erik lundegaard

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Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Three Days of the Condor is a kind of film they don't make any more: a cynical, post-Watergate look at the U.S. government and the CIA. It's also a kind of film they make all the time now: a good action thriller that gets bogged down with an unnecessary romance between Two Big Stars.

Written by:
Lorenzo Semple Jr.

Directed by:
Sydney Pollack

Starring:
Robert Redford
Faye Dunaway
Cliff Robertson
Max von Sydow
John Houseman
Jess Osuna

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Film Editing

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

Robert Redford plays Joe Turner, a man who reads for a living. He works at the "American Literary Historical Society" in New York City, which is a front for the CIA. Bookworms inside read the novels of the world and try to detect patterns which may "out" the CIA and other secret ops. Turner (codename: Condor) is the Society's iconoclast. He rides his bike to work, wears goofy hats, predicts the weather accurately and ignores procedures. This last saves his life, since, during a downpour, he sneaks out the back way to get everybody lunch. When he returns the place has been blasted and everyone killed. In the interrum we've actually seen the killings, orchestrated by the mysterious Joubert (Max von Sydow), which may be the first miscalculation by director Sidney Pollack. What if the point-of-view had remained Redford's? We would have felt the shock with him rather than ahead of him.

On the lam, Turner phones the Major (Jess Osuna), a wheelchair-bound panic office operator, and their exchange is one of the better scenes in the film. "Has the incident been discovered by anyone outside the company?" the Major asks. "Are you damaged?" Finally: "Are you armed?" The scene has a Dr. Strangelove feel to it — the soullessness of high government office — but it's sharp and works a quarter-century later. Eventually an alleyway meeting is set up between Turner and Wicks (Michael Kane), the head of Turner's local office, but Wicks shoots to kill, and Turner, on the lam again, kidnaps Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), a freelance photographer, and holes up in her cramped, basement apartment while he tries to think things through.

Of course "thinking things through" doesn't make for good drama, so we get uninteresting exchanges between our stars. He overanalyzes her photographs. She seems to fear and desire him at the same time. At one point, Turner, having been accused of roughing her up, responds, "Have I roughed you up? Have I raped you?" Stunned, her thoughts perhaps verbalized, she states, "The night is young." Rewrite! Eventually she falls for him (Helsinki Syndrome or Redford Syndrome?), and despite having a guy waiting for her in a Vermont ski lodge, they share a night of backlit sex.

Meanwhile, CIA heads Higgins (Cliff Roberston) and Wabash (John Houseman) assume Turner is their assassin, but they also assume they can bring him in. He's not an agent, after all, but he is smart — a speedreader who knows everything. Trouble is, Turner doesn't really demonstrate his smarts. His first confrontation with Joubert is in an elevator — a banal verbal cat-and-mouse — and their final confrontation is equally anti-climactic, a moment when Turner doesn't act at all. The film grinds to a halt here, and, along with Redford, seems to be looking around for something to do. In the end, one feels Joubert doesn't kill Turner not because Turner is smarter but because Redford's the star.

—December 7, 2000

© 2000 Erik Lundegaard