Three Days of the Condor: A 1970s Political Thriller

Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor. Courtesy of Paramount.

Three Days of the Condor is a 1970s post-Watergate political thriller that more or less captured the paranoia at the time.

“You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?” – Joe Turner (Robert Redford)

Political thrillers were very much a thing of the 1970s. This film is a reason why Robert Redford would take on a key role in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film is also among a number of thrillers that inspired Jurassic World: Chaos Theory, launching on Netflix this week. You can blame the Jurassic World series for why I decided to go ahead and watch the film on Monday night. It’s a long overdue viewing since but I would have gotten to watching the 4K UHD release at some point. The release consists of brand new 2023 HDR/Dolby Vision and HD masters from a 4K scan of the original camera negative.

Joe Turner is a very different character from the Sundance Kid in that he’s a bookish CIA agent. He discovers his office at the American Literary Historical Society has been massacred and goes on the run. Unfortunately, he does not know if he can trust his allies, including superiors. They would prefer to bring him in but he wants answers for himself so one can sense reluctance on his part. Anyway, Redford’s character brought some challenges for Sydney Pollack’s direction of the film because of the action. Turner ends up taking Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) as a hostage. In classic film fashion, Turner’s hostage also gains his trust and falls in love with him. Hale’s clothing also changes throughout her transition as a character.

How damaging is it to be suspicious of the people you’re supposed to trust? This is a key question that the film is asking. Not only of the audience but the characters in the film. There are secrets in this film that characters would also kill if it prevents those secrets from getting out. Look at the film’s ending after Turner blows the whistle at The New York Times. Turner tells Higgins (Cliff Robertson) that they’ll print it. Trust in the media is something else. Media certainly works very differently these days. They have to answer to their shareholders but they depending on the network, they have their own spin on things. MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, it doesn’t matter because they have editorial control.

Redford was using the period to grow as an actor and from a political perspective. He was careful not to inject his political views into his work. It was a very different time period as filmmakers could get away with so much more than even 20 years ago. The film was based on a novel and Redford brought it to director Sydney Pollack, who thought there was something there. However, they thought the story was in need of some more work. Redford, Pollack, and screenwriter David Rayfiel worked on it together, cutting off three days. Rather than make it about drugs, they changed the focus to oil since that was relevant for the time period. In any event, they made it all up and then the Church Committee was formed in the U.S. Senate and oil crisis would hit. Talk about timing!

Pollack viewed making the film as being just another job. There were the event films and then there just the films you do for a paycheck. Neither him nor Redford had any expectations at the time.  Lo and behold, it would become one of the classic political thrillers setting the tone for the 1970s. Of course, you can think the political events that would follow the film’s release such as the Iran-Contra Affair and the later Gulf War. As far as thrillers go, there is nowhere near the level of action that one might get out of a political/conspiracy thriller today.

Three Days of the Condor really is a film of its time.

Bonus Features

DISC 1 (4KUHD):

  • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Audio Commentary by Director Sydney Pollack

DISC 2 (BLU-RAY):

  • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Audio Commentary by Director Sydney Pollack
  • Something About Sydney Pollack: 2004 Documentary (59:05)
  • More About the Condor: 2003 Featurette (24:56)
  • Theatrical Trailers

DIRECTOR: Sydney Pollack
SCREENWRITERS: Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel
CAST: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, with Addison Powell, Walter McGinn, Tina Chen, Michael Kane, Don McHenry, Michael Miller, Jess Osuna, Dino Narizzano, Helen Stenberg, Patrick Gorman, Hansford H. Rowe Jr., Hank Garrett, and John Houseman

Paramount Pictures released Three Days of the Condor in theaters on September 25, 1975. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.