Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Thomas Crown Affair": A Hip Drip On An Ego Trip

"I'll drink to that": Perfect-at-everything Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) toasts his own brilliance.

Greetings to you, movie lovers.

Say, have you met Thomas Crown? No? Well, let me introduce you!

Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a lean, ruggedly handsome, old-money Boston aristocrat with piercing blue eyes. Not only was Crown born rich, he's a super-successful business tycoon, which has allowed him to become even richer and he resides in an historic Back Bay mansion with an elevator.

But that's not all! Tommy Crown also plays polo, pilots a glider, drives a dune buggy, is a whiz on the golf course and has a sexy cuddlemate named Gwen (Astrid Hereen) up in Geneva, Switzerland.

Yes, sir, Thomas Crown is the perfect man living the perfect life. Which explains why he is perfectly...bored. Suffering from the blahs. So what does he do to get out of his perfect rut?

Vickie Anderson (Faye Dunaway) wonders why her head hurts. Could it be that massive stone cinnamon roll on her head?

Hmmm. Take up church work? Get into league bowling? Start square dancing? Mastermind bank robberies on the side?

Hey, that's the ticket!

Thus begins "The Thomas Crown Affair", a thick slice of self-satisfied '60's cinema at its worst. With its nonsense theme song ("The Windmills of Your Mind"), split screens, fancy dissolves, open-ended dialogue and a mod, sexually liberated female lead (Faye Dunaway), "The Thomas Crown Affair" is so hip, it watch. The principals, meanwhile, are so self-involved they don't care.

But they should care--especially Ms. Dunaway as the chic insurance investigator Vickie Anderson. Why? Because Dunaway sports some of the WORST get-ups in movie history AND some of the MOST complicated hairstyles imaginable. In fact, Faye's frocks end up upstaging her--certainly not the result notorious perfectionist Dunaway would have wanted.

Coincidentally, my own mother was a hip and happenin' chick in 1968 (the year "Thomas Crown" was released). So I asked her to watch the flick for the express purpose of putting Dunaway's wacky wardrobe in historical context. Mom said Faye's clothes were "just ugly" regardless of what era the movie was made in. She also dismissed Dunaway's hairstyles as the work of a stylist who might have been a little too "baked" (i.e. stoned). Mom also added Dunaway herself might have "gone a little crazy with the falls."

Jane Fonda in "Barbarella"? No, it's just another fashion-fail from "The Thomas Crown Affair".

Anyhooo, "The Thomas Crown Affair" begins with a long, drawn-out, split-screened bank robbery Crown has planned for (his) fun and profit. The gents involved all wear identical dark suits, dark sun glasses and pork-pie hats. They include veteran character actors Jack Weston and Yaphet Kotto. Because Crown assembled his cohorts independently, they don't know each other and meet for the first and only time at the heist ( a tactic also used in "Reservoir Dogs").

The robbery goes off as planned and soon Crown is jetting off to Switzerland with all the loot--and to meet up with cuddlemate Hereen (a Vogue cover girl making her film debut and farewell)--as if nothing were a-miss. His take? Over two million.

Particularly frustrated and embarrassed by the caper is police investigator Eddie Malone (Paul Burke, last seen trying to get into the drawers of Barbara Parkins in "Valley of the Dolls"). Because Eddie is a stuffed shirt, by-the-book, law and order middle class square, he's the movie's default villain. When the police can't crack the case ("We're Boston's finest!"), he's forced to accept the help of ultra mod, totally liberated Vickie Anderson (Dunaway). Vickie's personal motto is "Think Dirty" and she's not above, for example, stealing a car, kidnapping a child or blackmailing accomplice Jack Warden to get him to 'fess up.

Because Vickie gets 10% of everything recovered, her methods and morals not only disgust Eddie, but bring out his sneering sexism. When Vickie explains that "every crime has a personality", Burke cracks, "Oh, that's clever, very clever." That causes Faye to sigh and say, "OK, you work your way and I'll work mine." That, in turn, makes Eddie blow a gasket. "Hold it right there, baby!" Burke blusters. "You wanted in, remember? You get ten percent. So you better earn your keep! Earn it!"

