Dusting Off… The Thomas Crown Affair
What is it?
Let’s clear something up right from the kick-off here; we’re not talking about John McTiernan’s 1999 remake starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. No, the subject of this week’s Dusting Off is in fact Norman Jewison’s 1968 classic, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.
What’s the plot?
McQueen takes on the leading role of Thomas Crown, a high-flying but highly bored millionaire businessman who hatches a plan for what he believes to be the perfect bank heist. Hiring five men to pull off a robbery at a Boston bank, Crown never sees, directly speaks to or comes into any form of contact with the men tasked to carry out the job. When the robbery is successful, getting away with more than $2 million, Crown receives the cash and anonymously deposits the loot in a Swiss bank account in Geneva.
Enter Vicki Anderson (Dunaway), a skilled insurance investigator tasked with finding out who masterminded and carried out the heist. When Crown’s name pops up on a list of suspects, Anderson pays him a visit. Despite the lack of any evidence, Anderson’s instincts tell her that Crown is the man behind the robbery. Proving it, however, is a different matter.
Anderson manages to shake down the getaway driver by bribing his girlfriend to rat on him, but when she questions him about who employed him for the job the driver tells her that he has never seen or spoken to the person who hired them. Anderson even engineers a meeting that puts Crown and the driver in the same room, but since the driver is telling the truth neither he nor Crown recognise each other, bringing Anderson’s investigation to a dead end.
Anderson tells Crown that she knows it was him who masterminded the job, but Crown is unfazed and more interested in getting the hot-shot investigator into the bedroom. While Anderson continues to investigate, Crown plans another identical robbery. This time however things don’t go quite to plan and someone is killed, upping the stakes for Anderson to nail her man.
Crown is so confident he even tells Anderson the location of the drop-off point for the stolen money in a test of loyalty, so she waits for Crown’s Rolls Royce to arrive hoping to intercept and arrest him, but instead a messenger arrives in his place brandishing a telegram for Anderson, telling her to either bring the money and come away with him, or keep the Rolls Royce as a gift.
Why should I revisit?
Norman Jewison’s film was shot at a time when Steve McQueen was the hottest property Hollywood had to offer, and the man himself gives an ice-cool performance as the bored but mischievous millionaire. More than that though, Jewison’s film is one of the best-looking and most stylish of its era, shot and edited in a way that, although very much of its time, has been a clear influence on many films and TV shows, particularly the multi-screen transitions in shows like 24.
Its soundtrack also won an oscar for ‘Best Original Song’, awarded to Michael Legrand for ‘Windmills of Your Mind’.
As an aside, fans of the Austin Powers films will recognise the famous chess-playing scene between McQueen & Dunaway’s characters - the inspiration for the scene parodied in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Who will enjoy it?
Despite the film’s modest showing at the box office on its initial release, the film has become something of a cult classic, highly revered for its innovative cinematography and editing. If you’re a fan of Steve McQueen this is a must-see as he really is at the peak of his powers when the film was made. Anyone who enjoys crime dramas or the look and feel of films like The Italian Job and Blow-Up should also find plenty to enjoy about this 1968 classic.