THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999) Bringing Sexy Back

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One of those truisms of life is that sequels and remakes rarely equal let alone surpass their original. Not impossible, but rare. When I first watched Norman Jewison’s THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968) I enjoyed the details of the heist, but overall felt underwhelmed. With leading actors like Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, combined with high style, I was impressed by the visuals (especially the costume design and the mod editing). But the lack of chemistry between Dunaway and McQueen (how could anyone NOT have red hot chemistry with super sexy Steve?!); it left me cold.

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Then the remake came. John McTiernan’s THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1999) took Alan Trustman’s original story that centered on a bank heist in the 1968 film and flipped it into an art heist. Rare art heist allowed for a sexier, more stylish plot vehicle to drive this remake with more clever moments of cat-and-mouse pace and better build up of sexual tension.

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Pierce Brosnan is Thomas Crown, the charming and confident billionaire playboy who collects rare paintings and crashes 100 thousand dollar sailboats, just for kicks. He’s bored in life because he’s never found an equal, as we see him relay in confidence to his therapist, who is portrayed by Faye Dunaway. When a heist at the art museum by a group of outsiders goes awry yet leaves a Claude Monet missing, it’s actually Crown who becomes the main suspect. Enter Rene Russo as Catherine Banning, insurance investigator and his greatest adversary and equal.

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Thus begins the chase of cat and mouse. But who is the cat and who is the mouse? Banning works in tandem with the police (Denis Leary and Frankie Faison as Detectives McCann and Paretti) but prefers her work as a soloist. As Banning hunts down her prey, she begins to fall for Crown as he does her. Banning is sexy, boldly stylish, empowered, clever, ambitious, supremely confident and unyielding when she goes for what she wants. They are the same.

I know full well that many of my classic film friends will respond in opposition to my assertion that this film from the late 90s could possibly surpass its classic original. But let’s take a deeper look.

The Heist:

This is no simple set-up and chase crime thriller with guns blazing. This film does a masterful job with clever editing and unexpected plot devices to keep us interested. (Warning: a few spoilers may pop up.) Even in an early scene, a Trojan horse device is literally used as a Trojan horse. All the details from the initial heist to the final reveal involve unique and thought-provoking twists and turns. One of my favorites involves a parade of men in bowler hats as camouflage.

The Style:

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It may not be the cool swinging 60s style of the 1968 film, but style it exudes nonetheless. If sexy is a style, then Brosnan and Russo bring that particular flavor of style in heavy measure throughout. Brosnan is in Bond-form for a commanding presence of athleticism and cool confidence in a classically tailored suit and the occasional similarly cut shirtless look. Fire-haired Russo is draped in bold fashions to match the boldness of her moves. One particular scene is a blush-worthy dance centered on a body-skimming dress worn by Russo that you could read the The New York Times through.

In all of the memorable scenes, Bill Conti’s music plays a key role. Obviously it serves invaluable to bring sex appeal. In other scenes, it quickens the pace and/or provides the right touch of playful whimsy.

The Players:

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The ongoing tango between the Crown and Banning characters should be constantly competitive, and electric with sexual tension. Brosnan and Russo deliver. For me, McQueen’s interpretation is appropriately cool as one would expect from him, but his interactions with Dunaway comes across as almost disinterested. As for Dunaway, the style is undoubtedly gorgeous but her coolness transcends into cold. Leary and Faison do a fine job for a sliver of lightness in character acting.

Another test for what ultimately makes the 1999 version the victor for me, is how it holds up in repeat screenings. I find myself enjoying watching the remake many times over as it has held up well. I cannot say the same for its original. (Okay Kell, brace yourself for the pitch fork frenzy of feedback from readers.)

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This has been my contribution to the “It Takes A Thief” Blogathon, hosted by Moon In Gemini, November 17-19, 2017. Be sure to read all the other entries for posts on films that ‘steal’ your attention!

