The Thomas Crown Affair

— the original Steve McQueen version — 

1968 is just one of those years. In some ways, the world seemed to be coming apart, while in others, life was almost be too good to be true. As it turns out, neither scenario captured all of reality. Coping across the spectrum proved to be an interesting adventure.

As art seems to imitate life, two films from that infamous year run the gamut. Both star Steve McQueen and both involve screenwriter Alan R. Trustman. The first, from producer/director Norman Jewison (supported by Haskell Wexler as director of photography and Hal Ashby as assistant director), is the stylish and sophisticated heist caper The Thomas Crown Affair. The second, from director Peter Yates, is the Mustang-fueled king of on-screen car chases, Bullitt. You can’t go wrong with either one, although they’re very different films.

We’ll stick with The Thomas Crown Affair here and note that the 1999 film of the same name (starring Pierce Brosnan) is a completely different kettle of fish. The once-and-again Bond star’s film resembles McQueen’s 1968 adventure only through its name and the general “heist”-related theme. Yes, there’s a romantic element in both, but in the Jewison/Trustman/McQueen film, the character study of the two protagonists is the cat-and-mouse game central to the film. With fewer special effects (late-1960s technology  appeared as an IBM Selectric typewriter and rotary-dial telephones — with stand-alone booths full of pay phones, no less!), story takes center stage in the 1968 original Crown.

Of course, director Jewison also brought flair to the screen, and not just by dressing Faye Dunaway in high-fashion (and high-hemline) clothes. New to filmmaking at the time was the use of Mondrian-like floating segments breaking up the screen with out-of-focus backgrounds and shifting elements to dazzle the eye and direct attention. Today, after this multi-camera viewpoint technique made the leap the small screen in thrillers like 24, we take it for granted.

In the original Crown film, you’ll see character actors like Paul Burke, Jack Weston, Yaphet Kotto, and Gordon Pinsent, whose names you may not recognize but whose faces are oh-so-familiar. And you can indulge your fantasies for fine living and exquisite artwork, as well as impressive golf and polo matches, glider planes, Rolls Royce automobiles, dune buggies, and seductive chess games. Add in a jazzy music score by Michel Legrand, whose theme song, The Windmills of Your Mind, was nominated for an Oscar®, and you have a smart, chic, caper flick with lots of character and a nicely unexpected ending.

Then, for more of McQueen being McQueen, check out Bullitt.

Cast: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston
Producer / Director: Norman Jewison
Screenwriter: Alan R. Trustman
Theatrical release: 1968; available on DVD

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

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