In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in The Messenger, Bonnie and Clyde and Dunkirk.
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
May 23, 1430. Compiegne, France.
We’re immediately thrown into the action without a lot of time to digest what’s happening. In the context of the movie, it makes sense, but as we’re just focusing on this one event, let’s pause the movie for a moment to understand what’s happening here.
The camera is looking through a gate of some kind—probably a castle or city walls. I’m guessing that simply because we can see the drawbridge in the view. Right in the center of the drawbridge is a woman riding a horse. In one hand, she’s holding a flagpole with the other on the reigns of her armored horse. She’s rushing straight toward the camera, followed by a few heavily armored soldiers carrying swords. They all seem to be running away from hordes of what I can assume are enemy soldiers, battling them on both the left and right sides of the camera.
If we play the movie again, we can see a little easier that it’s Milla Jovavich’s character. She screams out, “No!” as the gate just in front of the camera comes crashing down, barring the woman and her fellow soldiers from the entrance into the safety of the castle.
She turns around to see her soldiers fighting to hold back the advancing enemy. One of the men on the other side of the gate turns, ordering the man in charge of the gate to open it and let her inside.
He refuses, saying he can’t risk the safety of the town. He screams in frustration at the betrayal. Turning back to the woman on the horse, she hands him the flagpole with its banner attached to it. Then, she draws her sword and turns around to face the enemy.
Some of her soldiers are stabbed. Throats slit.
The scene turns to slow motion as she continues swinging her sword at the enemy from her horse.
Then, a hand reaches up from behind her and pulls her from the horse. At this point, the scene cuts to what seems to be a flashback of her in an empty field lying on her back. Or, maybe it’s a vision because time is moving very fast as she whispers, “My Lord.”
This comes from the 1999 movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc with Milla Jovovich in the lead role. While this depiction is highly dramatized, it is true that Joan of Arc was captured this week in history during a battle in Compiegne, France.
All this took place during what we now know as the Hundred Years’ War between France and England.
And the movie is correct to show Joan of Arc being refused entry, but was she betrayed like we see happening in the movie?
Maybe. Maybe not.
It’s nearly impossible to know the details of exactly what happened back in 1430, and this is one of those moments in history that still gets debated today.
What we do know is that the city of Compiegne was under siege by soldiers under the command of John of Luxembourg. He was a captain for the Duke of Burgundy who was allied with the English. So, even though Burgundy is a region in France today, back then the region was allied with the English during the war between the French and English.
Joan managed to sneak into the city and then tried to start repelling the sieging forces. That didn’t work, though, because there were way more Burgundians than French. Knowing they couldn’t hold out for long, the soldiers under Joan’s command fought against Luxembourg’s men to hold them off while the citizens fled to safety.
Joan’s own escape route, however, was cut off. She did try to get back into the city, but the city gates were closed. That’s how we see the betrayal happening in the movie when someone inside closes the gates and refuses to open them again.
That’d be the governor of Compiegne, and we don’t really know if he ordered the gate closed purposely to get Joan of Arc captured. Some historians have suggested perhaps the gate was closed simply because the Burgundians were outside and they didn’t want the enemy to enter the city.
It would make sense.
Whatever the reason, Joan wasn’t able to get into the city and that meant any French outside the wall had nowhere to go.
Very similar to what we see in the movie, Joan was pulled down from her horse and captured by the Burgundians. They then sold her to the English where she was put on trial for heresy.
Oh, and the visions we see happening in the movie? While we don’t know if those exact visions were a thing, it is true that Joan of Arc claimed to see visions of various saints and hear divine voices. In fact, her visions were used against her in the English trial.
It was a show trial, everyone knew what the result would be. She died almost exactly a year later, because the anniversary of her execution is next week.
Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30th, 1431, at the age of 19.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, though, check out the 1999 movie called The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and the day’s events start at about an hour and 56 minutes into the film.
May 23, 1934. Louisiana.
A man and a woman are smiling at each other as they walk down the sidewalk. A sign behind them reads “Department of Water & Power, Arcadia, Louisiana.”
They’re each carrying a brown bag filled with groceries walk toward their white car. He opens the back door and puts his bag on the back seat first, then she does the same with the bag she was carrying. Then, they both get in the car. She’s on the passenger side and he’s on the driver’s side, but he leaves the door open. They’re not ready to go yet. They’re waiting for someone else, but the third companion doesn’t seem to be showing up.
She gets out to go get the third guy, who is across the street at the hardware store. Just then, a sheriff’s car pulls up. The driver slowly closes his door as one of the officers gets out. He backs up and then picks up the woman, calling her “Gladys Jean.”
