THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR
(director: Sydney Pollack; screenwriters: Lorenzo Semple, Jr./David Rayfiel/adapted from the novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady; cinematographer: Owen Roizman; editor: Fredric Steinkamp/Donald Guidice; music: Dave Grusin; cast: (Robert Redford (Joe Turner), Faye Dunaway (Kathy Hale), Cliff Robertson (Higgins), Max von Sydow (Joubert), John Houseman (Mr. Wabash), Addison Powell (Atwood), Walter McGinn (Sam Barber), Tina Chen (Janice), Michael Kane (Wicks), Hank Garrett (Assassin), Don McHenry (Dr. Ferdinand Lappe), Helen Stenborg (Mrs. Edwina Russell), Jess Osuna (The Major); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Stanley Schneider; Paramount; 1975)
“At its best this spy thriller is tense, engaging and good fodder for paranoids with conspiracy theory fever.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
At its best this spy thriller is tense, engaging and good fodder for paranoids with conspiracy theory fever. At its worst it’s old hat rehashed B-film spy stuff, a questionable Hollywood take on CIA skullduggery and has a kidnap sequence that is unbelievable to the max.
Director Sydney Pollack and star Robert Redford have collaborated for a total of seven films (“This Property is Condemned”/”Out of Africa”/”The Way We Were”/”Jeremiah Johnson”/ “The Electric Horseman”/”They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”/”Havana”) and have an excellent working relationship, which results in Redford giving an outstanding performance. It’s adapted from the James Grady novel Six Days of the Condor, but the time span is cut in half for the film. Writers Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Rayfiel fill it with too much gloss and pilfer much from Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps,” but when left to their own devices there’s some intelligence evident in the clever dialogue and in the way they present the mundane details about a spook’s life in such a cheeky way.
Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a low-level CIA researcher based in Manhattan, who works with seven other operatives in the American Literary Historical Society brownstone—a front for their CIA operation. One day Turner sneaks out the back door during a rain storm to bring back lunch for the others and when he returns everyone in the office is murdered. The frightened spook calls headquarters (eerily located in the no longer Twin Towers of the WTC) and identifies himself by his code name of Condor, and gets in touch with Higgins (Cliff Robertson) the New York “deputy director.” A meeting is set up in the alleyway of a West Side hotel with his Washington section chief Wicks (Michael Kane), whom he has never met, and he brings along Sam Barber, a low-level spook friend of Turner’s to confirm if Wicks is kosher. But Wicks tries to kill Turner and in self-defense Turner severely wounds Wicks. In the fray, Wicks purposely kills Sam. With that, Turner realizes the hit of his office was ordered by the CIA and he goes on the run–unable to trust anymore his unreliable superiors (the seventies ups the ante of the sixties mantra of don’t trust anyone over thirty with its mantra of not to trust the bosses!). With nowhere to go to that’s safe from his pursuers, Turner randomly kidnaps at gunpoint a beautiful photographer Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) and holds her hostage in her Brooklyn Heights apartment while he tries to convince her he’s with the CIA. He then buys time in his now secure place while he uses his spook smarts to track down why his office was targeted—taking a break to only make love to the lonely woman who has fallen for the potential rapist (Why not, it’s only matinee idol Redford who is going to rape her!). Turner soon confronts the hit man, Joubert (Max von Sydow), and discovers he was hired by another CIA section head to wipe out the ALHS office because of a report on the Middle East that Turner filed—in which the reader uncovers from an obscure book printed in Arabic an internal CIA renegade plot to invade the Middle East over oil (How about that for prophesy!). It’s then a cat-and-mouse game between Turner, the CIA and the assassin, with Turner eventually turning to the NY Times to print his story so that his life can be spared.
The public loved its exposé on the corrupt inner workings of the CIA, as this film came out post-Watergate and its unflattering look at the spy organization seemed to their liking. It’s also a well-acted and well-made film, with its liberal Pollack-Redford political ideas easy to understand and right on the money.
REVIEWED ON 1/6/2008 GRADE: B+