While this battle of the sexes is taking place, Thomas is in Switzerland with Gwen flying his glider.

Former (and future) fashion model Astrid Hereen asks, "Have you seen my acting career?"

"I vish you vouldn't over shoot the vield like dat," Gwen pouts.

"It would solve all my worries," Thomas replies.

"Vhat have you got to vorry about?" Gwen cries.

"Who I want to be tomorrow," Crown states.

Back in the States, Eddie and Vickie have compiled a frequent flyer list of businessmen who have made repeated trips to Switzerland since the robbery took place. See, Vickie believes that the heist was based on "pure geometry" and that the master mind organized it so the robbers would A) never meet and B) would be paid in installments at a later date. Of the five suspects, Vickie zeroes in on Thomas and makes no secret of the fact she thinks he's cute. Later on, as part of her surveillance, she films him playing polo and practically leaps out of her chair to declare to Eddie, "I just know he's the one!" Although Vickie has no concrete evidence against Crown yet, her "instincts" (and other body parts) insist he's the man. Unimpressed, Eddie tells her, "Prove it."

"Hungry Like The (She) Wolf"? Thomas Crown and Vickie Anderson size each other up.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" then switches to a high society charity auction, where Thomas and Vickie meet and begin round one of their flirtation.

"Who do you work for? Bazaar? Vogue? World Wide Polo ?" Thomas inquires.

"Insurance," Vickie replies.

"I'm covered," Crown rejoins.

"I certainly hope so," Vickie says, taking a sip of champagne.

Then the smitten kittens stare out the window a bit and begin round two.

"Is that a king sized cinnamon roll on your head or are you just happy to see me?" Eddie Malone and Vickie discuss strategies.

"I investigate," Vickie explains.

"Anything in particular?" Crown asks, trying to be casual.

"The bank, Mr. Crown. The caper," Vickie parries. "You don't expect us to take the loss of two million dollars lying down, do you?"

"That's an interesting picture," Thomas replies, before asking, "Pays well though?"--guessing that Vickie's ghastly dress must cost a bundle.

"Depends on the return," she admits.

Slight pause. Now we move to round three.

Strike two! Dunaway models yet another fashion fail.

"Sort of an American head-hunter," Crown muses.

"You could put it that way," Vickie replies.

"Who's head are you after?" Thomas asks.

Moving in for the kill, Vickie announces, "Yours!"

Once Vickie declares to Thomas that he's her prime suspect and that she believes he's guilty, our feature presentation kicks into high gear. Thomas is put on alert that the law is on to him, but he's also intrigued on a personal level. Ugly clothes aside, Dunaway is a looker, after all. Crown wants to know what Vickie may or may not have on him--which is exactly the reaction she hoped for. Thus begins a tedious, back-and-forth battle of (t)wits, where our two stars test the audience's patience as they try and out cool each other.

"I'm stealing the movie." "No, I'm stealing the movie." Vickie and Thomas eye each other suspiciously.

"What a funny, dirty little mind," says he.

"It's a funny, dirty little job. So shoot me in the leg," says she.

See what I mean?

With the game now a-foot, Vickie tries to bug Thomas' house by sending over a troop of bogus wall-to-wall carpet fitters. Crown thwarts this plan because NO historic Back Bay mansion would EVER lower itself to having wall-to-wall carpet installed. Undaunted, Vickie then puts Thomas in the same room at the police station with Jack Warden--but Warden doesn't recognize Crown because he flashed lights in his face and distorted his voice during their pre-robbery job interview. Later on, Vickie sicks the IRS on Crown--and tells him all about it! Finally, the flick's most famous sequence arrives: a game of chess between the principals that doubles very unsubtly as foreplay (and was clearly ripped off from "Tom Jones"). While you roll your eyes at Dunaway and McQueen's smug cleverness, the actors smile coyly, touch themselves, suck their fingers, stroke their arms, bite their lips and just stop short of licking their chess pieces. Then McQueen suddenly grabs Dunaway and kisses the hell out of her.

Uh, check mate?

A bird's eye view of Vickie and Thomas' symbolic chess match. What would Bobby Fisher say?

