Published on February 21st, 2014 | by Clint Davis
The Thomas Crown Affair 
Summary: A cool, sexy thriller starring two of the biggest badasses in movie history. Not as complete as the 1998 remake but a fun ride nonetheless.
R | 102 min.
Director: Norman Jewison | Screenplay: Alan R. Trustman
Starring: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway
Distribution: United Artists | Box Office: $14,000,000 (USA)
Pairing beautiful people together and watching them do flirty, sexy things for 90 minutes is what the movie business was built on. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh represented elegant, angry (albeit unhealthy) romance in Gone with the Wind while Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were forbidden, lost lovers in Casablanca–both sexy, but compared to Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway they may as well have been Dan and Roseanne Conner. The Thomas Crown Affair brings two of Hollywood’s biggest badasses together for a battle of wits where you know seduction is just around the corner.
Director Norman Jewison, best known for directing Oscar-winner In the Heat of the Night just a year prior, makes an American heist flick that takes heavy cues from Britain’s James Bond series, which was dominating pop culture at the time. The nods come early–like opening credits early–as a psychadelic title sequence plays out over Michel Legrand’s theme song “Windmills of Your Mind.” However, absent from this picture is a clearcut villain, bent on world domination. Instead, Thomas Crown serves as an anti-hero with a knack for expensive toys, gorgeous women and knocking off banks.
Crown (McQueen) is a bonafide playboy, slaying chicks in various countries when he’s not making millions by unloading overvalued properties to other rich guys. “What do you get for the man who has everything,” insurance company investigator Vicki Anderson (Dunaway) asks when pondering why the multimillionaire would want to rob a bank. As we come to learn, Crown did it out of sheer boredom and restlessness–but it’s not as if he wants to get caught. Using a team of five men who’ve never met each other or himself, Crown orchestrates a plan to rip over $2 million from a bank in Boston and when his guys pull it off without a hitch, the police bring Anderson in to track down the culprit in her own unique way.
Vicki isn’t exactly a deep character, she’s more or less just a cool stunner with impeccable fashion sense and willing to do whatever it takes to get her man. That said, when you’ve got the immortal Dunaway (have I mentioned how much I love her?) playing the part, you know it will be anything but boring. Of course, after a ton of flirting and double entendre in almost every conversation, the two fall for each other despite their opposing goals.
The greatest scene of The Thomas Crown Affair is when the two leads play a game of chess at Crown’s luxurious home. The editing (done partly by offbeat director Hal Ashby) and cinematography mix to make one of the sexiest scenes I’ve ever watched–I mean this shit is better than porn. The only time in the entire film that we see Crown get visibly flustered is when Dunaway begins adjusting her backless dress and stroking the chess pieces–forcing him to cross his legs under the table. When she begins touching her lips and we get a tight closeup on them, you may have to excuse yourself from the room. The action in the game is all blatantly symbolic of the mental chess match they’ve been playing throughout the movie but as a non-sex scene goes, this is as steamy as it gets.
The Oscar-winning theme song dates the film when you watch it today but one thing that makes The Thomas Crown Affair fare better than some of its similar 1960s counterparts is its lack of sexism. While Crown certainly has a reputation, he isn’t a terrible womanizer and more importantly, doesn’t seem to objectify and treat his lovers as lesser beings. In the end, he turns out to be quite a romantic and is consequently left alone to feel the sting of betrayal…out of 23 films, that only happened to Bond twice.
Staying with the Bond comparisons, Vicki would have held her own with Pussy Galore or Vesper Lynd any day of the week, she’s a solid role model for any young girls that watch the film, her best moment comes when she tells Boston Police Detective Eddie Moore, “I know what I am Eddie. Don’t put your labels on me,” after he questions her methods.
One thing Jewison and his crew do that’s very distracting is their constant use of the split-screen. The images onscreen are divided into several boxes at different times in the action, a very chic thing to do in the ’60s. The overuse reaches its boiling point during a sequence where Crown plays polo, it’s essentially a pointless use of 5 minutes but the post-production guys went crazy, dividing the screen into about 50 tiny boxes for absolutely no reason other than showing off.
The feeling of The Thomas Crown Affair is lighthearted and fun–more so than it’s 1999 pseudo-remake, which I actually prefer overall as a film. There are sunny locations, good looking people and a bit of intrigue, although there honestly isn’t much mystery in this story. Crown is a very likable guy, despite his penchant for crime. There’s one great shot early on where McQueen just smiles slyly to himself as the bank robbery scheme unfolds at his command. He’s 100% cocksure.
This film makes its viewers ask what drives Thomas Crown to do what he does. Is it sheer boredom, the thrill of danger, suicidal tendencies or a mix of all of them? It’s clear the man struggles to stay satisfied, even with seemingly everything at his fingertips. In one telling moment, Crown’s fille du jour asks him what on Earth he could be worried about, to which he replies, “Who I’m going to be tomorrow.” Amen, sir.