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.