Friday, September 12, 2008

"I told them a story. You play games, I told them a story."

With the wife still at work due to today's train accident in Chatsworth, I put Three Days of the Condor into the DVD player while home alone with the kids. Maybe it's because I'm currently listening to James Grady's latest on audiobook, Mad Dogs, that I brought this disc out of my library and into the player. Or, perhaps I didn't want to dwell upon the inane tragedy and aftermath of two trains meeting head long on the same track. Or, that a hurricane is bearing down on the gulf coast, and all readily available for those watching TV, and I sought refuge in a movie. Too bad it's fleeting. I never read the book it's based upon, Six Days of the Condor, but heard it was quite good. I also know that they changed the story's premise from Vietnam and drugs, to oil for the screenplay. Remember, this came out in 1975. Watergate, oil shortages, and paranoia were actively shaping the boomers of my day -- with the aftereffect and outlook still felt among us.

Regardless, it is still a quite effective thriller and exposition of that decade. Robert Redford always did work well for his most frequent collaborator, the late director Sydney Pollack. And while Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and others give solid supporting roles, the viewer to drawn to Max Von Sydow's freelance assassin, Joubert. While the plot has the CIA and its Operations directorate behind it all for the audience of that day, it's the fleeing book reader/analyst and detached assassin that offer the best contrast in the film, especially over time. Joe Turner's (Redford) dilemma in the story is the sense of betrayal -- the symbol for that decade. For Joubert, he cannot be betrayed since he believes in neither side. He cares not about the 'why' for any of his jobs (sometimes the where and indeed the how), but always about the 'how much' -- which seems to be something very perceptible for those of us around during the 90s to now (at least as of the date of this posting). Additionally, the film's ambiguous ending for the protagonist turned out to be the standard plot point for films from the turbulent 70s. Paradoxically, that would work out for us, today.

Lastly, this film's effective use of New York City as a backdrop is what really brought the blog post out of me in the gloaming. The crisp, wintery cityscape in which the story was shot, plays out well for the people caught in the story's intrigue and the sanctum they seek from the cold. Cinematographer Orrin Roizman provided what turned out to be some truly haunting visuals, especially for those taking the film in, years later, post 9/11. City central in this screenplay (and for the CIA) are the Twin Towers -- a made-up plot point about the Agency by the author that turned out to be true from the original novel. The visuals that Roizman catches and puts on display for the WTC are those from now historic and well remembered (and recorded) perspectives. Twenty years later (in 1995), I flew directly over those towers on a commuter flight from Hartford to Newark to catch a long flight back home from a business trip. The only time I ever saw the WTC in person, and the view of them was stunning, then and now. And since yesterday was the 7th anniversary of that infamous day, the irony and coincidence is not lost on me tonight.

Blogger note: since the time of this writing, I have read the original book. I've come to realize that Corey Wilde was right. The film is definitely more enjoyable than the book.


  1. I watched this film again recently myself, and agree with your assessment that it has held up fairly well over the years. I like to think that no director would toss away an actress as great as Faye Dunaway on what was pretty much a 2D character. But the planning by the CIA on dealing with an oil crisis remains a timely issue. That and Redford's earnest portrait of a rather naive intellectual learning the basics of spy-dom were the highlights for me.

  2. As soon as I saw your blog title today I knew what you were going to be talking about. Simple line of dialogue but Robert Redford really delivered it.

    le0, this is one of the rare times that I can say I enjoyed the movie more than the book. The pacing of the book was slow, or at least it was slow for a suspense tale. Pollack did the right thing by cutting out three days.

    Von Sydow gave me the creeps here. So cold. So gently amused by Redford's idealism. Great actor though, because didn't he also play Jesus in one of those Bible films back in the day?

  3. beauvallet: Yes, so timely. Higgins' chilling dialogues are so prophetic: "It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?" One can sit there and check off the nouns in the dialog, then, and the repercussions of each, today.

    corey: Yes, Von Sydow's Joubert was the unnerving indifference floating throughout that film. And, yes, he did play Jesus in the cameo-filled, Greatest Story Ever Told by George Stevens. And he was the best thing in movie.

    Thank you, both, for your comments.

  4. Ugh, this game tonight is just too ugly to keep watching. And I waited too long to get to the liquor store. Man, us Buckeyes just are out of touch tonight! Maybe I'll just go watch 'Three Days of the Condor' again...

  5. Yesterday at Trailers from Hell, director Don Coscarelli covered this excellent movie and its trailer. And he right that this is one of those studio trailers where just about every plot point (including the ending) is shown during it. I hate those kinds of previews! Anyway, thought you might be interested in this.