She seems confused by this until the driver nods back at the sheriff’s car. She notices it and hops into the passenger’s side, then they drive off. The camera cuts to the third guy, Michael J. Pollard’s character, who seems relieved to see Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s characters drive away.
In the next shot, we can see a man pulling off the wheel of his truck. The camera cuts to the man and woman driving down the road.
And…actually, let’s do something different here, because there’s a second movie that depicts this exact same event.
So, we’ll pick up in a different movie with the man and woman in the car. We can also see the man working on his pickup truck as well, although they’re all played by different actors of course since this is a different movie.
And in this movie, we can see something new: Armed lawmen hiding in the brush on the other side of the broken-down truck. Some of them are loading their rifles, others are just checking to make sure their weapons are ready to go.
There’s complete silence for a moment.
One of the older lawmen, played by Woody Harrelson, hands some binoculars to a younger, nervous-looking man. He tells the younger man he has to identify these two. You don’t have to pull the trigger. Just identify them.
He says he’ll be all right.
They continue waiting in silence for a little while longer until another older lawman, Kevin Costner’s character, gives them an order. He says he’ll present himself first. You stay in the blind and you fire on my command.
Woody Harrelson’s character questions this, but it’s an order.
More waiting in silence.
Finally, a car can be seen driving down the dirt road. Everyone stands up. A man in overalls goes out by the broken-down truck while the younger man with binoculars jumps up to look through them at the car driving down the road.
“Yeah, it’s Clyde—this is it!” he announces.
The car stops for the man wearing overalls by the broken-down truck. From inside the car, the driver asks if he needs some help with the truck. There’s a woman on the passenger side, too, just like we saw in the other movie.
Then, from the other side of the road, Kevin Costner’s character gets up and walks out, carrying a shotgun. The man in overalls notices him and jumps back. This makes the two in the car notice him, too.
“Stick ‘em up,” the lawman says, raising his shotgun.
There’s a brief moment of tension. Inside the car, we can see the two put their hands on their own guns. The rest of the lawmen stand up now, raising their guns. Another brief moment of tension. With wide eyes, the two in the car pause for a moment, then she looks down at the gun.
Everyone opens fire. In a hail of bullets, the two in the car are killed almost immediately. The ambushers don’t stop firing, though, and they keep going. During the constant barrage, the driver’s foot slips off the brake pedal and the car slowly moves forward for a while before stopping in the ditch by the road.
This comes from the 2019 movie The Highwaymen, and the other movie we opened this event with is 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. They’re both telling different sides of the same event that happened this week in history: The ambush of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
The Bonnie and Clyde movie tells the story more from the perspective of the two outlaws, Clyde being played by Warren Beatty and Bonnie played by Faye Dunaway, while The Highwaymen focuses more on the two lawmen who led the charge to capture them. That’d be Woody Harrelson’s character, Maney Gault, and Kevin Costner’s character, Frank Hamer.
And it is true that Hamer and Gault were two of the six lawmen who were involved in the ambush that day.
Michael J. Pollard’s character in the Bonnie and Clyde movie that we see being relieved when the two drive away is named C.W. Moss—and he is a fictional character. He’s a composite, really, of some other members of the Barrow gang: WD Jones and Henry Methvin.
The latter of those, Henry Methvin, was the son of Ivan “Ivy” Methvin, who was the guy wearing overalls next to the broken-down truck in both movies.
To help the law bring down Bonnie and Clyde, they convinced Ivy that Henry wouldn’t get the death penalty for his roles in the murders of two police officers in Grapevine, Texas. That happened on April 1st, 1934, and we learned a bit about that back on episode #237 of Based on a True Story during the week that event happened.
So, Ivy agreed to help the law. There is still some debate about whether or not Henry knew about that deal, though.
The plan was for Ivy to pretend like his truck was broken down along a road where Bonnie and Clyde would be driving. Since the pair knew Ivy, there was a strong likelihood that they’d stop to help.
And that’s what we see happen in both movies—and that’s exactly what really happened. Although, The Highwaymen got the ambush done more accurately than the Bonnie and Clyde movie.
For example, in the Bonnie and Clyde movie we see Clyde get out of the car and with the driver’s side door open, Bonnie kind of hangs out the side as the car is sprayed with bullets. That didn’t happen: Clyde never got out of the car.
When I talked to historian John Neal Phillips about the movie, he said one of the deputies was so nervous he jumped up before the signal was given and fired off two shots. Another of the lawmen saw Clyde’s head snap back meaning he was probably killed right then. But, with the element of surprise gone, the lawmen opened fire. They fired over 100 shots into the car, with Bonnie and Clyde being hit dozens of times—26 for Bonnie and 17 for Clyde, according to the coroner’s statement. Some others have said the real number was more than 50 each, but in either case they’re not survivable numbers.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, you can watch the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie. The day begins at about an hour and 44 minutes into the film, and here we stopped that movie at an hour and 47 minutes and 10 seconds, five seconds before the ambush starts, to switch over to 2019’s The Highwaymen where the ambush begins at an hour and 52 minutes into the movie.
