Steve McQueen is one of the kings of sixties cool, but despite his successes in films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and The Cincinnati Kid, many people weren’t sure how he’d go dropped into a business suit. They needn’t have worried – it didn’t matter if McQueen wore a cowboy hat, jeans and a leather jacket, or a three piece tailored suit, he was still the epitome of ‘cool’.
The Thomas Crown Affair is one of the most famous sixties caper films, although ‘the heist’ isn’t the most important part of the film. It is a character study. Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a bored rich playboy, who plans the perfect robbery just to convey his frustration at the ‘system’. It’s never about the money, as he is already loaded. Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway) is the insurance investigator assigned to crack the case that the police are having no luck with. But she has an advantage that the police don’t – she is willing to almost ‘sell’ her feminine assets to get to her man.
Apart from being a caper film, and a character piece, The Thomas Crown Affair is also a lesson in style. It famously makes use of split screens and often blurs the images in certain panels to draw your eye to a certain section on the screen. Some images are repeated for emphasis, and in other instances, multiple story threads are being played out at once. Adding to the visual trickery is the music score by Michel Legrand. The score is very good, including the Oscar winning song, The Windmills Of Your Mind. The music is freewheeling swinging sixties jazz. It doesn’t always reflect what’s happening storywise, but it certainly captures the mood and the style of the film.
The film opens with Erwin Weaver (Jack Weston) walking up a hallway in a swank hotel in Boston. He knocks on a door – no answer. So he walks into the darkened room. Before he has time to react (like flicking on a light switch), he is suddenly blinded by two spotlights. Behind the lights, in silhouette, a man offers him a job as a driver. Weaver agrees, and is thrown an envelope full of cash to buy a car.
The film then employs the split screen effect, and we witness five men, from five different parts of the country traveling to Boston. Next we meet Thomas Crown. He is a successful business man with loads of cash. As he sits in his expansive office, he starts to receive phone calls from the five men who have arrived in town. Crown gives the word, and then the men go to work.
Their work is a down to the minute, perfectly planned robbery at a Boston Bank. The five men grab the bags of filthy lucre and place it in the back of the car, which Erwin Weaver is driving. Then the five men go back to where they came from. They will receive their cuts of the take later, in installments.
Weaver drives off with the money and travels to a cemetery. He takes the money bags out of the car and places them in a rubbish bin. Then he drives off. Crown then arrives at the cemetery in his Rolls Royce and collects the loot.
Despite their being thirty two witnesses to the crime, the police have no leads as to who pulled the robbery. The insurance company has to pay out for the $2,660,000 that was stolen. The head of the insurance company, Jamie McDonald (Gordon Pinsent) is not happy about the pay out, and calls in his own insurance investigator to look into the robbery. The investigator is Vicki Anderson. She always gets her man, but she has some very unusual methods in doing so.
It’s fair to say that The Thomas Crown Affair is a classic. But it is a flawed movie. Some of the scenes don’t quite ring true, but they are also the pieces that give this film it’s flavour. It is about ‘style’. It’s about getting your ‘kicks’. It’s about ‘beating the system’. While not being a ‘flower power’ film, it certainly encompasses some of the themes that we have come to identify with that era, and as such is an interesting time capsule.