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The Thomas Crown Affair(1968)
Four men pull off a daring daytime robbery at a bank, dump the money in a trash can and go their separate ways. Thomas Crown, a successful, wealthy businessman pulls up in his Rolls and collects it. Vickie Anderson, an independent insurance investigator is called in to recover the huge haul. She begins to examine the people who knew enough about the bank to have pulled the robbery and discovers Crown. She begins a tight watch on his every move and begins seeing him socially.
For more about The Thomas Crown Affair and the The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray release, see the The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 2, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston, Gordon Pinsent, Biff McGuire
Director: Norman Jewison
» See full cast & crew
The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray Review
Style over substance. But, oh, what style.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 2, 2011
Typically heist movies spend the bulk of their running time setting up the insanely complex manner the caper is going to be accomplished, and then leave the final act of the film for the theft itself, with a brief coda for any consequences. That's not always the case, of course, as films like The Lavender Hill Mob prove, but you'd be hard pressed to come up with another example like The Thomas Crown Affair, which pretty much begins with a more or less well executed heist with little preamble fuss or bother. So what happens next? Well, not much, even according to the film's director Norman Jewison. In his interesting, if sometimes rambling, commentary included on this new Blu-ray, Jewison divulges how the script was so minimal he simply made things up as he went along to help pad the running time. Those seams certainly show in a film that is elegant, innovative in its own way, and features two glamorous "movie star" performances from Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. But is there any "there" there? Not in any traditional sense, as the film spends most of its time in a slow, not especially artfully handled, cat and mouse game between McQueen's Thomas Crown, a well to do dandy who just happens to steal several million dollars from a Boston bank for the rush of it all, and Dunaway's Vicki, an insurance investigator hired by the bank's insurance company to track down who did the dirty deed. It's all sensational looking, especially with regard to the then fairly innovative use of split screen technology, but The Thomas Crown Affair is a largely empty affair, gorgeous to behold but almost completely without substance.
The film gets off to a promising start as nebbish Erwin Weaver (Jack Weston) stumbles into a klieg light filled hotel room where he's interviewed by a mysterious shadowy figure. He's given an envelope full of money, told to buy a big Ford station wagon ("the kind with wood on the sides"), and also told to wait for further instructions on an impending "errand." In the ensuing robbery sequence, we then get our first look at a technique which Jewison and his DP Haskell Wexler had seen at Expo '67, a split screen approach that enabled the filmmakers to radically reinterpret "montage theory," allowing several parallel panels to play out simultaneously and give the viewer multiple vantage points. Jewison, Wexler and editor Hal Ashby (who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his outstanding work on this film) also played with the various elements of the split screens, sometimes spreading one image over several panels, alternating sizes, using a quasi-iris effect to grow and shrink various sections, all of which gives The Thomas Crown Affair one of the most distinctive looks of late 1960's film.
As Jewison himself admits in his commentary, split screen had been utilized previously in films like Frankenheimer's Grand Prix, but it had never been played with so creatively as it was in The Thomas Crown Affair. This very playfulness seemed to put off both critics and audiences of 1968, who didn't exactly flock to the film in droves, but seen now from our attention deficit disorder 21st century vantage point, it seems remarkable on its face, and it is incredibly well handled throughout the film. At important junctures, Jewison uses the split screens to quickly keep track of multiple story developments, and he then goes back to full screen usage as the narrative (such as it is) takes a breather.
But what else is there in this film? Well, for starters, there's an elegant score by Michel Legrand, who does everything from Mancini-esque cues (listen to that great opening vibes and winds cue as Weston stumbles down the hotel corridor) to one of the most stylish songs to ever win an Academy Award, "The Windmills of Your Mind," with a patented poetic lyric by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. (Quick aside: one of the funniest ad libs ever on the old Carol Burnett Show was Vicki Lawrence in her "Mama" guise screaming at Burnett's Eunice, "You've got splinters in the windmills of your mind.") There's also an appealingly quirky performance from McQueen, who lets his actorly hair down a little in this film, revealing a playfully impish quality (including a jig or two) that he rarely revealed in any of his other, more stolid, performances. And Dunaway looks absolutely fetching in a variety of designer apparel. She also essays a nice tightrope act between being likable and an outright bitch (sort of a precursor to her Network character), as she both woos and entraps Crown.
Jewison, Wexler and Ashby craft an often enticingly filmed piece here, with great location usage of Boston (this was in fact the first major film ever shot in Beantown). The split screen technique is used to fantastic advantage throughout the film, offering shorthand accounts of story points. As Jewison discusses in the commentary, he and Wexler discovered at Expo '67 that as long as there wasn't a lot of conflicting soundtrack information coming at the audience, typical viewers could easily keep track of multiple planes of action simultaneously, and that approach is followed to a tee throughout The Thomas Crown Affair.
It's interesting to place The Thomas Crown Affair within the context of late 60's American film. 1968 wasn't quite at the revolutionary phase that films like Easy Rider would usher in a year or so later, but it obviously came in the wake of the "youth movement" films like 1967's The Graduate. It's fascinating in a way to see this odd combination of old school glamour and elegance mixed with what was then a new "bells and whistles" presentation. If Alan Trustman's screenplay had had a little bit more meat on its bones, the film might have been seen as one of the most bracing and innovative caper-esque films of all time. As it stands, it's a beautiful relic without much inside.
The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray, Video Quality
As with several other of these MGM-UA catalog titles that are initially Best Buy exclusives, The Thomas Crown Affair's AVC encoded 1080p image in 1.85:1 doesn't seem to have undergone much if any of a restoration for its Blu-ray debut. While there's certainly a significant uptick in clarity and sharpness (at least at times), there's also some annoying print damage and varying levels of grain, especially in the split screen sequences. Some of the split screen panels almost look like blown up 16mm footage at times, which I assume may point to them being second unit productions that may not have utilized the same film stock. As with some of these other catalog releases I've been reviewing (The Manchurian Candidate, for example), there's also some noticeable inconsistency in the sharpness levels. The opening sequence with Weston is quite soft, but as soon as we get the first closeup of McQueen's wrist in the next sequence, things are a good deal clearer and sharper. Colors are well saturated to almost the point of being lurid at times, but there is a tendency toward quasi-blooming in some midrange shots on the red end of the spectrum. You'll also notice issues like dirt specks and actual dirty lenses on some of the multiscreen elements, which are now more noticeable than ever in this Blu-ray upgrade.
The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The good news is we've been granted a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix for this Blu-ray. The bad news is that lossless presentation reveals some distressing distortion in Legrand's marvelous score, especially over the opening credits' rendition of "The Windmills of Your Mind" by Noel Harrison. (Oddly, the reprises, ostensibly from the same edited stems, sound much better). Thankfully, the dialogue segments of the film have no such distortion and sound excellent throughout the film. This is obviously set on a very narrow soundfield, as was the custom in the late 1960's, but overall fidelity is sharp and the balance between dialogue, effects and score is well modulated. Aside from passing low end flutter on the score stems, this is a nice sounding track.
The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No new supplements for this Blu-ray:
The Thomas Crown Affair Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Thomas Crown Affair is intentionally "mod" in that late 60's way, and so of course it looks incredibly quaint to modern eyes. McQueen and Dunaway are both fantastically charismatic, but the screenplay is lighter than air. It's still interesting to see Jewison and his collaborators basically making the film on a wing and a prayer, utilizing some interesting, then-new technology. Yes, it may be a relic, but The Thomas Crown Affair is a beautiful relic, and comes Recommended.
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