The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Movie Review: Three Days of the Condor--1975; Starring Robert Redford

Review of: Three Days of the Condor. Directed by Sydney Pollack; Produced by Stanley Schneider; Co-written by James Grady (adapted from his novel, Six Days of the Condor). Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson & Max von Sydow. Paramount, 1975.

In this 1975 existential realist spy-thriller directed by Sydney Pollack, why does an assassination team murder seven book worms who work at the American Literary Historical Society? What's the beef with a dime store spy novel reviewed by employee bookworm extraordinaire, Joseph Turner. It was just a cheap knock off book which was translated into Arabic, but not French; Dutch and Spanish, though not Russian?

This opens the plot in the movie, Three Days of the Condor, based on the Cold War novel, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. Turner, played by the brisk and youthful Robert Redford, rides a motorized bicycle to work, running late as normal. He arrives and asks the society director if there was special delivery mail for him from the bosses higher up on the book report he submitted.

But this is not a normal book depository in an old New York brownstone facade. Within the upstairs offices of the literary society, in an age when computers were expensive, primitive, and took up whole rooms, this sleepy literary society has a computer that first optically scans pages of books and then checks and references the material against “real world” US Central Intelligence Agency operations, code-names, or potential traitors, recruits, or any other useful information to such an agency bound to gather, protect, and attack based on “knowing” information.

Then, by fortune's chance, Turner takes an unwatched exit from the basement full of books to the deli to pick up lunch. While Turner is gone, legendary actor Max von Sydow, playing a contract assassin named Joubert, leads a sneaky break-in of the American Literary Historical Society. In a movie full of great one-line epiphanies, excellently handled by director Pollack and the film editors, Joubert asks the computer expert, Janice, who is also Turner's girlfriend, if she would move away from the window. With the muffled sub-machine guns pointed at her, Janice says dispassionately at her fate, “I won't scream.” Joubert replies simply, “I know.”

When Turner returns to find the front security gates unlocked, he enters the brownstone to find every one murdered, and he doesn't know why. As the great mystery characters might say, “The game is afoot.” And in fact, this is a great mystery movie done in excellent spy v. spy, spy v. counter-spy, and indeed triple-dog-dare “counter-counter-spy v. everyone” plot. From the pinnacle of the bookworm murders and through some rather thrilling escapes, Turner deduces that he was the real target of the murderers and why a bookworm like he who reads books for the CIA could possibly be the cause of so much unheroic death.

Turner survives several attempts by the professional Joubert to locate and murder him while in the process the theme of the movie unravels like opaque layers of onion to the hard, pungent core. In another prophetic one-liner as “spy stuff” becomes too fancy for him, Turner says, “@$^* the Wall Street Journal!” in a statement of contempt that foreshadows the resolution of the mystery of the dime store spy novel—the one translated into languages of oil-owning nations. As in history, this story follows the markets of survival in a world running out of cheap and reachable resources. It is 1975 presaging the 21st Century scrambles for what society just wants without having to be asked if freedom is sufficient sacrifice for comfort and safety.

Turner takes Kathy Hale (played by Faye Dunaway) hostage to find a random means of survival, and Kathy takes on the Stockholm Syndrome with lustful intrigue for her captor. She looks at Turner's CIA cover business I.D. pass, which if watched closely on the screen is actually a Nazi-lightening bolt “SS” symbol (check it out closely). Together, Turner and Hale outsmart the CIA's World Trade Center-based New York branch led by Deputy Director of New York CIA, Mr. Higgins, played by Cliff Robertson. Shots of the still new-at-the-time World Trade Center show prominently in several photography-features of the film, statements portending the age of the militarized policy and security state that were warned to America by President Eisenhower in his January 1961 farewell address. But perhaps the real theme of Three Days of the Condor is the absence of clarity as to who or what is the good guy or good side. In one of the final profound epitaphs of Joubert, as to how he operates within the world of violence as a contractor (hint, hint), Max von Sydow's character says perfectly: “I don't think in terms of 'why'. . . No need to believe in either side. . . . The belief is in your own precision.”

In this movie, even unto the end where Higgins asks “Condor”/Turner, “How do you know they'll print it?” there exists no clarity nor belief worthy to find any heroes. Not even the antagonist Turner can claim the absolute purity of purpose nor hide under a profaned innocence like his murdered coworkers. Only a protagonist like Joubert, a true anti-hero, really knows what he is doing, or why it is important at all to anyone, even if it is only important for himself.


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