The fact that Vickie and Crown are now sleeping together makes poor Eddie's blood boil. "I'm running a sex orgy for two freaks!" he sputters. Dunaway sees things differently, of course. "OK, I'm immoral," she admits. "So is the world." Later she looks up from underneath a hideous floppy hat and cautions Eddie, "I know what I am. Don't put your labels on me."

Naturally Vickie thinks she can bed Thomas and bust him at the same time. Eddie isn't so sure. At lunch one day, he gleefully shows her photos of Crown squiring another gal on the town. "That's the third time this week," Eddie crows. "You're being had Vickie-girl." Sure enough, totally liberated Vickie becomes visibly jealous--perhaps she's not as in control of the situation as she thought she was? Could it even be possible that she's fallen for the guy?

Meanwhile, Thomas Crown is feeling the squeeze, too. Sitting in his prize dune buggy and savoring a cigar, Crown decides to make his move before Vickie (and the law) make theirs. So he organizes another heist--"I did it before, I can do it again"--and tells Vickie all about it. Crown leaves it up to his cuddlemate to either rat him out or join him. True to form, Dunaway hopes to do a little of both. What she doesn't count on is Thomas assuming that's just what she'd do. So at the last possible moment, McQueen pulls a fast one: just as Vickie and the feds surround his car as it drives up to the pre-arranged drop-off site, they find a Crown employee in the driver's seat instead of the man himself. The flummoxed employee hands Vickie a telegram which reads, "Left early. Take the money and join me later or you keep the car. Love Tommy."

Heartbroken and realizing she's been played for a sucker, Vickie tears up the message and bursts into tears. As she throws the scraps of paper into the air, Thomas is jetting off to some exotic location where he can avoid extradition.Vickie may have the money, but she's lost her man--or perhaps she never had Mr. Crown at all?

Admittedly, certain movie fans have fond memories of the oh-so-with-it "The Thomas Crown Affair"--just as I have fond memories of high school...if you discount my bad hair, low self-esteem, social anxiety, poor fashion sense, inability to tan, small breasts, stumbling awkwardness in gym and total lack of dates, of course. Other than that, it was swell. Same with "The Thomas Crown Affair": if you take away all of the in-your-face-we're-so-cool stuff, you have a good movie...except you don't. Take away all the chichi stuff and you have no movie. Period.

Strike three and you're out! Another ugly frock courtesy of Theodora van Runkle.

It's no mean feat to be miscast and still be the best part of a movie, yet somehow Steve McQueen pulls it off. Although director Norman Jewison reportedly told Steve to "act like Cary Grant!" during the filming, he's too rough around the edges to be truly suave. However, McQueen is so charismatic that you're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. (I like Steve a lot or, rather, I like Steve the movie star. The real Steve McQueen was a nasty piece of work.)

Now we come to poor Ms. Dunaway. It's hard to say which is worse: her clothes or her character. In Faye's defense, the script is clearly stacked in McQueen's favor from the get-go. Vickie hasn't even appeared on screen yet and another character warns Eddie Malone, "You won't like her." True, Vickie is an unabashed ruler breaker and is in it for a big pay day, but how is that worse than Mr. Crown, who stole money that didn't belong to him?

Furthermore, "The Thomas Crown Affair" presents Tommy's little caper as a protest against "the System"--an interesting idea, since one could easily conclude that "the System" has worked very well for an old money type like Crown. Does this mean he feels trapped? Stifled? Bored with keeping up appearances? The movie never explores this theme in any depth, yet it clearly approves of (or is at least is highly amused by) Thomas' actions.

Not so with Vickie. She rebels against "the System", too, but unlike Crown, she's scolded for it. Plus she has to wear ugly, ugly clothes.

In the end, everybody in "The Thomas Crown Affair" gets what they were after: Tommy pulls off his robberies, escapes the law and gets to live happily ever after abroad somewhere; Vickie gets her money; and Eddie Malone will have plenty of opportunities to scold Vickie, Jeb Bush-style, about how her loose morals and unlady-like behavior allowed a major criminal to get away Scot-free.

Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown: A rebel with a cause...namely, himself.

The ticket buying public, on the other hand, were the ones who got screwed.

Until next time, please keep your money in a safe place, and SAVE THE MOVIES!