McQueen and Dunaway play a flirtatious cat-and-mouse game in Jewison’s 1968 film

Faye Dunaway sits at a table with a chess game in front of her as Steve McQueen stands to the side.
Still from The Thomas Crown Affair, via TMDB.

Written by a first-time screenwriter (with help from director/producer Norman Jewison), The Thomas Crown Affair is a ’60’s era display of style over substance. On its face, the 1968 drama is about a brilliant, wealthy man named Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen, The Great Escape) who decides to rob a Boston bank just because he can. Insurance investigator Vicki (Faye Dunaway, fresh off Bonnie and Clyde) is called in to recover the more than $2 million stolen. The conflict of the plot is these two trying to pull one over on each other, while falling in love in the process.

Dunaway and McQueen’s chemistry burns on the screen. A game of chess midway through the film turns into a game of seduction. The camera closes up on Dunaway’s mouth, her fingers fondling a chess piece, her hand skimming the side of her dress – also McQueen’s eyes and mouth as her distraction tactics work. When they give up on chess and go in for a kiss, the camera spins 360 degrees around the couple, dizzying the viewer.

Still from The Thomas Crown Affair, via TMDB.

Once Thomas and Vicki fall in love, the film loses its momentum. The wit of the earlier scenes is replaced with some rather grim moments, as if the creators of the work tried too hard to give the film a realistic end. It’s also a challenge for this modern-day viewer to cheer on another wealthy white guy who wants to game the system to make more money. But the weak story is saved by the unusual filmmaking techniques and Michel Legrand’s wonderful jazz pop scoring.

“It’s a very stylish movie,” Jewison comments in the interview included with the Kino Lorber BluRay release. And he’s not wrong! The opening credits designed by Pablo Ferro — accompanied by Legrand’s “Windmills of My Mind,” still stuck in this critic’s head a week later — introduce the multiple screen technique that will be used throughout The Thomas Crown Affair. On the day of the robbery, we see the hired men (including a young Yaphet Kotto) travel, wait, and prepare; the framing of the edits shows they’re all on a similar timeline.

The editing adds to the playful, caper-like feel of the first half; the editing choices become more abrupt and random near the end. The film’s overall tone is uneven. The Thomas Crown Affair lures the viewer in with a cat-and-mouse game of flirtation and instead of holding on to that feeling, just falls apart. But boy, is it still fun to watch.

The Special Edition Bluray from Kino Lorber includes:

  • a director’s commentary track by Norman Jewison
  • a commentary track with film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman
  • a 2018 video interview with Jewison, which is quite enjoyable. He shares how he and Trustman started working on the screenplay, how McQueen got involved, the experience of working with United Artists and the freedom they allowed their directors. He asserts, “the director is the sole creator of the film.”
  • a short video interview with title designer/editor Pablo Ferro. He speaks quietly about how he came up with his title design for The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! He comments on his editing work on The Thomas Crown Affair, “I had to design so your eye would only go a certain place.” He also discusses his work with Hal Ashby.
  • Three’s A Company: an on-set featurette about the trio of McQueen, Dunaway and Jewison as they film The Thomas Crown Affair. Jewison reflects on his decision to film on location in Boston and McQueen complains about having to fly a glider in the film.
  • theatrical trailers for this and other Jewison movies
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