The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
“He was young, handsome, a millionaire – and he’d just pulled off the perfect crime! She was young, beautiful, a super sleuth – sent to investigate it!”
Director: Norman Jewison
Cast: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke
Synopsis: A debonair, adventuresome bank executive believes he has pulled off the perfect multi-million dollar heist, only to match wits with a sexy insurance investigator who will do anything to get her man.
Mention the original Thomas Crown Affair to most people and they’ll immediately think of either the sexy chess game in which Faye Dunaway suggestively fondles a bishop or the use of multi-screen panels to show various events taking place at the same time. Although both are memorable in themselves, the main reason they stand out is because the rest of the movie is so bland. It looks good, it smacks of late 1960s cool, and it’s slickly directed by Norman Jewison, but all that self-conscious flashiness ultimately can’t disguise the fact that, just like its protagonists, The Thomas Crown Affair is both shallow and soulless.
Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen — The Blob, Bullitt) is a multi-millionaire businessman bored by the lack of challenge in his life. In search of excitement, he organises a bank heist in which all the robbers are strangers to one another and unaware of the identity of its mastermind. The heist goes smoothly — as, it seems, does everything in Crown’s life — and the police, led by Eddy Malone (Paul Burke), are baffled. However, it seems that the investigative instincts of insurance detective Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway — Chinatown, Network) are more finely honed than those of her colleagues on the Boston Police Department, because it’s not long before she’s hot on the trail of the enigmatic businessman. She makes no attempt to hide the fact from Crown that she believes he’s the man behind the crime, while Crown neither admits nor denies any involvement, choosing instead to embark on an affair with his pursuer.
The trouble with a movie that assigns itself the task of epitomising all that was cool when it was made is that it inevitably dates badly and quickly. McQueen and Dunaway were just about the two coolest actors in the world in 1968, but in The Thomas Crown Affair they look like a pair of models posing for a Freeman’s catalogue as they warily circle one another like cats on heat. A skinny Dunaway comes off particularly badly, sporting a succession of ridiculous and inappropriate hair-dos in her role as the world’s most glamorous insurance investigator, while McQueen’s problems arise mostly from Alan Trustman’s pedestrian screenplay which calls upon him to laugh maniacally while alone, like some cheap serial villain or mad scientist. Of course he still manages to look cool, which is more than can be said for Paul Burke who, as the plodding cop who’s always one step behind Anderson, looks like a slightly battered plastic Action Man doll.
One plot device which stands out today as a major misstep is the way in which the movie views Vicki Anderson’s abduction of one of the robbers’ young children as a legitimate tactic in her hunt for the stolen money, even though in reality (today, at least) such a move would not only result in charges being levelled against Anderson and her company, but any hope of nailing Crown and his flunkies being killed stone dead. It’s a move that also makes Anderson appear even more amoral than Crown, with success at whatever cost being her over-riding criteria. While this is made even more obvious in the movie’s final scenes, the consequences of her actions can rebound only on her by then. By this point, however, she has more or less assumed the role of villain of the piece anyway, with the audience firmly on the side of Crown.
Despite its’ datedness and lack of depth, The Thomas Crown Affair still manages to be reasonably entertaining, and serves as a kind of time capsule demonstrating what filmmakers considered to be mainstream cool in an era remembered chiefly for hippies and flower power. Its influence can also be seen in many subsequent heist movies, with the thieves’ habit of wearing items of clothing (sunglasses and hats here) by which they can identify one another providing one of the many ‘inspirations’ for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
(Reviewed 22nd August 2014)