Saturday, May 21, 2011


Violent Streets / Suurkaupungin hait / Storstadshajar / Gatans lag (SE). US © 1981 United Artists Pictures. PC: Caan Productions / Michael Mann Company. P: Jerry Bruckheimer, Ronnie Caan. D+SC: Michael Mann - based on the novel The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar by Frank Hohimer [= John Seybold] (Chicago, 1975). DP: Donald E. Thorin. PD: Mel Bourne. FX: Russel Hessey. COST: Paul Cain, Dennis Fill. Makeup: Frank Griffin. Hair: Edie Panda, Kathe Swanson. M: Tangerine Dream. Mighty Joe Young Band. Special thanks: Willie Dixon. S: David M. Ronne. ED: Dov Hoenig. LOC: Chicago (Illinois), Los Angeles (California). CAST: James Caan (Frank), Tuesday Weld (Jessie), Willie Nelson (Okla), James Belushi (Barry), Robert Prosky (Leo), Tom Signorelli (Attaglia), Dennis Farina (Carl), John Santucci (Urizzi). 117 min. A vintage print (Violent Streets / Gatans lag) with Swedish subtitles by Kersti Landfeldt viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 21 May 2011

IMDb synopsis: "Becoming closer to his dream of leading a normal life, a professional safecracker agrees to do a job for the mafia, who have other plans for him."

Thief was Michael Mann's first cinema feature film, although already his tv movie The Jericho Mile was released theatrically for instance in Finland.

Based on the novel by an actual Chicago safecracker, John Seybold (1923-2005) who also acted as the technical advisor on the film's Chicago set with FBI warrants outstanding and who was later convicted to a long prison sentence according to English Wikipedia.

The cinema debut of actors James Belushi, Dennis Farina, William Petersen, and Robert Prosky. John Santucci was also a recently paroled thief and a technical advisor on Thief.

Michael Mann's official cinema debut film has stood the test of time.  It proceeds as the tragedy of Frank, a Chicago criminal with a long history of accumulating prison sentences. Frank is having success as a freelancing safecracker who runs a bar and a car dealership as fronts. But he is caught in the web of the Chicago mob led by Leo (Robert Prosky) and simultaneously blackmailed by corrupt policemen led by Urizzi (John Santucci). There is a final big caper in California, but Frank is double-crossed by Leo, and there is an ultimatum on Frank's family. There is a final showdown, not with a logical tragic outcome but a wish-fulfillment ending.

A great performance by James Caan, who can convey the desperation of the criminal, his sense of urgency of starting a normal life with Jessie (Tuesday Weld). There is a powerful blend of gravity and comedy in his big proposal scene at the cafeteria with Jessie, and at the adoption bureau, where Frank makes a complete fool of himself. Tuesday Weld is also good in her deglamorized yet genuinely attractive performance evoking her "twisted, ugly, empty" life with a drug dealer. Willie Nelson plays Frank's criminal mentor Okla, or David ("he taught me everything"). Jessie cannot have babies, but Leo helps them adopt one from the black market, and they name him David after the old mentor's death just after his release from prison.

The vintage print is intact, serviceable and with no colour fading but it looks like it was to begin with too many generations removed from the negative (mediocre, soft, with weak black levels).

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