ⓘ Thieves Like Us (film)


ⓘ Thieves Like Us (film)

Thieves Like Us is a 1974 American neo-noir crime road film directed by Robert Altman and starring Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. The film was based on the novel Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson, which was also the source material for the 1948 film They Live by Night, directed by Nicholas Ray. The supporting cast includes Louise Fletcher and Tom Skerritt.

The film was entered into the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.


1. Plot summary

Bowie, a youthful convicted murderer, and bank robbers Chicamaw and T-Dub escape from a Mississippi chain gang in 1936. They hide out with some colorful associates and continue robbing banks. Later, they hole up with T-Dubs sister-in-law Mattie and her children -- including her older daughter Lula, the object of T-Dubs lascivious attention.

Bowie is injured in an auto accident and takes refuge with the daughter of the gas station attendant, Keechie. They become romantically involved but their relationship is strained by Bowies refusal to turn his back on crime. Chicamaw is eventually recaptured and T-Dub is killed while waiting in his car for his wife. Bowie poses as a sheriffs deputy to spring Chickamaw from jail but he quickly becomes disgusted with the violent, raving Chicamaw and abandons him on the side of the road. The Texas Rangers catch up with Bowie, who is betrayed by Mattie and meets a violent end. Keechie carries on, pregnant with Bowies baby. In Andersons novel, she too is killed by the Texas Rangers.


2. Production notes

This film has no traditional score. All music in the film is diegetic music or "source music," usually presented as coming from a radio.

The film features a large number of small-town people as extras. Thieves Like Us was largely filmed on location in Mississippi.


3. Reception

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, writing that it "no doubt has all sorts of weaknesses in character and plot, but which manages a visual strategy so perfectly controlled that we get an uncanny feel for this time and this place." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded two-and-a-half stars out of four, saying that the film "at least on the story level, breaks no new ground" in that the criminals actions "are reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde and a host of lesser films," adding, "Indeed, the major element of surprise in Thieves Like Us is that Altman doesnt surprise us at all." Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "such an engaging, sharply-observed account of a long-lost time, and of some of the people who briefly inhabited it, that I hope it doesnt get confused with other films that seem, superficially anyway, to have covered the same territory." Variety wrote, "Thieves Like Us proves that when Robert Altman has a solid story and script, he can make an exceptional film, one mostly devoid of clutter, auterist mannerism, and other current cinema chic." Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote that the film "seems to achieve beauty without artifice. Its the closest to flawless of Altmans films - a masterpiece." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Demanding and subtle, a seductive reverie of a film, Thieves Like Us affirms Robert Altmans place in the front ranks of American directors." In a negative review for The Washington Post, Gary Arnold called the film "disappointing," writing that "the beautiful images seem to freeze or petrify on the screen, because Altman does not bring any intensity to the narrative."