Saturday, September 1, 2012

Stubs - 3 Days of the Condor

File:Three Days of the Condor poster.JPG

3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max Von Sydow. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel. Based on the book Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Run Time: 118. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Espionage, Suspense.

I will admit right off the top that I have not read James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor so any review about the movie will be solely based on my viewing experience, rather than any comparison between literary work and the motion picture. In my opinion, books and movies share the ability to tell a story, but they have to go about it in very different means. What may work well on the page may not translate to the big screen. A movie must stand on its own and tell a compelling story no matter what the source material.

Set at Christmastime, though not what many would consider a Christmas movie, 3 Days of the Condor tells the story of Joseph Turner aka The Condor (Robert Redford), a CIA operative who works for a cover organization, The American Literary Historical Society, that reads everything published to look for connections to existing operations. We watch as the office starts its day; workers arrive, coffee is made, conversations are had, etc., etc. Everyone is there with the exception of two people, Turner and another operative named Heidegger (Lee Steale). We know this because a mysterious man is staking the office out and ticking off employee names as they arrive.

Turner is late, which seems to be a natural course for him. Once he arrives he is informed that headquarters has dismissed his report about a thriller novel that has been translated into various odd languages, like Arabic and Dutch. Turner is sent on an errand to get the office lunch order and is around the corner at the deli, when three men, led by G. Joubert (Max Von Sydow), enter the office and kill everyone they find, including Janice Chon (Tina Chen), the co-worker Turner appears to have something going on with. Fearing for his life, Turner grabs the gun the receptionist had in her desk and flees.

He goes to a nearby phone and calls the CIA in Langley. Originally scolded for not following protocol, Condor is told not to go home, to call back in two hours and to walk away from the phone. So naturally, Turner heads back to his apartment. There his landlady (Carol Gustafson) tells him that two men are waiting for him in his apartment. Wisely, Turner leaves and heads over to Heidegger’s place, only to find he’s been killed while still in bed. Turner manages to get out of the apartment just ahead of two shadowy men who show up and go inside.

Turner calls the New York CIA headquarters and talks with J. Higgins (Cliff Robertson), the deputy director of the New York division, and is given instructions to come in. The rendezvous is an alleyway next to the Ansonia hotel. In addition to his section chief S.W. Wicks (Michael Kane), who has flown up from D.C., there will also be a friendly face, Sam Barber (Walter McGinn), waiting for him. But as soon as Turner arrives and Barber acknowledges him, Wicks, who has never met Turner, opens fire on him. Turner shoots back, wounding Wicks. Barber, who is obviously confused, is shot and killed by Wicks. Turner, though, manages to escape.

Needing a place to hide, Turner takes refuge in a ski shop and then targets one of the shoppers, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) as she is leaving the store. At gunpoint, he forces her to drive them to her apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Needing some rest, Turner forces Kathy to lie on the bed with him before the news. When the shooting next to the Hotel is mentioned, the victims are not identified. Turner decides to visit Barber’s wife, Mae (Carlin Glynn). She is preparing dinner for Turner, Janice and her husband and wonders why Janie and Sam are both working late. The phone rings, as Mae says it had several times, but there is no one there. Sensing bad things, Turner makes Mae leave and go wait with some upstairs neighbors.

As he is hustling her into the elevator, he becomes aware that Joubert is also waiting for the elevator. Turner takes the elevator down and Joubert gets on with him. Joubert is ominous looking, but is polite and conversational towards Turner. However, Turner, who reads a lot, figures out that Joubert might be lying in wait for him outside the building. Promising money if some young people in the lobby will try to help him unlock his car, Turner surrounds himself with unwilling human shields. Joubert, who is waiting for him, can’t get a clean shot, so Turner manages to get away. However, Joubert does get a look at the license plate on Kathy’s car.

That night, Kathy, who has been tied up in the bathroom with a gag in her mouth, succumbs to Turner’s charms and the two have sex. Even though there is no nudity and the sex is shown above the waist, it still seems gratuitous. As if you couldn’t have two attractive leads and not have them get into bed together. By this time, Turner has told Kathy his story and she seems to believe him, but he’s not one hundred percent sure he can trust her.

The next morning, while Kathy is in the shower, a postman arrives needing a signature for a package. As the audience, we recognize him as one of the assassins from the previous day. Even though Turner doesn’t know he was one of the killers, he suspects that the man is not a postman and manages to overpower and kill him. Turner goes through the postman’s pockets and finds a key for room 819 and a slip of paper with a phone number on it. He calls the number with a Washington DC area code and is connected to the CIA. When he asks for Wicks, he is told he is out of the office.

Knowing he can’t trust anyone at the CIA, Turner gets Kathy to help him. First, she goes to the CIA office to apply for a position. Once on the floor, she goes to Higgins’ office so she can see what he looks like, Next, when Higgins goes to lunch, Turner and Kathy follow him to a restaurant, where Kathy manages to lure him outside. Turner and Kathy kidnap Higgins and take him someplace where they can talk without being overheard or tracked. After being questioned, Higgins reveals that the assassin is Joubert, a former CIA agent, now a freelance killer. It is also at the meeting that Turner learns that Wicks died.

