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USA 1975
Directed by
Sydney Pollack
117 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Three Days Of The Condor

Sydney Pollack made more than his fair share of Hollywood's better films of the 1970s and Three Days of the Condor comes from this high-water period of his directorial career. Its era-typical preoccupation with conspiratorial government manipulation vs the power of the people looks rather naïve from a post-Bush Administration perspective, particularly given the story’s Middle East oil connection but in its day the film was quite innovative for investing the thriller format with a provocative political thesis (Redford’s next film, All The President’s Men would invert the ratio).  

Redford plays Joe Turner, a researcher employed by a CIA front, the American Literary Historical Society. One day he goes out for lunch and when he returns he finds all his colleagues have been shot dead.  We then follow Turner as he tries to work out who is trying to kill him and why.

The first half of the film is compelling with Redford as an ordinary Joe smart enough to stay one step ahead of the CIA which we discern has some kind of rogue operation within it which is responsible for the killings. Exactly who is working for who is not clear but it doesn’t really matter as Pollack shapes the narrative well. These were the days when people still used public phone boxes so there is lots of quality New York location photography as Turner tries to stay ahead of the game.

Unfortunately once Faye Dunaway enters, or, more correctly, is dragged into, the situation the film starts to lose focus with an old-fashioned squidgy romance that comes out of nowhere (and which is underpinned by Dave Grusin’s soft-jazz score) and which might have been from another movie. Whilst this is in itself quite well done with Dunaway turning in a winning performance, once her Kathy has been bedded and becomes Turner’s accomplice the plotting becomes facile with Turner besting some droog with a machine gun and turning out to be a breaking-and-entering, phone-tapping whizz as Kathy plays Robin to his Batman.  Once she drops out of things and the film reverts to cold male pragmatism things pick up somewhat.

Max von Sydow is effective as a contract assassin, Cliff Robertson sports a remarkable comb-over and John Houseman is particularly good as the bow-tie wearing 'M'-like Head of Operations.  In some respects Three Days of the Condor is of more interest as an early example of the modern “political” thriller than in itself but Pollack’s classy direction and the comparablr performances still gives us something worth watching.




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