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Thieves Like Us

By Lyall Bush

Every few years Robert Altman gets rediscovered by critics and audiences, yet somehow this middle-period gem remains underviewed. It's hard to understand why. In 1974, when he made Thieves Like Us, Altman was in top form. He'd recently made McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Long Goodbye, and the next year would bring Nashville, his touchstone masterwork. As with his other films, Thieves Like Us at first has a homemade immediacy, chugging along like back-porch skiffle music. Set in the Midwest of the 1930s, early scenes between the three thieves (Keith Carradine, Bert Remsen, and John Schuck) feel like silent-movie era routines about a trio of affable farm boys turned bank robbers. Altman's subject--the "thistledown" critic Pauline Kael once described as Altman's real material--emerges by degrees. The story of hell-bent innocents devolves into a tale of the spell cast over the boys by the newspaper stories that mythologize them. (They turn a corner when their pictures appear in an issue of Real Detective.) The string of bank robberies, interlaced with episodes of a shy romance between Carradine and his Coke-sucking girl, Keechie (Shelley Duvall), becomes an agrarian noir by way of Madame Bovary. These thieves lived just at the point when American pop culture was emerging; the cities may have had Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, but in the Altmanesque countryside sheet music was wallpaper and what pulled were radio serials such as Gangbusters. Compared at the time to Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, Thieves Like Us now seems singular, a fable of fatal crime and punishment amid barbershop-quartet music and cricket song.

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FILM FACTS

Buy this VHS movie from Amazon.com! (Click here!)DVD unavailableSoundtrack unavailable at Amazon.com - try eBay (see links below)Rated RNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Robert Altman

Stars: Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Bert Remsen, John Schuck, Louise Fletcher, Tom Skerritt

Released: September 19, 1974

Availability: VHS


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