Thursday, January 21, 2010

It will happen this way ...

I had completely forgotten about one of my favorite movies until it popped up on cable this morning: Three Days of the Condor.  My favorite scene - one of my favorite scenes in cinema - is the second-to-last.  The subtext is palpable as Max von Sydow's dispassionate professional killer Jourbert schools Redford's idealistic CIA researcher bookworm Joe Turner on some hard lessons in betrayal and trust.

Condor is in the great tradition of the best of the conspiracy thrillers that found their voice in the cold war of the late 50s/early 60s (Manchurian Candidate!), caught steam in the mid/late 60s with the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam (Seven Days in May! Dr. Strangelove!), and perhaps found their zenith in the 1970s Watergate era.  Of the 70's ilk, I'm talkin' The Conversation, Executive Action, The Parallax View, All the President's Men and so on.  Strangelove may be my favorite movie of all time, but it is a (very dark) comedy (mostly).  Condor is certainly my all-time conspiracy thriller runner up and gets top billing in the playing-it-straight category (which is where virtually all of them live).

It has some great one-liners:
  • "You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?"
  •  "I don't interest myself in 'why'. I think more often in terms of 'when', sometimes 'where'; always 'how much'." 
  • "Not now - then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!"
  •  "Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay ... it's quite restful. It's almost peaceful. No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause. There's only yourself. The belief is in your own precision."
  • "Listen. I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books!"

And of course:
  • "You have not much future there. It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift. [offering him his gun] ... For that day."


  1. Shoot, that classic has got to be one of my all-time favorite from that Cold War genre as well. Another classic film from that period, if not that genre, was Fail Safe. Sure, it didn’t have the star power of Robert Redford, but Walter Matthau, Henry Fonda and of ‘I Dream of Genie’ fame; Larry Hagman. Speaking of dreams, I have fond childhood memories of watching Fail Safe in the cafeteria of my grade school. We didn’t have an auditorium, so the lunchroom doubled as our assembly area. I also recall that the fallout shelter signs from the 50s and 60s were still hanging throughout the school grounds. A magical time to be sure…

  2. Yes, I had forgotten all about Fail Safe - a great one, directed by Sidney Lumet, who was also at the helm of such classics as 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network, The Verdict ...