During the Watergate era, the conspiracy thriller was one of the most popular movie genres, and “Three Days of the Condor” was one of its best examples.
Now streaming on HBO Max, the Sydney Pollack-directed 1975 thriller has had an enduring legacy, to the extent that it inspired “Condor” … the series originally made for AT&T’s Audience Network and recently picked up by EPIX. Despite some revisions to the content, the show kept the basic theme of a fugitive on the run after assassins (led in the film by a suave Max von Sydow) commit a massacre at his office, a (supposedly) disguised research office for the CIA.
In the original version, the man being chased by the killers who missed him is played by Robert Redford, playing brilliant yet vulnerable as a likable know-it-all who’s savvy enough to know that a murder scheme was lifted from the “Dick Tracy” comic strip. Out getting lunch while his co-workers are being slaughtered, he returns to a horrific scene that sends him fleeing through New York, hoping his superiors will bring him in and protect him.
Instead, as represented coldly and superbly by Cliff Robertson, they leave him on his own to draw fire …. and to figure out why he and his late colleagues became targets. Needing shelter, Redford’s Joe Turner randomly kidnaps a customer from a store he’s ducked into; luckily for him and us, she’s played by Faye Dunaway, making for a very photogenic couple even at their most tense moments together.
Pollack keeps the action moving at a fine pace with some show-stopping moments, such as the visit by a presumed mailman to the Dunaway character’s home, and the ultimate confrontation that lets Turner know whether he’s merely been paranoid about his hunch that there’s a rogue “CIA within the CIA.”
A terrific light-jazz score by frequent Pollack collaborator Dave Grusin underscores the tale, which was condensed for movie purposes to “Three Days of the Condor” from James Grady’s novel “Six Days of the Condor.” Also notable in a cast filled with first-rate supporting players is John Houseman as a CIA higher-up who’s even chillier here than Robertson. And that takes some doing.
Perhaps Redford has gotten more acclaim for other films, but “Three Days of the Condor” surely is one of his most entertaining. Though it’s almost 50 years old, it maintains its fresh feel, no small feat for a picture that has been around for almost half a century. And as much as it’s a child of its time, its questioning of leaders’ ethics remains quite relevant now.