Seven Reasons to Catch The Thomas Crown Affair


This Sunday, KCET brings you the second of a three-Sunday run of great films that have been memorably remade. But unlike last week's Arthur, whose recent remake partied hard but still missed the mark, this week's The Thomas Crown Affair received a fairly solid reworking in 1999. That said, this Pierce Brosnan remake tinkered with the formula to the 1968 Steve McQueen original enough that you won't experience cinematic déjà vu. That's far from the best reason to watch, however. Allow me to convince you further with seven more reasons.

The opening 30 minutes. The film begins with the title character committing a crime, but don't expect him to skulk in dark corners or indulge in any death-defying acts. No, he's seated at a desk in an office building, masterminding a team of hired hands to rob a bank of millions, and let me tell you: It's a damn exciting depiction of employee management. Making the most of split screen camera work -- back when the technique was new to movie-goers, no less -- director Norman Jewison expertly conveys the elaborate nature of Crown's heist by showing the five robbers working independently but in concert. It's a thrilling way to kick off the film, and it may remind you of later works such as The Dark Knight, which also opens on a bank heist, and the first Mission: Impossible, which opens with a similar team pulling off an intricate operation.

Like James Bond, but American and not really a good guy. Was it ever a legitimate career option to become a gentlemanly thief? Is it still? Should I have majored in that instead of English? Suave anti-hero Thomas Crown makes stealing look so good that I wish he could have become a sort of James Bond-type. He's a handsome, globetrotting playboy with a knack for bedding beautiful women. He's just out for his own benefit instead of Her Majesty's. Had the movie better resonated with audiences, Steve McQueen might have jumped at the chance to reprise the role, as The Thomas Crown Affair was reportedly his favorite film.

Faye Dunaway. McQueen, of course, plays the lead with every bit of the manly swagger it demands, but perhaps a bigger surprise is Dunaway's performance as the sexy insurance investigator trying to prove Crown's role in the robbery. (Yes, I just wrote "sexy insurance investigator.") Fresh off the success of Bonnie & Clyde, Dunaway plays her role with a pert confidence that instantly identifies her as Crown's equal. Her brilliance on screen is almost bittersweet when you consider her place in Hollywood now because you'll wish she had more roles like this one.

SEX! The R rating notwithstanding, don't expect this crime-caper film to rub its sex in your face. No, the closest you get to anything explicit is a brief shot of a topless woman... from the back. Instead, The Thomas Crown Affair seduces the audience in unconventional ways. Take the famous chess scene, for example. In it, McQueen and Dunaway mentally undress each while scooting chess pieces around. They don't speak. It's still hot. Weird, I know. Credit the palpable chemistry between these the stars, but you'll wish you could move a rook as sensually.

The kiss. Worth its own bulletpoint because it's one of the film's most memorable moments. Like the chess scene that precedes it, it's quiet and long -- nearly a minute long, and that's quite a long time to spend in liplock. Even more impressive: It reportedly took Jewison eight hours to film.

"The Windmills of Your Mind." Remember when I said the film opens with the robbery? Technically, the theme song comes first. It's... nice. It may remind you a bit of an early James Bond number. And though it picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song, I feel its haunting lyrics are tragically hampered by the singer, Noel Harrison, if you've heard the vastly superior versions by Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. The latter, my personal favorite recording of it, evokes the late 60s without veering into kitsch.

And it has held well enough that I heard it played on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic just a few weeks ago.

The original ending. No worries. I won't spoil it. I will say this: I like the original film's ending a lot better than that of the remake's. In fact, if I was going to fault the remake at all, it would be for its ending.

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