The original 1968 The Thomas Crown Affair is light, breezy and a tad convoluted, but benefits from memorable performances by the beautiful Faye Dunaway and stoic Steve McQueen. The latter plays businessman and playboy Thomas Crown, who steals $2.6 million from a Boston bank with the help of several degenerates. The former is Vicki Anderson, an insurance investigator looking for a 10 percent cut of any returned money. She begins studying the seemingly carefree Crown, and a cat-and-mouse chase begins as Crown looks to further his criminal enterprise. Norman Jewison's film, written by Alan Trustman, is certainly constructed as a showcase for its stars, and is rife with flashy photography and editing tricks, trendy costumes and displays of wealth. The Thomas Crown Affair was released amid a monumental year for cinema and, while it does not boast the dramatic impact of the year's best projects, certainly entertains as well as contemporaries like Planet of the Apes and Rosemary's Baby.
The film opens with Erwin Weaver (Jack Weston) entering a hotel room. Blinding strobe lights suddenly pierce the pitch black, and a man, whose face is obstructed by the glare, instructs Weaver on being the getaway driver in a bank robbery. Crown uses four other men to knock over the bank, and Weaver then drives the money to a cemetery for pick up. When he is not masterminding heists, Crown is a Boston businessman and playboy. Viewers see McQueen's leading man take to the skies in a glider, drive a dune buggy over a grey beach and bid zealously at an art auction. Crown may not need the cash he stole, but Anderson does; so she beings investigating the heist, along the way falling for Crown's charms and bravado. Weaver has his own troubles, as Anderson discovers his involvement, which causes the man's wife to consider going to the police.
There are plenty of shots of beautiful people doing interesting things in The Thomas Crown Affair. We hardly make it past the surface of these lead characters, but neither the actors nor the filmmakers are looking for an in-depth analysis of their histories and motivations. No, this movie is about style, sex appeal and the art of gamesmanship. Each action Crown takes is part of a larger game orchestrated solely for his enjoyment. This both amuses and infuriates Anderson, who tries in vain to resist the attraction brewing between the pair. Growing closer to Crown jeopardizes both Anderson's payday and working relationship with Eddie Malone (Paul Burke), a local detective working the case from the criminal side.
Although there are a couple of exciting robbery sequences, The Thomas Crown Affair is less concerned with suspense than celebrating the celebrities at its helm. That is not a criticism, as Jewison's film is a highly entertaining spotlight on the one percent gone rogue. The conspiracy is a tad convoluted, but it really does not matter if you connect all the dots in the end. Jewison keeps things moving during the film's 102 minutes, and Haskell Wexler's cinematography works well within the confines of the numerous trick edits and split-screen shots. McQueen, playing the rare upper-crust character in his filmography, is cool and collected, though he looks older than his 38 years. Dunaway, the most beautiful actress of her generation and possibly any other, is captivating as always, and her sensual chess moves may have earned the film its unnecessary R rating. The Thomas Crown Affair is attractive, entertaining fluff, which is a welcome reprieve from the host of self-serious crime dramas littering theaters.
Kino releases the film with a new 4K restoration just in time for its 50th Anniversary. While the results are certainly an improvement over previous home-video releases, the 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is not without issues. There are wild inconsistencies in this transfer, and I can't help but think this 4K restoration may be pieced together from different sources. There is plenty of film grain, which, even when heavy, is pleasantly free of digital tinkering. Fine-object detail is generally good, particularly in bright, outdoor close-up shots. The film is shot with frequent soft focus to enhance the dreamy atmosphere, which leads to some blooming highlights. Black levels are decent, and I suspect the shadow detail is simply not getting any better. There is one exceptionally rough reel after Crown and Anderson eat on the dock where the entire color scheme changes and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching a DVD presentation. That issue clears up after five or so minutes, and is the most glaring problem with this disc. There is minor print damage throughout, particularly in some of the optical shots, and some flicker is evident during transitions. It appears colors are significantly richer and more lifelike than in previous editions, and I did not notice any digital noise reduction.
The DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track, with optional English subtitles, is clear and without distortion. The dialogue is nicely rendered and never sounds tinny. Ambient effects are immersive and lifelike, and the infrequent action effects are layered appropriately between dialogue and Michael Legrand's score. Range is appropriate, and quiet, intimate scenes are as easily understood as higher-impact sequences.
Kino releases a nice single-disc package for fans that includes An Audio Commentary by Director Norman Jewison and An Audio Commentary by Film Historian Lem Dobbs and Twilight Time's Nick Redman. The director's commentary is highly detailed and includes remarks on the screenplay, casting and photography, and the second track discusses the film's legacy and imitators. You also get new interviews with Jewison, A Master Class in Style (19:26/HD), and Titles Creator Pablo Ferro (7:29/HD). Things wrap up with a vintage Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (8:23/SD) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:04/HD).
Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway are ceaselessly cool in The Thomas Crown Affair, a breezy, stylish celebration of its stars. Norman Jewison's film is not as dramatically affecting as others released in 1968 but it is consistently entertaining. Kino's new 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition offers a restored picture and solid bonus features. Highly Recommended.