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  Thomas Crown Affair, The For The Man Who Has Everything
Year: 1968
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston, Biff McGuire, Addison Powell, Astrid Heeren, Gordon Pinsent, Yaphet Kotto, Sidney Armus, Richard Bull, Peg Shirley, Patrick Horgen, Carol Corbett, Tom Rosqui, Judy Pace, Bruce Glover
Genre: Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Erwin (Jack Weston) has been called to this hotel room somewhere in Boston and he nervously enters to be transfixed by a spotlight which a man is seated behind, making it impossible for Erwin to make out his face. This man gives him a packet of money and tells him that he needs him to do some work that will pay handsomely, then dismisses the confused chap. So who is he? Step forward Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen), a millionaire banking executive who is finding the relentless grind of meetings to attend and documents to sign a singularly tedious experience, therefore has worked out a scheme to brighten up his days. Which is why he has a plan to rob a local bank of a huge sum, and get away with it.

The makers of The Thomas Crown Affair were determined to make the most stylish film of the sixties when they were putting this together, even to the novel extent of having composer Michel Legrand write the music soundtrack, including Oscar-winning song Windmills of Your Mind, and then having the rest of the picture edited to the rhythms of those tunes, which if nothing else created a definite flow to the action that made it at once distinctive and fixed at a moment in time somewhere in 1968 when it epitomised everything cool in Hollywood movies. You had Steve McQueen in sharp suits, you had freshly minted leading lady Faye Dunaway dressed similarly chic, and you had those split screen effects.

That latter was a way to pack in as many of the shots director Norman Jewison had amassed as possible, so his footage would be arranged around the frame in boxes of varying shapes and sizes, an effect some find distracting, and did at the time never mind now, but others love as it lent the appearance of something like a sixties colour supplement magazine come to life. For this reason that dreaded description "style over substance" has dogged the film ever since, and it was accurate to say that surface gloss was very easy to be either lost in or utterly turned off by, but there was more here than simply putting attractive images of Crown's high-flying lifestyle on the screen and demanding the audience enjoy it.

Much of that was down to the manner in which the film subtly questioned its title character's lavish comfort as the man who can have anything he wants and it's still not enough. Maybe not even that subtly: Crown's existence is an empty one of work he finds easy enough to be no challenge whatsoever, having reached the top of his profession and with no more worlds to conquer is looking elsewhere, to criminality, for something, anything, to recharge his batteries. This is why when Dunaway's Vicki Anderson, insurance investigator extraordinaire, is called in to examine Crown's heist which has gone swimmingly with a huge haul, she represents something for the millionaire to really get enthusiastic about for a change, a romance that could make his days far more worth living.

This pair dance around each other like courting birds, both knowing what they want, Vicki to find him out and Thomas to evade her clutches, unless he can persuade her over to his point of view, and it's that relationship perhaps they both realise in their heart of hearts will not work out to their mutual satisfaction. To reach that conclusion, there were many scenes of them enjoying one another's company, most memorably in a chess game that went down in history as one of the steamiest representations of sexuality without actually doing very much, though with the boundaries that were pushed back in what was allowed on the screen from then on the whole sequence looks rather camp now. But that summed up the approach, not shallow, simply not coming out and making everything obvious in a technique that was not reticent when there was so much opulence and ingenuity on display, but tapped into Crown's mind and his suspicion that being at the top of the tree was a sham that nothing will cure now.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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