Blu-Ray Review – Three Days of the Condor

The ’70s was a time when Americans on mass were questioning their own government especially after the Watergate scandal in early ’70s which led to the resignation of President Nixon in 1974. This rightfully growing sense of paranoia was reflected in the thrillers of the time such as The Parallax View, The Conversation, Executive Action and many others. It was also reflected in the film noir Chinatown, dramas likeNetwork and science fiction films such as Soylent Green and Logan’s Run.

Three Days of the Condor is one of the most high-profile conspiracy thrillers of this time. It starred Robert Redford who was one of the biggest box-office draws in the world at the time. Sydney Pollack was hired after Peter Yates left the project (Yates was paid his full wage however) because Redford wanted to work with his frequent collaborator Pollack, it was their 4th collaboration. Both are noted “Hollywood Liberals” and the film certainly has political subtext but it works first and foremost as an espionage thriller in the vein of Hitchock’s films like The 39 Steps and Foreign Correspondent as the filmmakers intended.

Redford’s character Joe Turner is a reader for CIA and when he goes to get the office’s lunch his co-workers are killed in an assassination. He is soon on the run and attempts to reconvene with the CIA but whoever is sent to meet him tries to kill him so he is on the run yet again. He becomes desperate and at gun point makes Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) hide him in her apartment. Max von Sydow plays a shady character who may or may not be working for the CIA and is after Joe and Cliff Robertson plays J. Higgins who is the deputy director of the CIA.

Redford’s perfects the book-worm nature of his role which is against the all American blonde haired pretty boy public image of Redford had at the time. The relationship between Turner and Dunaway’s Hale does seem a bit forced and Pollack is noted for considering all his films a love story of some kind so that subplot may have been pushed by Pollack. It’s the film’s only real failing despite Dunaway giving a strong performance. The cinematography by Owen Roizman (one of the true greats) and the film’s continuous sense of paranoia which never lets up and the film’s last frame just heightens it. Max Von Sydow’s menacing performance remains one of his best in what was already an extraordinary career by 1975.

Pollack may not have changed the cinematic form the way his contemporaries have such as Robert Altman or Martin Scorsese because he is very much an old-fashioned director rooted in the ways of old Hollywood storytelling. Despite that he has made an interesting body of work especially his work from the ’60s to the ’80s which displays a wide range. He directs with more flair than usual but it never overcomes his storytelling skill and it moves at a solid pace over it’s running time which is slightly under 2 hours. It is also probably his finest cinematic achievement even though some people may prefer his more popular lightweight films like Tootsie or Out of Africa.

The disc includes a fantastic interview with film historian Sheldon Hall who puts the film in the context of the time and Pollack’s place in the history of New Hollywood. The Sydney Pollack episode from the constantly underwhelming “The Directors” series is also included but it’s slightly more informative than the usual ones but that might be down to the fact I’m not as well acquainted with all of Pollack’s work unlike most of the other directors featured in the series. The theatrical trailer is also included along with a booklet with includes a new essay on the film along with an archive interview with Pollack.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz

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