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Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Added 2001-11-30
by Ronald Bruce Meyer



Three Days of the Condor

Kathy Hale:
I don't think I want to
know you very well.
I don't think you're
gonna live much longer.

Joe Turner (Condor):
Well, I may surprise you.

Robert Redford
Robert Redford (Turner)

Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway (Kathy)

Cliff Robertson
Cliff Robertson (Higgins)

Max Von Sydow
Max Von Sydow (Joubert)

The Mailman
The Mailman Delivers

This qualifies as one of those movies that's truly spooky to watch after the terror attacks on the US. Initially, that's because the CIA branch office in New York happens to be in the relatively new World Trade Center. But what really gets scary is when you think of the justification the intelligence community uses for killing people: national security. That's exactly what we're seeing today as a justification for limiting civil rights and increasing domestic surveillance, and (for now) denying the rights to due process and lawyer-client confidentiality to non-citizens. If you think that's a small price to pay, consider that there are 20 million "non-citizens" living in the US -- and that the executive orders and legislation codifying these measures are so broadly drawn that their reach can expand at any moment like water hitting a dry sponge.

But enough of 2001; let's get back to the innocent days of 1975! Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is an analyst for the CIA, code-named "Condor," who reads books to uncover secret plots and dirty tricks. And boy has he found one: "another CIA, inside the CIA"! He returns from his lunch run one day to find all of his co-workers murdered. How can he trust anyone now? In a turn taken 25 years later in The Negotiator, when you can't trust anyone you know, it's better to trust someone you don't know. Joe/Condor kidnaps Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), while she's outfitting herself for a ski trip, and hides out in her flat so he can get some down time and collect his thoughts.

But the CIA, or at least the CIA within it, isn't standing still. They send their European hit-man, Joubert (Max von Sydow), to finish the job he started at the book-reading office. The "legitimate CIA" in New York, under Deputy Director Higgins (Cliff Robertson), wants Condor to return to the nest. Even Higgins doesn't know that the mysterious Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell) is working things behind the scenes. But Condor turns out to be smarter than your average bird.

Three Days of the Condor is above-average for a Dino de Laurentiis production. Sydney Pollack's direction of a story based on James Grady's novel (Six Days of the Condor) made this a masterful suspense yarn that still strings you along as a spy story, even after 25 years and the fall of the Soviet Union -- on which a lot of spy stories relied. The whole film played the conspiracy and paranoia cards with cool believability and even some philosophy. Take this totally believable, realpolitik exchange, for example:

Do we have plans to invade the Middle East?

We have games, that's all. We play games. "What if...?" "How many
men...?" "What would it take...?" "Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a
regime?" That's what we're paid to do.

So Atwood just took the games too seriously. He was really going to do
it, wasn't he? Supposing I hadn't stumbled on the plan? Say nobody

Different ball game. The fact is, there was nothing wrong with the plan.
Oh, the plan was alright. The plan woulda worked.

Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is
the same thing as telling the truth?

No. It's simple economics. Today, it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years...
food. Plutonium. And maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the
people are gonna want us to do then?

Ask them.

Not now. Then. Ask them when they're running out. Ask them when there's no
heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask them when their engines stop. Ask
them when people who've never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna
know something? They won't want us to ask them. They'll just want us to get
it for them.

(I can't help but think, in the wake of the events of 9/11/01, that Higgins may, after all, be right!)

Strong supporting performances from Robertson, assured and reconciled to the organization; Sydow, the hit-man who understands the "business" so well; and John Houseman as Mr. Wabash; who misses the "clarity" of his OSS work in the war years, were standouts. (Interesting note: Hank Garrett, as the Mailman/hit-man whose pen runs out of ink, played nearly the same role in the 1999 film Safe House!) The story is so compelling that, in this world of horrid sequels, I can't understand why there was no sequel to this film. Even after a generation, Condor flies because the concerns of that time remain the concerns of ours.

Three Days of the Condor (1975) 117 mins. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Executive producer Dino De Laurentiis. Written by James Grady (novel Six Days of the Condor), Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel. Cast: Robert Redford as Joseph Turner, Faye Dunaway as Kathy Hale, Cliff Robertson as Higgins, Max von Sydow as Joubert, John Houseman as Mr. Wabash, Addison Powell as Atwood, Walter McGinn as Sam Barber, Tina Chen as Janice, Michael Kane as S.W. Wicks, Don McHenry as Dr. Lappe, Michael B. Miller as Fowler, Jess Osuna as The Major, Dino Narizzano as Harold, Helen Stenbure as Mrs. Russell, Patrick Gorman as Martin, Hank Garrett as Mailman.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.

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