Year Released: 1975
Directed by: Sydney Pollack
Starrng: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, John Houseman
(R, 120 min.)
Genre: Classics, Drama, Mystery and Suspense, Romance
“Maybe there's another CIA...inside the CIA.” – Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway)
This 1975 thriller has aged well. The classic paranoia and suspicion of government agencies seem particularly appropriate today. And while it still keeps you riveted to your seat, this thriller actually takes time for character development and great dialogue, unlike the frenetic features Hollywood currently puts out.
The original tag line captures the plot well: “His code name is Condor. In the next seventy-two hours, everyone he trusts will target him for death.”
Robert Redford is very good as Joe Turner, CIA code name Condor, who suddenly finds himself out in the cold when he returns from picking up lunch for his team to find everyone murdered. He has escaped the very professional hit because he has slipped out the back door for a short cut to the deli and is thus unseen by the assassin.
He may be out in the cold, but Condor, who winces when he has to communicate with headquarters via his code name, is not really a spy, as he tells the civilian he has to kidnap to get away from those out to eliminate him:
I work for the CIA. I'm not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that's published in the world, and we-- we feed the plots-- dirty tricks, codes into a computer, and the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals. I-- I can-Who'd invent a job like that? I-- Listen! People are trying to kill me! – Condor to Kathy Hale
Which puts their relationship on a strange footing. The generally peace loving Turner is still worried enough about his randomly chosen captive – he needs her anonymous pad more than he does her – that he resorts to tying her up. All the while, the two talk, though.
Kathy: You're not entitled to personal questions! That gun gives you the right to rough me up; it doesn't give you the right to ask me...
Turner: Wh- wh- Rough you up? Have I roughed you up?
Kathy: Yes! What are you doing in my house?
Turner: Have I? Have I?
Kathy: Going through all my stuff? Force...
Turner: Have I raped you?
Kathy: The night is young.
That last line has ironic overtones as we soon find out. It certainly isn’t rape and seems a template for the original Jason Bourne scenario where he and has captive eventually fall for each other, too, but this liaison probably wouldn’t get by the Me Too crowd today:
The plot doesn't so much thicken as arrive in chunky-but-not-always-satisfying slices that are wrapped around a redundant romance between Turner and Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), a woman whom he kidnaps. In addition to being asked to believe that fear and paranoia are tremendous aphrodisiacs, we are also expected to set aside the fact that Turner has, mere hours earlier, held his dead girlfriend in his arms, all of which adds an element of additional queasiness to Pollack's laughingly languid sex scene. –Vincent Canby
To Different Drummer, however, who admits to being a bit on the prudish side, in context the love scene works – it did for me in 1975 and in my recent viewing as well. In fact, their relationship is what anchors the film and helps us accept the cloak and dagger game more readily.
In particular, Turner is astute in analyzing the photographs scattered around Kathy’s apartment, and it triggers some great dialogue, particularly about the loneliness and isolation they both experience:
Turner: You're funny. You take pictures of empty streets and trees with no leaves on them.
Kathy: Sometimes, I— I take a picture that… isn't like me, but I took it, so it is like me. It has to be. I put those pictures away.
Turner: I'd like to see those pictures.
Kathy: We don't know each other that that well.
Turner: Do you know anybody that well?
Kathy: I don't think I want to know you very well. I don't think you're gonna live much longer.
Turner: Well, I may… surprise you. Anyway, you're not telling the truth.
Kathy: What do you mean?
Turner: You'd rather be with somebody who's not going to live much longer, at least somebody who would be on his way.
Kathy: I'm not--
Turner: You take pictures. Beautiful pictures, but of empty streets and trees with no leaves--November. Why haven't you asked me to untie your hands?
Kathy: H-How much do you want...
Turner: I just...want to stop it. For a few hours. For the rest of the night. And then I'll go.
Three Days of the Condor has several other excellent and unconventional things going for it, too. Certainly the backdrop of quickly changing alliances; the hit man who originally is after Condor, ultimately gets an new order that cancels that out, and the quiet assassin Joubert – an excellent Max von Sydow – has a quite civil conversation with the Condor, now that he is off his list. It is a tribute to the script and von Sydow’s acting that the scene comes off as quite reasonable under the circumstances.
Also well done is the persistent background of the Christmas season, but this is the “tinnie” kind, - no real Christmas trees or carolers, but artificial trees, and the ironic backdrop of pre-programed “tiding of fellowship and joy” played from loud speakers.
Finally, the unresolved purposeful ambiguity, including the Turner’s relationship with Kathy Hale and the quick cut ending leave us with both hope and doubt, making us remember this film for a long time.
This classic is not to be missed and certainly deserves a second look if you saw it when it was first released.
Our chosen recipe for the Condor Cocktail is actually named and tailored to reflect the predatory bird rather than Robert Redford’s CIA guy, Joe Turner. But the bird is “rare and graceful in flight,” and so is Robert Redford, who is actually in flight for much of the picture.
To quote Sean Becktel: our bartender who created the drink, It's called the Condor because it may not be the prettiest animal, but it's rare and graceful in flight.' The starting point was a smoky martini, which mixes gin and a Scotch. The problem was that not everyone appreciates such a spirit-forward drink, so we added a bit of apricot liqueur to soften the drink and make it more food-friendly. The molé bitters also add a bit of complexity and spice.