best film:   Chinatown wins out here but there is some healthy competition from Network and Bonnie and Clyde. Dunaway’s achievement in Chinatown may not be on par with Roman Polanski, Robert Towne (damn that screenplay) or Jack- but she is only a half-step back. She is simply stunning in the film – and of course – key to the unforgettable “Sister, Mother, Sister” slap scene with Nicholson.


Dunaway in Chinatown. She gets the iconic slap scene- but also a very tender scene earlier in the film in bed with Nicholson’s character.


best performance:   Network but both Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde are acceptable answers here as well and this trio of films and performances at the top are the crux of Dunaway’s case as the best actress of all-time. These films (and her work in them) are crucial to The New Hollywood movement and this generation of American cinema. In Network, Dunaway’s Diana Christensen is aggressive and driven by power, greed, sex, and self-interest. This is not character female actors are often given a chance to portray- and Dunaway flat out crushes it. She trades blows with William Holden (in his best performance as well) and Robert Duvall. An equally strong case can be made for Dunaway’s work in Bonnie and Clyde. Dunaway gives the best performance in the film- and this is star-making role if I have ever seen one.


The Academy treated Dunaway fairly well- she was nominated for each of her three big performances- finally winning in 1976 for Network.


stylistic innovations/traits:   Dunaway is an essential acting figure in the wave of brilliant American films in the late 1960s and 1970s- known now as The New Hollywood period or movement. Dunaway is in twelve (12) total archiveable films- and eight (8) of them are from that crucial ten-year period from 1967-1976 (including her three best performances). There was no better female actor in the world during this stretch- and even if Dunaway’s staying power did not last- being able to say that about any ten-year period is quite a feat (and this, an especially fertile time in cinema). Even Barfly, though from 1987, is certainly made in the spirit of those 1970s films. During her career Dunaway acted with the likes of Dustin Hoffman (Little Big Man), Robert Redford (Three Days of the Condor), and Steve McQueen (both The Thomas Crown Affair and The Towering Inferno) on top of Nicholson, Holden, and Beatty mentioned previously- and she more than holds her own with each of them.


Dunaway’s career was largely over after Network – but Barfly, more than a decade later- is a strong entry


directors worked with:  Arthur Penn (2) and then once a piece Roman Polanski (in a masterpiece), Sydney Pollack, Sidney Lumet and James Gray.


Dunaway as the titular Bonnie in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Dunaway’s third film (first archiveable- she is twenty six years old in 1967) and her jump to stardom.



top five performances:

  1. Network
  2. Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Chinatown
  4. Barfly
  5. Three Days of the Condor


Dunaway here Three Days of the Condor opposite Redford– an underappreciated little thriller



archiveable films

1967- Bonnie and Clyde
1968- The Thomas Crown Affair
1970- Little Big Man
1973- The Three Musketeers
1974- Chinatown
1974- Towering Inferno
1975- Three Days of the Condor
1976- Network
1987- Barfly
1993- Arizona Dream
2000- The Yards
2002- The Rules of Attraction