The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) … Remembered
It’s a Steve McQueen double-feature this week as I review the original Thomas Crown Affair, released in 1968. Roger Ebert called this film “the most underplotted, underwritten, over-photographed film of the year…” and I watched it to test that theory. I can say that it definately has interesting choices, interesting cinemagraphy, and a strange tone.
The film opens with a musical montage, like the beginning of a Sean Connery James Bond film without the inherent virility and cool machismo. We then see a mysterious figure I assume is Steve McQueen hiring a fat guy to carry-off a robbery for him. The fat guy agrees and leaves. We then get another strange picture montage, before we’re introduced to Thomas Crown, the businessman smarter than every single character he’s introduced to for the next 10 minutes. Every line of dialogue and every scene puts Crown over as smarter and everyone else inferior. I’m not sure if this works, because it doesn’t really build any character but Crown, which works portraying him as a jerk, I guess. At least in my eyes. If that was the intention, then they succeeded.
The film then uses moving panels, like its Windows 8 or something, to show different parts of its movie side-by-side. Thomas Crown crosses off something on a piece of paper, while we can see a man make a phone call at an airport. I don’t think doing this side-by-side framing is really necessary. The movie uses this a lot. It uses the same technique as Thomas Crown signals his men for some clever scheme a few minutes later. I’ve read that this technique was popular at the time and was used in other movies of the 60s. It doesn’t hold up.
Thomas Crown’s pals are a group of thieves who put Ocean’s 11 to shame, stealing some money from a Boston bank in about 10 minutes time. Some strange 60s doo-whaa music starts as the thieves drive off with the money.
We don’t get to know any of the thieves as the movie zips and back forth between scenes. We get more time with Thomas Crown though as he acts like a playboy, losing money on a golf game because he is bored. We get another musical montage as Crown zooms around on an airglider.
We next follow Faye Dunaway’s character Vicki as she closes in on Thomas Crown’s robbery scheme. She plays games with him and has a curious motivation throughout most of the film. I think she is trying to seduce him. None of the police can pin any of the crimes on Crown because he’s too smart. That sounds like a job for feminine wiles.
They spend a lot of time dwelling on the love affair between Vicki and Thomas Crown. At first he’s shy, which I didn’t buy at all, but he makes up for it by grabbing her and kissing her after they act all coy during a game of chess. And then he starts really smooching her. And kissing her some more. And the camera rotates around while they kiss. And colors fade out while they kiss more. It is overdone.
The next part of the movie is pretty good, as it shows some conflict. Vicki is unsure of herself and Faye Dunaway plays it pretty well, but the soundtrack makes this part of the movie pretty annoying anyway. I’m pretty sure Vicki is still trying to seduce Thomas Crown at this point, but seems to want to help him make a deal to settle his crimes, but the police flatly refuse to settle a deal with the arrogant Crown. They talk about it for a while in a sauna and it is good dialogue, not overdone at all.
Thomas Crown wasn’t playing around and calls her on her little games. He goes on with his test of Vicki and commits a second robbery, just like he said he would. She shows just how underhanded she is, reporting it all to the police, leading a stakeout of the money drop point, and finally sits there with the money waiting to catch Thomas Crown redhanded. Of course, I’m not sure she had any choice here, if she had any ethics left, I mean. Crown never shows up. Win. She cries at the end about how he figured it all out, but she has nobody to blame but herself for having an affair with a man who loves nobody but himself.
It is clear from the ending that it is Vicki that allowed herself to be seduced and not the other way around. Whether she cries about her failure or her lost love is pretty irrelevant, the fact that Thomas Crown smiles about how the whole thing turned out says it all. Nobody is going to show up Thomas Crown and nobody is going to play games with him.
To answer my premise, I agree with Roger Ebert that this movie is over-photographed. The split-screen cinematography is pretty annoying, but the rest of the movie looks great. The sound mixing and the cinematography as a whole doesn’t hold the test of time either, not like Bullitt does anyway. Bullitt has a crime noir tone and a unique style all its own, but The Thomas Crown Affair settles into a tone patterned after the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” by Noel harrison. It’s an annoyingly pretentious song that represents Thomas Crown’s restlessness. Or something.
All in all, the last part of the movie is the best and probably my favorite, spoiled only by the annoying and grating soundtrack. The movie plays with its audience. It teases us and builds an affair that makes us question who is playing who. The robbery is secondary, which is why it plays out like Ocean’s 11 in only 10 minutes time. The movie does have good parts, but it has a lot of overdone parts too, it just sounds god-awful, and McQueen carries the last part of the movie to make it mildly passable as a whole, but barely.