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Three Days of the Condor

April 14, 2010

The wonderful Tina Chen as Janice

Three Days of the Condor is a 1975 Sydney Pollack political thriller based on the fantastic novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady.

Roger Ebert’s 1975 review states:

“Three Days of the Condor” is a well-made thriller, tense and involving, and the scary thing, in these months after Watergate, is that it’s all too believable. Conspiracies involving murder by federal agencies used to be found in obscure publications of the far left. Now they’re glossy entertainments starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. How soon we grow used to the most depressing possibilities about our government — and how soon, too, we commercialize on them.

Ebert’s observation regarding the idea of conspiracies moving from left to center is apt and entirely fascination in its own right. I wished he could have parse it more. As a political thriller buff, I am not entirely able to locate the moment when the studios migrated toward this worldview, but I feel in some ways it can be attributed to films such as the 1969 Costa-Gavras film Z, Alan J. Pakula’s 1971 showstopper The Parallax View and the Fred Zinnemann tour-de-force (ha!) The Day of the Jackal.

Cliff Roberston shutting it down as Higgins.

Nevertheless, of the films mentioned Three Days is by far the most exciting and it’s a pretty exciting bunch. Pollack – an oft mentioned favorite of mine – makes some of the most delicious choices ever committed to film. Meticulous attention to every detail from set design, costuming and music (more on that in a bit) in addition to pitch perfect script and masterful direction are the elements I believe make the film infinitely better than the others of the genre.

For starters, it’s a thriller about NERDS and not just any kind of nerd, but BOOK READING NERDS. Redford’s Joe Turner holds what I believe is – leaving aside the dramedy – the coolest job for bibliophiles: tremendous close reading of novels in order to ascertain if they contain any naughty secret messages. Working at a CIA store front called the American Historical Literature Society, Turner spends his days reading the likes of Dick Tracy and spy novels, which while being translated into a dozen seemingly unrelated languages are often critical and commercial failures as noted by their notched spines and one way ticket to the remainder bin.

Max Von Sydow

Mr. Max Von Sydow in Company.

And that’s all fabulous, except Turner is one of those memo happy spooks who just doesn’t know when to leave a tender moment alone. One of his memos touches off a chain of events, which results with his entire office being De Palma’d before we’ve even had a chance to really get to know them.

Speaking of BDeP…

His reboot of Mission Impossible would later pay homage to Three Days in its own DePalmalicious way and ending very much in similar fashion – freaked out lead character flip shitting into a pay phone while the section chief on the other end sips coffee, fondles papers on his large mahogany desk, and finds the entire phone call entirely unremarkable.

bet laura mars would have seen this coming.

Don’t just take my word for it. See who else is all about some Condor:

  • Tarantino’s Jackie Brown – in addition to paying homage to Sharky’s Machine with use of “Street Life” – also evokes Condor stylistically in the credits, albeit subtly.
  • Tony Scott’s SpyGame is quite the love letter to Condor both in subject matter, costuming and, of course, casting Redford essentially as Joe Turner gone Higgins. Brad Pitt’s 70s costuming is bang on for Redford’s particularly at the climax of Condor.
  • Even Leverage sends up Condor with the hilarious episode entitled The Three Days of The Hunter Job.
dig those 'burns, Bob!

dig those sideburns, bob!

As for the acting. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best. Stand out performances from the aforementioned Robertson, John “The Paper Chase” Houseman and Max Von Sydow, who charms as the refined model making enthusiast hitman-about-town and Alsace-Lorraine’s deadliest export. Faye Dunaway shows up as the love interest who remains rather non plussed by paranoid handsome stranger who has decided to kidnap her for reasons, I find amusing, though not entirely crucial to the story. Is it just me or did Dunaway play a photographer in every one of her mid to late 70s roles?

The music – score by Dave Grusin – is totally wocka wockalicious. And this track sounds like something you’d hear as Nate, Sophie and the gang high tail it out of someone’s office with the smoking gun needed to make good on their company’s ad copy: “We provide Leverage”.

But if you’re still on the fence, watch the trailer and judge for yourself.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2010 7:46 am

    It’s been way too long since I’ve watched this. The close of the trailer made me giggle: “Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. In love. And in danger.” Like there’s no way we could accept Redford in a thriller, he had to be a romantic lead first and foremost.

  2. April 15, 2010 9:12 am

    Or like the CROSSHAIRS didn’t allude to the danger part.

    I love how every time the narrator makes a point there is a gun shot and more wocka wocka guitar.

  3. April 15, 2010 12:40 pm

    Is this on Instant View or am I going to have to use one of my precious DVD slots?

  4. April 16, 2010 6:08 pm

    It’s on instant! Careful, for some inexplicable reason Netflix assumes if you watch this movie you’re gonna want to watch every crackpot low budget shot in someone’s garage 9/11 conspiracy documentary in their Instant View library – of which there are many.

  5. July 25, 2010 7:46 am

    Just revisited this film again after many, many years, this time on Blu-ray, which unfortunately adds no extras other than the theatrical trailer… I’m about to blog about the film myself and would like to include a quote (or maybe two) from your blog if you don’t mind.

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