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THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968) blu-ray review

February 16, 2018

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written by: Alan Trustman
produced by: Norman Jewison
directed by: Norman Jewison
rated: R
runtime: 102 min.
U.S. release date: June 19, 1968
blu-ray release date: February 13, 2018

 

If I could sit the “Fifty Shades” fans down and have them watch Norman Jewison’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” in the hopes of showing them that sexy on the screen can be more than just blindfolds and bondage. Truth be told, it probably wouldn’t help since the numbers show that most moviegoers have lost an appreciation for a ‘less is more’ approach. The heist film, released in the summer of 1968, has its flaws in that much is lacking in Alan Trustman’s thin screenplay, but does this stylish movie look good. To come to an appreciation of this cult film, it’s best not to think too much of the convoluted plot and just take in the sights, from the presence of Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway to the gorgeous photography courtesy of award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler. With Kino Lorber releasing the film on blu-ray for its 50th anniversary with a good deal of bells and whistles, I figured it’s time to strike it off my Blind Spot list. 

The film’s opening title sequence introduces the signature use of split screens (also referred to as ‘multi-dynamic image technique’ which shows several images shifting simultaneously on panes, with some panes containing a single image and others forming part of an image completed by other panes) which will be used throughout the movie, as Michel Legrand’s breezy Oscar-winning song “Windmills of Your Mind” (sung by Noah Harrison, son of Rex, which won an Oscar) plays. This storytelling manner plays out like the sequential approach used in comic books and it makes a somewhat familiar story much more interesting to watch, eventually allowing a new way of employing montages. It draws us in and piques our curiosity as to what’ll happen next.

Then our focuses settles on a hotel hallway, where Erwin Weaver (Jack Weston, who reunites with Jewison and McQueen after “The Cincinnati Kid”), a nebbish, unsure fella makes his way into a room. Blinded by a klieg light, he’s questioned by a shadowy figure, thrown an envelope of money and told to by a big Ford station wagon (“the kind with wood on the sides”), and then told to await further instructions in regards to a impending “errand.”

 

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We’ll see him later, since he’s been hand-selected, along with four other men (good to see Yaphet Kotto among them) who’ve never met, to participate in a high stakes robbery of a Boston bank. If you guessed the getaway car is a station wagon, then you’ve probably guessed that Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) has orchestrated this heist. He’s a millionaire bank executive who can be found cackling out loud to himself after he retrieves the money that he had Erwin leave in a cemetery garbage bin. Another heist goes smoothly. Crown methodically pays his guys, deposits money into a Swiss banks account and then his back to his playboy lifestyle. He’s up in the air saying a glider, driving a dune buggy through the sands and gallivanting around town with beautiful women. Crown doesn’t need the money. It’s all a game to him.

Of course, the Boston bank has insurance and that means an insurance investigator will get involved. Enter Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway), a beautiful woman who knows how men see her and underestimate her, which she uses her advantage. Right away, she knows Crown is her guy, but she bides her time since she gets ten percent if she returns the stolen money. Anderson falls for his charm and swagger and soon we’re following two beautiful people flirting with each other and falling in love. All the while, Anderson works the case alongside Detective Malone (Paul Burke) as she and Crown continue to pay cat and mouse for their own amusement. When Erwin’s wife goes to the police, they think they can link him to Crown, but since they’ve never met that can’t happen and there’s no way this smooth, debonair character can get caught.

If there was ever a movie that favored style over substance, “The Thomas Crown Affair” is that movie. Trustman’s screenplay is quite simple and there’s definitelty no in-depth character study here and once you accept that you can kick back and enjoy what Jewison offers. With Wexler and editor Hal Ashby (it’s a shame he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination) and two charismatic movie star leads, Jewison has all the elements lined up. He wraps the film in a distinctive package that accentuates flash and sex appeal and while it may not be as well-regarded as the other 1968 films, like “Night of the Living Dead”, “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Planet of the Apes”, there’s enough here on a visual level to make it memorable.

 

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McQueen and Dunaway are a perfect match, exuding an endless cool, whether they’re steaming it up in a sauna or sharing innuendos over a chess game that serves as foreplay, they are certainly captivating together. I suppose that famous chess scene earned the movie its R-rating and that just shows how far the needle has gone in fifty years. It does seem like McQueen is a little out of place at times with the material. Sure, he fits the part of cool and debonair, but there are moments where what’s required of him as an actor is kind of beyond his reach, odd moments where it feels like he’s trying something new and it just didn’t work. One moment comes when he’s cackling in his office after the success of the initial heist. Just cackling out loud to himself. It just doesn’t seem to work for him. On the other hand, every elegant move Dunaway makes is spot-on, as her character purposely diverts with her beauty as she meticulously maintains her goal. McQueen has been quoted stating this is his favorite film that he’s ever done and Dunaway has gone on record stating it was her favorite filmmaking experience. Between the two of them, it shows. They’re both fun roles that allows them to wear fine clothes and drive around in fancy vehicles.

My first exposure to “The Thomas Crown Affair” was watching John McTiernan’s 1999 remake, starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, which had several references to the original film with a few similarities (Sting sings “Windmills of Your Mind”) and inevitable changes here and there and, to be honest, it’s a better movie. Sure, Jewison’s film has some key memorable scenes and is probably more stylish, but McTiernan’s is sexier (earning a harder r-rating with more intimacy and nudity) and winds up being more exciting with a screenplay that is far more intriguing than what we have here. It also benefits from Dennis Leary playing the detective and Faye Dunaway showing up as a psychiatrist Brosnan’s Crown talks to. Maybe if I saw Jewison’s film first I’d feel differently, but I certainly don’t regret finally catching up with it. It’s easy on the eyes and definitely worth checking out, primarily for what Jewsion and company did visually with the material.

There’s now talk of another remake with Michael B. Jordan in the lead, another actor who’s effortlessly charismatic. That’s intriguing and for once I don’t found myself getting upset by “yet another remake” since I don’t consider Jewison’s film a quintessential classic and it seems there’s potential for the story to get a modern update every now and then.

This 4K restoration for its fiftieth looks good for the most part, but there’s some areas here where the color scheme seems out of whack and other areas where there’s plenty of film grain still intact. It’s hard to say if that was intentional or if there was nothing they could do to restore the image to a pristine condition.

The bonus features are aplenty though. There are two commentaries, one with Norman Jewison and another with Film Historian Lem Hobbs and Twilight Time’s Nick Redman. Both commentaries are quite detailed, discussing the movie’s look, screenplay, casting and, of course, it’s visual approach. There are also interviews with Jewison and titles creator Pablo Ferro. The features close out with a vintage Behind-the-Scenes Featurette and the Original Theatrical Trailer.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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