The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), by Albert W. Vogt III

Did you ever see the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)? I did. I think I even saw it in the theaters when it first came out. It does not matter where I first viewed it, for a long time I thought it was an original. I found it to be kind of clever, too. Oh, how naïve I was at that time. I have probably mentioned this before, but if you see a preview for a film and you think it is the first time this is being done, think again. Chances are that it is some manner of retelling a something that has already been told. To be fair, it is extremely difficult anymore to come up with a unique plot. Between the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare, almost every kind of story has already been told. When film took hold of society in the early twentieth century, producers rushed to make movies out of nearly any narrative they could find. Take The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), for example, which I reviewed last month. Do you know how many film iterations there have been of a French peasant girl who lived in the fourteenth century? More than you would expect. Now that we are in a post-modern world where, as it says in the Bible, “Nothing is new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), whenever film has at least a modicum of cleverness to it, it tends to get remade at some point. I am not sure this counts for the first movie adaptation of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) now that I have seen it, but here you go anyway.

Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) calls together a random assemblage of persons to rob a bank. At least we assume that is his name based on the title. I do not think it is uttered aloud until almost halfway through the film. Anyway, he has concocted this elaborate scheme for stealing over $2 million involving five strangers and a blind drop in a cemetery. He does not need the money for he is independently wealthy. I mean, he arrives to pick up the money in a Bentley for crying out loud. He then travels to Switzerland where he keeps his ill gotten gains. In the meantime, it is left to the police to begin sorting through the carefully planned heist, and at first they cannot make any headway. The authorities are stuck until the bank’s insurance company brings in its own investigator, the brilliant and beautiful Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway). For her, the pieces point to Thomas Crown, but there is no direct proof of his involvement. In order to find it, she decides to disrupt the showing off, personal victory lap he is doing in order to get close to him. It is somewhat like going undercover, if such people revealed up front that the the person they are investigating is guilty. Okay, so not like going undercover at all, but I could not think of any other way of describing what she does. She also admits that she is in it for the money since she gets ten percent of any returned cash. What do you get when you put together the gorgeous and ambitious Vicki Anderson and the rich and single Thomas Crown? You end up with her getting in too deep (ahem, quite literally). They fall in love, and she benefits from living a luxurious lifestyle with him all while attempting to find what she needs to have him arrested. For his part, he does not directly talk about his involvement in the crime at first. But when he does, and she asks why he does it, his excuse is that it is just his nature. Okay. . . . Despite their shared feelings, she still wants him to turn himself in because ultimately she does not have the proof for which she was looking. Remember, she is in it for the money and he is in it for the kicks. Thus he plans another heist, which is basically the same style as the last one. It is even the same bank! He also tells her ahead of time that it is going to happen, but then leaves the country before retrieving the loot. She is left in the same cemetery waiting for his arrival with the police. And when somebody else pulls up in the same Bentley, he hands her a telegram from him telling her to keep the money. And that is where the film ends.

My dad loves the original The Thomas Crown Affair, though I think that has more to do with the snazzy three piece suits Thomas Crown sports for most of the film. They are pretty snazzy. As for the actual film, I did not find it to be all that great. One of the more distracting elements is the comic book style panel technique they used in transitional scenes. This is fine in a limited way, but it is overdone in this film. At one point I quipped, “Filmed by the comic book artists of America!” Supposedly this was quite stylistic in 1968. Watching it in 2021 after having seen it in a bunch of other movies it is now passé. Speaking of passé, it is comical to see how they talk about computers in this film, and use them in general. This is more quaint than distracting, but it did not go unnoticed. Overall, though, I could not see what is the big deal. Thomas Crown pulls off one moderately clever robbery, basically flaunts his success to the woman investigating him, then does the same thing all over again. Whoop dee doo.

The point the title character makes about his nature towards the end of Thomas Crown Affair bears a little more scrutiny in a Catholic sense. I found him to be a little unsettling. He is not necessarily dangerous or violent. Yet there is a scene after he comes home with his first haul of crash where he lets out an evil laugh reminiscent of mustache twirling villains of classic cinema. The only time he ever shows genuine mirth is when he is either basking in his success or plotting. At bottom, he does not strike me as a sympathetic character. He is not bad because he is rich. As Christians, wealth by itself is no sin, and for centuries people have been misquoting 1 Timothy 6:10, thinking it says money is the root of all evil. What is actually written is, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” That is different, and more accurately describes Thomas Crown. And yet he gets away with his crimes and we are supposed to be okay with that as an audience? Oh well. The rest is in God’s hands.

If you watch the original The Thomas Crown Affair expecting a fast paced heist movie, you are in for a surprise. The first act is the slowest moving bank job ever, and the rest does not speed up much more. There is also a bit of sexuality involved, including the most suggestive game of chess in cinematic history. But there is no nudity. Love making is dissolved away in a bizarre, psychedelic pattern. Then again, this was the 1960s. Anyway, there are worse movies. Given how I had heard people talk about it, I expected better. If you want a good Steve McQueen movie, watch The Great Escape (1963).

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