What is sexy? A very personal and subjective question. While historical context plays a huge role in what we determine to be sexy, whether it’s gap teeth or doe eyes, etc. Somethings, I think, will always be sexy. Like that of sexual tension. There is something to be said about the buildup that comes with pursuit that is downright sexy. And The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) gives us a prime example of it.
While subvert sexuality in film under the Hay’s Code was on its way out by the time The Thomas Crown Affair hit theaters in June of 1968, we had not reached the complete break away of the 1970’s yet. This plays well into the nature of the film itself. The characters are playing a game. A game that is played not out in the open, but through subtlety.
Everyone who has ever seen The Thomas Crown Affair can recall the chess scene. But I would like to make a case for the film’s sexiness as a whole. This is not to say that the chess scene is not one of the sexiest ever filmed outside of that match between Antonious Block and the Devil, just kidding. It is to say that the film as a whole is a crescendo of subvert sexuality and tension climaxing (pun intended) with that infamous chess match. The film constructs a characterization of the two main characters as almost archetypes of men and women in the modern world. The immature male unwilling to let his guard down for fear his masculinity may be put to the test; and the career centered woman, at war with older societal sensibilities and her need for emotional fulfillment.
Then comes insurance investigator Vicki Anderson. She for some reason immediately identifies Crown as the mastermind behind the heist. So she begins to follow this lead. Apparently Mr. Crown has made several trips to Switzerland recently. Not an odd thing, I make about five a year. This is suspect in Miss Anderson’s book. And let the game of cat and mouse begin. Not only is the overlying pursuit of Crown as the main suspect, there is also the underlying instant attraction between the two. Which eventually leads to a relationship, complicating matters for both parties. Tommy finally is forced to see how much Vicki actually loves him by telling her his plans for another heist. When his Rolls-Royce arrives at the cemetery for the pick up he is not in it. Tommy has given her an ultimatum, which she tears up. We see him flying away on a jet. Ah the love that could never be.
Thomas Crown is a millionaire investment banker. He also plays polo, flies gliders, rides in dune buggies, and occasionally plans bank heists. He has grown bored with the everyday life of investment banking, polo matches, and gliding. He longs for excitement. And he gets it when meets Vicki Anderson. He is immature in the sense that all modern men are. Seeking vanity over substance. Attempting to fill a void with objects and experiences rather than depth. This immaturity is linked to his sense of trust. He never lets anyone too close. While this works out well when planning and executing bank robbery, it does not bode well for relationships.
Steve McQueen appears to be mildly out of place in a three piece suit. Not what we as the audience are used to seeing him in as well. In the same sense, Thomas Crown is out of place in the world he occupies. Although he is obviously very good at investment banking, he is searching for something more. Something outside the constraints of the banking world, outside of that three piece suit. This feeling is almost unconsciously sensed through Steve McQueen’s actions.
They end up spending a lot of time together. Riding in the dune buggy, going to his beach house deck thing, and having a nice time. But eventually they both must come to terms with their own inner complications and the roles they've established with each other from the very beginning.
Unfortunately for these two, it was not meant to be. We are left with the sense that the modern romance is a matter of choice. That we can’t have both love and money. Trust and freedom. These entities do not co-mingle in the modern romance. Although, we the audience know that this is possible.
Getting back to the topic at hand, what is sexy. Whether you're in a new relationship, just met someone, or married for 40 years. Even in the modern age pursuit is still sexy. So pursue, flirt, be subvert, play chess, and make that other person want to pursue you back. Because like The Thomas Crown Affair shows us, there is nothing sexier than a game of cat and mouse. And maybe a dune buggy ride.