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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My 80s TV Crushes: David Addison and Remington Steele

 

 

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The Silver Screenings site is conducting the Reel Infatuation Blogathon this week. Bloggers are tasked with reflecting upon their fictional character crushes- from books or the big or small screen.

Truth be told, my first TV crush (and this is according to a discovery I made in my baby book as scribed in my mother’s own handwriting so it must be true) was Donny Osmond. I assume it was a combination of those gloriously large and straight teeth and I was more “a little bit Rock n’ Roll” than “a little bit country.” And then came along the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mystery Hour. I secretly thought of myself to be Nancy Drew, undoubtedly. And at a time when all the other girls were dreaming of Shaun Cassidy or even his half-brother David, not me. I preferred the clean-cut looks of Parker Stevenson, frankly.

Fast forward to my post-puberty days of the 80s. While Duran Duran was my religion and my cult, my television heart throbs fell on the charming shoulders of Bruce Willis as David Addison, Jr. of “Moonlighting” (1985-1989) and Pierce Brosnan as “Remington Steele”(1982-1987).

My love for classic film was already blossoming back in the 80s and Cary Grant was then and always shall remain my biggest silver screen crush. As for the small screen, it now seems obvious why I was drawn to the Remington Steele and David Addison characters. These two had a lot in common with each other but also with my love of classic film leading men.

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REMINGTON STEELE:

The pilot episode highlighted a female licensed investigator, Ms. Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist). She’s educated, sharp, confident, attractive, ambitious, with a keen attention to detail. But she constantly finds resistance from clients because she’s a woman. So she creates a fictional male boss (“Remington Steele” is a name created from a combination of a typewriter and a football team) and suddenly business starts to roll in.

That is, until her next assignment. When a client hires her for an event with multi-million dollars’ worth of jewels, he insists on meeting Mr. Steele in person for his personal oversee. Ms. Holt isn’t worried though. She plans on a shell game to keep her fictional boss always somewhere else while still providing top-notch security. How could anything go wrong?

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Things go awry when a rather dapper man named Ben (Pierce Brosnan) shows up saying he’s in an official capacity as a South African diplomat to ensure the jewels rightful return to their country of smuggled origin. But when Laura’s team, always-suspicious Murphy and eager-to-please Ms. Fox, dig deeper into his true identity, they find he’s not who he seems. They find 5 passports with different names. All are fictional characters from Humphrey Bogart films. Before you know it, he’s been found out to be a jewel thief and con man…a perfect set-up for his even sexier role in THE THOMAS CROWNE AFFAIR remake (1999), taken Remington Steele’s identity, solved a murder and charmed Ms. Holt. By the end of the pilot, he’s decided to take on the Steele identity and the PI gig on a permanent basis. But do we ever discover his real name?

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David Addison in MOONLIGHTING:

In the pilot, we are introduced to Madelyn “Maddie” Hayes (Cybil Shepherd) who is a self-made woman of independent success and distinction as a former model. Still beautiful, intelligent and confident, she wakes up one day broke. Her investment manager ran off with all her liquid assets leaving her with only with a handful of businesses designed to lose money on the books.  The City of Angels detective agency is one of them, with David Addison (Bruce Willis), private eye, at the helm.

Bruce Willis American actor as 'David Addison' Cybill Shepherd American Actress as 'Maddie Hayes' Stars of the award-winning television series "Moonlighting"

Addison is energetic, fast-talking, witty, playful, and completely persistent. Maddie attempts to fire him and shut down the business but with David’s pushy persuasions and with a murder case that literally falls into their laps, Maddie ultimately changes her mind. As an homage to the ‘Blue Moon Shampoo girl’ of Maddie’s cover girl days, Addison decides to change their business name to the Blue Moon Detective Agency. Before then, the two bicker and screwball their way through an investigation. When a man falls dead in front of Maddie and onto the floor, revealing a knife in his back, David dryly jokes, “that’s gotta hurt falling on your nose like that.” The wit and onscreen chemistry sizzles, even if it didn’t exist behind the scenes.

What these two shows also shared was the insertion of quirky characters like Doris Roberts as Mildred Krebs in “Remington Steele” and Allyce Beasley as the speedy-rhyming Agnes DiPesto in “Moonlighting”. Plus, an impressive list of actors that star and/or cameo. Do you recall Eva Marie Saint, Imogene Coca, James Karen, John Goodman, Sterling Holloway (as a narrator) and Ray Charles have all appeared in “Moonlighting”?

Then there’s the writing. After a few seasons, head writer Glenn Gordon Caron left “Remington Steele” to begin writing for “Moonlighting.” No wonder the similarities are obvious.

“Moonlighting” offered higher production value and was the most expensive show aired at that time at $1.6 million per episode. Replete with all the glossy style of 80s fashions, nods to classic film was also worked into every scene with David and Maddie. In attempt to copy the rapid-fire exchanges of over-talking like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), cast members and producers were asked to watch that film in addition to BRINGING UP BABY (1938) to capture the tone and dynamics of those hilarious screwball couples. Cybil Shepherd was often shot in diffused camera lens to repeat the soft, glowing look of the leading ladies of the 1940s. Not to mention it was just a flattering aesthetic.

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Besides both series being centered on detective duos, the leading men borderline as con men and cads in their charming and frequently mischievous ways. The women are bright, assertive and more fearless than what a majority of women were/are portrayed as in film. That’s what makes these couples so intriguing and the tension more delectable.

Remington and David would not be near as irresistible if it wasn’t for Laura and Maddie to challenge them. In the pilot episode of Remington Steele, Brosnan’s character Steele says, “I’m a man who enjoys impossible challenges,” as he smiles flirtatiously at Laura. Later as they chase the bad guy in an airport cart, Steele is driving as Holt is grabbing the wheel from behind, steering simultaneously. “I take it you wanted to drive,” he coyly smiles.

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And that’s why David and Maddie, and Remington and Laura, just like Walter and Hildy in HIS GIRL FRIDAY along with several other classic examples work. The power struggles for these couples are so appealing because the women are not yielding, subservient, dizzy dames. These ladies are equally strong, attractive, intelligent women who challenge these deliciously charming men. And when you turn up that heat with such fiery exchanges… well, no wonder my younger self was hooked.

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Both Pierce Brosnan and Bruce Willis went on to even more successful careers. But it was these roles and the portrayal of these characters that led them there. Brosnan was courted to be the next James Bond back in 85/86 but a surprise resurgence in the show (thanks to the Bond buzz) created a renewal of one more season and caused him to lose out to Timothy Dalton. Years later, Chris Columbus who worked with him on MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993) urged Brosnan to give it a go again, which eventually landed him the part as 007.

Bruce Willis received great success as John McClane in DIE HARD (1988) while still filming “Moonlighting,” which kicked off a long career of iconic action and sci-fi films. His success, the behind-the-scenes conflicts, including huge challenges by continuous filming delays all added up to kill the show.

Looking back, the sets seem hokey by today’s standards and these shows certainly do not have the same staying power as the classic films they aspired. But these memorable characters of Remington Steele and David Addison, Jr. permanently etched these actors forever on the American cinematic map and will always have a warm, fuzzy spot in my heart, too.


This was my contribution to the Reel Infatuation Blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Font & Frock, taking place June 13-17th. Explore all the reel crushes from each day!

 

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