American cinema in the 1970s was awash with conspiracy thrillers - ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, THE PARALLAX VIEW, THE CONVERSATION ... The Watergate scandal and the death of the flower-power generation following the country's controversial involvement in the Vietnam War had an almighty influence on US filmmakers of the era.
One of the best examples of this genre is Sydney Pollack's THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. Unbelievably, it's only now that it makes its way onto UK home video.
Joseph (Robert Redford) works as a reader-researcher at a modest-looking literary institute, where he actually reads as many books, magazines etc for the CIA - in search of codes, hidden messages and so forth. On the morning of our first introduction to him, he takes a break from his work to pop to the nearby sandwich store and buy his colleagues' lunch. Upon his return, he discovers the rest of his team have been shot dead.
Fleeing the scene, Joseph finds a public telephone box and rings a number he's been given in the past - asking his faceless CIA bosses to "bring him in" to safety. Instead, they insist he stays away from his home and instead meets one of their agents in an alleyway. Encouraged by the fact that an old pal of his will also be there, Joseph puts his paranoia to one side and agrees to the meeting.
Of course, it all goes tits up and the agent starts shooting the moment he spies Joseph. His old pal dies in the crossfire.
Hiding out in a clothes store, Joseph clocks demure Kathy (Faye Dunaway) at the till and follows her out of the shop. Pointing a gun at her waist, she reluctantly agrees to give him a lift. Ultimately, he ends up at her apartment where he says he will stay for rest overnight before continuing his quest for safety. However, switching the TV news on makes Joseph even more paranoid than before.
Can he trust anyone in the CIA? What's going on? And why is tall, slim European Joubert (Max Von Sydow) relentlessly pursuing him?
CONDOR (Condor being Joseph's CIA codename) opens to a great set-piece scene as the literary institute is attacked and, from that moment onwards, the tension rarely lets up. Redford has always had a knack of playing a plausible everyman despite his handsome looks: he's no different here, persuasively conveying equal measures of arrogance, fear and geekiness. We like him, we trust him, we root for him. Dunaway is a little less convincing, as is the romance that blossoms between the two. "Have I raped you?" he protests to the terrified stranger whose home he's invading. "The night is young" she retorts. Ten minutes later they're shagging...
Solid support comes from Cliff Robertson, as Joseph's shifty boss, and - of course - the ever-reliable Von Sydow as the curiously charismatic hitman.
Based on James Grady's novel "Six Days of the Condor" (which I haven't read), Lorenzo Semple Jr and David Rayfiel's screenplay is taut and less convoluted than some of its fellow conspiracy thriller scripts. The resolution is more ambiguous than downright downbeat, which again sets this film apart from many of its rivals.
Pollack's direction is assured and unfussy. Widescreen compositions are beautiful in their simplistic, stylish storytelling. Dave Grusin's score is excellent too, in a swanky Lalo Schifrin way.
In fact, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is one of those pure joys devoid of any weak links.
The film is being brought to the UK as a dual format blu-ray and DVD combo release, courtesy of Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema imprint. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray for review purposes.
As the film commences to a close-up of typed words on a sheet of paper, it looked like this was going to be a heavily grainy proposition. In fact, minor natural grain is kept in check throughout: the picture is little short of stunning. There's a marvellous depth to each scene - particularly exterior ones - while more intimate shots exhibit an insane amount of filmic detail. Colourful, warm and true - this 1080p transfer is something to behold. The film is presented as an MPEG4-AVC file in its original 2.35:1 ratio.
English audio comes with options of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are consistent, clean and clear affairs. Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are also provided; these do a reliable job throughout.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, we get access to a small selection of interesting bonus features.
The film's original 3-minute theatrical trailer is brilliantly retro, reminding us of how masterful previews of the 1970s used to be in getting you hyped to see a film.
Next up is a great 22-minute video piece from film historian Sheldon Hall. He tells us about how producer Dino De Laurentis had originally envisaged Warren Beatty in the lead role, with Peter Yates directing. It was when Redford came on board that he insisted on Pollack, who he'd already worked with twice at that point, directing him. Together they requested adjustments to the screenplay, and the rest is history. Hall is a wealth of information and we get as much here as we would from some audio commentary tracks.
"The Directors: Sydney Pollack" is the complete 1-hour episode of the US TV series, dedicated to the acclaimed filmmaker. Clips from the likes of OUT OF AFRICA, THE WAY WE WERE and JEREMIAH JOHNSON remind you how diverse and consistent Pollack is, while the director himself sits at ease as he speaks about each movie. The likes of Meryl Streep, Cliff Robertson, Paul Newman and Julia Ormond pop up to offer gushing praise now and then in this excellent, VHS-quality offering.
Rounding out this rather spiffing package is a 32-page colour booklet containing a new essay by Michael Brooke. This is a most worthy accompaniment piece to the main feature, in which Brooke engages while discussing the film's political motivations, placing it within the context of its era (1975) and revealing interesting titbits of trivia such as the fact that film knocked JAWS off the box office top spot in the US. The booklet also contains a reproduction of a Pollack interview conducted by fellow filmmaker John Boorman in 1994. Great stuff.
THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is an exceptional film, its themes of paranoia and surveillance as prescient now as they ever were. The film is afforded total justice on Eureka!'s excellent blu-ray.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Eureka! Masters of Cinema|
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