Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr, David Rayfiel
Based by a Novel by: James Grady
Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow
Running Time: 118 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Sydney Pollack is a director whose career is full of well known and often well-respected films (Tootsie, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Jeremiah Johnson etc.) but he doesn’t really attract the same kind of admiration that other directors who found fame in the late 60’s and 70’s do. Perhaps he had less of a signature style than most so is seen as a ‘director for hire’, but it’s hard to find many others with so many solid titles under their belt and so few clunkers (although his 90’s/00’s work isn’t as strong as his 70’s/80’s output). I must admit I’ve not seen a huge number of his films and some I haven’t seen for years (Tootsie and The Firm), but I love his underrated gangster movie The Yakuza and can’t resist a 70’s thriller, so didn’t hesitate to volunteer to review his 1975 film Three Days of the Condor, finally released in the UK (it’s never been available on home video for some reason) on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD as part of Eureka’s excellent Masters of Cinema collection.
Based on a novel called Six Days of the Condor, the film adaptation was originally going to be directed by Peter Yates and star Warren Beatty, but Beatty turned it down. The producer’s second choice, Robert Redford, was interested, but only if his friend Sydney Pollack could direct it. Yates was promptly paid off and Redford and Pollack began to make the project their own, rejecting the original script which they weren’t happy with (largely because they weren’t convinced by the novel itself) and forging the film that would become Three Days of the Condor.
It’s a post-Watergate thriller that sees CIA researcher Joseph Turner (Redford) become the only survivor of a carefully planned hit on his New York office. Being a purely academic employee of the agency, Turner (codenamed Condor) has no field experience, so is frightened and not sure what to do when the assassins return to finish the job. However, he has the brains to stay alive and get to the bottom of who set up the hit and why. Along the way he takes a sort of hostage in Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), so that he can use her apartment to lay low and think. The two form a relationship whilst Turner uncovers the truth behind the shady organisation hiding within the CIA itself, which is out to get him.
I’m always of the opinion that it’s hard to beat a good thriller and this is perfect proof of their ability to engage and excite. Pollack keeps things moving swiftly along through intercutting between Turner’s plight and the actions of the CIA and its shifty dark branch. The second half is a little slower than the first, but for the most part the film rockets along towards its nicely uncertain final moments.
Taking advantage of the mood created by the Watergate scandal still looming over America at the time, the film has a great sense of paranoia too. No one can be trusted. There are even moments where the audience doubts Turner’s intentions when he takes Hale ‘prisoner’ and we’re never quite sure whether Hale will turn on her abductor, even when the couple fall in love.
Speaking of which, this was one of the few issues I had with the film. I wasn’t wholly convinced Hale would fall for someone so quickly and easily under such circumstances and a sex scene between the two characters didn’t seem necessary and came across as rather cheesy with its saxophone cue in the soundtrack (which is otherwise pretty groovy, albeit rather dated).
This and some of the ‘tech thriller’ elements do date the film, but overall it’s an exciting thriller, with plenty of paranoia and tension to keep you on the edge of your seat (the first meeting of Turner and Max von Sydow’s steely assassin Joubert is a fine example of this). It’s a little cliché here and there (maybe not so much at the time) but in the safe hands of Pollack and through stellar performances from the primary cast members, it’s hard not to get swept up by the film.
Three Days of the Condor is out on 11th April on Dual Format DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The picture and audio quality is excellent as usual for the label.
For special features you get an exclusive new video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall and The Directors: Sydney Pollack – A career-spanning appreciation of the director’s works. The former is a great addition to the package. I think I’m starting to prefer these historian/critic interviews and essays to those with the cast and crew as they usually give a detailed and well researched back story to the production process as well as a thoughtful critique of the film and Hall’s piece here is no different. The Pollack appreciation is a straight forward talking heads and clips affair from the late 90’s, but it makes for an interesting watch and shows what a variety of work Pollack directed. It runs at close to an hour so finds time to cover all of his feature film work.
As with all Masters of Cinema releases, you get a booklet in with the package too, which makes for recommended reading as always.