Thieves Like Us (1974)

R | 122-124 mins | Drama | April 1974

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HISTORY

According to a 13 Aug 1970 HR news item, Jerry Bick was to partner with Raphael Etkes to produce an adaptation of Edward Anderson’s 1937 novel, Thieves Like Us that was to be directed by Nicholas Roeg. By 28 Sep 1971, a HR news item announced Robert Altman would be directing an adaptation of Anderson’s novel, which had a screenplay by Calder Willingham. The released film credited the screenplay to Willingham, Altman and Joan Tewkesbury. Tewkesbury appears in a bit role in the last scenes of the film, with “Keechie” (Shelley Duvall) in the train station. Although the novel was set in the Midwest, Altman decided to relocate the action to Mississippi and shot the picture in various locations there. According to production notes, filming was interrupted by severe rain storms and flooding in and around the Vicksburg, MS locations, forcing the relocation of two scheduled shooting sites.
       Throughout the film, snippets of actual radio programs from the 1930s are heard, including Gang Busters , The Shadow , The Royal Gelatin Hour , Speed Gibson and The Heart of Gold . During the romance sequence between “Bowie” and Keechie, the radio plays a reading of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet .
       A Feb 1974 DV article disclosed that, after the film received an R rating by the MPAA, Bick had submitted an appeal to the MPAA Appeals board, requesting a reevaluation just after the film had opened in New York City. The rating was due to the brief nudity of Duvall when ... More Less

According to a 13 Aug 1970 HR news item, Jerry Bick was to partner with Raphael Etkes to produce an adaptation of Edward Anderson’s 1937 novel, Thieves Like Us that was to be directed by Nicholas Roeg. By 28 Sep 1971, a HR news item announced Robert Altman would be directing an adaptation of Anderson’s novel, which had a screenplay by Calder Willingham. The released film credited the screenplay to Willingham, Altman and Joan Tewkesbury. Tewkesbury appears in a bit role in the last scenes of the film, with “Keechie” (Shelley Duvall) in the train station. Although the novel was set in the Midwest, Altman decided to relocate the action to Mississippi and shot the picture in various locations there. According to production notes, filming was interrupted by severe rain storms and flooding in and around the Vicksburg, MS locations, forcing the relocation of two scheduled shooting sites.
       Throughout the film, snippets of actual radio programs from the 1930s are heard, including Gang Busters , The Shadow , The Royal Gelatin Hour , Speed Gibson and The Heart of Gold . During the romance sequence between “Bowie” and Keechie, the radio plays a reading of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet .
       A Feb 1974 DV article disclosed that, after the film received an R rating by the MPAA, Bick had submitted an appeal to the MPAA Appeals board, requesting a reevaluation just after the film had opened in New York City. The rating was due to the brief nudity of Duvall when she steps out of a bath. The article stated that the sixteen member board voted evenly, but a two-thirds majority was needed to approve a ratings change. According to a Mar 1974 DV article, for the second time in the MPAA’s history, a re-appeal was requested. There is no further information on the second re-evaluation request and the film remained rated R. The brief nude shot was retained and was in the print viewed.
       In 1949, RKO Pictures released a version of the Anderson novel entitled They Live By Night (see below), starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell, directed by Nicholas Ray. In addition to Thieves Like Us , Duvall and Carradine appeared together in two other films directed by Altman, McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) and Nashville (1975, see entries above). More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Mar 1974
p. 4670.
Daily Variety
30 Mar 1973.
---
Daily Variety
12 Feb 1974
p. 1, 7.
Daily Variety
26 Mar 1974
p. 1, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1973
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jun 1973
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1974
p. 3, 24.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
5 Apr 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Apr 1974
Section IV, p. 1, 17.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Jan 1974
p. 73.
New York Times
12 Feb 1974
p. 41.
New Yorker
24 Feb 1974.
---
Newsweek
18 Feb 1974
p. 101.
Time
4 Mar 1974
p. 63.
Variety
26 Jan 1972.
---
Variety
25 Jul 1973.
---
Variety
20 Feb 1974
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Robert Altman Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres
Exec prod
Prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam crew
Cam crew
Cam crew
Elec gaffer
Key grip
Key grip
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
1st visual consultant
2d visual consultant
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
SOUND
Sd mixer
Dubbing mixer
PRODUCTION MISC
Radio research
Research
Comptroller
Prod asst
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson (New York, 1937).
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1974
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 February 1974
Los Angeles opening: 5 April 1974
Production Date:
7 March--early June 1973 in Jackson, MS
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
31 January 1974
Copyright Number:
LP43311
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Deluxe
Duration(in mins):
122-124
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1930s Mississippi, twenty-three year old convict Bowie A. Bowers, along with older fellow convict “Chicamaw” Elmo Mobley, escape while on work crew duty, then meet up with fellow escaped convict T. W. “T-Dub” Massey. Having commandeered a cab and a change of clothing for the others, T-Dub orders the hapless driver, Jasbo, to drive them to a nearby town where they plan to rob a bank. After the cab suffers a blowout, the men flee and take refuge in an empty barn, where they laugh about their successful breakout. Upon hearing noises nearby, however, the men panic and decide to split up. Bowie spends the night with a large stray dog as he waits for a pickup truck sent by Chicamaw that is to signal him with blinking headlights. When a truck drives past several times with flickering lights, the confused Bowie decides to stay hidden until morning, then walks to the garage of Chicamaw’s brother, Dee Mobley. Reuniting with the others, Bowie also meets Chicamaw’s niece, Keechie. Over a meal, Chicamaw excitedly reads aloud a newspaper article about their escape and is surprised by the dramatic depiction of their flight and a description of Jasbo as a “hostage.” Keechie asks Bowie if the newspaper’s account of him as a cold-blooded murderer is true. Unperturbed, Bowie admits that at sixteen, while working with a circus, he fell in with some men who promised him a quick way to make money that led to a grocery store hold up. During the robbery, Bowie shot and killed the owner in self-defense. A few days later, T-Dub leads the ... +


