Thomas Crown Affair, The (1968) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Mar 19, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Thomas Crown Affair, The (1968) (Blu-ray Review)


Norman Jewison

Release Date(s)

1968 (February 6, 2024)


United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) (Blu-ray)

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The Thomas Crown Affair stars two actors at their peak of their powers in an elaborate caper that leads into a cat-and-mouse game of wits between two clever antagonists. Unlike most caper films, the meat of the drama is less in the planning and execution of the heist than in the ever-shifting relationship between the mastermind and his would-be nemesis.

Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen, The Great Escape) is a wealthy, thrill-seeking financier who contrives to get a bit of excitement, and a bit of extra pocket money, by robbing a bank. To arrange a foolproof heist, he hand-selects henchmen without ever letting them see him or learn his identity and coordinates the details with clockwork precision. Using pre-arranged timed phone calls, he gives each separate member of the team his own signal to go ahead with his specific job. The plan succeeds and the robbers steal $2.6 million.

The police, under the direction of detective Eddy Malone (Paul Burke, Valley of the Dolls), begin an investigation, but they’re hampered by a lack of substantial leads. The bank’s insurance company brings in freelance investigator Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway, Network) to goose up the efforts of Malone and his team. With astonishing speed, she homes in on Crown, but she’s basing her suspicions on instinct. By-the-book Malone, however, insists on proof. Determined to get that evidence, Vicki will use any and every method at her command, legitimate or not.

Visually, The Thomas Crown Affair is interesting. During the planning and execution of the robbery, multiple scenes appear simultaneously in separate boxes on a single screen so we can see characters in action at the same time rather than in traditional cuts. Since most of these scenes have no dialogue, it’s easy to follow the action, as some boxes get larger, others move off screen, and at times only a single image appears. Enhanced by Michel Legrand’s score, the technique is an intriguing alternative to the usual narrative method of switching back and forth among characters. In this format, more than two characters can be observed at the same time as they dutifully follow Crown’s careful instructions.

There’s only one scene in which there’s direct contact with Crown. A prospective getaway car driver, Erwin (Jack Weston, The Ritz), arrives at a hotel room. When he opens the door, intense lights shine on him, making him unable to see the darkly shadowed figure questioning him. The interview is business-like and brief, with squinting Erwin looking cautious until Crown tosses him an envelope filled with enough cash to buy a specific family car to be used for the getaway. The scene emphasizes Crown’s insistence on anonymity. The team members must not be able to identify him or each other. The team participants will meet only at the scene of the crime and will never meet Crown.

Director Norman Jewison makes up for a very slight, threadbare plot with style, starting with the unusual multiple-image technique and continuing with the battle of wits between two gorgeous, charismatic leads dressed in the height of fashion. Vicki immediately suspects Crown for murky and unconvincing reasons. She simply looks at a batch of photographs of suspects and points to the one of Crown. This is a huge hole in the screenplay. A chess game between Crown and Vicki metaphorically points up their unstated conflict, ability to outthink each other, and mutual attraction. With close-ups, reaction shots, dramatic music, and interesting camera angles, Jewison fashions a suspenseful scene.

But this is the exception. After the bank robbery, the film’s narrative drive and pace lag significantly. The film should rely on excellent screen chemistry between Crown and Dunaway, but even as their relationship turns romantic, they fail to generate proper heat.

McQueen is an odd fit for the role of Crown. Whether he’s intentionally underplaying or was taking direction from Jewison, he looks uncomfortable and miscast. McQueen has said The Thomas Crown Affair was one of his favorite films, but it’s unclear why. He does bring star power to the film and helps elevate an insubstantial plot, but he often looks out of his comfort zone. I kept thinking how much better someone like Cary Grant or Sean Connery or Michael Caine would have been as Crown.

Dunaway plays Vicki as a driven professional woman proud of her ability to detect and prove insurance fraud. There’s a big payoff for her—10% of any retrieved money—so she’s intent on nailing Crown. Her unorthodox methods clash with Malone’s concern for legitimate evidence gathering that will stand up in court. Vicki is hardly concerned with the “right thing to do” and, in one case, resorts to kidnapping a child. When she romances Crown, is this just part of her modus operandi, or is she sincere? Her enigmatic actions keeps us guessing. Even in a passionate kissing scene with McQueen, Dunaway looks as if she’s doing a paint-by-numbers—choreographed, on the surface passionate but with a definite disconnect.

The Thomas Crown Affair starts beautifully, and those multiple-image screens really draw us in, but once the robbery is completed, and the focus shifts to the relationship between Vicki and Crown, the pace sags. The middle of the film deals with the cordial antagonism of the two principals as they navigate Crown’s world of privilege and moneyed hedonism. One highlight is a chess game that creates a sensual, elegant, and playful sequence of innuendo and mutual seduction. The film is beautifully photographed, yet never completely satisfies. It’s pretty, but dramatically it lacks substance and sparkle.

