Sunday, February 27, 2011

Don't Make a Scene: The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

The Story:  Many a king has to fall.  But it's all in the game.

This scene, from the original The Thomas Crown Affair, has its origins in a more carnivorous scene from Tony Richardson's Tom Jones.  The line describing it in Alan Trustman's screenplay is brief (according to Norman Jewison in his DVD commentary): "The next scene combines chess and sex."*  That leaves a lot of room to play around.  So, Jewison and his photographer, Haskell Wexler (and one should not leave out the efforts of composer Michel Legrand who underlines every gag and association in the scene) stage a two-tiered demonstration of gamesmanship.  Maybe the two are matched in chess-skills and vogue epicurism, but black has the advantage in this one, as the dapper, unflappable Thomas Crown has his king challenged on two fronts of battle by the insurance investigator playing opposite him.  

Vicky Anderson's seductive distraction gambit throws Crown off his game, forcing him to switch strategies, leading to what Jewison calls "the longest kiss in movie history"—something usually claimed by Alfred Hitchcock (in both Notorious and North by Northwest)—a heady, circling kiss** that turns hallucinogenic before fading to discrete black.

After all, you know what comes after "Check," don't you?

It's a fun scene, played, with humor and some wickedness, by two of the coolest cucumbers in the acting garden.

And with that, we bid a loving farewell to Valentine's Month at LNTAM, turn and go into a brisk March.

The Set-up: Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a bored businessman, who has planned an elaborate $2.6 million dollar bank robbery, anonymously hiring a team of men, all unknown to each other, to pull it off.  Insurance investigator Vicky Anderson (Faye Dunaway) works with the Boston police to track down the mastermind of the heist, starting an elaborate cat and mouse game between the two.  But, who's the cat and who's the mouse?  It may be unusual for an investigator to actually have a dinner date at the suspect's palatial pad, but when you look as good as McQueen and go with it.


CROWN: Do you play?

VICKY: Try me.

VICKY: Check...


CROWN: Let's play something else.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Words by Alan Trustman

Pictures by Haskell Wexler and Norman Jewison

The Thomas Crown Affair is available on DVD from M-G-M Home Entertainment.

* Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, called it "possibly the most under-plotted, underwritten, over-photographed film of the year. Which is not to say it isn't great to look at. It is."

** Also associated with Hithcock—for more on that, see this post on Vertigo.

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