Coincidental Condor

It’s was an odd, coincidental evening last night when I sat down to watch the 1975 movie Three Days of the Condor, a potboiler movie based on James Grady’s spy thriller Six Days of the Condor (presumably shortened to fit film length). I’d racked it up on Netflix months ago for no particular reason I can remember.

One of the odd coincidences about the film for me was that director Sydney Pollack just died last week. That was a very minor frisson of serendipity.

Robert Redford’s starred in his share of clinkers and I have to say that when I saw Dino de Laurentis’ name as producer on the opening credits, I once again adjusted my expectations.

There are a lot of things about the movie that belie its mass-market paperback and a shared production heritage with Death Wish and Mandingo, not the least of which is an excruciating-to-watch scene where Redford’s CIA bookworm-on-the-run-from-the agency character Joe Turner convinces a woman (Faye Dunaway) he’s kidnapped at gunpoint to have sex with him so that he can forget his troubles for a few hours. Ewwww.

Rooting around through trash does occasionally get you a find or two, however. Which is, oddly enough what Turner and his compatriots are doing at the beginning of the film: analyzing foreign-language mystery and thriller plots for ideas of what’s going on and what might be a good idea.

At the very end of the movie, Turner confronts the New York City CIA chief (Cliff Robertson). He’s figured out that the agency is trying to cover up the fact that the Middle East Deputy Director of Operations put into effect a “contingency” plan for setting up an invasion of the Middle East, a plan which also has links to Venezuela. “The whole damn thing was about oil,” says Turner, after confronting the deputy director in his home.

That final scene is where the other coincidence comes in. Last week, of course, Scott McClellan’s book What Happened came out with its charge that the media had been too compliant with the administration. “Ohhh, no, no no,” say most of the media pundits. Well, this was written as the capping scene in a sort of cheesy (although fairly successful) spy flick released just a year after the press was patting itself on the back for their part in exposing Watergate (and only a year before the same star would appear in the movie version of All the President’s Men).

Robert Redford and Cliff Robertson in 'Three Days of the Condor'

After some very improbable machinations, Turner arranges to meet Higgins on a New York City street to tell him where to stick it. He’s going public!

JOE TURNER: Well, go on home, Higgins. Go on. They’ve got it.


TURNER: You know where we are. Just look around. That’s where they ship from. They’ve got all of it.

[Higgins sees that as they’ve walked they have reached the front of the New York Times printing plant.]

HIGGINS: What? What did you do?

TURNER: I told them a story. You play games. I told them a story.

HIGGINS: Oh, you…you poor dumb son of a bitch. You’ve done more damage than you know.

TURNER: I hope so.

HIGGINS: You’re about to be a very lonely man. It didn’t have to end this way.

TURNER: Of course it did.

HIGGINS: Hey, Turner. How do you know they’ll print it? You can take a walk, but how far if they don’t print it?

TURNER: They’ll print it.

HIGGINS: How do you know?

McGovern for Veep

Today’s the South Dakota Democratic primary, and there would be no better time for Barack Obama to announce this choice for his running mate: former South Dakota Senator George S. McGovern.

McGovern was right about Vietnam and Iraq. He spoke out in 1965 for recognition of the Cuban government, saying that sanctions wouldn’t work to bring down the Castro regime. He advocated opening relations with China years before Henry Kissinger made his secret trips for President Richard Nixon. He’s been a ceaseless advocate for ending poverty and hunger around the world, something that was recognized by President Robert Kennedy when he gave McGovern the reins of the Food for Peace office. He tried to warn the American public about Nixon’s role in the Watergate affair even before the 1972 election, but the voters didn’t listen.

He was bombing Nazis when Senator John McCain was still in short pants, he won a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in saving the lives of his men. And unlike McCain, he did his 35 missions in a slow, difficult-to-fly B-24 Liberator (sometimes known as “The Flying Coffin”) without getting his ass shot down.

It’s been 36 years since McGovern topped the Democratic ticket, taking on Nixon and the war supporters in his own party. He’s tanned, he’s rested, he’s ready.

Darrel Plant and George McGovern at the 2007 McGovern Conference in South Dakota