A Perfect Couple, Thieves Like Us



Fox Home Entertainment

Everyone has a handful of favorite Robert Altman films; chances are Fox's new releases "A Perfect Couple" and "Thieves Like Us" aren't among them. Altman himself had a soft spot for the two low-budget films, made for UA and Fox in the 1970s. "Thieves" is getting its first U.S. release on DVD; "Perfect" was included in last year's "Robert Altman Collection."

"I think it's as good as any (movie) I've made," Altman said with a straight face of "Perfect Couple" (1979), a hound-dog tale of bad rock and good romance set in prepunk L.A.

It stars Paul Dooley and Marta Heflin (both of "A Wedding") as "ordinary schlubs" who meet through a video dating service. Their fitful romance is set against the rise of a limp rock band in which Heflin's character is one of the nine singers. The middle-age couple has to overcome static from his family's pain-in-the-ass patriarch and her band's equally dictatorial lead singer.

It all plays like "Love, American Style" with a nasty hangover, but eventually Altman's movie worms its way into your heart. The DVD comes with a short featurette about the project and its real-life band, perpetrated by Allan Nichols and Tony Berg.

Altman shot "Thieves Like Us" five years earlier, in Mississippi. 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 (movie's) 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 DVDs look just OK. The audio on "Perfect Couple" sounds awfully wobbly at times. Blame the band.