The film still makes a dandy suspense yarn, with plenty of twists and turns.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
TimRaynor's picture

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Tim comment on the movie, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.

The Film According to John:
"This is no damned book! Somebody or something is rotten in the Company!"

When actor/director/producer Sidney Pollack died in 2008, the industry lost a much-underappreciated filmmaker. He never made big, splashy movies that garnered all the attention, but he made popular, well-crafted, often old-fashioned films like "Castle Keep," "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Way We Were," "Bobby Deerfield," "The Electric Horseman," "Absence of Malice," "Tootsie," "Out of Africa," "The Firm," "The Interpreter," and the film under discussion here, "Three Days of the Condor" (1975).

When critics today talk about great conspiracy films, they're often referring to the golden age of conspiracies, the Seventies, with things like "All the President's Men," "The Conversation," "The Day of the Jackal," "Chinatown," "Marathon Man," "The Parallax View," and, yes, "Three Days of the Condor." It was, after all, the age of Watergate. Not that "Condor" is a "great" film by any means, but it is a competent, well-made one, patterned to some extent on the one-man-against-the-world theme found in some of Hitchcock's best films ("The 39 Steps," "North By Northwest"). And "Condor" has the same superstar in it who would feature so prominently in "All the President's Men" the next year--Robert Redford--so it couldn't go too far wrong.

In "Condor" Redford plays Joe Turner, a happy-go-lucky young CIA research analyst (code name "Condor") in one of the Agency's New York City branches. He's a desk jockey whose job is to read books and papers all day for possible security information. He doesn't carry a gun, he enjoys comic strips, and he has never been a field agent. One day he slips out the office's back door to buy some sandwiches for the staff, and when he returns he finds everybody dead, murdered. This massacre sets up the story's central predicament for Turner, and it's a rather tense one. He doesn't know what to do next except to get out of there as fast as possible and contact the Agency's head office. But he's not sure he can trust even the head office. He doesn't know who ordered the hits or why. Or to whom he can turn or whom he can trust.

Everyone around Turner becomes a potential threat. As he becomes ever more paranoid, so do we as an audience. He is suspicious and jumps at every noise, every shadow. He even distrusts his own Agency boss, as well he might be because when he does report the situation to his Agency head and asks him to bring him in, the very people assigned to pick him up start shooting at him!

"I'm not a field agent. I just read books!"

Of course, it wouldn't be a thriller without a romantic interest. Along the way, Turner forces a complete stranger, a female bystander, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), to help him escape by commandeering her car. Will she eventually help him willingly? Can he trust her? Can we trust her? Only time will tell. It's too bad this is also the time the film begins to lose some of its energy and credibility because their relationship is less than convincing. Of more importance, actually, are the two head honchos of the Agency, J. Higgins (Cliff Robertson) and Mr. Wabash (John Houseman), both characters cool and calculating and not a little menacing. Their presence adds a further tension to the proceedings.

But the real stand-out is Max Von Sydow as Mr. Joubert, an unflappably ruthless, cold-blooded assassin assigned to track down Turner and eliminate him. A scene in an elevator with Turner and Joubert is one of the most suspenseful moments in the film.

With no one he can trust, it's up to Turner to evade the Agency, the assassin, and the police and try to solve the mystery of what's going on himself. The plot works reasonably well, and even though, as I've said, we've seen it before, "Three Days of the Condor" does it up more slickly than most, with plausible intrigue in the first half and a more-than-agreeable leading man for whom we feel genuine sympathy.

Although the movie gets a little preachy toward the end, its messages on antisecrecy and anti-covert operations seeming a bit too obvious, it probably struck just the right chord for its time. Today, we take the government's shady, clandestine activities for granted, having read or heard about them so often and for so long. That's OK. The film still makes a dandy suspense yarn, with plenty of twists and turns.

John's film rating: 7/10

The Film According to Tim:
"Three Days of the Condor" is a film I remember watching as a young lad and never quite understanding the overall plot of the film. Even today, I find many films that involve the CIA require the audience to have an impeccable attention span. With all the twists, turns, and political overtones one would expect from a film of this type, it was rather difficult to follow when I was eleven years old. At that time, I found it as difficult to understand as the mumbling schoolteacher in the Charlie Brown comic strips.

Nevertheless, I took to suspenseful, high-action drama films at a young age, thanks to my father. While other fathers were raising their sons on football and baseball games, my father was raising me on spaghetti Westerns, James Bond, and Dirty Harry movies. I have many fond memories of films starring Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and several other stars of the time as part of a typical Sunday afternoon. "Three Days of the Condor" certainly falls into the repute of films I remember watching with dear-old dad, and naturally not much has changed with my father since those days. He still enjoys films where, well, things blow up. I, on the other hand, continue to enjoy a good action-packed thriller, but my taste in films has grown into an extensive library since the days of my youth.

Many years have past since 1975, and now that I am much older I found "Three Days of the Condor" much easier to digest and follow. However, the characters have a lack of concrete development, leaving many loopholes in the story. At one point, you think you have a character figured out, and then a plot twist comes along and leaves you wondering what purpose the character served. Not to mention, somewhere in the film is the underlying plot, which takes its sweet time revealing itself. I will say the movie does a moderately fair job of keeping one's interest, and it is not a complete waste of time.

