Thomas Crown Affair DOUBLE FEATURE!!!

Steve McQueen

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 / 1999)

Yes, I watched them both. Back-to-back. Original first, then the remake. How did they compare? Let’s find out.

1 Thomas Crown

1968 Original: Steve McQueen is untouchably cool, not just in this movie but in, like… all of time. His Thomas Crown is laconic and aloof, but incredibly focused when it comes to things he wants. His opening bank robbery – tense, fast-paced, exacting – depicts him as more of a criminal mastermind than the bored millionaire playboy that the film would have us believe.

1999 Remake: Pierce Brosnan plays a softer, more laid-back Thomas Crown. He even goes to therapy! Compared to the tight-lipped McQueen, Brosnan is much more open and emotional in his relationship with Catherine Banning. His artsy caper seems like more of a lark, just to see what he can get away with, and the stolen painting is returned to the museum after he’s had his fun.

2 Insurance Investigator

1968 Original: Perhaps I’m of the wrong generation, but I have no particular affinity for Faye Dunaway’s Vicki Anderson. She’s distant and straight-laced for the first half of the movie, and then ready to burst into tears at any moment during the second half. Her supposed intuitions are laughable. Despite the bank robbers working as a cohesive unit, she somehow guessed (based on her own chalk drawing, no less) that they didn’t know each other and had never met before? Even her cameo in the remake is grating – what kind of therapist flat out laughs at her patients’ problems?

1999 Remake: Rene Russo’s character, on the other hand, has no problem letting her hair down and actually seems to enjoy getting down and dirty with her suspect while trying not to fall for him. She has an equally questionable moment during her investigation (how on earth did she know the button for the secret panel was under the desk?), but is otherwise skillfully adept at putting the pieces of the puzzle together and matching wits with Crown. Funnily enough, for an investigator, she sure does turn down information a lot – at least three times by my count.

Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen

3 Sexual Chemistry

1968 Original: Released under the very restrictive Hays code, this film still did a fantastic job of depicting the sexual tension building between Crown and Anderson during the chess scene. Apparently it took three days to film all those suggestive camera angles! Apart from that however, I had a hard time believing that these two really clicked… Crown cares more about money than about her, and Anderson was more frustrated by him than anything – first at not being able to catch him, and later by his trust exercises.

1999 Remake: A see-through dress, plenty of female toplessness, and wild, acrobatic sex on every piece of uncomfortable-looking furniture in the house. The first glimpse we ever catch of Banning is of her stocking-clad legs in high heels… this movie has overt sensuality in spades. Some might even complain that there’s too much. Personally, I think it cements the attraction between Crown and Banning – which is key to the idea that she’s getting in over her head, and the closer she gets the more likely she is to run away with him – and doesn’t detract from the story.

4  Suspense / Theatricality of Heist

1968 Original: We don’t know for sure who’s behind the robbery until Crown picks up the loot at the cemetery and then goes home to toast himself in the mirror and gloat about how easy it all was. So there’s a bit of suspense there, but then we realize that he just was using a crew to do the dirty work for him and never actually putting himself at risk. When he executes the second robbery, he uses the exact same technique as the first time. Yes, it’s all a ploy because he knew Anderson was going to betray him all along, but still… a tad boring. This is less of a heist movie and more of a puzzle on film – the viewer spends half the time trying to figure out what moves have been made and how they’ll affect the outcome of the story.

1999 Remake: There’s an actual Trojan horse! With four fully grown men in it! The opening museum robbery is a thrilling distraction and immediately sets Crown up as a dashing action hero, not the type of guy to sit behind his desk way up on the 30th floor watching from afar, then saunter in at the last minute to pick up the goods. Crown still sets his crew up to take the fall, but I don’t feel as bad for these guys, with all their fancy equipment and elaborate plans. They knew what they were getting into way more than the poor bumbling family man from the crew in the original movie did. And the final robbery is unlike the first one but equally exciting in a taunting, “catch me if you can” kind of way.

5 Toys for Rich People

1968 Original: McQueen had a little yellow glider, which was pretty slick, a tremendously loud and fast all-terrain vehicle, plus some interesting pieces of artwork. He lives a quiet yet extremely comfortable life of leisure, and his home office looks like a country club… elegant but not overstated.

1999 Remake: Brosnan’s glider is bigger (tee hee!), but it’s not the size that matters – it’s the fact that he takes Banning up with him, rather than just floating around by himself. What’s the fun of fancy toys if you can’t use them to impress chicks? Throw in a private plane ride to an exotic island, the ability to “wreck a $100,000 boat because he liked the splash”, and Brosnan’s Crown has much more of a worldly, jet-setting air.

Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan

6 Cinematic Style

1968 Original: Someone on the editing team was reallllly in love with split screen. Watching it some 40-odd years later, it seems a bit dated, dizzying, distracting. But perhaps that’s the intent – the viewer is meant to be just as confused as the bank robbery victims about what’s happening. There’s no single place to focus, which only demonstrates the complexity of the robbery and all the various pieces that need to work perfectly together in order for the job to be a success. But split screen during the polo game and other unnecessary scenes was a bit much. There are also a number of seemingly meaningless shots of random things like an old man with a cane, or a woman’s shoes, which is odd. Other dizzying, chaotic effects include the smoke bombs and the psychedelic, circular panning around the kissing couple after Vicki beats Crown at chess. Even the bell that chimes loudly at the cemetery (both times!) is startling enough to throw us for a loop. The whole thing is like being on a roller coaster – but not the smooth, modern ones – more like the old, rickety wooden ones with the cracked vinyl seating and the questionably loose safety bar.

1999 Remake: This movie doesn’t have as much of a unique cinematic fingerprint as the original, but instead follows a standard modern crime procedural format – the main character is attempting to unravel the mystery, and viewers are invited to tag along for the ride. It’s a fun bit of escapism that doesn’t challenge us to think too much. In fact, if we do overthink it, we’ll be fooled when we get to the bait-and-switch ending.

7 Second Robbery / Ending

1968 Original: Crown’s second robbery was already a done deal in his head before it ever went down in real life: “I did it once, and I can do it again.” Not only is he testing Anderson, but he’s going back for more just to prove to himself, to Vicki, and to “the system” that he can. I get the sensation that Vicki was never really in Crown’s league, and he was never going to throw it all away just for her. Sure he’s attracted to her, but as more of a fleeting interest or immediate conquest than anything that would pose a real obstacle to him or his goals. This is mirrored in the melancholy theme song, Windmills of Your Mind. To me, it speaks of endlessness, futility, a relationship that was never meant to be. Despite her best efforts, Vicki Anderson could never have caught Thomas Crown – he was always one step ahead of her.

Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen

“What about me? I just sit here, do nothing?”
“It’s my funeral. You’re just along for the ride.”

1999 Remake: On an opposite note, the 90s version of Thomas Crown offers to return his stolen prize as an attempt to repair the relationship between himself and Banning after she catches him in bed with a model: “If the painting’s back we’re free of it all – we’re only for each other.” Of course, he had already returned it under the guise of his donated painting, but we don’t find that out until the end. The whole thing was just a playful tease – the original Monet, the Dogs Playing Poker painting used as a switcheroo, the daughter of a great forger – all hiding in plain sight, under our very noses. And to top it all off, he lets her think for a while that he left without her and didn’t really care about her at all. But of course he reveals himself just after she starts crying. The only negative? Sneaking onto her flight and sitting silently behind her for 30+ minutes waiting for her to break down is a little creepy 🙂

“It’s just a game, love. It’s just a game.”

Cocktail #1: The Scofflaw

Because who cares about following the rules when you’re super rich? Or super hot 🙂 Thomas Crown is obvious yet elusive in his flouting of the law, but his female counterpart is no slouch either – in the original, she kidnaps a kid and steals a car, in the remake, she breaks into Crown’s house and crashes his black and white ball to shake it on the dance floor. From David Lebovitz.

  • 1 & 1/2 oz rye
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz grenadine
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • garnish: orange peel

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a coupe glass and add garnish.

Cocktail #2: Bored Millionaire

Actually, it’s just called a Millionaire. But Bored Millionaire sounds much more fitting in this case 🙂 From Punch.

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 3/4 oz Grand Marnier (I used dry curaçao)
  • 1/4 oz pastis (I used absinthe)
  • 1/2 oz grenadine
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • garnish: freshly grated nutmeg

Dry shake egg white in a empty cocktail shaker. Shake with ice and remaining ingredients. Strain into a coupe glass and top with freshly grated nutmeg.

Although I picked these two cocktails based solely on the relevance of their names and the fact that I had most of the ingredients on hand, there’s a nice, unintentional symmetry between the two cocktails and the two movies. At the core, they are very similar in composition: lemon, grenadine, a base spirit. But the slight variations in each recipe make each cocktail unique.

The Scofflaw is bright, fruity, sexy, vibrant. Lots of flash and sizzle, and it goes down easy, like Brosnan and Russo. In contrast, the Millionaire throws you off kilter with its frothy, foamy, eggy top and its intense anise flavor and aroma. If you can get past both of those things (if not, try an absinthe rinse rather than a full 1/4 oz, or let it mellow a bit with an ice cube or two), it’s got a lot of body and depth. More of a slow burn, an uncommon mixture to be deliberately savored, like McQueen and Dunaway. I ended up making both drinks at the same time and found myself alternating between sips of each for a nice balance of flavors. Feel free to do the same! Enjoy 🙂

Pierce Brosnan