'The Thomas Crown Affair': THR's 1968 Review
On June 26, 1968, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway's heist film The Thomas Crown Affair hit theaters, touting itself with a tagline of "A thrill-a-minute deal for a million dollars!" The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
Like Richard Lester and Tex Avery, Norman Jewison continues to prove himself among the most facile and appropriative of the two-dimensional directors, paring the elements of character, plot and motive to promote entertainments in which the vogues of unrestrained directorial technique are ultimately the star, protracted commercials in which the director is both progenitor and featured product.
With the Mirisch presentation of The Thomas Crown Affair, for United Artists, the producer-director strips away the thin patina of social significance in favor of pure fashion, utilizing sound overlaps reminiscent of Robert Wise and Alfred Hitchcock and incorporating the masquage techniques of Expo 67's A Place to Stand, exploited on the commercial screen by John Frankenheimer in 1966 with Grand Prix. It is a flashy, undemanding technical achievement, enhanced by the marquee power of Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and as likely to enjoy an enthusiastic welcome at the box office as a chromium pickle fork in Tiffany's deluxe Christmas wrap.
Though the film is essentially the story of a director directing, the screenplay is the first by Boston attorney Alan R. Trustman and concerns a pair of Boston bank heists pulled off by remote control by McQueen, a super-cool, playboy millionaire who is simultaneously ultra and anti-Establishment. Miss Dunaway, in the Glenda Farrell role, is the aggressively amoral insurance investigator, cut from a Harper's Bazaar template, who gets her man before she gets the goods on him. Paul Burke is the local police detective, critical of Miss Dunaway's hanky-panky, but offering no better techniques to corner the thief of $2,600,000.
Careening through perspectives of telephone booths, rearview mirrors, plate glass reflections and moving autos, the camera settles down for the blossoming of love between the two beautiful people in fast charades intercut by the caressing of phallic chess pawns. Despite the game of wits and wills, McQueen ultimately outwits his baited trap, pulling off a second daring robbery and fleeing for a rendezvous with his Swiss currency speculators. One day, when the heat currently being applied to the sex and violence can be diverted, one may consider the more pernicious opiate on which Thomas Crown feeds, that of cynicism passing for sophistication.
Lacking the depth but infinitely more voguish than other yeoman directors, like Gordon Douglas for instance, Jewison resists the human element in the film. When, almost an hour in to the film, the interplay between McQueen and Miss Dunaway begins to crackle with interest of its own, he exiles them behind the flip-flop of windshield wipers. As Miss Dunaway and Burke begin to fence verbally while walking, the camera loses interest and turns away to track their obscured reflection in a window pane.
Jewison takes greater care when executing a 360-degree pan or sliding the camera through the colored smoke screen left in the wake of the robbery. Even when the judgment is capricious, the execution is expert, Haskell Wexler's Color by DeLuxe photography exploiting hidden camera techniques to invest the mannikin parade with the authenticity of interior and exterior locations, camera operator Ralph Gerling rating heaps of praise for his execution of the assigned acrobatics.
The masquage opticals are the work of Pablo Ferro Films, and while the masking is at times a bit ragged, the resolution is generally good. The earlier use of the technique, bringing together, yet separating McQueen and the men he has anonymously hired to do the heist, is logical and sound. Later application merely pads. Jewison eschews the use of dissolves, as is the present vogue, but his reliance on slow focus scene intros tends to argue in their favor.
For McQueen, it is less a change of image than of costume, the glove fit of an expensive Ron Postal wardrobe accomplishing a smooth transition from rugged rebel to rich rebel in a role that is otherwise well tailored to his personality. The decision to allow McQueen on an awkward and extended laugh scene is compounded by an uncomfortable reprise. Miss Dunaway, whose every walk is given a camera angle for each facial plane, is perpetually fascinating from the sleep tossed natural radiance of her morning brunches, competing with zoom pullaways to distant buildings, to the red-filtered glow of a scene played in a sauna bath. Fortunately, she can wear practically anything with a command of fashion and may be able to spare Thea Van Runkle's more excessive costume absurdities from quickly dating the picture.
Jack Weston has a good if goofy role as a suburban robbery driver trapped into confession, while Burke brings a deft comic touch to an otherwise thankless role as an ineffectual cop. The balance of the cast is attractive or picturesque, the limit of the demands made of them, though Richard Bull as an imperiled bank guard and Astrid Heeren as McQueen's accented assignation emerge with character definition.
The editing by Ralph Winters and Byron Brandt, under the supervision of associate producer Hal Ashby, is sharp throughout and manages to smoothly cement what appear to be some matching difficulties in the sauna bather interlude. Music editor Tom Downing and sound editor Jim Richard deserve praise for their contributions as well, Clem Portman's sound recording being especially sure in capturing the cool, sotto voce dialogues.
Michel Legrand's score is strong in its contribution to the building of tension in pace with editing in the early logistics of the bank job, romantically vibrant in the montages developing the McQueen-Dunaway excursions of amorous sportsmanship.
The song, "The Windmills of Your Mind," was written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and sung over the titles by Noel Harrison. A good song, and potentially a boost to the film's promotion, it is used to pad out a sail plane episode, one of the man sports divertimenti that already pad the film. — John Mahoney, originally published on June 19, 1968