After stealing a briefcase from a telephone van, Turner takes the postman’s key to a locksmith. Turner knows that the codes on the key mean something and bribes the locksmith to help him. The key belongs to a Holiday Inn and using tools in the briefcase, Turner manages to tap into Joubert’s phone. After making a cryptic call to the room, Turner records the number Joubert dials next. Using connections he still has at the CIA, Turner plays the recording into a computer which deciphers the tones and tells him the number. Then calling the phone company Turner finds that the number belongs to Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell), a CIA director who outranks Higgins and Wicks.

Freeing Kathy to return to her life, which includes a ski trip she’s supposed to be on with her boyfriend, Turner takes the train down to Washington DC and gets into Atwood’s house. There he learns that his report had uncovered a secret CIA plot to invade the Middle East oilfields, thus setting into motion the killing of his entire office to cover it up. But his confrontation with Atwood is cut short when Joubert arrives on the scene.

Expecting to be killed, Turner puts down his gun and steps away from Atwood. However, Joubert is there to kill Atwood. He tells Turner that he has been hired by the CIA to kill Atwood. Since his contract to kill Turner had been with Atwood, he lets Turner walk. Joubert advises Turner to leave the country and become an assassin. But Turner refuses. Joubert then tells Turner that if he does go back one day someone he knows and trusts will betray him. He offers Turner back the gun he had, for that day, he says. Finally, Joubert asks if he can give Turner a ride anywhere.

Back in New York, Turner once again confronts Higgins, who appears to be willing to bring him in at last. However, Turner refuses. When asked if there are plans to invade the Middle East, Higgins will only admit to war games, played on a what if basis. But Higgins defends the plans, telling Turner that if the oil gets shut off, the American people will only want the government to get it for them, they won’t ask how they do it. Turner tells Higgins that he has told his story to the New York Times, as a way of protecting himself. But Higgins asks him how he knows the Times will print his story. Even though Turner is confident they’ll print it, in the final freeze frame, we see Turner looking back at Higgins. We are left to wonder if he will indeed be safe or if Joubert’s prediction will one day come true.

Overall, 3 Days of the Condor is a pretty good, though not great, espionage film. Coming post-Watergate, at a time when public opinion didn’t trust the federal government, it was easy to believe that there might indeed be a CIA inside the CIA, as Turner supposes. There are enough twists and turns to keep the story interesting, but not too many as to keep the plot from being followed. This is a movie that you need to pay attention to while watching, but if you do, you will not be disappointed. Sydney Pollack should be congratulated for that, which, in inferior hands, might easily be a confusing mess.

The acting is also, for the most part, good as well. Cliff Robertson is his usual good as Higgins. Max Von Sydow, best known for his eleven films with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is a very ominous and complex Joubert. I’d also like to mention John Houseman, who plays Wabash. There are several scenes showing how the CIA is reacting to and trying to kill Condor and Wabash is one of the most menacing, by playing the part understated. Houseman, whose own film career dates back to Citizen Kane (1941), would continue to act through the 1980’s.

3 Days of the Condor is a Redford vehicle. In the mid-70’s when this film was made, Redford was at the height of his popularity, having starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Candidate (1972), The Sting (1973), The Way We Were (1973) and the Great Gatsby (1974). The film, like most of Redford’s films at this time, was well received and did decent box office. Redford would continue to act: The Electric Horseman (1979), The Natural (1984), Sneakers (1992) to name a few.

But from this point on, Redford would get into controlling his career, buying the movie rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s All The President’s Men, which he would help make into a movie and co-star in the year after this film. He would eventually get into directing, winning an Academy Award for his first film Ordinary People (1980); producing with The Horse Whisperer (1998), which he also directed; found the Sundance Film Festival (1978), Sundance Institute (1981), Sundance Channel (1996) and Sundance Cinemas (2007), all dedicated to showcasing independent films, documentaries and foreign-language films.

There are some flaws, as far as I see it, but most of them revolve around the character of Kathy. She is an odd duck, to say the least. She never screams or really fights back when Turner takes her hostage. She is obviously scared but ultimately trusts Turner, even going so far as to sleep with him, as discussed above. We are told that even though she is in a relationship, she is lonely like Turner is and that’s supposed to be enough for her to let her guard down and have sex with him and then help him in the very dangerous game of cat and mouse Turner is playing with the CIA. Hers seems to be a necessary character, though I’m not sure I really believe her.

Watching 3 Days of The Condor, you will be surprised at how outdated the technology is in the film; how big and archaic the computers are and how no one has a cell phone. But while the technology may be outdated, the story is not. Distrust of the government is as old as the movie. We have never fully recovered from the Watergate break-in and cover-up. No one blindly trusts that the government will do the right thing at the right time; see Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It is easy to believe that the CIA has secret plans they want to keep secret, an idea other movies, like the above-mentioned Sneakers and the Bruce Willis starrer Red (2010), have also exploited.

But the reason to watch 3 Days is to see Robert Redford. Not only is he good-looking he is a very good actor and makes almost any movie he’s in worth watching. This is a good movie and a fun one to watch.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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