In 1930s Mississippi, twenty-three year old convict Bowie A. Bowers, along with older fellow convict “Chicamaw” Elmo Mobley, escape while on work crew duty, then meet up with fellow escaped convict T. W. “T-Dub” Massey. Having commandeered a cab and a change of clothing for the others, T-Dub orders the hapless driver, Jasbo, to drive them to a nearby town where they plan to rob a bank. After the cab suffers a blowout, the men flee and take refuge in an empty barn, where they laugh about their successful breakout. Upon hearing noises nearby, however, the men panic and decide to split up. Bowie spends the night with a large stray dog as he waits for a pickup truck sent by Chicamaw that is to signal him with blinking headlights. When a truck drives past several times with flickering lights, the confused Bowie decides to stay hidden until morning, then walks to the garage of Chicamaw’s brother, Dee Mobley. Reuniting with the others, Bowie also meets Chicamaw’s niece, Keechie. Over a meal, Chicamaw excitedly reads aloud a newspaper article about their escape and is surprised by the dramatic depiction of their flight and a description of Jasbo as a “hostage.” Keechie asks Bowie if the newspaper’s account of him as a cold-blooded murderer is true. Unperturbed, Bowie admits that at sixteen, while working with a circus, he fell in with some men who promised him a quick way to make money that led to a grocery store hold up. During the robbery, Bowie shot and killed the owner in self-defense. A few days later, T-Dub leads the others on a bank robbery, with Bowie as the getaway driver. After the successful robbery, T-Dub orders the others to keep a low profile for three days before rendezvousing at his sister-in-law, Mattie’s place. Bowie spends the evening accompanying Keechie, who shyly admits that she has never had a boyfriend. After getting back together, the men conduct another successful bank robbery in which they make their get-away by taking the bank manager and several patrons hostage then releasing them safely later. The men then seek refuge with Mattie and her two young children, Bubba and Noel Joy. Mattie, who supports herself by renting out several ramshackle cottages on her property, worries about the men’s presence as she does not want anything to interfere with her husband’s upcoming release from prison. After settling in at Mattie’s, T-Dub happily resumes his long-time pursuit of her younger sister, Lula, an aspiring hair stylist. Over dinner one afternoon, T-Dub reads the newspaper account of their latest robbery and is stunned to learn that they are now wanted “dead or alive.” When Mattie insists on taking the children on their regular prison visit to see their father, T-Dub decides that the group should take a month off to rest while he travels with Lula. At dusk one evening, Bowie and Chicamaw, driving in separate cars, race playfully along a road on their way through the countryside. Adjusting the radio as he approaches an intersection in a small town, Bowie fails to see a crossing car which he strikes. Following behind, Chicamaw pulls over, then leads the injured Bowie to his car, directing curious onlookers to help the people in the other car. When two sheriffs arrive and question Chicamaw, to Bowie’s shock, his friend kills both of the sheriffs with a shotgun before driving hastily to Dee’s. Dee reluctantly accepts money from Chicamaw to hide the bleeding Bowie in a shed where, the next morning, Keechie finds Bowie semi-conscious and tends to him. Reviving later, with painful cracked ribs, Bowie tells Keechie that he has nearly twenty-thousand dollars, then apologizes for bragging and presents her with a wristwatch. A few days later, while a recovering Bowie rests under a quilt that Keechie tells him has been in her