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Thieves Like Us
Thieves Like Us
Actors: Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, Louise Fletcher
Director: Robert Altman
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
R     2007     2hr 3min

The film follows the exploits of three recent prison escapees who become wanted after a string of bank robberies. While on the lam, the youngest member of the group falls for a girl and must balance his newfound love affai...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, Louise Fletcher
Director: Robert Altman
Creators: Robert Altman, George Litto, Jerry Bick, Robert Eggenweiler, Calder Willingham, Edward Anderson, Joan Tewkesbury
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 04/17/2007
Original Release Date: 02/11/1974
Theatrical Release Date: 02/11/1974
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 2hr 3min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

A Depression-era tragic romance that's quintessential Altman
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Keith Carradine as Bowie and Shelly Duvall as Keechie inhabit the mouldering hamlets of the 1930s south so naturally and unaffectedly that your throat tightens. This softer, dreamier Bonnie & Clyde-type tale (filmed in 1941 by Nicholas Ray as "They Live By Night")stands, with "The Long Goodbye" at the pinnacle of Robert Altman's extraordinary 1970s body of work -- even above "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" & "Nashville." Shot like old sepia photographs by Jean Boffety, the film boasts extraordinary supporting work by Bert Remsen, John Shuck, the pre-"Cuckoo's Nest" Louise Fletcher, and one unforgettable little girl. Why this masterpiece is all but forgotten is baffling: it's in a royal line of American movies dealing with average men and women trying to live in the twilight between decency and crime."
A Great Altman Effort
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 01/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Director Robert Altman accepted a tough challenge in deciding to do a remake of a film noir classic from 1949. "They Live by Night" starred Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell and was directed by Nicholas Ray, who guided James Dean to his biggest triumph in "Rebel Without a Cause."

Just twenty-five years after Ray's brilliant triumph Altman scored big with his sequel, which he called "Thieves Like Us," which was the name of the Edward Anderson Depression novel from which the films were adapted. While the earlier drama emphasized the wide open spaces of Oklahoma and the dark, moody noir photography in which Nicholas Ray specialized, Altman put his own stamp on the sequel, moving the action from the aforementioned Southwestern state to the Southeast and rural Mississippi.

Whereas Ray emphasized mood and photography to a greater extent, Altman focused on the social climate of the Depression days in Mississippi. Keith Carradine, the sympathetic figure of the film's bank robbers, as was Farley Granger in the original, tells Shelley Duval, the slender young woman who falls in love with him, that yes, he had killed a man earlier and was sent to prison for doing so, but explains the circumstances.

"He had a gun and it was either him or me," Carradine explains. The statement summarizes the dire circumstances of the Depression in backwoods Mississippi, where survival was the paramount factor. Carradine, who played on the prison baseball team, is saddened that he will never have a chance to test his talents in the professional market. Duval holds out hope that perhaps he can, but he knows better. Carradine realizes he is a pawn of fate, having broken out with two seasoned professional criminals, opposites played by John Shuck and Bert Remsen. Shuck complains about his existence and takes to drinking heavily while Remsen, the oldest of the group at 44, is from New Jersey and lets it be known that he regrets having moved into a life of crime. "I should have been a lawyer and run for political office," he laments at one point.

Remsen's game plan is to engineer enough bank holdups to create a big enough grub stake to enable the team to split up and lead prosperous existences far removed from criminal enterprises. Carradine continue worrying about Shuck as the weak link due to his chronic drinking and complaining.

Eventually, as in the earlier version of the film, the young couple eventually must function on its own. Shelley Duval hopes that she and Carradine can forge a new life but the fatalistic young man who would have preferred playing professional baseball is a fatalist during a Depression filled with fatalists.

One clever element that Altman provides is using radio broadcasts of the period to bring the movie into sociological perspective. We hear the reassuring words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt seeking to bring the nation out of its economic doldrums along with the considerably harsher words of fiery radical Catholic priest Father Coughlin. In one scene Carradine and Duval engage in tender lovemaking during a radio rendition of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a sensitive artistic touch.

