Even with them being the source of consternation for critics and audiences alike, tropes are an invaluable resource for the film writer – either as a framework to subscribe to or one to rebel against. A film responsible for the installation of many tropes is Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975), which with the power of hindsight becomes the blueprint for the modern manhunt movie. Robert Redford and Pollack join for their third collaboration in the loose adaptation of James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor and the latest classic to join Masters of Cinema.
Redford is Joe Turner, an analyst for the C.I.A., studying published books from around the world for coded messages. In discovering an unusual anomaly, his life, colleagues and work come crashing down around him with his office being shot dead by Max Von Sydow’s Joubert, Turner (codename Condor) only survives from going out for lunch. Upon finding out that the execution of his office was on the order of C.I.A HQ he is left with nowhere to go, only surviving the initial onslaught by picking a pedestrian at random (Faye Dunaway). This leaves Condor in the field unsure of who to trust and what to do next, paranoia that sees every error or misjudgement carrying fatal consequences.
The only difference between Joe Turner and Jason Bourne is one is a military weapon and one is an analyst, otherwise the core of both men’s stories are incredibly alike. That is only one example, there are countless cinematic examples that borrow DNA from Three Days of the Condor and it’s understandable that modern audiences can look on classics with contempt with their structure and characterisation being overly familiar.
There are two ways in which to look at this. The first is the aforementioned defeatism and belief that modern cinema is superior and the more positive reading is to look at Pollack’s film as exceptionally prescient. We live in the internet age and the omnipresence of state control has created an unprecedented paranoia mid the populous, look no further than the ‘snooper’s charter’. This is the world that Joe Turner and Condor occupy – a world of fear and distrust. Even if Three days of the Condor isn’t overly concerned with technology beyond the telephone, the more we advance technologically the more potent the film becomes. Furthermore, contemporaries to this classic are quick to age thanks to aggressive advancement but in being removed from that but still maintaining the terrifying potential of the state creates a film of growing influence the older it gets – a beyond rare attribute.
Politics and purpose can only take a film so far, it requires a human element to safeguard that classic status. That human element is Robert Redford and the much less successful Faye Dunaway with the latter beginning life as a damsel in distress evolving into a co-collaborator and more. A character that functions to depict the change Redford has been subjected to, showing what he needs to do to stay alive and the victimisation he heaps upon a poor bystander; for that to become an ally is truly the only missed step in Semple Jr. and Rayfiel’s screenplay.
A step paved over by a Robert Redford at the peak of his stardom, as Turner (Condor) he is confident in his intelligence and anxious in the revelation that he bosses aren’t paradigms of good. Despite being forced into violence on both his peers and innocent civilians, Redford is always empathetic, and coolly charismatic. Ending with one of the greatest final lines of dialogue that’s simultaneously triumphant and powerless, Three Days of the Condor is of the triumphs of Hollywood’s second golden age. A true Master of Cinema.
• New high-definition presentation
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
• Stereo and 5.1 soundtrack options
• Exclusive new video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall
• The Directors: Sydney Pollack – A career-spanning appreciation of the director’s works
• Original theatrical trailer
• 32-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new essay on the film by critic Michael Brooke, an extensive interview with Pollack, and archival images
THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR IS AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT MASTERS OF CINEMA NOW