For a trio of years now, I’ve been reviewing films for you that focus on cars and automotive themes. It has occurred to me though that there are plenty of wonderful pictures that aren’t “car movies” per se, but that feature incredible examples of vintage sports and muscle cars. In the interest of shaking things up a bit, I have decided to review one of these movies for you this month: the iconic bank heist thriller The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)!
The Thomas Crown Affair was produced by Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions and distributed in the States by United Artists. The studio considered the film to be their tent-pole summer release, and banked on the pairing of the biggest movie star in the world, Steve McQueen, with the “it-girl” leading lady of the moment, Faye Dunaway to pull in viewers. Helming the picture was the solid workhorse director Norman Jewison, who had a screenplay by Alan R. Trustman to work with.
Thomas Crown Affair focuses on the exploits of Thomas Crown (McQueen), a young, handsome and rich Boston-based businessman who lives life to the fullest–always vying for more, and willing to take extraordinary risks to achieve it. Not content simply playing the lucrative but staid part of an elite businessman, he decides to mastermind an elaborate and successful bank heist, performed by men who don’t know him or each other to eliminate as many weak links as possible.
The heist goes off without a hitch, and as Crown deposits the $2.6 million booty in a numbered account in Switzerland, the case falls into the hands of veteran robbery/homicide detective, Eddie Malone (Paul Burke). Stymied at first by the lack of evidence left behind by the robbers, Malone enlists the aid of a beautiful and shrewd insurance investigator Vicki Anderson (Dunaway). Together, they work to narrow down a host of suspects to just Crown.
In the process of her investigation, Anderson introduces herself to Crown, and informs him that she is hot on his trail. This sets up a game of cat and mouse that becomes even more complicated when the two fall madly for each other and end up in a romantic relationship.
The film, although a bit dated with it’s late ’60s, counterculture-esque stance and themes, and by it’s kitschy use of multiple frame-within-frame photography, is a taught and extremely enjoyable thriller. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, as is McQueen’s exuded charm. Well crafted, paced and edited, the movie clearly makes the best of what was a superlative screenplay, one which suspends the viewer’s disbelief effortlessly.
Aside from the movie’s obvious charms and thrills, there is another aspect that appeals mightily, especially to the certified car nut: an assortment of amazing, contemporary automobiles in resplendent, factory-new condition.
For me, the automotive star of the film is Vicki’s heartbreakingly gorgeous 1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 N.A.R.T. Spyder, a car worth millions in the classic car market of today. Resplendent in metallic raspberry over a black interior, the car (of which only ten were ever built in 1967 and 1968) appears in a few scenes and steals every one of them. Any car that can make you take your eyes away from Faye Dunaway in her youthful prime is something to behold.
The 275 GTS/4’s 3285cc “Columbo” V12 powerplant featured four overhead cams (hence the “4” in its moniker), two valves per cylinder and six carburetors. Its output was a then prodigious 300 hp, which was enough to propel the lightweight, Italian steed to over 165 mph. Quite a car then and now.
Next up for me, would be Crown’s 1967 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Fixed Head Sedan. An iconic car ideally suited to an equally iconic movie star, McQueen is seen driving it in many, many scenes. The car wears Sapphire Blue Metallic paint over a parchment interior, and its elegant design and voluminous amount of chrome really makes the car pop on-screen. Of note is the fact that, like the Ferrari N.A.R.T. Spyder, this too was a rare bird.
The car was one of 199 left-hand drive, limited-edition, two-door sedans built to order by Rolls-Royce’s in-house coachbuilder, H J Mulliner, Park Ward Ltd. Powered by a 6.2-liter V8 which had–according to Rolls-Royce’s understated literature–“adequate horsepower.” Though a heavy, steel body luxury cruiser, was capable of some spritely performance. A stunner in every way.
My next favorite car in the movie is a white 1965 Cadillac DeVille convertible, that Crown’s girlfriend drives early in the film to pick him up after he pilots a glider. Not much can be gleaned from the car’s brief appearance in the film, but it is clear that it has a dark interior and top. The ‘65 DeVille was a whopping 224–inches long, with a 129 inch wheelbase. Its monster-sized 429ci V8 pumped out 340 hp, enough to propel this behemoth to 60 mph in nine seconds.
My last pick for cool car in The Thomas Crown Affair is the Meyers Manx dune buggy that McQueen himself recklessly pilots over the dunes on the Ipswich, Massachusetts beach in several scenes. Apparently, the screenplay specified that a Jeep was to be the vehicle in these scenes, but the story goes that McQueen wouldn’t hear of it.
He personally reached out to the dune buggy manufacturer and had a custom one built, which was equipped with a 4-barrel Corvair engine that packed 240 hp. American Racing wheels were shod with Firestone Racing tires from Andy Granatelli’s STP Special turbine Indy car. The Manx in the film, sports an orange paint job over custom waffle stitched naugahyde seats and interior trim.
A host of other great cars populate the film, including a 1967 Austin-Healey 100/6, a 1967 Ford Country Squire station wagon with wood paneling, and a briefly seen 1967 Plymouth Barracuda.
The Thomas Crown Affair is a superb way for the movie buff or car crazy viewer to kill a couple of hours. Its combination of illustrious stars, intriguing plotline and fabulous cars really makes it shine. As such, I give the film seven out of ten pistons.