Wednesday, January 13, 2021

‘Three Days of the Condor’ 1975

Faye Dunaway's softer side, with Robert Redford, in 'Three Days of the Condor.'

Though this film has that gritty '70s feel, Three Days of the Condor seems almost timeless. The styles and fashions are so neutral (and so un-70s!) that it could almost be mistaken for a current movie. Yes, the vehicles and technology show their era, but everything is so toned down that you're not getting tripped up by the era’s idiosyncrasies.

Three Days of the Condor was written as a novel, Six Days of the Condor, by James Grady, at age 26! The hero is Joe Turner, aka Condor, who works with a CIA group, working under genteel cover deciphering coded messages in books, who are assassinated while he has stepped out for coffee and bagels. Turner is from then on the run, not knowing who to trust.

In honor of Faye Dunaway’s 80th birthday Jan. 14, I pay tribute to one of her most appealing, non-neurotic roles, as photographer Kathy Hale in Three Days of the Condor. Compared to her bleached blonde ‘60s starlet, and the latter day glam/plastic surgery superstar, Faye was at the height of her “down home” Dunaway during this era. And she's just as fascinating.

Faye Dunaway as Kathy, Redford's kidnap victim, is one of her most subtle performances.

Obviously, Three Days of the Condor is a vehicle for Robert Redford. Yet, all is not sacrificed to star showboating, which makes Condor unique. While Faye Dunaway is essentially playing “the girl” to the male lead, her role as the slightly sad, dissatisfied photographer is given more gradation than previous actresses from the previous decade of male-dominated movies. Per usual, the female character quickly falls for her alpha male, but Dunaway’s Kathy speaks her mind and demands respect. Their relationship feels realistic in their mutual expectations and is not movie-style maudlin. Dunaway, who played many larger than life characters before and after this movie, is at her most natural. With brown hair, little makeup, and simple clothes, Dunaway looks like any other attractive urban woman. But her close-ups display the cheekbones, the intense eyes, and along with her hesitant, throaty voice, Faye is quite appealing.

Robert Redford as Joe Turner, the espionage thriller man on the run!

Robert Redford, if he walked off screen, with his shaggy blonde hair, cool wire rim glasses, and jeans and sports jacket combo, would have a mob following him in about 30 seconds! He's at the height of his Redford-ness, and I'm not even that big of a RR fan. Bob’s rugged good looks and studied cool image are at the peak of perfection.

Robert Redford style. Here, in the opening scenes of this fine espionage film.

Others have noticed the similarities in plot of Three Days of the Condor to North by Northwest. The “man on the run,” who’s not sure why, and the woman he picks up on the way—for sure. What's fascinating is that NBNW was a fab fifties confection, with glammed-up stars, costumes, locations, and a hint of hard political realities. Three Days of the Condor is informed by the post-Watergate era and certainly doesn't seem far-fetched today. Condor feels sleek, with timeless stars and NYC locations, but filmed naturalistically. Yet the ‘70s thriller is not dreary, that some of the then “new cinema” efforts took for realism. The camerawork is too striking and deliberate to be ignored. The stars look great too, but simply so. And the story is realistic but highly entertaining. What a difference a movie generation makes in smart entertainment.

'Three Days of the Condor' is still a smart, stylish political thriller.

A couple of Condor scenes are indeed a direct nod to North by Northwest. When Redford’s Joe Turner ends up in the same elevator as assassin Joubert, they are surrounded by oblivious people. Hitch uniquely played the same scene for laughs, with Cary Grant’s ad man’s mother asking, “Are you men really trying to kill my son?” In Condor, the scene is fraught with suspense, as each man eyes each other suspiciously amidst a group of rowdy teens, and finally, left alone. What makes the latter scene unique is when the killer picks up a glove and asks if it is Turner’s. He says no, and Van Sydow’s Joubert gently lays it on the elevator’s railing. And shortly after, knowing Joubert awaits outside, Turner pretends to have car trouble, and walks out with a group of young people. NBNW hero Cary Grant creates a similar ruckus at the memorable auction scene.

Max Von Sydow is memorable as the most civil assassin ever.

The cast is superb. Max Von Sydow is fascinating as the assassin, Joubert. Von Sydow is intimidating, yet has some subtle moments of gentility. Cliff Robertson is a great villain as well, but with the worst comb-over ever. Tina Chen is touching and striking in a small role of Joanna, Redford’s co-worker. The “office” cast is so believable that you are engaged from the get-go. The interaction is so strong, that you’re invested when you see them killed. Director Sydney Pollack helms one of his best stories and his greatness with actors is apparent. This was one of Pollack’s seven collaborations with Redford.

Cliff Robertson is fine as Redford's shady superior, but his comb-over is not!

Dave Grusin composes yet another jazzy ‘70s score that sounds great and percolates this thriller perfectly. Cinematographer Owen Roizman does a fantastic job lensing this story. His specialty was “gritty New York City feel” and it shows here. Roizman frames his city beautifully, down to the most ordinary aspects. There’s a shot of Max Von Sydow’s killer crossing the street and his reflection on the wet surface is still stunning. Roisman shot many memorable films of the ‘70s and early ‘80s—his first Oscar nom was for his second film, a little number called The French Connection! Lorenzo Semple, Jr. co-wrote the articulate screenplay.

Enjoy Faye Dunaway at 35, in the midst of her ‘70s stardom. And enjoy a still-fresh, smart thriller , 45 years later.

Faye Dunaway's photographer lends Redford's CIA man on the run a hand.

Here’s some links to more Robert Redford, as well.

Also, check out my memories of The Way We Were:

And here’s a look at early Robert Redford in This Property Is Condemned:

FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Check it out & join!



  1. I *LOVE* this movie and have been intending to write about it for many years, but never have. I first saw it as a kid on TV and was totally blown away by the initial attack on RR's workplace. It was just stunning to me. And I could watch Dunaway read the phone book, but this was her era in particular. The 1970s were kind to her. She and Redford were quite a match, but the movie was wonderful in practically every respect. It would all be glossed up and souped up far too much if made today. That realistic grit, even if somewhat stylish, just cannot be duplicated. So glad you picked this to highlight! Happy New Year.

    1. Cheers, Poseidon! I always think of you when I think of Miss Faye! "Condor" is smart entertainment at its best, I think. And I wanted to choose a Dunaway film where she was playing a normal person, and this is one of her best sympathetic roles. Best to you, Rick