The Thomas Crown Affair was shot by director of photography Haskell Wexler on 35 mm color film with spherical lenses and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a negative aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The Blu-ray re-release by Kino Lorber Studio Classics is sourced from a 4K restoration performed in 2018. Clarity and contrast are excellent. When Crown interviews Erwin, the mastermind is sitting at a desk in the dark, but we can still make out his silhouette and movements as well as the vertical-patterned curtains behind him. Details in general are extremely well-delineated, such as Jack Weston’s reddened face in the blinding light directed at his face, patterns in clothing, intricate moves of chess pieces, trees and other shrubbery, and billowing red smoke from a smoke bomb. The most interesting visual aspect of the film is the use of simultaneous multiple images to drive the narrative. These are moved in various ways to keep the visuals constantly changing.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. In newer films, actors tend to speak very softly or even mumble, so it’s a pleasure to encounter a film in which the actors are easily understood. Sound effects include telephones ringing, elevator doors opening and closing, traffic, gasps of fear from people in the bank, a single gun shot, a smoke bomb igniting, police sirens, and a dune buggy making its way at high speed across a beach. The score by Michel Legrand is by turns suspenseful or romantic, as required by the scene. The song The Windmills of Your Mind, performed by Noel Harrison, is heard in a sequence in which Crown flies a glider. A few key scenes are mostly silent, including the drop-off of the money in a cemetery and a scene in which Crown notices that his home is being watched.

Bonus materials on the Blu-ray re-release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Director Norman Jewison
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman
  • Interview with Director Norman Jewison (19:26)
  • Interview with Title Designer Pablo Ferro (7:39)
  • Three’s Company: 1967 On-Set Featurette with Cast & Crew (8:53)
  • Trailer (2:04)
  • In the Heat of the Night Trailer (2:47)
  • The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Trailer (4:29)
  • F.I.S.T. Trailer (2:29)

Audio Commentary #1 – Director Norman Jewison refers to The Thomas Crown Affair as a film with “style over content.” In fact, he uses the term “style” repeatedly in reference to the film. This was the first film written by Alan Trustman and the first film shot entirely in Boston. The original title was The Thomas Crown Caper. Jewison collaborated with Trustman. “There wasn’t much story there.” The opening sets up the plot. Jewison had seen a demonstration of the use of multiple images simultaneously at the Montreal World’s Fair and was convinced audiences could take on more than one image at a time. The multiple-image screens weren’t storyboarded; they were planned in post-production. He refers to the film as an editorial work because of the arrangement of the various screens. Jewison felt the script could be expanded. Crown is thumbing his nose at the establishment. Most of the casting was done in New York and Boston. It took a long time to find locations in Boston, and the Boston police department helped the film company shoot in various city locations. McQueen tried a Boston accent but it didn’t work. His manner of speaking as Crown sounds educated. The film exploits American materialism of the time. Critics either loved the film or hated it. The French responded favorably and European critics always wanted to discuss it when they met Jewison. He feels the film was ahead of its time. “Michel Legrand’s scoring of the chess game is impeccable." In the script, the chess game was two lines, but it took two days to film. The song The Windmills of Your Mind captures the character of Crown both lyrically and melodically, but Jewison didn’t want to overuse it. Steve McQueen conveyed a confidence and believability. His Crown is a colder character than Vicki and more inward-looking, in which less is more. The Thomas Crown Affair doesn’t have a typical American ending.

Audio Commentary #2 – Film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman share this commentary and refer to The Thomas Crown Affair as an “exercise in style over substance.” The film doesn’t have much of a screenplay, which was a mere 30 pages in length, but it allows opportunities for improvisation and cinematic touches. Alan Trustman was a novice writer who actually managed to get his script to Hollywood. The film has the feel of people making it up along the way. The film offers little background, such as how Crown found and recruited the team of bank robbers. It’s influenced by screwball comedy in the sense that two romantically involved people play off each other. They just happen to be unscrupulous. McQueen had just made three hit films, but was not the first choice for Crown. Trustman wrote his script with Sean Connery in mind. McQueen’s wife told him that Norman Jewison didn’t want him for the role, which ignited McQueen’s competitive nature and he went to Jewison to make his case for being cast. Jewison didn’t think McQueen was right for the role, but they had worked together previously and he knew McQueen would fill seats in theaters. Often, McQueen acted like an “overgrown boy.” On their previous film, The Cincinnati Kid, Jewison took McQueen aside and told him, “Think of me as your older brother,” promising to look after him during filming, which earned the actor’s trust. Jewison was free to embellish and improvise. McQueen had a reputation of being difficult, so it was Jewison’s job to keep him engaged with the other actors. McQueen’s professional selfishness might have been part of his charm. Despite the actor’s extraordinary success, he was not a happy man. A director must do two things: cast well and make the actors feel secure. The open-mouthed kiss was controversial and was responsible for the Catholic Legion of Decency condemning the picture. The commentators believe that The Thomas Crown Affair shouldn’t work as well as it does, yet it was a success at the box office and remains a favorite among McQueen’s fans.

Interview with Norman Jewison – Jewison talks about how he became involved with the film. He had to work with screenwriter Alan Trustman, since the first-time screenwriter didn’t know how to write a screenplay. The story appealed to Steve McQueen, and he had enjoyed working with Jewison on The Cincinnati Kid. The director speaks about the negative aspects of studio interference when a film is being made. Only the director has the entire film in mind.

Interview with Title Designer Pablo Ferro – Ferro speaks about the title design of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! The layout has to fit the film. He got the idea for using multiple images from magazine layouts. He notes that If the images are constantly in motion, they draw the audience.

Three’s Company: 1967 On-Set Featurette with Cast & Crew – This promotional short film contains behind-the-scenes footage, candid shots, and voiceover narration.

The robbery in The Thomas Crown Affair has a grace and polish in its detailed execution. We marvel at how perfectly the caper goes, despite a bit of tension when the getaway car gets stuck in traffic as the police swarm to the bank. It’s a shame that this level of storytelling isn’t sustained throughout. When the film shifts to Vicki’s obsession with Crown, it descends into mediocrity with a stylish veneer.

- Dennis Seuling