The first time I saw “Underworld U.S.A.” was back in 1961 at the Loew’s Oriental in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. I lived about six blocks away and Saturday afternoons I was a regular there, if not at the Loew’s I would be at one of the other two theaters that were close by. The film opened on the lower half of a twin bill, the top feature was “Mad Dog Coll”, another low budget cheapie released by Columbia. Continue reading
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.