By: Joshua Glenn
August 5, 2019

One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating some of our favorite action movies from the Seventies (1974–1983).



“When things quiet down, you’re really a very sweet man to be with,” admits Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) to her kidnapper, Joe Turner (Robert Redford), an hour or so into Three Days of the Condor. For an action-packed thriller, the sequences set in Hale’s apartment are oddly Bergmanesque: intellectually, emotionally intense explorations of belief (is Turner crazy, with his raving about the CIA and assassins?) and alienation (Hale’s bleak photographs send a signal that only Turner has ever been able to hear). Turner is a man playing chess with Death — portrayed by Max von Sydow, a sardonic killer who comes to care about his target. Hale’s decision to assist her captor is life-affirming. The sex is hot, too: Dunaway’s orgasm isn’t a narcissistic one, like in her next movie, Network; and Redford seems well aware that he won’t get any nookie whatsoever in All the President’s Men.

Although it was based on a potboiler, and adapted for the screen by Lorenzo Semple Jr., best known for his work on the Batman TV show, everything about Three Days of the Condor works brilliantly. Pollack and Redford had beome a high-functioning movie-making team, by this point. In fact, their previous film, the revisionist Western Jeremiah Johnson, explores a similar story line: A soldier who’s seen enough of war, and just wants to be left alone to live in the wilderness, winds up forming an ad hoc family; when they’re massacred, he’s devastated — and turns into a vengeful, unstoppable hunter. In this case, the soldier has become a bookish CIA analyst who reads spy novels and comic strips, looking for evidence that details about pending ops may have been leaked; his family are his fellow analysts, nerds with the best job ever; and the wilderness is the Upper East Side of a near-bankrupt New York City. Redford, one hears, was instrumental in shifting the story to one about the CIA’s ambiguous morality and the protagonist’s paranoia.

The paranoia is on point. Pollack’s hip, offbeat shots and edits keep us unnerved; it’s as close as anyone’s ever come to, say, Hitchcock’s The Thirty-Nine Steps — another great movie about a man on the run from the good guys and bad guys alike. Here, the MacGuffin is a sordid CIA plot to capture Mideastern oil. But the true enemy about whom viewers are urged to worry is signaled by the Data 70 typography in the title sequence, the omnipresent machine noise in Turner’s office, and the CIA’s business-like discussion of death and other “contingency plans”: It’s the mechanized, bureaucratized modern society to which the smart, stubborn, independent Turner will never adapt. (See my 2010 HILOBROW post about what the bicycle diagram on the wall of Turner’s CIA office signifies about his political outlook.) Which is why Von Sydow’s character, Joubert, charitably suggests that Turner — in whom he sees a fellow maladapted spirit — should become an assassin.

If this movie were made today, that’s exactly what would happen, and there would be many sequels. Instead, Turner takes a powder. “He’s lost, unpredictable, perhaps even sentimental,” Joubert muses, at an earlier point in the film. Yes: He’s the action hero whom we’ve never deserved.


CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION | Madeline Ashby on BLADE RUNNER | Erik Davis on BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA | Mimi Lipson on CONVOY | Luc Sante on BLACK SUNDAY | Josh Glenn on THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR | Lisa Jane Persky on SORCERER | Devin McKinney on THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | Adam McGovern on QUINTET | Mandy Keifetz on DEATH RACE 2000 | Peter Doyle on SOUTHERN COMFORT | Jonathan Lethem on STRAIGHT TIME | Heather Kapplow on THE KILLER ELITE | Tom Nealon on EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE | Mark Kingwell on THE EIGER SANCTION | Sherri Wasserman on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK | Gordon Dahlquist on MARATHON MAN | David Levine on PARALLAX VIEW | Matthew Sharpe on ROLLERBALL | Ramona Lyons on ALIEN | Dan Piepenbring on WHITE LINE FEVER | Marc Weidenbaum on THIEF | Carolyn Kellogg on MAD MAX | Carlo Rotella on KUNG FU | Peggy Nelson on SMOKEY & THE BANDIT | Brian Berger on FRIDAY FOSTER.


NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): NERDING | ARDUIN | KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL | MAP INSERTS | TIME | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.