Altman collaborated on the script with noted novelist and screenwriter Calder Willingham and one of the director's regular collaborators, Joan Tewksbury. The script never loses sight of Depression struggles and the solitariness of pawn of fate Carradine and his loyal partner Duval."
Radio fictions
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 07/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"You can pick this video up, new, for about two bucks. Its like getting a novel for a dime and thats fitting since this is a film set during a time when novels were a dime (and cokes a nickle). This film will make you feel like you are in another time and in another place. I suppose that price tag is proof that this film doesn't get much respect but that lack of respect, that underdog independence that marks so many of Altman's films, is just part of their appeal. I can see why this film is kind of a lost classic, because THIEVES LIKE US takes place in a time and place that you don't want to be in. In the rural Mississippi of the 1930's people don't have many options, everyone's just scraping by. The only glimpse of glamour in this world is provided by the radio. The radio is simultaneously the thing that describes the world and also transforms the world it describes by making everything ordinary seem sensational and larger-than-life. It almost seems that since nothing ever happens in this backwards Mississippi world crime like radio is just a way of relieving the tedium. Many of the radio programs involve dynamic capers and crime stoppers and when the three thieves read about themselves in the newspapers its almost like they have transcended their mundane surroundings and have become part of that glamourous radio world. Of course we can see that they haven't. And of course the Shadow knows it too.

The three thieves are just ordinary guys (no Clyde Barrow among them). In fact they are each almost painfully plain and they all seem to know it and this is part of their rebellion against not just authority but against life itself. Bowie (played by Altman staple Keith Carradine)is the only one of the three who has any imagination; but his imagination is awash in youth and vague dreams of romance and of playing pro baseball. He was convicted of killing a man when only in his teens but its like nothing ever seems to bring this dreamy kid with his head in the clouds to earth. After he escapes from prison he gets separated from the other two and spends the night beneath a bridge cuddled up with a dog. Its his boyish ordinariness and innocence (despite what hes done) that gains and keeps our attention. When he meets Keechy he seems oblivious to the fact that she is the very embodiment of depression era squalor, all he sees is romance. And its to the sound of radio programs that these two consummate their union. With the equally hopeless and equally dreamy Keechy its like he's finally encountered someone who allows him, even encourages him, to dream. But we know there is too great a distance between the dream and the reality and that the two will eventually prove to be incommensurate.

This is a movie about a younger America (c. 1930's) but its an America that feels old before its time. Its a depression era crime story that takes place around drug stores and gas stations and musty hotel rooms. Its about an America without hope. The radio programming is a constant reminder of the contrast between "America" the self-aggrandizing propaganda machine and "America" the fallen, corrupted, and squalid realm of broken dreams. The whole film--from prison escape to final showdown with the law-- feels muddy. The divide between what we hear on the radio and what we see with our eyes puts a constant strain on us. We know that the thieves must perceive it as well and this is why we end up rooting for them; we want something in reality to equal the fiction.

THIEVES LIKE US provides a strange contrast with THE LONG GOODBYE which is about another 1930's archetype (detective Phillip Marlowe) adrift in an always sunny 1970's California. I think the 1930's attract Altman because they mark the end of that organic America, the America that existed before the crass commercialization of the American soul was complete. Altman characters (Keith Carradine in Thieves Like Us and Nashville, Elliot Gould in Long Goodbye) are anachronisms; they each are possessed by a kind of nostalgia for a simpler time, and, for a while anyway, they seem to be capable of living in a cocoon world of their own making, but whether they realize it or not they are caught up in the same web of corruption that snares everyone.

Between THIEVES LIKE US and THE LONG GOODBYE I would say I prefer the latter but these two films should be viewed together. The one seems to lead to the other and both lead to NASHVILLE.

Slow-moving 'Thieves' finally captured on DVD
Flipper Campbell | Miami Florida | 05/04/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Thieves" is getting its first U.S. release on DVD. Robert Altman convinced UA to finance the pet project by promising to do its country music project "Nashville" (which the studio later discarded!).

Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall star in the tale of some 1930s band robbers who are just plain folks, unless they're packing heat. The movie's leisurely narrative means a lot of the time we're lying low with the gang (Carradine, John Schuck and Bert Remsen), playing with the kids and watching the dishes get washed. In a great touch, the soundtrack is made up of radio shows from the era, like "The Shadow." "The pace is different than you'd do (today)," Altman says in an equally leisurely DVD commentary recorded in the mid-'90s. "Unless it was a film out of Europe or something."

Altman recruited cinematographer Jean Boffety, in part because the Frenchman actually was excited about photographing backwoods Mississippi. Altman went in for a lot of "screendoor" atmospherics and dewy greens. "It feels like an old movie," the director observed, watching it two decades later. Also, "These people (onscreen lovers Carradine and Duvall) weren't big stars." The story came from the novel by Edward Anderson, which Altman and screenplay collaborator Joan Tewkesbury followed closely. Then, it was off to "Nashville."

The DVD looks just OK. Audio is fine."