Three Days of the Condor

Three Days of the Condor is a 1975 American political thriller film directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max von Sydow.[3] The screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel was based on the 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady.[3]

Three Days of the Condor
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySydney Pollack
Produced byStanley Schneider
Screenplay by
Based onSix Days of the Condor
by James Grady
Music byDave Grusin
CinematographyOwen Roizman
Edited byDon Guidice
Fredric Steinkamp (sup)
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 24, 1975 (1975-09-24) (US)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7.8 million[1]
Box office$41,509,797 (US)[2] or $32.7 million[1]

Set mainly in New York City and Washington, D.C., the film is about a bookish CIA researcher who comes back from lunch, discovers all his co-workers murdered, and tries to outwit those responsible until he figures out whom he can really trust. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Semple and Rayfiel received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.[3]


Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a bookish CIA analyst, code named "Condor". He works at the American Literary Historical Society in New York City, which is actually a clandestine CIA office. The seven staff members read books, newspapers, and magazines from around the world, looking for hidden meanings and other useful information. Turner files a report to CIA headquarters on a thriller novel with some strange plot elements, noting the unusual assortment of languages it has been translated into (despite not selling well).

On the day Turner is expecting a response to his report, he steps out, through a back basement door, to pick up staff lunches at a nearby deli. Meanwhile, armed men enter the office and murder the other six staffers. Turner returns to find his coworkers dead; frightened, he grabs a gun and exits the building. He contacts the CIA's New York headquarters in the World Trade Center from a phone booth and is given instructions to meet Wicks, his head of department, who will bring him to safety. But the rendezvous is a trap. Wicks shoots an accompanying CIA staffer and attempts to kill Turner, who wounds Wicks before escaping.

Turner encounters a woman, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), and forces her to take him to her apartment. He holds Hale hostage while he attempts to figure out what is happening. Hale slowly comes to trust Turner, and they become lovers. However, Joubert (Max von Sydow), a foreigner who led the massacre of Turner's co-workers, discovers Turner's hiding place. A hitman (Hank Garrett) disguised as a mailman arrives at Hale's apartment, but Turner kills him.

No longer trusting anyone within "the Company", Turner plays a cat-and-mouse game with Higgins (Cliff Robertson), the deputy director of the CIA's New York division. With Hale's help, Turner abducts Higgins, who identifies Joubert as a freelance assassin who has undertaken assignments for the CIA. Back at his office, Higgins discovers that the "mailman" who attacked Turner worked with Joubert on a previous operation. Their CIA case officer was Wicks.

Meanwhile, Turner discovers Joubert's location by utilizing his US Army Signals Corps training to trace a phone call. Turner also learns the name and address of Leonard Atwood (Addison Powell), CIA Deputy Director of Operations for the Middle East. Turner confronts Atwood in Atwood's Washington area mansion, interrogates him at gunpoint, and learns that Turner's original report filed to CIA headquarters had provided links to a rogue operation to seize Middle Eastern oil fields. Fearful of its disclosure, Atwood privately ordered Turner's section be eliminated.

As Atwood confirms this, Joubert enters and unexpectedly kills the CIA deputy director. Atwood's superiors have hired Joubert to stage the suicide of someone who was about to become an embarrassment, overriding Atwood's original contract for Joubert to kill Turner. Joubert suggests that the resourceful Turner leave the country and even become an assassin himself. Turner rejects the suggestion but heeds Joubert's warning that the CIA will try to eliminate him as another embarrassment, possibly entrapping him through a trusted acquaintance.

Back in New York, Turner has a rendezvous with Higgins near Times Square. Higgins describes the oilfield plan as a contingency "game" that was planned within the CIA without approval from above. He defends the project, suggesting that when oil shortages cause a major economic crisis, Americans will demand that their comfortable lives be restored by any means necessary. Turner points to The New York Times building and says he has "told them a story". Higgins is dismayed but questions whether Turner's whistleblowing will be published. "They'll print it", Turner defiantly replies. However, as "Condor" turns away, Higgins calls out that he is about to become a very lonely man.



Filming locations

Three Days of the Condor was filmed in various locations in New York City (including the World Trade Center, 55 East 77th Street, The Ansonia, and Central Park), New Jersey, and Washington D.C. (including the National Mall).[4][5]


Box office

The film earned $8,925,000 in theatrical showings in North America.[6]

Critical response

Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 86% of 43 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review, and the average rating was 7.1/10; the site's consensus is: "This post-Watergate thriller captures the paranoid tenor of the times, thanks to Sydney Pollack's taut direction and excellent performances from Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway."[7]

When first released, the film was reviewed positively by New York Times critic, Vincent Canby, who wrote that the film "is no match for stories in your local newspaper", but it benefits from good acting and directing.[8] Variety called it a B movie that was given a big budget despite its lack of substance.[9] Roger Ebert wrote, "Three Days of the Condor is a well-made thriller, tense and involving, and the scary thing, in these months after Watergate, is that it's all too believable."[10]

John Simon wrote how the book, Six Days of the Condor, had been rewritten for the film:

That the action has been relocated from sleepy Washington to furious New York City, almost all names have been changed, that the plot has been vastly over-complicated, is of lesser interest than a straight genre film, has been overloaded into an elegy of private, political, and finally, cosmic pessimism, a kind of national, if not metaphysical, guilt film to enchant the disenchanted.[11]

In closing his review, Simon said the lesson he derived from the film was, "we must be grateful to the CIA: it does what our schools no longer do - engage some people to read books."[11]

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard lists the film as an example of a new genre of "retro cinema" in his essay on history in the now influential book, Simulacra and Simulation (1981):

