I have to admit that I’m fairly unversed in the films of Faye Dunaway. There’s not really any agenda to speak of; I just haven’t gotten around to seeing much of her filmography. At this year’s TCM Classic Film FEST 2012 I was able to rectify that, seeing both The Thomas Crown Affair and Chinatown. The films aren’t exactly related – one being a caper and the other a post-noir – but the actress turns in some very interesting performances in each. I figured it would make for an interesting post to try to take a look at her performances in each of these films and suss out which one was the better. Should be easy, right?
My Flickchart Ranking: #321
If there’s one major descriptor for The Thomas Crown Affair it’s “cool.” From the split-screen heist opener to the infamous chess game, this flick has got it going on! The story is about an adventurous bank executive (McQueen) who pulls off the perfect heist, or so he thinks. Soon he finds himself playing cat and mouse with an insurance investigator (Dunaway) who will stop at nothing to get her man.
Despite McQueen laying the charm on thick, it’s Dunaway who steals the show. Every moment she’s onscreen is electrifying and she takes what’s a rather one-note role and gives it more depth. And let’s not forget the aforementioned chess scene, which just so happened to make this writer a wee bit hot under the collar.
My Flickchart Ranking: #162
My favorite of the two Dunaway films, Chinatown is about a private investigator (Nicholson) who stumbles on a murder scheme involving water while investigating an adultery case for Mrs. Mulwray (Dunaway). The two make an unlikely pair in the murder investigation and eventually stumble onto something much more sinister. It’s tough to talk about Dunaway’s performance without talking about Nicholson’s as both are quite good. In fact this would have to be my favorite Jack Nicholson performance out of all the others I’ve seen, but I digress.
Dunaway gives her femme fatale just the right amount of pathos, never letting her character fall into cliché territory. And while her character doesn’t have nearly the strength or independence of her Thomas Crown role, she is not one you will easily forget.
As stated at the beginning of this post, only one of these Dunaway performances can be the best. Do we go with the sexy, independent investigator or do we side with the flawed femme fatale? Both performances are interesting and add an extra dimension that is not necessarily apparent on the page. For the answer, all we need to do is check out both the global rankings as well as my own. Not surprisingly, Dunaway’s performance in Chinatown takes the top spot.
While it’s true that Dunaway’s character in Chinatown isn’t as independent and progressive as her character in The Thomas Crown Affair, it’s certainly the most complex of the two. Without spoiling the ending for either film, let’s just say that her end in Chinatown resonated with me a bit more than it did in The Thomas Crown Affair. And despite strong performances in both roles, there was a lot more for her to work with as Mrs. Mulwray – thanks largely to a great script by Robert Towne. Now that’s not to say that you should totally ignore Crown. In fact, I’d say that these two films would make quite the double-feature.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few Faye Dunaway films to catch up on!