Three Days of the Condor (1975) … Remembered
Three Days of the Condor (1975) is another political thriller starring the guy who is in all political thrillers, Robert Redford. If it has shady government practices and criminal political dealings, then Redford is interested. It is directed by Sydney Pollack, and produced by Dino de Laurentiis, two big names in Hollywood, but if you don’t know who these guys are, pretend you do and give this movie some credit. Pollack’s film before this one was The Way We Were, another notable film starring Robert Redford. Three Days of the Condor also features Max von Sydow in a supporting role, a man you may remember from a famous priestly portrayal in The Exorcist.
This political thriller is heavy on the thrill because the movie pushes the pace right from the beginning, which is a treat. It is not as lengthy as some other thrillers starring Redford and does more with the time it has. It is a strangely amusing film, from its 70s jive score, to the picture of The Well-Manicured Man, Robert Redford, wearing a stocking cap while riding a scooter. He pulls out his greatest wit and sarcastic quips for this role, but I was hoping he would not overdo it as the opener rolled.
Redford plays Joe Turner, a researcher for the CIA, a man who checks over books, magazines, and the latest newspapers for unusual tidbits of information. Quite an unusual job, if you ask me. He basically looks for trouble by reading. Yes, reading, kids. The more you know. He finds some unusual things in the latest edition of a low-budget novel, and the movie has its first plot point. Can’t be that good a job though, because Joe retrieves lunch for his pals in the undercover book-reading CIA building.
When Redford returns with some ham-sandwiches, he finds his pals murdered. It’s a simple setup and even mildly suspenseful too, I might add, as Redford looks around for clues, not knowing if the murderers are still nearby. Of course, he calls headquarters for instructions. That’s logical, right? It’s not all logical in this one, but Redford plays it perfectly, just like your typical fish out of water. He just reads books! Books, you son of a bitch! He calls out the snooty operator like this when the idiot quotes procedure over the phone. People are dead, jerkwad! Redford is at his wit’s end. It’s quite amusing and tense at the same time.
The CIA arrange for a pickup to bring him in, but Turner is naturally paranoid. It is a trap. Naturally. Now it’s a fish-out-of-water man-on-the-run movie, which is sorta generic, but the pace is not bad and I was enjoying it. The transitions aren’t the best though and it was a few minutes before I knew where they were going with this one.
Joe kidnaps Faye Dunaway’s character Kathy, and hides out in her apartment, trying to get her to trust him. Meanwhile, we get the idea that internal elements within the CIA are trying to kill him, with Max von Sydow’s badass senior assassin as contractor numero uno. He wears a hat and glasses to show that he’s the intelligent man’s killer.
Kidnapping and tying up a woman is certainly not the way to win the woman, but Joe lays on the innocent vicitm bit quite thick. The pace slows way down and it seems like forever between significant parts of the movie, as Redford traipses around trying to figure out what’s going on, which is interrupted by interactions with Kathy. For some reason, she smooches him and goes to bed with him, which makes no god-damn sense. Apparently, he explains that she’s a lonely woman who takes pictures of empty streets and that’s enough insight into her life to go to bed with her. Say what??
After a romp stimulates his brain, Joe is able to recall that stupid plot point I mentioned earlier, and a contrived connection is made. But now Kathy is convinced by the romp in the hay and wants to help him get out of trouble. WHY? A postman breaks up this monotony by trying to kill Joe and is shot by the expert book reader dead in the chest.
Kathy and Joe kidnap Big Bad Bossman Higgins from lunch, but he seems to know even less than Kathy. Cliff Robertson plays Higgins like a true pro and doesn’t go over the top wondering just what evil is going on under his nose. He has no answers for Joe, despite his authority, which proves he has no authority to begin with. Joe comes up with a “CIA inside the CIA theory” and I wasn’t sure if this movie was actually kidding me or not. The evil agency inside the agency is not original whatsoever, but I at least thanked it for finally moving the plot.
While Redford uncovers generic plot devices, Higgins uses the latest Apple IIe to uncover Max von Sydow’s secret: he is a badass assassin with a wee little contract. While Joe confronts the section chief in charge of killing his pals, he also finds out about a plot to take over middle eastern oil fields. We finally get some political intrigue here, but before the two can discuss it, Max von Sydow interrupts and surprises even me by killing the section chief, not Joe. What??! Apparently, Sydow’s contract was picked up by the good guys and he saves Joe. Talk about double-dealing and playing to the highest bidder. GEEZUS! That was the best part of the movie, right there.
Joe goes to the New York Times, then confronts Higgins. Doing his best Nostradamus impersonation, Higgins predicts that someday, the US government will do whatever it takes to secure OIL. Yes, it’s true, I’m not making this up. He denies the allegations that the USA had or has plans to invade the middle east and I was beginning to wonder who was writing this. Joe doesn’t turn himself in and doesn’t apologize for outing the games Higgins is playing to the paper, instead just walks off like a badass.
All in all, I would say this movie was pretty good. The middle of the movie is terrible crap though and deserves the criticism I gave it. Kathy’s characterization is pretty bad and the way she falls for Joe is almost unbelievable. Maybe if they’d have gone deeper into the politics, this might have been a gem, but as it stands, the movie is hit and miss. It hits with its ending and many of the scenes involving Max von Sydow are beyond great. It misses with Joe kidnapping Kathy for “romance” and the evil CIA within the CIA is sorta predictable and generic, at best. In the end, this movie’s themes are good enough for a re-watch and it suggests not everything is so clear-cut in this world, but not everyone is powerless when the net is thrown over them.