good lord.

  7. I like Little Big Man quite a bit, though the novel is a thousand times better and has less Dusty in it. I can’t abide him.

    1. He gets in the way sometimes. But I was 16 when it came out, and I nearly popped one in the theater during the Faye Dunaway bath scene.

      1. That’s actually a movie that could stand a remake. Or, better said, a new movie based more directly on the book.

        The reason that movie was great–other than the great source material–was Chief Dan George. He was also awesome in The Outlaw Josey Wales.

        1. Chief Dan was a movie God. He was in two films with two of the biggest leading men in Hollywood history at the height of their powers, and Chief Dan walked away with both movies.

          1. On the Tonight Show, Johnny once asked Chief Dan George his secret for long life, and he said “pushups”, then he dropped and started doing pushups. Not sure why I remember that.

            1. That reminds me of when Jack Palance did one-handed push-ups at something–maybe the Oscars–when he was like 79.

        2. One of Dean Wormer’s best roles I might add.

          1. Absolutely. He has some great lines. “Because of what you did here today, I am going to have to kill that man.” and the immortal classic “Don’t piss on my boots and tell me its raining.”

          2. Oh, he was awesome in that movie. For that matter, he was awesome as Dean Wormer.

        3. “All I got to eat’s this piece of hard rock candy. But it’s not fer eatin’, it’s just fer lookin’ through.”

          1. “We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.”

            1. Great stuff, isn’t it?

  8. This is sad news. Bonnie and Clyde is my favorite movie. All I can say is RIP, Arthur Penn, you did the world a great service by making such great movies.

  9. Night Moves is Penn’s masterpiece.

    Greatest role ever for the awesomely yummy and otherwise criminally underused Jennifer Warren as Hackman’s love interest. Loved all the by-play about her “sensitive nipples.”

    Also, the teenage Melanie Griffith, perfectly cast as an overripe, round-heeled bit of jailbait. Great piece of dialog between the always reliable character actor John Crawford and Hackman about her after Hackman has determined that the middle-aged Crawford has been diddling her.

    “Well, hell, you’ve seen her. There ought to be a law.”

    “There is.”

    A nice supporting turn by a young James Woods too, plus Susan Clark as Hackman’s estranged would-be artsy bo-ho wife, Harris Yulin as the college professor she’s seeing on the sly, plus Kenneth Mars and Edward Binns. An amazing cast of rock-solid pros.

    Not normally much of a fan of downer plots where no one wins, but THIS is how it’s done, people.

    A treasure.

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