 

 

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CMBA’s Banned and Blacklisted: CROSSFIRE (1947)

 

Incredibly tense, politically-charged times in Hollywood erupted seventy years ago when the infamous “The Hollywood Ten” were cited with contempt of Congress on November 24, 1947. After ten writers and directors refused to fully answer questions to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) regarding involvements with the Communist Party, thus began the blacklisting of scores of artists in the industry. Although it is not a crime to be a Communist in this country, and the many allegations that artists were injecting Communist propaganda into their films were never proven, the witch hunt continued and wrecked the careers and lives of many.

Even those who cooperated with the HUAC, were never affiliated with the Communist Party, and/or challenged the legitimacy of the process found themselves blacklisted thanks to the rumors and whisperings from the HUAC. Even being accused of being a Communist assumed guilt in Hollywood for which there was no crime committed. The blacklisting did not end until 1960. It was a dark stain in our history.

Two of The Hollywood Ten, producer and screenwriter Adrian Scott and director Edward Dmytryk, worked together to complete the pivotal film, CROSSFIRE, just a couple of months prior to being subpoenaed to the HUAC. After several successful films, including this one, this would be their final collaboration. With the screenplay written by John Paxton, it was based on Richard Brooks’ military-influenced crime novel “The Brick Foxhole” which was originally centered on the murder of a homosexual man. Producers Adrian Scott and Dore Schary pitched a new twist to the story. For CROSSFIRE, the bulk of the story unravels the crime post-murder, and the victim is a straight Jewish man.

Schary was concerned the anti-Semitic messaging would be a red flag, gaining unwanted attention from the HUAC. As it turns out, he was right. Interestingly, another film with anti-Semitism themes, Elia Kazan’s GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT was released later the same year with even more critical acclaim as that year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Despite a tight budget and shooting schedule, plus tackling a controversial script under watchful eyes, CROSSFIRE (1947) remains one of RKO’s if not perhaps of any studio’s best film noirs. Beginning with a murder, we are then introduced to Robert Young as the serene, pipe-smoking Finley, who is investigating the case, followed by a slew of potential suspects, friends and foes, of which many are military. We discover that not only was the victim Jewish, but that appears to be the only motivation for his demise. Finlay is hunting down a madman whose rage lurks just below the surface and whose deep bigotry results in murder.

With a headlining trio of three swell Roberts- Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Robert Young- the casting offers unforgettable performances. Mitchum and Young represent a calm front of tag-teaming good guys, fleshing out demobilized soldiers with possible ulterior motives. Robert Ryan plays Montgomery, the bigoted monster of intermittent restraint of rage, to perfection. A role he performed so well he earned an Oscar nom, that also typecast him for a majority of his career.

The supporting cast is outstanding, as well. Sam Levene, Paul Kelly, Steve Brodie, Jacqueline White, and Gloria Grahame to name a few. In her first role with RKO following a brief stint at MGM, Grahame is a stand-out and it earned her an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Like Ryan, this film set the mold for many more-naughty-than-nice roles to come. What really drives this film in addition to these performances is the phenomenal cinematography from J Roy Hunt. When one gushes about the glowing beauty of light and dark shadows of a great film noir (as I often do), CROSSFIRE is a perfect example.

For me, one of the most powerful moments comes when a potential witness for the police faces a moral dilemma. He questions whether he should help the police capture Montgomery when he wasn’t directly affected by Monty’s anti-Semitism. Finlay gives him a rather convincing speech about his own Irish grandfather who faced similar treatment as a new immigrant. It’s powerful because Finlay must convince the apathetic soldier that anyone can be the target of bigotry so none of us can afford to look the other way.

History is a mixed bag for Edward Dmytryk. His talents are rarely disputed. After serving time for his conviction as part of The Hollywood Ten, he experienced regret. He faced the HUAC again in 1951 and recanted his initial defiance. Between his prison time with subsequent blacklisting, and his public distancing from The Hollywood Ten, he made a couple of films in the U.K. Then, Stanley Kramer gave him a chance to transition back to Hollywood. He went on to make many more films in Hollywood for the rest of his career, including winning an Oscar for THE CAINE MUTINY (1954).

