Three Days of the Condor is a 1975 American political thriller film directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max von Sydow. The screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel was based on the 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady.
Set mainly in New York City and Washington, D.C., the film is about a bookish CIA researcher who comes back from lunch, discovers all his co-workers murdered, and tries to outwit those responsible until he figures out whom he can really trust. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Semple and Rayfiel received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.
Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a CIA analyst, codenamed "Condor". He works at the American Literary Historical Society in New York City, actually a clandestine CIA office. They read books, newspapers, and magazines from around the world, looking for hidden meanings. Turner files a report to CIA headquarters on a thriller with some strange plot elements, noting the unusual assortment of languages it has been translated into.
On the day that Turner is expecting a response to his report, he is out shopping for staff lunches when armed men efficiently murder the six people still in the office. Returning to find his coworkers' bodies, a frightened Turner calls the CIA's New York headquarters in the World Trade Center, and is given instructions to meet his Head of Department (Wicks), who will bring him into safety. The rendezvous, however, is a trap. Wicks shoots an accompanying CIA staffer and attempts to kill Turner, who wounds his assailant before escaping himself.
Needing a place to hide, Turner forces a woman, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), whom he encounters by chance, to take him to her apartment. He holds her prisoner while he attempts to figure out what is going on. Hale begins to trust Turner and they become lovers. However, his hiding place is discovered by Joubert (Max von Sydow), a foreigner who led the massacre of Turner's co-workers, when Joubert spots Turner driving Hale's car and notes the license plate number. A hitman (Hank Garrett), disguised as a mailman, arrives at the apartment. Turner, although a bookish researcher, is able to kill his attacker through chance.
Deciding that he cannot trust anyone within "the Company", Turner begins to play a cat-and-mouse game with Higgins (Cliff Robertson), deputy director of the CIA's New York division. With the help of Hale, Turner abducts Higgins, who identifies Joubert as a skilled freelance assassin who has undertaken assignments for the CIA. Back at his office, Higgins discovers that the "mailman" who attacked Turner in Hale's apartment worked with Joubert on a previous operation. Their CIA case officer on that occasion was Wicks.
Meanwhile, using a numbered hotel room key he found on the fake postman's body, Turner learns where Joubert is staying and uses his training as a former US Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call made from his hotel room. This gives Turner the name and address of Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell), CIA Deputy Director of Operations for the Middle East. Turner confronts Atwood in his Washington area mansion late at night and questions him at gunpoint. Turner learns that the report he had filed provided links to a rogue project to seize Middle Eastern oil fields. Fearful of its disclosure, Atwood privately ordered the elimination of Turner's section.
As Atwood confirms this, Joubert surprises them, takes away Turner's pistol, and then unexpectedly shoots the CIA director. Atwood's own superiors had hired Joubert to stage the suicide of someone who was about to become an embarrassment, overriding Atwood's original contract for Joubert to kill Turner. Joubert suggests that Turner leave the country, even becoming an assassin himself since Turner has shown such resourcefulness in staying alive. Turner rejects the suggestion, but takes seriously Joubert's warning that the CIA will still try to eliminate him as another embarrassment. Joubert reflects how Turner's killing would likely be carried out — by a smiling and possibly trusted acquaintance stepping from a car.
Back in New York, Turner has a rendezvous with Higgins near Times Square, refusing a ride offered by the latter. Higgins describes the oilfield plan as a contingency "game" that was planned within the CIA without approval from above. He defends the project, suggesting that when oil shortages cause a major economic crisis, Americans will demand that their comfortable lives be restored by any means necessary. Turner points to the New York Times building, and says he has "told them a story". Higgins is dismayed but questions whether Turner's whistleblowing will be published. "They'll print it", Turner defiantly replies. However, as "Condor" turns away, Higgins calls after him that he is about to become a very lonely man.
Three Days of the Condor was filmed in various locations in New York City, New Jersey, and Washington DC, including the World Trade Center, 55 East 77th Street, NYC, The Ansonia, Central Park, and the National Mall.
The film earned $8,925,000 in theatrical showings in North America.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 86% of 43 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review, and the average rating was 7.1/10; the site's consensus is: "This post-Watergate thriller captures the paranoid tenor of the times, thanks to Sydney Pollack's taut direction and excellent performances from Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway."
When first released, the film was reviewed positively by critic Vincent Canby, who wrote that the film "is no match for stories in your local newspaper", but it benefits from good acting and directing. Variety called it a B movie that was given a big budget despite its lack of substance. Roger Ebert wrote, "Three Days of the Condor is a well-made thriller, tense and involving, and the scary thing, in these months after Watergate, is that it's all too believable."
In the 'real' as in cinema, there was history but there isn't any anymore. Today, the history that is 'given back' to us (precisely because it was taken from us) has no more of a relation to a 'historical real' than neofiguration [sic] in painting does to the classical figuration of the real...All, but not only, those historical films whose very perfection is disquieting: Chinatown, Three Days of the Condor, Barry Lyndon, 1900, All the President's Men, etc. One has the impression of it being a question of perfect remakes, of extraordinary montages that emerge more from a combinatory [sic] culture (or McLuhanesque mosaic), of large photo-, kino-, historicosynthesis [sic] machines, etc., rather than one of veritable films."
Some critics also described the film as a piece of political propaganda, as it was released soon after the "Family Jewels" scandal came to light in December 1974 which exposed a variety of CIA misconduct. However, in an interview with Jump Cut, Pollack explained that the film was written solely to be a spy thriller and that production on the film was nearly over by the time the Family Jewels revelations were made, so even if they had wanted to take advantage of them, it was far too late in the filmmaking process to do so. He said that despite both Pollack and Redford being well-known political liberals, they were only interested in making the film because an espionage thriller was a genre neither of them had previously explored.
I didn't want this picture to be judged; it’s a movie. I intended it always as a movie. I never had any pretensions about the picture and it’s making me very angry that I'm getting pretensions stuck on me like tails on a donkey. If I wanted to be pretentious, I'd take the CIA seal and advertise this movie and really take advantage of the headlines. Central Intelligence Agency, United States of America, Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway. And don't think it wasn't suggested—obviously, that’s what advertising people do. We really put our foot down—Redford and I—to absolutely stop that.
In 1997, The Association of Danish Film Directors, on behalf of Pollack, sued Danmarks Radio, claiming that their broadcasting the film in a panned and scanned version violated his copyright. The case was unsuccessful, as the rights were not owned by Pollack personally in the first place. The case is believed to have been the first legal challenge to the practice of panning and scanning for broadcast on the grounds that it compromises the artistic integrity of an original film.
|Three Days of the Condor|
|Soundtrack album by Dave Grusin|
DRG (2004 reissue)
All music by Dave Grusin, except where noted.
In March 2015, Skydance Media in partnership with MGM Television and Paramount Television will produce a TV series remake of the film. In February 2017, Max Irons was cast as Joe Turner in the series entitled Condor for Audience.
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