"You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?"
No film genre better represents the 1970s cultural zeitgeist than the paranoid conspiracy thriller. With the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal still fresh in the minds of most Americans, Hollywood was of course eager to tap into a market deeply distrustful of authority figures and elected officials. Thus were produced a series of movies about innocent men and lone crusaders attempting to unravel a web of lies spread by the machinations of a corrupt government. Package these themes up with an A-List director (Sydney Pollack) and a major movie star (Robert Redford), and you have one of the quintessential examples of the genre.
In 'Three Days of the Condor', Redford stars as Joe Turner, a CIA analyst of no particular significance. Turner isn't a field agent; he just reads books -- mystery thrillers, potboilers, and pulp fiction from around the world -- looking for patterns and hidden messages. He doesn't often find anything, and his reports are usually ignored by his superiors. Turner isn't a flag-waving patriot, but he's a smart guy and enjoys the work.
One day, upon returning from lunch, Turner finds that his entire department has been wiped out by a professional hit squad led by a mysterious European agent (Max von Sydow). Naturally, he panics and flees. As protocol demands, he immediately contacts Langley and asks to be brought in. However, events transpire that convince him not to trust anyone, least of all his bosses at the Agency. Although in way over his head, Turner must enlist the help of a beautiful innocent bystander (Faye Dunaway) to uncover the hidden connection between the CIA and a secret intelligence group attempting to stage an invasion of the Middle East.
'Three Days of the Condor' isn't in quite the same league as the masterpieces of the genre ('All the President's Men', 'The Conversation'). It's a little too conventional and formulaic, and the love story between Redford and Dunaway is far too contrived and unconvincing. The musical score by Dave Grusin is also just plain atrocious. Nonetheless, the film is an effective slow-burn thriller with an appealing cast (Redford is at his most charming here) and compelling direction from Pollack. This isn't an action movie; in fact, the sole fight scene looks downright silly by modern standards. But the story builds suspensefully and features at least one twist of refreshing moral and ethical ambiguity. Despite a few dated elements, the movie has aged pretty well.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Three Days of the Condor' makes its American Blu-ray debut courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The movie had previously been released on the HD DVD format in France and Germany.
The disc's packaging lists the title as '3 Days of the Condor', even though the film's opening credits spell out the "Three."
'Three Days of the Condor' was photographed by Owen Roizman, the cinematographer from 'The French Connection'. When that film was released on Blu-ray earlier this year, Roizman engaged in a public feud with director William Friedkin over the video transfer for the movie. Roizman felt (rightly, in my opinion) that Friedkin had desecrated his work with the Blu-ray's goofy revisionist color timing changes. Fortunately, if he has a chance to view this disc, I'm sure that Roizman will find little to complain about. 'Three Days of the Condor' has been respectfully transferred to Blu-ray.
Make no mistake, the disc looks very much like a movie shot in the 1970s. The 2.35:1 photography is grainy and has drab colors. Contrasts are flat, and the movie exhibits little sense of three-dimensional depth. The picture is generally soft, but looks appropriately so considering the style of the day. It doesn't appear to have been filtered with any Digital Noise Reduction. Detail is well-rendered throughout, especially in fabric textures on the actors' clothing.
Many of the New York City establishing shots are blatantly sourced from stock footage and look a little dupey, but that's certainly not a video transfer flaw. Even though 'Three Days of the Condor' may not be bright and shiny eye candy, the disc has a very natural, film-like appearance appropriate to the material.
I had the opportunity to compare this disc to the French HD DVD, and found the Blu-ray a noticeable improvement. The HD DVD was clearly filtered with DNR, leading to softer details and mushy textures. The Blu-ray thankfully avoids that problem.
The movie's original monaural soundtrack has been remixed into 5.1 format, here presented in lossless Dolby TrueHD form. Despite the remixing, the track is still very mono-focused. It has little stereo dimensionality and few panning effects.
In regard to its use of sound effects and ambient noises, 'Three Days of the Condor' had a fairly interesting sound design for the day. The disc's audio is clear but bland. Fidelity is limited and unexceptional. The cheesy musical score sounds OK, but gunshots are extremely weak.
On the other hand, the Blu-ray has no audio pitch errors, as were problematic on the French HD DVD. I suppose that's got to count for something.
Paramount has never exerted much effort in compiling bonus features for 'Three Days of the Condor'. The Blu-ray has as much as the earlier DVD had, which is next to nothing.
'Three Days of the Condor' has held up pretty well as one of the representative examples of the 1970s conspiracy thriller genre. The Blu-ray has a very good video transfer, but disappointing audio and supplements. Still, it's worth a recommendation.