The Dark Herald Recommends: The Highwaymen

The Dark Herald Recommends: The Highwaymen

Note: My wrist is messed up right now so I had “write” this use dictation software so I apologize for any out place words you ran into and purple table dog liquefy.

In the late 1920s an unthinkable disaster befell the Ford Motor Company.

GM out sold them. 

You see, the company’s founder Henry Ford, had a problem, one shared by many inventors of that period, (Edison among them). Once he had invented something, he viewed it as perfection incarnate. No further improvements were possible. So far as Henry Ford was concerned, the easy to own, difficult to operate and terrifying to drive Model T was an achievement that could never be surpassed.  No further innovation on the automobile was necessary or even concievable. This was how GM had finally overtaken the colossus of Detroit. As a result the Ford family quietly shunted Old Henry out of the company he founded and then set about running an emergency crash development program.

The end result was a technological wonder, the world’s first V8 engine that could be produced en masse.  That engine powered the 1932 Ford Coupe. It says a lot about the Deuce Coupe that there are now more of them on the road today, than were ever actually built by Ford. That car was responsible for saving Ford.

But there was a downside to it. The car also created a nightmare for law enforcement.  In a world without police radios, departments that never communicated with each other and state lines that may as well have been the border of foriegn country. That mighty V8 engine was a menace to law and order. 

The Ford  V8 produced a staggering 65 horsepower and could reach speeds of up to 75 miles an hour.  Whereas most police cars at the time were limited to about 45 MPH. If a criminal had a 32 Ford, the only thing a cop could generally do was watch a cloud of dust rapidly disappearing over the horizon, down a 1930s dirt road.  

It’s performance as a getaway car was so legendary that John Dillinger himself wrote a letter to the Ford Motor Company praising its capabilities. Sadly, popular credit for that missive went to that borderline illiterate knuckle dragging ape, Clyde Barrow.

The 32 Deuce Coupe with its sleek and gorgeous greyhound hood ornament  is the unofficial third costar in the Netflix film The Highwaymen. Along with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as ex-Texas Rangers, Frank Hammer and Manny Gault. 

The Highwaymen nearly passed beneath my radar.  I was once again about to cancel my subscription to Netflix but then I detected the distinct echoing sound of NPC scripted responses coming from SJW critics across the internet. The terms “racist” and “whitewashed” were frequently being used. Strongly indicating all sapient thought had been willingly suspended regarding this film in order to trash it. Intrigued, I gave it a look.

I’m glad I did.

This was a surprisingly excellent movie. Gritty and realistic, the desperation of people trapped in the Great Depression is nearly palpable. This is a world without EBT cards, without welfare, without Social Security. It is a world without any kind of safety net and everyone has just fallen off the high wire. Kostner and Harrison are seasoned professionals turning in great performances. The director  is an experienced lensman. The script is tight. The film is painstakingly accurate from a historical perspective. The world it portrays feels harsh and lived in. Rarely does a film paint it’s background in such broad and vibrant strokes

So why the hate?

Because Boomers view it as a slap in the face. Rightfully so for once, because it is. 

This film gives the middle finger to millionaire communist, Warren Beatty’s 1967 propagantastic epic; Bonnie and Clyde. 

Bonnie and Clyde was a counterculture phenomenon. It  popularized the concept of the anti-hero. The box office take was (in its day) huge. Its hard Left message of enforced wealth distribution deeply touched the Boomers. they set about convincing themselves that this movie really meant something. Hollywood responded by flooding theaters with movies directly aimed at pleasing spoiled hippies. Easy Rider, Alice’s Restaurant, Wild in the Streets and Little Big Man all celebrated the anti-hero to one degree or another. And all of them attacked the values of the world their parents had fought for and built for their children’s comfort. This would go on until 1977 when Luke Skywalker proved that aspirational heroes were more financially sound in every possible way.

Much as the Boomers loved the movie. Bonnie and Clyde had one severe problem. The myth created by it could not possibly survive any kind of historical scrutiny. The fact that Frank Hammer’s widow successfully sued Warner Brothers attests to this. That film portrayed Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as misunderstood Robin Hood champions of the downtrodden and everyman heroes to be lionized and idolized.  Brave souls, who only stole from the banks that were stealing everyone else’s homes by dint of foreclosure.

