The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) is about a rich billionaire who orchestrates a bank robbery and the love affair that transpires between himself and the female detective that is trying to charge him for the crime. I will attempt to keep my discussion and analysis in order of appearance during the sequence and separate the design elements used even though some are best looked at when combined.

I’d like to begin with the imagery used during the opening of the title sequence. While it eventually goes on to show whole faces and people in poses or during actions, the sequence begins with two eyes, likely those of the main character Thomas Crown; the first seemingly happy with wrinkles around the edges that indicate a smile, the next more apparently angry with a downcast furrowed brow that places a dark shadow on the whites of his eyes. While the “happy” eye is originally larger than the other, soon that eye fades into the background leaving room for the “angry” eye to take its place. The next section after this has a similar style. It introduces the main two cast members in a grouping of five squares separated by text for their names. First, Steve McQueen’s (Thomas Crown) face is shown happy and smiling at something off camera. Then, he is replaced by Faye Dunaway (the detective) who is shown staring down the camera directly. The disparity in their gazes (in relation to the camera) could indicate their commitment to justice, or their honesty, but like most of the imagery in this sequence, it is a mystery that is left up to the interpretation of the audience.

After a short sequence that fills the boxes with other shots of these two characters, they once again show the main character, all traces of happiness gone, seemingly replaced by anger or indifference with that same downcast brow that casts a dark shadow. After a short section full of color that I will discuss next he is joined by what I would assume are the remaining cast members on the other side of the screen (the direction he is looking). Other than the colors used, the next few sections are not nearly as interesting; they show the male detective that Dunaway’s character works for and the driver of the bank robbery who eventually snitches on Crown. The remainder is mainly scenes from Crowns daily life with sections of screenshots from the movie.

Color plays an interesting role in this title sequence. Multitudes of colors from blue to green to purple are used with the most notable being red that seems to me to symbolize evil or anger, or at the very least some negative trait/emotion. The eyes at the beginning for instance, the “happy” eye is mainly brighter colors, while the “angry” eye is darker redder colors accompanied by some yellow and orange. This theme continues as new shots and characters are introduced. Faye Dunaway’s character shot is composed of mainly of a dark magenta, perhaps to symbolize her femininity or a point in between the brighter and darker colors of Crown. In the multitudes of faces and screenshots different, quickly changing colors fill the boxes, this of course could mean many things, but I choose to see it as the ever-shifting moods/emotions and motivations of the main characters. This color shift happens again when Crown’s “angry” face is displayed and at least in my eyes the most distinct color is always that deep crimson red. It is interesting to note that during the later sections when the male detective and the snitch are introduced, the colors are rather different. All colors are used to display the detective, while the snitch’s boxes are nearly all covered in red. This could simply be indicating the “good vs. bad” characters to the audience, or it could show Crown’s views on these characters, it is hard to say.

The accompanying song to this title sequence is rightly placed I’d say. The Windmills of Your Mind by Noel Harrison is a strange, repetitive, and thought-provoking number. If you look back at all of my interpretations of this sequence, I’m never entirely sure about what I’ve deduced, and I believe that’s what the designer intended. This movie is about a mystery and a detective trying to solve a crime. Yet the main character is the perpetrator of that crime. You find yourself rooting for him and for their love, yet you know that he isn’t really a good person all the while. This title sequence and the song that plays in the background lead the viewer on their own investigation into the meaning of the imagery, colors, and music used. Lines like “Round like a circle in a spiral, Like a wheel within a wheel, Never ending nor beginning, On an ever spinning reel” that speak to the redundancy and complexity of the human mind only serve to confuse and intrigue the audience more.

Regarding imagery once more, the song is constantly referencing circular or spherical objects in relation to the mind; while all the images are composed of Square pieces that are always together but never connected, like a puzzle that is yet to be solved; yet the sequence ends by zooming in on a pair of hands that form a triangle. These differing shapes and the meaning behind them remind us that what we see before us is not always as it seems, and that people, and love are not so easy to place inside a simple box.