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USA 1974
Directed by
Robert Altman
123 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Thieves Like Us

Robert Altman’s Depression-era gangster film is a remake of Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night (1949), which was based on a novel 'Thieves Like Us' by Edward Anderson.  It is turned very much towards the director’s taste for social historical portraiture, not a little through the use of radio broadcasts, particularly in the second half of the film, a device which Altman made the centre-piece of his final film, A Prairie Home Companion, (2006).

Three convicts escape from a Mississippi prison farm and go on a bank-robbing spree. Along the way, the youngest, Bowie (Keith Carradine) falls for a naïve country girl (the incomparable Shelley Duvall) who wants him to give up his criminal ways. Bowie cannot bring himself to break with his no-hoper buddies (Bert Remsen and John Schuck) despite realizing that only bad can come of it.

In many ways a deglamorised Bonnie And Clyde (1967), too much so in the scene when Bowie finally reaps the rewards of his ill-sown seed, Altman’s film, scripted by Joan Tewkesbury and Calder Willingham, with help from the director, instead takes pretty much the same story and strips it of all sensationalism, showing the life of the criminal on the run in all its tawdry drabness but with plenty of Altman's typically dry humour.  Not a strategy likely to nurture box office success (it flopped in its day) but admirable for its honesty. Thieves Like Us is a film that deserves to be better known, both within Altman’s oeuvre and in the bank-robber crime sub-genre.

DVD Extras: Director's commentary

Available from: Shock Entertainment

 

 

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