MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
(Soundbite of movie, "Bonnie and Clyde")
Ms. FAYE DUNAWAY (Actor): (as Bonnie Parker) I'm Miss Bonnie Parker, and this is Mr. Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.
SIEGEL: Director Arthur Penn, whose film "Bonnie and Clyde" shocked critics, inspired filmmakers and changed the course of American film, has died. He was 88 years old.
In the 1950s and '60s, Penn leapfrogged from Broadway to Hollywood to the then-new medium of television.
Film critic Bob Mondello offers this appreciation.
BOB MONDELLO: No matter what medium he was working in, Arthur Penn always seemed to be something of a miracle worker, so it makes sense that "The Miracle Worker" was his ticket to fame. He first directed the story on television in 1957, returned to it two years later on Broadway, and three years after that on the big screen. A wild young Helen Keller, blind, deaf and struggling with her teacher Annie Sullivan in a battle of wills that Penn staged as an out-and-out slugfest.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Miracle Worker")
Ms. ANNE BANCROFT (Actor): (as Annie Sullivan) W-A-T-E-R, water. It has a name. W-A-T...
MONDELLO: "The Miracle Worker" won Oscars for Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft, and it established Penn as a successful film director, though his career initially moved in fits and starts. He was dismissed from one project, had another butchered by his producer, and by the time Warren Beatty called him to ask if he'd take over direction of a picture about a pair of bank robbers, he was bitter about the way Hollywood had treated him. Beatty gambled and offered him final cut on the movie - a rare thing at the time - but in this case a smart bet. The result was a gangster flick unlike anything Hollywood had ever seen. An initially funny crime spree that turns mythic, becoming a mix of sex, charisma, and especially violence.
(Soundbite of movie, "Bonnie and Clyde")
(Soundbite of gunfire)
Ms. DUNAWAY: (as Bonnie Parker) (Unintelligible).
MONDELLO: Many establishment critics loathed "Bonnie and Clyde" when it came out, saying it was morally lacking and in terrible taste. But a few young critics embraced it, and they brought young audiences with them. It was the first picture Pauline Kael reviewed for The New Yorker, and she raved, calling it an excitingly American movie.
As to the criticism that there was excessive violence in the film, Penn rejected that, as he told NPR's Terry Gross in 1998.
(Soundbite of archived broadcast)
Mr. ARTHUR PENN (Movie Director): There's gratuitous mindless violence and then there is the depiction of how it really is. And I think that we depicted that by not doing it in an ordinary reportorial style. God knows we've been imitated thousands and thousands of times now by television shows. Every time you see kind of somebody attempting violence, they go into that basic slow motion. Well, in American films, at least, we did it first.
MONDELLO: Arthur Penn was born in 1922 to a Russian Jewish couple, a watchmaker and a nurse, who divorced when he was 3. He and his brother Irving Penn, who would later become a famed photographer, moved around a lot, and in a sense, that's the way he lived his career as well, using lulls in television to direct films like "Alice's Restaurant" and "Little Big Man," and using lulls on film to direct on Broadway, where he staged "Wait Until Dark," "Two For The Seesaw," "Toys In The Attic" and the civil rights era musical "Golden Boy."
Though he slowed down at the end of his career, Arthur Penn continued directing well into his 80s, both on TV and on stage, always attracted to stories of social outsiders and the chance to give one more "Little Big Man" a voice.
I'm Bob Mondello.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.