And if you want to get a much more thorough look at the true story, I mentioned chatting with John Neal Phillips. He was the historical consultant on 2019’s The Highwaymen, which we talked about back on episode #178 of Based on a True Story. That covers the law’s side of things. Then, he came back on the show to chat about 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde to dig into the true story from the perspective of the two outlaws. That is episode #195 of Based on a True Story.
So, together, you’ll get all the details about Bonnie and Clyde—oh, and he also shared some stories from the set of how they recreated the ambush scene in The Highwaymen.
May 26, 1940. Dunkirk, France.
Five British soldiers look up to see countless papers floating down from the sky. The town seems to be deserted, and every so often one or two of the soldiers peel off from the rest to check the buildings for something.
One of the soldiers grabs a few pieces of paper from the air. They’re all the same. It’s kind of like one of those “You are here” maps you’ll find at various places, but this is quite an ominous one.
The top of the map indicates water, and everything beneath it is red except for a spot in the middle that says “YOU.” There are arrows pointing toward “YOU” from the red area of the map and in that are it says “WE SURROUND YOU.” At the bottom there are two words: “SURRENDER SURVIVE.”
Another of the soldiers gives an indication for what they’re checking the buildings for as he tries picking up a hose to wring out anything left into his mouth. There are only a few drops.
The silence is broken by gunshots. The soldiers start running down the street. One of them is hit. Then another, and another and another. The last soldier manages to make it over a gate into someone’s backyard. The gunshots follow and he runs to the other side of the yard into a different street. On that side, more gunshots erupt as they shoot at him.
He yells at them, saying he’s English, and the gunshots stop. These must be friendly soldiers. He runs to the barricade, a French soldier helping him over the sandbags that are piled up.
Once he’s on the other side, gunshots start from behind him and the defending soldiers return fire. He runs down the street until it opens up to a sandy beach. There are thousands of other soldiers on the beach, all lined up with nowhere to go. They’re blocked by the water beyond the beach that stretches as far as the eye can see.
This sequence comes from the 2017 movie Dunkirk and right away I’ll point out that it might not be something that happened this week in history. The reason I say that is because by the time that last soldier—his character’s name is Tommy in the film—by the time Tommy reaches the beach, we can see the soldiers are already there on the beach.
Has the evacuation already started? Maybe. Maybe not. The film is a little ambiguous about the specific date. With that said, though, since the point of the entire film is the Dunkirk evacuation and this is how the movie starts, I’ll guess the day is either May 26th or May 27th, 1940.
I know I mentioned the date as May 26th at the beginning of this segment, and I did that because that’s when the evacuation began. But many refer to May 27th as the start because it was the first full day of the evacuation. In either case, we know that it was this week in history that Operation Dynamo began. That’s the name of the operation that history often remembers as the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”
Of course, they didn’t know it was going to be a miracle when it first got underway. Churchill ordered the operation to begin on May 26th and it was expected to last about two days. They hoped to get about 45,000 of the troops across the English Channel to safety before the Germans overran the remaining forces.
What they didn’t know was that Hitler ordered his Panzers to halt. Maybe he thought the Luftwaffe could kill the men on the beaches without any of their own losses. Maybe he thought they’d counterattack. We don’t really know the reason why, but we do know that allowed an operation that the British originally thought might save 45,000 over the course of two days, but it ended up saving the lives of 338,226 people in nine days.
That’s why, after the operation ended on June 4th, 1940, Winston Churchill gave his famous “We Shall Never Surrender” speech. Here’s the part of that speech where he calls what happened at Dunkirk a miracle:
“A miracle of deliverance, achieved by valour, by perseverance, by perfect discipline, by faultless service, by resource, by skill, by unconquerable fidelity, is manifest to us all. The enemy was hurled back by the retreating British and French troops. He was so roughly handled that he did not hurry their departure seriously. We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which should be noted. It was gained by the Air Force. Many of our soldiers coming back have not seen the Air Force at work; they saw only the bombers which escaped its protective attack. They underrate its achievements. I have heard much talk of this; that is why I go out of my way to say this.”
If you want to watch the event that began this week in history, I’d recommend just watching the entire 2017 Dunkirk movie. Once you’ve done that, I had a chat with the historical consultant on the film, Joshua Levine, back on episode #204 of Based on a True Story. Oh, and if you happen to catch the video version on YouTube you can see Joshua showing a side-by-side of the map we see falling at the beginning of the movie. He shows the actual one compared with the one they made easier to read for the film.