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Faye Dunaway, the Hollywood star who paid the highest price for her independent spirit

Ahead of a new film about Dunaway premiering in Cannes, Geoffrey Macnab looks at how the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ actor went from being one of the biggest stars in the world to appearing in B-movies – a cautionary tale of how Hollywood often marginalises strong women

Friday 03 May 2024 06:00 BST
Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, the role that made her famous around the world
Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, the role that made her famous around the world (Warner Bros/Seven Arts/Tatira-Hiller Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock)

It’s been nearly six decades since Faye Dunaway starred in Arthur Penn’s 1967 caper Bonnie and Clyde, but her smalltown waitress still stands among the most glamorous gangsters in movie history. With her blonde hair, red lipstick, and unmistakable air of mischief, you knew she was trouble.

Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker, who teamed up with Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) to go on a crime spree in the film, was a Depression-era bank robber and yet, with her high cheekbones and piercing eyes, she had effortless poise. No one else could wear a beret and smoke a cigar quite like her. She even made dying in a hail of machine gun bullets look chic, like a piece of slow-motion, avant-garde performance art. This was her third feature and it turned her into an international star.

The newcomer was as distinctive on camera as any old Hollywood legend like Garbo or Joan Crawford (whom she was later to play), and yet she was thoroughly modern too, looking as if she had just stepped out of some French New Wave movie shot on the Left Bank. She and Beatty complemented each other perfectly. “They’re young; they’re in love: and they kill people!” read the advertising slogan for the film that, after a bumpy arrival in American cinemas, became a huge hit.

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