Some say he was able to save his career by recanting. Some say he sold out. Fast-forward seventy years later and what have we learned from this? Where does history judge all of those involved in the blacklisting, the HUAC, victims and perpetrators alike? Some have stated “it was a different time” and “people were protecting their jobs to support their families” in sympathy for those that did not defy the HUAC or even named names. Yet many modern-day Americans find it incredulous to believe it took so long to stand up to the HUAC when no actual crimes were committed by those targeted. With hindsight, the wrongs of that ‘Red Scare’ witch hunt seem obvious.

Hateful intolerance remains a presence. We live in precarious times today that reveals an alarming buildup of bigotry and nationalism similar to previous historic levels. Wedged between the nazi horrors revealed in the Nuremberg trials and the onset of McCarthyism, CROSSFIRE’s take on the dangers of bigotry was topical then yet remains relevant to this day.


*This post was my contribution to the CMBA Fall 2017 Blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted, Nov. 15-19, 2017. As a proud member of the Classic Movies Blog Association, I feel privileged to participate and encourage you to read the other entries.

Announcement: 6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

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Announcing the SIXTH ANNUAL What A Character! Blogathon
December 15-17, 2017

When you think about your very favorite classic movies, what makes them your favorites? The films worth watching multiple times, endlessly discussing, or just chilling out with…what makes them the cinematic equivalent of comfort food? Sure, great writing is key, but those lines are just words without the right actors delivering them. Beautiful costumes are great, but without the right actors wearing them, they’re just clothes. Stunning, authentic art direction and set design are wonderful, but empty, without the right actors inhabiting that world. And gorgeous cinematography can only hold your eye for so long, without the right actors being lit. And so on.

Chances are, it’s not just the perfect leads that win your go-to films their place in your heart — it’s their pals and sidekicks as well. The wise-cracking best friend or fellow chorine, cranky boss, sympathetic bartender, confirmed spinster secretary, intrepid cop, jealous girlfriend, second-in-command racketeer or bomber pilot, workaholic director…faces familiar from their appearances in many films over the years, their names — not so much. To take a couple obvious examples, what would Casablanca be without Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, John Qualen, and Leonid Kinskey? How about My Man Godfrey without Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, and Mischa Auer? Probably pretty good films, but just not the same, not as lovable, not as classic.

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Ritz 3 Alice Brady Carole Lombard William Powell My Man Godfrey

Thus the objective of the What A Character! Blogathon has always been to shed the spotlight on these lesser-known but equally talented thespians, whose names usually appeared below the title, but who always elevated any kind of material from Oscar-winning to the most tired, often without saying a word. Please join us- Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen/ @CitizenScreen, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 – for the SIXTH year in a row of paying tribute to the versatility and depth of supporting players.
If a salute to lesser-known but essential Hollywood thespians is right up your movie alley, please review the guidelines below, then leave me a comment below.

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog, also your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept repeats (previously published posts), or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the medium of television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning, and continues to do so.
  • Publish your WAC! post on either December 15, 16, or 17, 2017. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include [one of] the WAC! 2017 event banner[s] included in this post on your blog to help us promote the event. Please also include the banner in your What A Character! post.
  • Please send any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries. My contact info: prattkellee@gmail.com / twitter~ @IrishJayhawk66 ~or, simply leave a comment below
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Thank you to TCM for the tagline inspiration and to all you bloggers and film fans for your ongoing participation and support for six years running!

Participating blogs and their choice of actors:

Caftan Woman – John Alexander

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Bruce Altman

Taking Up Room – Eve Arden

The Last Drive In – Martin Balsam

Old Hollywood Films – Beulah Bondi

Wide Screen World – Alan Hale, Sr.

The Old Hollywood Garden – Edward Everett Horton

Real Weegie Midget Reviews – Ian McShane

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Agnes Moorehead

Wolfian Classic Movies Digest – Eugene Pallette

Carole & Co. – Nat Pendleton

Outspoken & Freckled – ZaSu Pitts

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog – Michael Ripper

The Dream Book Blog – Elizabeth Russell

A Shroud of Thoughts – William Schallert

Cinematic Scribblings – Haruko Sugimura

Hometowns to Hollywood – Clinton Sundberg

Once Upon a Screen – Mary Wickes

Silver Screenings – European Character Actors in Casablanca

Silver Scenes – TBA

~Kellee

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