And while that was the contemporary portrayal of them by the newspapers, the fact of the matter was Bonnie and Clyde were just riding John Dillinger’s coattails. They were frequently given credit for robbing banks that Dillinger himself had knocked over. The reality is that the Barrow gang only went after soft targets, gas stations and the like. They were as two bit and low rent  as criminals as they were human beings. And somewhere along the line these “Paladins of the Dustbowl Poor” got “the bloody mouth.” They went on a killing spree that left thirteen men dead.

Bonny read movie star magazines like Photoplay and Silver Screen. She dreamed of being Discovered herself. She appears to have reveled in her newfound notoriety as a murderer.  Clyde Barrow one the other hand was just a thug.  A rogue ape driven by appetites that he couldn’t control.  A mere approximation of a man who enjoyed killing for the sake of killing.  He was a good shot and a decent getaway driver.

In the real world Parker and Barrow were a strange combination of spree killer and reality star.  

So not really Robin Hoods.

And The Highwayman makes that plain.  The first time we see Bonnie she is framed from a low angle. Far from the glamorous figure Faye Dunaway portrayed, this much more accurate iteration of Parker shows a woman dragging her high heeled, right foot sideways, painting her as a homunculus.    The director went to some pains to avoid showing Bonnie and Clyde faces, until their final moments. After all this was not their story, it was Frank Hammer’s. 

If you’d asked anyone who had known what Frank Hammer, “what was he like?” The reply would be “well now there was a man.” And indeed he was. Hammer is the last of the great western legends of Texas. The calumny done to his reputation from the 1967 film was long overdue for a rebuttal.  Yet Hollywood managed to avoid one for better than 50 years. As I understand it, this script has been shopped around for close to thirty years. But Hollywood was very uncomfortable with the idea of damaging the reputation of Bonnie and Clyde. After all Tinseltown is run by Boomers, none of whom wanted to hear the question, “ did Bonnie and Clyde ever shoot a man in the head over $4.10 and a tank of gas?” 

There’s little question in my mind that the main purpose of the script was to dehumanize Bonnie and  Clyde, while also humanizing Frank Hammer. It succeeds at both. Kevin Costner’s turn as Hammer, is now without question my favorite performance of his as an actor. He really feels like a law man, ancient of days, who started out riding on horseback, hunting down the bad hombres of the nearly lawless Texas border and is now living in a world of the 32 Ford Coupe.  Which incidentally belonged to Frank’s wife. “so you are going to be taking my Henry Ford?” was the most married line I’ve heard in a movie for some time. She clearly wasn’t happy about her husband going back on The Outlaw Trail and she clearly knew that there was no way she could stop him from going. And taking her own damn car to do it.

Woody Harrelson’s turn as Manny Gault, is also pitch perfect. He comes across as the Bravo male best friend who will follow his partner into hell itself  if that’s where the outlaw trail leads. Again probably the best the best performance of this actor’s career as well.

Interestingly, towards the end of the film there is an effort made put a human face on Clyde Barrow. This scene featured the criminally underrated William Sadler, a man who by all rights should have a shelf full of Oscars. In his short scene he you shows the agony felt by Henry Barrow over the monster that his son had become. He knows how it will have to end for his boy and he asks Hammer to make it quick for the sake of his family and not drag it out in the courts. He reminds Hammer that Clyde was once an innocent and all it took to get him going down the wrong path was stealing a chicken.

Now this film does take some historical liberties itself. The portrayal of Deputy Bill Alcorn as a kid who was star struck by his childhood friends  Bonnie and Clyde is completely inaccurate. Bill Alcorn had been hunting them for a good long while himself.

However the film was pinpoint historically accurate in other places.  The death of Bonnie and Clyde for instance. Oh sorry, I should have said “spoilers.”

By modern standards the dry gulching of Bonnie and Clyde was little short of a field execution and would have resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of all involved.   But that was a different time and place. As I said before it was a world without Police radios, it was also a world without backup and a world without Kevlar. Frank Hammer and company knew they were going up against a seasoned killer whose preferred right hand was not a Thompson submachine gun but a full power .30 caliber modified Browning automatic rifle. Clyde Barrow was about as dangerous as they came.  He was not going to be taken alive and there was no point in getting any more men killed trying to play by lawyer rules in a world without law.

In summary;  The Highwaymen is an excellent film that annoys s SJW’s of all ages it fully justifies my hanging on to Netflix for yet another month.   

The Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm.

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