Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another dated 1960s movie

Last night I finally watched the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair for the first time. Caper movies can be fun, and I generally enjoy the conservative design style of the late 1950s and 1960s, which is much in evidence here. But, there's something about The Thomas Crown Affair that didn't quite do it for me.

Steve McQueen stars as Thomas Crown, a wealthy arbitrageur who is bored with life, and decides to liven things up by planning an executing a bank robbery in late-1960s Boston (seeing vintage Boston in color is one of the nice things about the movie). The robbery goes well, with all of the conspirators getting their money, until the insurance company comes onto the scene. They're represented Vicki Anderson (played by Faye Dunaway), a 1960s-beautiful insurance investigator who quickly plays a hunch that Crown is the man behind the robbery, and will stop at almost nothing to get her man.

It's here that the movie begins to falter. Crown and Anderson develop what is an almost impossible relationship, in which she is basically stalking him, and he more or less lets her. The height of the absurdity is reached during an extended sequence in which the two play a game of chess, during which Anderson seems to be doing everything she can to try to arouse Crown sexually. I almost expected to see Faye Dunaway knock all the pieces to the floor with a sweeping gesture of her arm, get up on the chessboard, and.... Well, The Thomas Crown Affair isn't a porno movie.

There are other dated touches to the movie. Dunaway's hideous bun (obvious even in the overhead shot) is far more intrusive than any of the ghastly hair styles that Sydney Guilaroff or Helen Hunt gave their actresses back in the 40s, and there's the MOR music. Much like the song "It's a Sometimes World" in Yours, Mine, and Ours, the opening song "Windmills of Your Mind" tries to be upbeat, but comes across as more of a dirge. Topping it all off is the camera work. This being a 1960s movie, there are a number of pointless long zooms. But more distinctive for The Thomas Crown Affair is the use of multiple images on screen at one time, with the screen being divided up like a Piet Mondrian painting, each section being filled with a different image (or, in many cases, some images taking up multiple sections). I'm sure director Norman Jewison -- a talented man whose other work includes In the Heat of the Night and Fiddler on the Roof -- thought he was being clever. Instead, the technique comes across as silly and contrived.

The Thomas Crown Affair was remade in 1999 with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo taking the roles created by McQueen and Dunaway. (Dunaway as a small role in the remake as Thomas Crown's psychoanalyst.) Both versions are available on DVD, for you to watch any time you wish, and judge for yourself which is the better version.

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