I’d been meaning to catch The Thomas Crown Affair for a long time — having seen bits of the watered-down 1999 remake on TV, I’d always assumed that the original would be stylish, sexy, and full of the same witty dialogue I’ve come to expect from a good 70s crime caper. Well, one out of three ain’t bad.
This movie actually made me sympathize with the people who thought the remake was a good idea, since the worst thing about it is how overwhelmingly dated it feels. I’m not even talking about the clothes, which are fun to look at, or Faye Dunaway’s bizarrely ineffectual role as an insurance adjuster who does very little adjusting (more on that later). What I found crazily distracting was the wacky multiple split-screens and colored filters, which I’m sure seemed like the next big thing in 1968; and the incomprehensibly clipped hep-cat dialogue. It’s as if someone took a perfectly normal, serviceable script and cut out every third word. At one point it devolves into a list of nouns, like “Tugboat. Jungle. Flagpole. Pirahna” that poor Steve McQueen has to deliver as if it means something. I can count on one hand the scripts I’ve read that erred on the side of brevity, so it feels weird to criticize a film for not being talky enough. But in this case I think it’s a symptom of a larger problem, namely a plot with holes you could drive a cement mixer through. Steve McQueen is meant to be this spoiled millionaire playboy whose life is so pampered that he has to rob banks to get his thrills. Faye Dunaway is the “special” brought in by the insurance company to investigate the robbery, even though the only thing she investigates over the course of the movie is Steve McQueen’s back pocket. The whole movie feels like an excuse to put two beautiful, sophisticated people into beautiful, sophisticated clothes and then show them frolicking in various exotic locales. Faye Dunaway’s storyline, if you can even call it that, is particularly insulting: despite her alleged “specialist” status, the cops she’s working with all call her “doll” and every other diminutive feminine nickname you can think of. Worse yet, her character settles on Steve McQueen as her target based on the irrefutable evidence that he’s “cute.” If the only skill involved in being an insurance specialist is recognizing an attractive man with criminal tendencies when you see one, I’ll hang out my shingle, paint my nails beige, and start charging $200 an hour myself. Maybe I’m overthinking a movie that was only meant to be a bit of eye candy, but there’s not a single character I wanted to spend another minute with once the credits started rolling. Would another remake be worth the effort? I’d like to see someone like Will Gluck take a crack at it, since he could inject some much-needed wit into the dialogue; but I suspect the whole rich-people-being-too-sophisticated-for-your-middle-class-problems storyline has lost a lot of its appeal over the last few years, so it might have to remain a very silly product of its time.