The Thomas Crown Affair | 1968
Director Norman Jewison turns a slim script (the first screenplay from Boston lawyer Alan Trustman) into an exercise in Sixties style, with loads of fashionable split screen effects and a couple of stars at the top of their game.
It was one of the first films made almost entirely around Boston (only the home of getaway driver Erwin was filmed in California).
The opening robbery of the ‘Boston Mercantile Bank’ is 55 Congress Street at Water Street in the city’s Financial District. Jewison’s freewheeling style involved not only hiding the camera to capture spontaneous reaction shots, but mounting it on a skateboard to follow a smoke bomb scooting across the bank floor.
With the money on board, Erwin (Jack Weston), takes off along the Massachusetts Turnpike, through the tollbooths at the Allston-Brighton Interchange, to West Cambridge.
He dumps the loot into a trash bin at Cambridge Cemetery, 76 Coolidge Avenue, in West Cambridge, where it’s retrieved by Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen), who cunningly avoids drawing attention to himself by turning up in a Rolls Royce.
The tolling bell, which seems such an integral part of the scene, was simply a fortunate discovery at the location. The cemetery is the last resting place of Henry James, author of The Bostonians (filmed by the Ismail Merchant-James Ivory team in 1984).
Thomas Crown’s luxurious home is on swanky Beacon Hill, one of the most desirable and expensive neighbourhoods in the city. A historic district of Federal-style rowhouses, famed for narrow, gas-lit streets and brick sidewalks, you’ll find it just north of Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden.
His house is 85 Mount Vernon Street, known as the Second Harrison Gray Otis House. It was built by Harrison Gray Otis, a businessman who built up a family fortune in the 18th century, and designed by the architect of the nearby Massachusetts State House, Charles Bulfinch. As the name suggests, it was Otis’ second house on Beacon Hill. The first, at 141 Cambridge Street, houses the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
Crown isn’t short of a bob or two, as he demonstrates by casually writing off a couple of grand during a round of golf at Belmont Country Club, 181 Winter Street in Belmont, a suburb northwest of Cambridge.
For more visceral excitement, he goes gliding. The airborne scene were filmed in New Hampshire, at the former Salem glider airport, Salem. Although Steve McQueen was in filmed in the cockpit on the ground, a local pilot actually flew the plane. The airport is now Campbell's Scottish Highlands Golf Course, 79 Brady Avenue.
The bank’s insurance company brings in unfeasibly glamorous investigator Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway), whose uncanny instincts immediately draw her to the only suspect who looks like a movie star.
She films him playing polo at the Myopia Hunt Club, 435 Bay Road in Hamilton, on Route 1A, 20 miles northeast of Boston. Still thriving, the club is fortunately now a drag hunt club, with hounds following a scent trail rather than pursuing live foxes.
When Tommy outbids Vicki for a set of lithographs at an art auction held in the St James Ballroom of the Eben Jordan Mansion, 46 Beacon Street, she makes no bones about the fact that she’s investigating him, and the game is on.
Relishing the challenge, Tommy takes Vicky for drinks at Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant, 140 Northern Avenue, overlooking historic Boston Harbor. For a film made in 1968, it’s amazing how many of the locations are still going strong.
One that’s gone, however, is the old Woolworth store on North Beverly Plaza in Beverly, about 20 miles north of Boston. It’s from in front of the store that Erwin’s car is stolen as the determined Vicky begins to play dirty.
Nevertheless, there’s still time for a game of chess, and “something else”, after which Tommy takes Vicky for a bounce around in his dune buggy on the sands at Crane Beach, 290 Argilla Road in Ipswich, even further to the north.
Afterwards, they stroll home along the sun-dappled, narrow and charmingly cobbled Acorn Street, between West Cedar and Willow Streets, only a block southwest of the Crown house.
With the mood darkening as Vicky determines to catch Crown at all costs, the pair walk in the rain at Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, 21 Hull Street in North End. The second oldest burying ground in Boston, Copp’s Hill was founded in 1659 as Windmill Hill, later renamed after shoemaker William Copp who owned the land.
The small graveyard is full of amazing 18th Century gravestones inscribed with winged skulls, commemorating the artisans, craftspeople and merchants buried on the Hill. The thousands of African Americans who lived in an area called ‘New Guinea’ at the base of Copp's Hill, lie buried in unmarked graves on the Snowhill Street side.
The game ends with one last bank job, back at Congress Street, and the denouement in Cambridge Cemetery.