Three Days of the Condor (1975) Sydney Pollack

 

Sydney Pollack’s 1975 paranoid thriller still holds up more than thirty five years later and is as relevant today as it was then. Why? A three letter word… OIL.  Redford, coolly dressed in his Bobby best, denim jeans and shirt, is a CIA agent known as Turner, code name Condor. Turner is not your typical CIA movie screen secret agent; you see what Turner and his fellow agents, working out of a brown stone building, do is read. They read everything, books, magazines, newspapers in all languages searching, highlighting anything that may contains some kind of secret code or messages passing it on to another office in Washington. So why then on one cold rainy December day do two gunmen sneak their way into the building and kill everyone inside. Turner managed to escape the massacre when he went out to the local deli to pick up lunch for that day (it was his turn, luckily). 

When Turner calls in the shooting and wants to come in from the cold the situation turns more sinister as he discovers there is a rouge CIA unit within the CIA and you can trust no one. Turner is out there alone, well almost alone except for a  lonely and somewhat dowdy photographer Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway).  The free lance assassins for hire are led by Max Von Sydow who  will change sides or targets on the flip of a coin or rather the signing of a paycheck.

I originally watched this film upon its first release and liked it quite a bit. I hesitated in watching it again now because I thought the film would be dated but soon as I heard the word OIL and invading the Middle East, I lost any uncertainty that I may have had. Redford was at the top of his superstar status in these years and he plays it to the hilt. Faye Dunaway is wasted in a role that could have been played by a lesser talent. She has one decent scene but other than that her character is a prop for Redford and remains in the background for much of the film. 

The paranoid thriller fit the times with the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and of course a few years earlier the assassination of JFK but it is still is a relevant topic today.  “Paranoia runs deep”, as the line from the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth” says and Hollywood is always ready to follow trends. “All the President’s Men”, “The Parallax View” were also released during this same period. More recently, we have had “Conspiracy Theory” and “Michael Clayton.”  In “Three Days of the Condor” the paranoia is there right up to the last frame of the film where it is even hinted that the news media, in this case The New York Times, can be under the control of the CIA.

One of the more unsettling aspects of watching this film since 9/11 are the scenes that take place inside the World Trade Center ( One World Trade Center- North Tower  and at 7 World Trade Center). From my understanding this is only film to ever shoot inside One World Trade Center.

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6 comments on “Three Days of the Condor (1975) Sydney Pollack

  1. J.D. says:

    For some bizarre reason I’ve never seen this film. Meant to. Esp. after it was referenced in OUT OF SIGHT (I believe) but after reading your excellent review, it’s about time that I did. I’m always down for a good paranoid thriller.

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  2. Foose says:

    My family talked about that film for years. We still talk about it. Not because it was a good film, or an especially interesting film, or a standout film in terms of performances, settings, plot or camerawork. No, what we — a family of obsessive bookworms — liked about that film was Robert Redford’s job. How did he get that job? Were there really jobs out there like that? Could you just call the CIA and request that sort of job? We children all wanted that job and went out into the world of work hoping one day to run across that job and seize it for ourselves. Perhaps Robert Redford may have wound up being hunted by rogue agents, but they probably just wanted his job.

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    • John Greco says:

      LOL, perhaps your right, that would be a good job.
      Today of course they would have to add the internet to all that reading. Thanks!!!

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  3. Sam Juliano says:

    “The paranoid thriller fit the times with the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and of course a few years earlier the assassination of JFK but it is still is a relevant topic today.”

    Aye John, that’s quite right there on both counts, and I must say I do remember this film vividly, and did see it first in a theatre. It was one of those films that defined it’s times, and it was one of the best of it’s kind. The paranoid thriller has been sustained to this very day in fact, and of course we’ve had a number of “noir” examples too, as well as films like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and BLACK SUNDAY. On the pot-boiler front we have th efilms of someone like John Grisham, and I specifically think of THE FIRM. But I do think CONDOR blows these films away. Another excellent piece of writing, and a most excellent subject.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks again Sam, I have always liked this film, always found it entertaining and a good provoker for suspicious minds (ha!).

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