Thursday, September 24, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Trust?

Kathy (Faye Dunaway): Do you trust him?

Turner (Robert Redford): [shaking his head] Trust.

Kathy: Does he trust you?

Turner: He's in the suspicion business. He can't trust anybody.

Kathy: How could anybody fool them?

Turner: Maybe nobody did.

Kathy: Then ...

Turner: Maybe there's another CIA ... inside the CIA.

As Roger Ebert wrote about "Three Days of the Condor," which premiered on this day 40 years ago, the story was "all too believable" in the aftermath of Watergate.

That was kind of an ironic observation, given that, within a year, Redford would co–star with Dustin Hoffman in a movie about the early days of the Watergate investigation. (A friendly warning: If you haven't seen "Three Days of the Condor" before, the images of the World Trade Center that keep popping up can be a little unsettling even though they were really only props in the movie, and it was made about 26 years before the terrorist attacks brought them down.)

His co–stars in "Three Days of the Condor" were Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and Max von Sydow. The director was Sydney Pollack.

"How soon we grow used to the most depressing possibilities about our government," Ebert wrote, "and how soon, too, we commercialize on them. Hollywood stars used to play cowboys and generals. Now they're wiretappers and assassins, or targets."

Considering the times we live in, that makes me wonder what we'll be seeing on our movie screens in the not–so–distant future.

In this movie, Redford played a target, a seemingly naive character who worked as a reader for the American Literary Historical Society, which was actually a front for the CIA. And Redford was a CIA analyst (code name: Condor) who read books and periodicals from around the world looking for concealed meanings. In the early part of the movie, he filed a report on a spy thriller he had been reading, commenting on unusual plot twists and the number of languages into which it had been translated in spite of the fact that it wasn't commercially successful.

Then, one day, when Redford was out getting sandwiches for the office, someone came in and shot up the place. When he returned, he found everyone dead.

From that point on, you really had to follow the story carefully because, in true spy thriller fashion, people got shot on a frequent basis. Characters you thought you knew. Characters you didn't know at all.

Faye Dunaway entered the story as kind of an innocent bystander. Redford spotted her in a store and, needing a place to hide, forced her to take him to her apartment, where he held her prisoner while trying to decide on his next move. As time went by, they became lovers.

Max von Sydow played a shadowy contract killer who had been behind the shootings in Redford's office. He turned his attention to Redford, the one who got away.

Cliff Robertson played Redford's section chief, but Redford had never met him and, knowing the environment in which they both worked, didn't exactly trust him.

Perhaps now you can see why Ebert said the movie was believable. And I believed the story, too — except for the part about Redford and Dunaway becoming lovers after he had abducted her at gunpoint. Let me clarify that. I didn't believe it at the time I saw it; since that time, I have heard of a number of incidents in which an abductee did fall in love with the abductor. Seems to me that is called the Stockholm syndrome — when a hostage bonds with the abductor. Anyway, it has more credibility with me now.

And I suppose that must have been what the movie was portraying in the side story about Redford and Dunaway.

Hey, it had to be. Dunaway took a shower and, when she came out of the bathroom, witnessed Redford shooting a guy who had been sent by his superiors to kill Redford. And she stayed with him.

You really had to pay attention to the story, or you would miss something important. For some people, that is simply too much work. For them, movies are for escapism, something that should wash over you while you devote little effort to the experience. Spy thrillers (well, the really good ones, anyway) aren't that way in print, and they aren't that way in the movies.

"Three Days of the Condor" seemed like the kind of movie Oscar usually rewards, but it only received one nomination — for Film Editing — and lost to "Jaws."