40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
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.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2005
Format: VHS Tape
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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2006
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
This movie, a better rendition, if you ask me, of the whole "Bonnie & Cllyde" type of story, with Shelley Duvall practically owning the movie as Keechie, the quirky love interest of Keith Carradine's Bowie in this film, was made THIRTY-THREE YEARS AGO by the late, legendary Robert Altman. All things seem to come together nicely in this film: the art direction, something which Altman and his protegé Alan Rudolph were noted for on generally small budgets; the acting, by Duvall, Carradine, Remsen, Schuck and Fletcher; the cinematography, which is flawless and denouement, which flows like clear water to its final destination.
Remsen, Carradine and Schuck play bank robbers in this movie, but Altman takes pains not to portray them as monsters, with the possible exception of Schuck's character. Bowie is parlayed by Carradine as a sensitive, good-humored, "aw shucks" type who woos the rail-thin, down-home Keechie all through the movie. Remsen's character, "T-Dub", is portrayed as a bit of a randy old man, but essentially good natured. It is only Schuck's character that gets the standard "criminal [...]" treatment in the film, as a drunken, abusive and violent type. The upshot of this all is, BOWIE is the one who's a convicted murderer, but in the film, he's as gentle as a lamb with Keechie and the children he comes in contact with, all related to "T-Dub" and Louise Fletcher in one way or another.
Duvall's Keechie is her best role to date! Nobody can wield a rocking chair like her! Keechie falls for Bowie, (in fact, Carradine's Bowie is an awful lot like his character in "Trouble in Mind", a thief who wants to keep his family out of it,) and loses it when the inevitable happens at the end.
This was the kind of film Hollywood did beautifully in the 70s...the nostalgia movie that somehow managed to replicate earlier eras like they had somehow rigged up a time machine to transport whole audiences to the period. There isn't one anachronism or historical inaccurancy to speak of, and the radio shows, especially, some so obscure, I'm sure Newton Minnow would have had a hard time placing them, help establish the feel for the era.
A fitting tribute to a filmmaker whose later ouvre was a bit wanting. Joan Tewksbury also helped adapt this novel to the screen. Rent or buy...you can't lose.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2007
Nice to see this classic finally get a DVD release in the US. Altman was at the top of his game in the early 70s (between MASH and Nashville) and this movie fits in perfectly alongside such classics as McCabe & Mrs Miller, The Long Goodbye and California Split. Great performances from Shelley Duvall and Keith Carradine dominate this gangster film that's much more interested in the two young lovers than in bullets or blood.
A must-see for all Altman fans. For collectors, be forewarned by the short shelf-life of the California Split DVD and grab your copy now.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
"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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2012
I'd seen this film for sale at a large retailer many times . I almost pulled the trigger several times . I'm going to get a copy now that I've seen it . I DO very much like the comparison with BONNIE AND CLYDE in the editorial review here . I feel this is a MUCH better film for many reasons (i won't waste time rattling them off as i'm not a fast writer) . As i see it , this is a film about several men who don't (in general) see themselves as wrongdoers or bad people . These are (by and large) simple , largely decent folk who have chosen quick methods to money , comfort and goals . They have a loose cannon in their midst though . I found the picture and It's various characters to be VERY authentic . These are NOT smug , hip or affected people . They truly inhabit a simpler and less complicated time . The film making is very true in It's pacing , sights , sounds , conversations , activities and so on . Every moment struck me as more than just plausible . It struck me as honest and probable . See what YOU think .
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2010
I've seen my share of Robert Altman movies and I've liked quite a few. So, given his stature in the industry, I was surprised to come across this title. Either I'd not heard of it at all or it flew so low under the radar I simply forgot it existed. One way or the other I figured I should give it a gander.
I liked it enough but I don't think it's quite the lost treasure others seem to think. It's just a middle effort by Altman.
Set during the depression, the story follows the exploits of three escaped Mississippi prisoners who form a gang to rob banks. Four of the main actors, Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Tom Skerritt and John Shuck have all appeared in other Altman projects, and all do a fine job here. The problem, as I see it, is there is neither a story ark or character arc here. You merely follow these guys through their moving from place to place as they hold up banks. Yes, the Carradine character meets and finds a liking for the Duvall character which lends a note of sadness at the end of the film, but he doesn't change. He's a likable guy at the beginning of the movie and just as likable at the end.
In typical Altman fashion it's acted well, directed well and has a good music score. They get the period details down cold so you get a good feel for time and place. For me the problem was at the script level. I liked these characters with all their quirks and eccentricities, but at the end of things all I could think of was "so what." This isn't a bad film by any means. It's very watchable. Just don't expect it to change your life.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This was the first Robert Altman film I ever saw. The realistic re-creation of the period and the "no-acting" acting sucked me right in, thereby 'hooking' me on Altman (and Altman-ish) films forever.
The remarkable transformation of Shelley Duvall's "Keechy" from greasy-haired, floppy-eared picayune in the background to Leading Lady is one of the elements of the film which make it unforgettable.
Louise Fletcher is flawless as the matron Mattie, cautioning her children to mind their manners even as bad news looms darkly over the dinner table.
The DVD of "Thieves Like Us" came from seemingly nowhere -- Can "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," "Welcome to L.A." "Remember My Name" and "Health" be far behind?
Bring them on!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2014
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Indispensable 70s Altman work, this time deconstructing the gangster genre. Minimizing the importance of plot and emphasizing character and setting instead, Altman gets fantastic work from his actors and French cinematographer Jean Boffety, filmed during an excessively wet summer in Mississippi. Carradine and especially Duvall are terrific in their roles as the young lovers, and John Schuck's work here is nothing less than astonishing: initially appearing for buffoonish comic relief but descending into a murderous intensity as the character goes further off the deep end. Altman had enlisted the help of Julie Christie on the set of McCabe & Mrs. Miller to coach Duvall in more complex acting, and the work pays off here in a role that is far beyond in emotional complexity from her performance in her debut Brewster McCloud, where whatever charms she had were endemic to her offbeat personality and not to her character. Duvall doesnt have the studied graces of a conventional actress but is able to feel her way into a scene, particularly in some lovely early courtship scenes with Carradine that largely emerged not from the script but from improvisation, The film's slow rhythms and unwillingness to dazzle or excite in such scenes as the bank robberies will be off-putting to most, but the film has great compensations and surprises for those who admire Altman's technique. One sequence--a car accident which sets in motion some major plot developments--I find so spontaneous and horrifying that I always turn away from it when reviewing the film. Louise Fletcher's performance was initially very minimal but Altman was so impressed with her he enlarged her role enormously, allowing her character to have a major role in the tragic outcome. Her best scene is one in which she scrupulously tries to distract her children at the dinner table while the bank robbers discuss their work.
I'm delighted the film will soon be available on Bluray which should really highlight Jean Boffety's excellent soft-focus camerawork. Altman has said when he was getting the project off the ground, he had difficulty finding any American cinematographers who wanted to work in Mississippi, due to its popularized stereotypes. Boffety leaped at the opportunity to film in Faulkner country, giving an outsider's view of the South that doesn't focus merely on the squalor (as an American DP might have). As a longtime Altmanphile who hails from Mississippi, I can truthfully state Altman's film captures the beauty as well as the ugliness of the Deep South better than any other film Ive seen.