family for several decades, they acknowledge their growing attraction for each other and have sex. The next morning, after Keechie reads Bowie the newspaper article on the car accident, he admits that Chicamaw killed both sheriffs, but says he has no regrets about his career, except for never getting $100,000 or the chance to pitch pro-baseball. When Bowie warns Keechie not to get involved with him, she points out that they are already involved, prompting Bowie to declare his love for her. Some time later, when Bowie is almost well, Keechie takes him into the countryside, where the couple rents a cottage together. As the date approaches to meet T-Dub and Chicamaw, Bowie confesses that he does not want to let his friends down, but also does not want to participate in another crime. Keechie asks Bowie to let her come along, but he refuses and also refuses to promise her to give up his life of crime. Arriving at Mattie’s on the agreed upon day, Bowie is startled to find T-Dub has dyed his hair and married Lula, while Chicamaw has been drunk for several days. Disturbed to learn that the newspapers have dramatized his and Keechie’s stay in the country as a flight from the law, Bowie agrees to a heist in Yazoo City to get enough money to move to Mexico with Keechie. The next day the robbery goes well until, just as the men depart with the money, the manager lunges for the telephone, prompting T-Dub and Chicamaw to shoot him. Back at the house, Chicamaw gets drunk and surly while T-Dub looks forward to reuniting with Lula. After a few days in hiding, Bowie announces that he is leaving, angering Chicamaw. As he makes the long drive back to the cottage, Bowie learns from a radio news report that T-Dub has been shot to death in front of the hotel where he was to meet Lula, and that a drunken Chicamaw has been arrested. When Bowie arrives at the cottage, Keechie, who has read about the robbery and its aftermath, angrily accuses him of preferring the gang to her and threatens to leave. After an argument, however, the couple reconciles and goes to Mattie’s. Although Mattie initially refuses to allow the couple to remain, she then agrees to let them stay in a cottage for a few days. When Keechie abruptly grows ill, unaware that she is in the early stages of pregnancy, Bowie realizes that Chicamaw could help them get to Mexico and plans to break him out of prison. Bowie promises Keechie that he will return soon, then boldly goes to the state penitentiary a few days later, dressed as a sheriff and bearing a forged bench warrant for Chicamaw. Driving off the property with the prison’s head police officer and Chicamaw, Bowie pulls over to let the man walk back, but Chicamaw disagrees and kills the man with his own gun. When Chicamaw then berates Bowie because he is envious that his breakout plan was so flawless, Bowie, angry about the latest killing, throws him out of the car and drives away. That night, an anxious Keechie awaits Bowie’s return, unaware that Mattie, who has heard about the breakout and officer’s murder, has summoned the police, who have surrounded the house and cottage. The next morning, Keechie goes to the main house for a cola to settle her stomach just as Bowie arrives. Shocked when Mattie restrains her as several sheriffs appear, Keechie shouts a warning to Bowie, who runs into the cottage. The sheriffs open fire on the cottage for several minutes as Keechie screams in horror. The men then enter the cottage and bring Bowie’s bullet-ridden body out in Keechie’s quilt. Some time later, Keechie, using the remains of Bowie’s money from the earlier robberies, takes a train to Fort Worth to begin a new life with their future child. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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