What is even more ironic and more chilling in the plot is how the film manages to touch on current events that we are all experiencing in the world today. In fact, if you are one to have emotional problems watching any film with the Twin Towers, then be prepared to see them a substantial number of times throughout the picture. There are even a few scenes directly inside one of the towers, which sent chills down my spine.

As you may have already guessed, the movie is a CIA, cloak-and-dagger film based in New York City. Directed by Sydney Pollack, the film stars a popular cast of the time--Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max von Sydow. Plus, Sydney Pollack had worked with Redford on earlier films in the seventies: "Jeremiah Johnson" and "The Way We Were."

"Three days of the Condor" begins abruptly as a mysterious man named Johbert (Max von Sydow), along with a few other suspicious hit men, shoots up an undercover CIA office. They manage to kill everyone in sight as they are vigorously looking for vital secret information. Luckily for Joe Turner (Robert Redford), he is out grabbing a bite to eat but later returns to find all his colleagues dead. Disturbed as to why anyone would go out of their way to kill everyone in a low-key CIA office known as "book readers," he finds himself on the run. I have to admit when I was young I found this killing scene a bit disturbing; however, it is relatively mild compared to the gore we see in violent films today.

Joe immediately seeks the help of the main headquarters cooperative, Higgins (Cliff Robertson), and quickly finds that even Higgins cannot be trusted. Every time he makes the connection for help, he finds he is the target for elimination, yet he has no clue why. Of course, this is a setting for what should be an intense suspense drama and one with an underlying plot that never reveals itself until the very end.

Along the way, Joe randomly kidnaps a young, attractive photographer named Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway). As he is hiding out in her apartment, he is strenuously trying to figure out why he is a target within his own organization, as well as the mystery behind the "Condor." Kathy doesn't believe his story at first and is obviously reluctant to play along. However, after a violent encounter in her apartment with an armed mail carrier, she warms up to the fact that the current situation is uncomfortably real. Of course, it is not long before the hostage falls for her kidnaper. I found this setting to be a bit unrealistic considering the true situation, but do you really think a film from the seventies would forget about sex?

From this point, the film is basically made up of moderately suspenseful moments of Joe and Kathy escaping life-threatening situations and eventually closing the main plot. The film's mystery is unraveled with some further instances of violence, but they are quite low-key compared to films of today.

At times the pacing is dull, and even the acting is nothing to write home about. I have to admit that I have seen Redford and Dunaway in far better performances in their careers. The main problem is the characters' lack depth, devoid of any meaningful development. I do not really see it as their fault but rather the fault of a loose script. I always find it difficult to feel sympathy for characters when they are thrown into the heat of the moment without our knowing much about them. However, I will say that it is interesting how the plot relates so closely to current events. In any case, although I found the ending lacking in shock value, I am sure it may have had some pertinent impact back in the seventies.

"Three Days of the Condor" does not have all the high intensity seen in many suspenseful films of today. For instance, it is wanting in flashy car chases and pointless explosions. It has no memorable villains, and it has even weaker heroes who generate little sympathy. Not that any of these elements make a film great; it's just that they may have helped in this case. However, the film does work at keeping one's interest in the overall outcome. It starts off with some good suspense, but it slowly dies in a convoluted plethora of dialogue. The film is entertaining enough to pass the time, and it is certainly not awful. I would definitely recommend it as a rental, but I would have to pass on a purchase. It is simply one of those films that once seen, there is little point in seeing again. While "Three Days of the Condor" is not a major disappointment, in the end it leaves a dull taste in the mouth reminiscent of flat beer.

Tim's film rating: 6/10

The print Paramount used is slightly grainy and a tad rough, especially during the first few minutes, but in its 2.35:1 ratio, MPEG-4/AVC transfer, it presents no serious age deterioration problems beyond the occasional fleck, line, or noise. Spread over two layers of a BD50, the nearly two-hour film displays good, natural colors, with fairly deep black levels to set off the surrounding hues. However, the colors look slightly muted, too, as though Pollack shot them with a light veil over the lens that tends to soften the ultimate definition.

The remixed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound is a mite dull, muffled, and hollow in the midrange, with very little activity in the surround channels and a narrow stereo spread. We might expect this of a film over three decades old. Dave Grusin's jazzy musical score, with its prominent bass line, comes through impressively, and the overall sonic impression is one of exceptional smoothness rather than anything flashy.

There's not much here, I'm afraid. The main thing is a widescreen theatrical trailer in high definition. Beyond that, we get only sixteen scene selections; bookmarks; a guide to elapsed time; English and French spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Thoughts:
The most absorbing conspiracy film I've seen recently is "State of Play" (2009) with Russell Crowe, and guess what? It reminded me of the best conspiracy films of Seventies, the ones I mentioned earlier, with a rising sense of danger and paranoia reminiscent of "Three Days of the Condor." Sidney Pollack did nothing new in "Condor," but he did fashion a taut thriller that if anything may seem trite these days from imitation and overuse. But that doesn't diminish its impact too much.

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


Film Value