Norman Jewison followed up his 1967 hit, In the Heat of the Night, with the lush, romantic, crime drama The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), starring Steve McQueen (The Getaway, Bullitt, Junior Bonner) and Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Barfly). McQueen plays Thomas Crown, a wealthy man who enjoys playing chicken with fate. Crown is the architect of the perfect bank heist. Thomas pulls together five men who don’t know each other (which we see in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Nolan’s The Dark Night) with specific instructions unique to themselves on where to be and when, what to do, and how to disappear with their paths never crossing again.
The plan goes off without a hitch. Everyone gets away clean and Crown walks away with $2.6 million dollars without lifting a finger. Boston’s police department is completely at a loss and so the insurance company dispatches their top investigator to solve the mystery. Enter Vicki Anderson (Dunaway). Behind her blinding beauty lies the sharpest mind that begins to pick apart the crime, creating threads that lead her straight to Crown. In Anderson, we see shades of Sherlock Holmes – a genius outsider that rolls in and shows up the cops. When she finally confronts Crown directly, not even trying to hide who she is or what her intentions are, we see that she and Crown are kindred spirits in playing chicken with fate.
As Anderson and Crown begin a dangerous game of chess (both literally and figuratively) we are left wondering who’s playing who and who has the upper hand. Anderson pursues Crown all the way into his bedroom as her investigation tightens around his neck like a noose. Crown is no dummy and we can never be sure how much of their relationship is real or a trick. I was strongly reminded of Michael Mann’s 1995 crime thriller Heat, which also has a relationship/matching of wits between a detective and bank robber in a sprawling narrative where the crime takes a backseat to a story about humans being backed into corners of their own design.
Faye Dunaway is fantastic here – alluring, funny, and ice cold. In fact, she’s so good McQueen is hardly a match for her. As good as this film is, McQueen doesn’t do any of the heavy lifting here. No doubt he’s enjoying himself, but he spends most of the movie standing around laughing to himself or engaging in douchebag rich-boy activities. While at times his aloofness crosses over to cool, the role simply demands nothing of McQueen, so he’s a shadow of the actor we see in The Getaway (1972).
Maybe that was intentional? It only hurts the movie when we are subjected to several minutes of McQueen flying an ultralight plane, or playing polo, or golf, or two insufferably long scenes of McQueen driving a dune buggy. These scenes should have been a fraction of their length and nothing would have been lost on the message that Thomas Crown is a douchebag rich boy who engages in douchebag rich-boy activities.
My only other criticism would be aimed at the score by Michael Legrand as well as his award-winning theme song, “Windmills of Your Mind.” It’s a grand jazz score that only works for me about a third of time, while I found the theme so syrupy and corny my back was up as soon as the film started. I’m sure this is more of a matter of taste and generational gap, so I won’t dwell on it, but Jewison’s first choice for composer was Harry Mancini. So, I can’t help but be a little sad this didn’t happen, as I think it would have strengthened the overall film.
Kino Lorber presents an amazing 4k restoration on this Blu-ray. The picture looks absolutely beautiful, the sound is perfect and there are a number of extras including two commentary tracks: one with Jewison and one with film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman making this an even better buy. There are also interviews with Jewison and title designer Pablo Ferro (gorgeous opening) and a 1967 set featurette with cast and crew. Kino Lorber went all out for the film’s 50th anniversary and elevated an already lovely-looking film to the work of art it rightfully is.
Look for the The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) 50th anniversary Blu-ray on February 13, 2018.