In the 'real' as in cinema, there was history but there isn't any anymore. Today, the history that is 'given back' to us (precisely because it was taken from us) has no more of a relation to a 'historical real' than neofiguration [sic] in painting does to the classical figuration of the real...All, but not only, those historical films whose very perfection is disquieting: Chinatown, Three Days of the Condor, Barry Lyndon, 1900, All the President's Men, etc. One has the impression of it being a question of perfect remakes, of extraordinary montages that emerge more from a combinatory [sic] culture (or McLuhanesque mosaic), of large photo-, kino-, historicosynthesis [sic] machines, etc., rather than one of veritable films."[12]

Some critics also described the film as a piece of political propaganda, as it was released soon after the "Family Jewels" scandal came to light in December 1974, which exposed a variety of CIA 'dirty tricks'. However, in an interview with Jump Cut, Pollack explained that the film was written solely to be a spy thriller and that production on the film was nearly over by the time the Family Jewels revelations were made, so even if they had wanted to take advantage of them, it was far too late in the filmmaking process to do so. He said that despite both Pollack and Redford being well-known political liberals, they were only interested in making the film because an espionage thriller was a genre neither of them had previously explored.[13]

I didn't want this picture to be judged; it’s a movie. I intended it always as a movie. I never had any pretensions about the picture and it’s making me very angry that I'm getting pretensions stuck on me like tails on a donkey. If I wanted to be pretentious, I'd take the CIA seal and advertise this movie and really take advantage of the headlines. Central Intelligence Agency, United States of America, Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway. And don't think it wasn't suggested—obviously, that’s what advertising people do. We really put our foot down—Redford and I—to absolutely stop that.[13]

Awards and nominations


Panning and scanning

In 1997, The Association of Danish Film Directors, on behalf of Pollack, sued Danmarks Radio, claiming that their broadcasting the film in a panned and scanned version violated his copyright. The case was unsuccessful, as the rights were not owned by Pollack personally in the first place. The case is believed to have been the first legal challenge to the practice of panning and scanning for broadcast on the grounds that it compromises the artistic integrity of an original film.[15]


Three Days of the Condor
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedAugust 1975
LabelCapitol (1975)
DRG (2004 reissue)
ProducerNeely Plumb

All music by Dave Grusin, except where noted.

  1. "Condor! (Theme from 3 Days of the Condor)" 3:35
  2. "Yellow Panic" 2:15
  3. "Flight of the Condor" 2:25
  4. "We'll Bring You Home" 2:24
  5. "Out to Lunch" 2:00
  6. "Goodbye for Kathy (Love Theme from 3 Days of the Condor)" 2:16
  7. "I've Got You Where I Want You" 3:12 (Grusin/Bahler; sung by Jim Gilstrap)
  8. "Flashback to Terror" 2:24
  9. "Sing Along with the C.I.A." 1:34
  10. "Spies of a Feather, Flocking Together (Love Theme from 3 Days of the Condor)" 1:55
  11. "Silver Bells" 2:37 (Livingstone / Evans; Vocal: Marti McCall)
  12. "Medley: a) Condor! (Theme) / b) I've Got You Where I Want You" 1:57

Cultural impact

  • Joubert's musings in the penultimate scene (see under Plot above) on how Turner might be killed by the CIA are reprised almost word-for-word in the Seinfeld episode "The Junk Mail." The speech is used as a warning from Newman to Kramer about how the U.S. Postal Service will retaliate for Kramer's refusal to receive his mail.
  • In Out of Sight, Jack Foley (George Clooney) and Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) discuss the film's romantic subplot, which Sisco describes as dubious.
  • The Marvel Comics superhero film Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was inspired by this film, along with the comic book source material. Robert Redford was even cast in the film as an homage.
  • Perhaps the most famous line in the film is Turner's challenge to Higgins, “You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?” Director Sydney Pollack has admitted to using variations of that line in three other of his films: Tootsie (1982), The Firm (1993), and The Interpreter (2005).

TV series

In March 2015, Skydance Media in partnership with MGM Television and Paramount Television announced that they would produce a TV series remake of the film.[16] In February 2017, Max Irons was cast as Joe Turner in the series entitled Condor for Audience.[17]

See also


  1. De Laurentiis PRODUCER'S PICTURE DARKENS: KNOEDELSEDER, WILLIAM K, Jr. Los Angeles Times 30 Aug 1987: 1.
  2. "Three Days of the Condor". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  3. "Three Days of the Condor (1975)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  4. "Three Days of the Condor". On the Set of New York. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  5. Sydney Pollack (director) (1999). Three Days of the Condor (DVD). Los Angeles: Paramount.
  6. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
  7. "Three Days of the Condor (1975)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  8. Canby, Vincent (September 25, 1975). "Three Days of the Condor (1975)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 29, 2008.
  9. "Review: 'Three Days of the Condor'". Variety. 1975. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  10. Ebert, Roger (1975). "Three Days of the Condor". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  11. Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Film. Crown Publishers Inc. pp. 195-198.
  12. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. University of Michigan Press, 1994, p. 45. French original, Simulacres et Simulation, published by Éditions Galilée in 1981.
  13. McGilligan, Patrick (1976). "Hollywood uncovers the CIA". Jump Cut (10–11). Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  14. AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees
  15. Morton Jacobsen, 'Copyright on Trial in Denmark', Image Technology, vol. 79, no. 5 (May 1997), pp. 16-20, and no. 6 (June 1997), pp. 22-24.
  16. "Skydance Productions Developing 'Three Days of the Condor' Remake for TV (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. March 11, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  17. "Max Irons To Star In Audience TV Series Inspired By 'Three Days Of The Condor'". Deadline. February 6, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
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