The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Returning to the world of film reviews with today’s movie, the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair. I’ve seen the 1999 remake with Pierce Brosnan which I actually enjoy. I’ve seen Steve McQueen in two other films that I liked so figured this would be a combination of a bunch of things that I’ve enjoyed in the past. While the plot of this and the remake are vastly different, I found this one a bit too dated. The flashy camera techniques and the annoying split- screen is headache inducing and the plot doesn’t really get going till an hour in to the movie…which by the way boasts an hour and forty-six minute runtime. McQueen and Dunaway are the main reason to watch this, just don’t expect to be wrapped up in the story.
Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a wealthy playboy who organizes a bank robbery. Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway) is the insurance investigator who knows Crown is involved and needs evidence. In trying to catch Crown the two play a cat-and-mouse game that ends with them getting pretty steamy and unprofessional with each other.
To start, I mentioned the earworm in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing…well since watching this film I’ve been humming “Windmills of Your Mind” so thank you Thomas Crown! Anyway, the movie is a definitely all about the sexual chemistry between Crown and Anderson. Dunaway and McQueen are an extremely gorgeous couple (and I’m used to seeing Dunaway in stuff like Mommy Dearest) and McQueen is perfectly cast in this. I’ve seen McQueen in two totally different films, Bullitt and Love with the Proper Stranger, and he continues to wow me. The man is Hot (yes with a capital “H”) and he makes seduction look effortless. Throughout the whole movie he’s mentally undressing Dunaway and it works! The most famous scene is the chess sequence which is essentially the two having sex without touching, it’s extremely erotic and it pains me that Twilight basterdized the scene in their latest film (seriously, they made sexy chess look like…two people playing chess!). Here’s the scene for all you:
The movie itself doesn’t have quite the momentum. The best scenes are once our two leads are together. Vicki is not only trying to get evidence against Crown, as she bags a lot of money if she does so, but she’s also conflicted because she’s falling in love with him. By that same token we have Crown who is an enigma. The movie really doesn’t give us anything about Crown mentally. Sure we know he’s a wealthy playboy who robs banks because he’s bored, but the audience is firmly in Vicki’s head, trying to figure Crown out. Crown is possibly trying to see if Vicki is trustworthy, but that’s only in the film’s final moments. At the end you understand that Crown knew how the relationship was going to play out from the go, once again putting himself one step ahead of the other characters. I loved that element of the story because it’s not until the ending that you say, “Hey, we really don’t know anything about this guy…he’s a total badass!”
With all the amazing sexual chemistry and the cat-and-mouse game that leaves the plot and film’s first half extremely thin. We start the movie disjointedly meeting some men and seeing the heist, before we switch swiftly to a couple of cops trying to solve the thing and recruiting Vicki. The cops, oh how I HATED the character of Eddy Malone (Paul Burke). The man is a total, chauvinist pig who treats Vicki like crap! I don’t know if he’s supposed to be working with Vicki, there’s an allusion to a past relationship, but he’s a brute for lack of a better word. He calls her “baby” which I can understand, it was the late 60s, but when he gets pissed at Vicki in one scene he brutally grabs her! There’s no call for it, he’s just venting his frustrations, hello future wife beater! I hated his character and at the end, he’s completely unnecessary!
The majority of the crime caper and investigation is thin and pretty much disappears after the hour mark, leaving the movie firmly in the hands of McQueen and Dunaway which makes the last 46 minutes really good. But after watching it, I couldn’t help but flash back to the remake. Sure it’s slick, flashy, way more sexual, and deals with art, but there was an equal measure of give and take. Crown worked alone in the remake, there was no convoluted “finking” subplot with his cohorts, and it was more a blend of crime caper/romance. I’m not saying the remake is better, both are about equal, but I just wanted more from this movie. Not to mention, I know director Norman Jewison was cited as being revolutionary for the split screen but it gets old fast, especially when the screen fills up with little boxes.
Both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair have highs and lows. This version has some effortless sexual chemistry between our leads, and when it’s about them it’s great. But a thin, convoluted plot doesn’t raise this above a single-time film.
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Some time over the next three years or so I hope to throw together a book of essays on some films and publish bits and pieces of those essays here; it’s a slow process due to a busy life of denture problems, diabetic snooze-off issues, et cetera. You know how it is. Oh and my stuff is copyrighted, and my lawyers are junkyard dogs.
Denture problems certainly make for slow going!