Three Days of the Condor is a 1975 movie starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, and John Houseman. Those are the only names I recognize. I watched it two nights ago on Prime, falling asleep, and then picking up where I left off yesterday afternoon. This is life as a senior citizen.
I liked the movie. I should stop there.
It has an intriguing plot, one of those shadowy spook movies where no one is who they say they are. In the beginning, seven people are murdered in a CIA office whose only function is to read literature from around the world, computerizing and highlighting it for reference (and to be on the lookout for secret messages).
I like movies where there are no computers or cell phones – these things have sped up action and robbed everyone of privacy. Modern action movies have people tracked by satellites and tracking devices everywhere, even embedded in clothing. It robs us of intrigue. There is too much information moving about at too fast a pace with not enough time for the viewer to stop and reflect. I know, that is the modern audience, raised in the Internet era, not even knowing what a rotary phone is. For me, I like an intense, but slow-moving plot. (No Country For Old Men fit this bill.)
In this movie, Turner (Redford, code name Condor) was away at lunch and missed the murders. Lost and scared, he kidnaps a woman (Kathy, played by Dunaway) and hides out in her apartment. No one would ever had located him except that someone got his license plate when he hijacked her car. The bad guys send a fake mailman to the apartment, and Condor foolishly lets him in, and they have a shootout. The apartment is destroyed. Did anyone in adjoining units get killed? That is a plot detail left unanswered.
Turner and Kathy naturally become lovers, and they do a really awkward love scene that must have taken all day to film. I did not buy it, and it felt creepy, almost voyeuristic rather than arousing. They don’t belong together.
She is a still photographer, doing black and white photos, and Condor notices that her shots are all of “November” quality, trees without leaves and empty parks, and from this he ferrets out her basic character, that she is leading an empty life, and will support him as he becomes Action Man. That’s all I can make of it. She determines that he is a good man, notices everything, and that his eyes, while not kind, are not malevolent. On this basis, they are easily and quickly in love.
From there he goes high-tech, stealing a brief case from a telephone truck, getting into the switching room of a large hotel, and doing the old alligator clip thing to locate his prey. It was high tech for 1975, and I love it. With the alligator clip attached to a portable phone device, he can dial (yes, I said “dial”) numbers and eavesdrop on conversations. He cannot be traced because (I do not understand this part) he managed to put fifty trace locations in Brooklyn in the lines, so that HQ cannot figure where he is calling from.
[Spoiler alert – don’t read further if you are planning on seeing this movie in a theater.]
In the end, Condor and Jourbert (von Sydow) are able to ferret out the real bad guy, the head of a rogue agency within the agency named Atwood, played by Addison Powell. . Jourbert murders him, and spares Condor, apparently because he admires the amateur’s sleuthing skills. Condor then forces Higgens (Cliff Robertson) out in the open, and they have a final confrontation.
Condor has pulled a fast one. He has told the whole story to the New York Times. Higgens is furious! This is where the movie lost me – they do this to this day, always pretending that we have a free and independent news media. In real life, NYT is staffed by Intelligence agents along with food and sports reporters, and would not spill the beans. But in the movie, the NYT building plays the part of our fourth estate, independent journalism. I think that is called, quoting Chomsky who was citing Reinhold Niebuhr, a “necessary illusion.”
Left unfinished: Condor … does he get to live? It’s really not clear. He has ticked off Higgens at the end. I suppose that’s a good way to end a movie, though these days it would require seven sequels … The Condor Connection, The Condor Identity. Kathy – does she seek out Condor again? Do they carry on their love affair? Or does she retire to a quiet life with her upstate lover? Does she ever get her apartment fixed? I hope she has renter’s insurance.
One thing I noticed: Redford and Robertson really aren’t very good at this thing called “acting.” Maybe it is pre-method, but Redford for sure was chosen for his pretty face. He can fill a character to a degree, but when it comes to intense fear or bottled rage, he’s not even close to De Niro or even Robin Williams. Robertson too – he was just not very good, but these two guys were all over the screen back in those days. (Paul Newman was another guy in this category – I noticed in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that there never really was a psychic or emotional connection between him and Redford. They just recited their lines. The performances came off as tinny.)
(Newman, as Cassidy, is discussing with Redford, as Sundance, jumping off a cliff into a stream below, and Sundance admits he cannot swim. “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you!” That’s a great line, but was poorly delivered by Newman. How would Chuck Heston have done? He would have killed it.)
Guys like Houseman and von Sydow … they are not called on to be afraid or show intense anger, but they do have stage presences. When they speak their lines, they have our attention.
I like older movies. I think I am going to have to ante up and subscribe to AMC. Netflix and Prime show a whole array of offerings, but movies like Three Days are a find. Most that are offered are only there because they cannot pull in rents anymore at regular movie outlets.
Anyway, that is the scoop today from Retirement Village. It is almost nap time.