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3 Days of the Condor

****
1975

‘…there’s plenty of underlying excitement about the way that the murky events unfold here…’

Based on the novel Six Days of the Condor, three days seem to have gone missing in the jump from the printed page to the silver screen; the changes featured in Sydney Pollack’s film of James Grady’s book didn’t please the author, but did find favour with those who love New York, elaborate conspiracies, trendy mid-70’s romance and old-school espionage thrillers. While 3 Days of the Condor is a little shorter on action that most of today’s thrillers, there’s plenty of underlying excitement about the way that the murky events unfold here.

Robert Redford looks pretty good in his seersucker jacket, wide lapels and faded blue-jeans as Joe Turner, a book-reader and avid cyclist who pedals his way to Manhattan every day to work at the American Literary Historical Society, a cover for a bog standard CIA operations outlet. Turner’s job is to look at the plots of published stories and search for potential codes or information; there’s a great throwaway joke about Turner having to read sex novels as part of his remit. Sneaking out of the back door of his staff-office to get some staff lunches, Turner returns to find his friends are abruptly dead; professional assassin Joubert (Max von Sydow) is responsible, but who employs Joubert? Turner doesn’t have long to find out; with various factions hunting Turner down, he seeks refuge by barging his way into the life of photographer Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) who has an apartment in one of New York’s loveliest streets, Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights. An unlikely romance blooms, but until he can make his way in from the cold with his bosses, Turner is never going to be safe…

You Can’t Trust Anyone; that’s the simple moral take-away from Pollack’s sleek, streamlined thriller. Turner turns to everyone and anyone that he thinks might help, including Higgins (Cliff Robertson) the deputy director of the CIA’s New York branch. If Turner seems rather boyishly naïve about his own occupation, the scales rapidly fall from his eyes as he begins to register that his own CIA may well be trying to kill him. The notion of wheels within wheels when it comes to US intelligence services seems like a novelty to Turner, but when a visiting postman pulls a machine gun on him, the gritty, post-Watergate truth dawns on him faster than you can say ‘Oliver Stone’s uncontrolled military-industrial complex’. And after some cool set pieces, a back-alley shoot-out, and a tense encounter with Joubert in a lift, it’s Turner’s confidence in the world around him that gives him the edge in the final confrontation outside the officers of the New York Times. Or does it?

We’re living in 2021, when the non-materialisation of JFK Jr twenty years after his death is considered news; the trickle of information that Turner is monitoring has become a daily ketchup-burst of disinformation. Back in 1975, it may well have seemed credible that secrets were being swapped in the plot-details of spy novels, but these days, such elaborate subterfuge is hardly necessary as the hot tap of information, bogus or otherwise, fills the fat pipe of the internet over an endlessly repeating six-hour news cycle. 3 Days of the Condor gets the drab nature of day to day espionage right; flying to a foreign country to take photographs of banknotes is often as exciting as industrial espionage gets. But what gives the film heart is the deliciously sketched romance between Turner and Hale; if the war between men and women can be solved so easily, and in such a downright sexy way, then there’s hope for us all, whoever happens to be pulling your strings.

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  1. You are definitely on a roll. One of the best of the 1970s paranoia thrillers with a screenplay that is way better than the book and turns into something of real depth with brilliant turns from Redford and Dunaway. Redford rarely did the ordinary joe but here carries if off with perfection.

  2. Robert Redford, oone of the handsomest chaps ever on screen, lovely hair too, but he didn’t really do it for me, I didn’t want to take him home. Still a good actor and this was a cool movie. Dunnaway always a class act.

  3. Ketchup bursts, hot taps, and fat pipes. I don’t think I want to go there. But you might want to talk to a doctor.

    This is a good one. I found the romance to be a joke though, awkwardly worked in and totally unconvincing. Did I ever tell you about the time I hung out with Faye poolside in the Seventies? Some other time perhaps.

  4. I’ve seen this several times and have enjoyed it each time.
    It also serves as a good sign post for how spy movies have changed. Compare this to Jason Bourne (the movies, not the tv mini-series) and you can see a fundamental shift in what audiences want from their spies and intelligence agency people.

    • Same here. Joe Turner is no genetic super soldier, but an ordinary guy who wants to read books for a living without knowing why, a book-stooge, if you like. I guess we can point to the internet as the point at which disinformation became airborne, but a story like this indicates that seeking the truth, even about your own employer, can be a tricky business.

      • Good old Joe, he kept the chain of Bookstooge’s alive for one more generation. Thank goodness I came along though 😉

        I do think that movies like this feed the “distrust the government” streak that Alex was talking about in his latest review. Which is odd as hollywood and its actors will be the first ones banging on the drum of “do what the government says” as long as it aligns with what they want. Give me a generalized distrust of gov’t over a line item trust any day.

        • Right, and I’d say that a general distrust of government is a healthy thing. We should always be asking questions and seeking the truth, even as the tide of disinformation rises. In general, Hollywood toes a liberal line and agenda, but there’s no reason to trust that either. Both Turner and Bourne have to set aside their programming and think for themselves, and not put trust in government, media, or worst of all, media figures in government. I guess what we love about these films is their endorsement of individuality vs the machine, and that’s one reason why this movie still lands today…

          • Have you read the book? I haven’t, as old school thrillers tend to be heavy on the “tension” without much action, or be all about the politics of the day (which ages them very quickly).
            Plus, I’ve never heard of Grady which usually means he was a niche author who only lasted for a specific period of time. But a standalone book is always a big draw.

            • No, but I would read the book. Even the font in the trailer suggests that this was a techno thriller of its day, so even though the teleprinters are very old hat, in a way, the lack of today’s technology makes it easier to see the deceptions. Pollack seems to have been reasonable free in his adaptation, even changing the title, but I’d be curious to know more about the original text…but then, what if I read it, file a report, go out for lunch, then find all my workmates executed by a European assassin?

              • In regards to your last sentence, is that such a bad thing? 😉

                I just looked and my library has it. So I guess it’s going on my tbr and hopefully I’ll get around to it next year.

                Speaking of tbr’s. How do you organize what to watch, when? Do you have a to be watched list? Or do your bosses just say “Dix, watch this movie and LIKE it”?

                • Depends on the workmates, I suppose.

                  I have an ongoing to-do list. I like to watch things when I’m in the right mood. There is no boss other than me, but quite often I have to stick to a deal I’ve made with publicists. Try an cover a couple of WOR ie week of release new films, catch up with new streaming and disks, and fill the gaps with favorited old classics and think pieces on others. What I’m always trying to avoid is watching anything I’m not in the mood for. And I still only review a small percentage of what I’m offered, to keep the levels of positivity high!

                  • Oh man, you have the worst boss then. I worked for myself once, for about a week or two. I hated myself. I wouldn’t tell me what to do, and then, when I would, I wouldn’t do it. It was just not a good fit for me to be working for me. So I called it quits and worked for others 😉

                    Thanks for explaining. I know we’ve talked about it before, but for some reason it just doesn’t stick in my head. I’ll try not to ask too often though 😀

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