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 Turner: What if there's a CIA within the CIA?

Three Days of the Condor is a 1975 political thriller starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and Max Von Sydow.

Mild-mannered researcher Joe Turner (Redford) works for Central Intelligence Agency in a small building in New York, reading book after book to review their plots to see if they either contain elements that may be similar to ongoing covert operations or else be useful ideas for the CIA to employ. One day during the holiday season Turner steps out of the office to grab his co-workers lunch at a nearby deli... during which a hit squad led by Joubert (von Sydow) enters the office and kills Turner's co-workers (and love interest Janice). Terrified, Turner calls in the deaths to his CIA handlers, who issue his code name 'Condor' and order him to follow procedures for pick-up and debriefing. In the process, things keep getting messier and Turner begins to worry that his own employer the CIA is trying to murder him.

After a botched pick-up gets Turner's last friend in the CIA killed, Turner is forced to kidnap Kathy Hale (Dunaway) and use her apartment as a hideout. At first afraid for her life, Hale rather quickly falls for Turner and they sleep together. With her help, Turner is able to capture CIA honcho Higgins (Robertson) who reveals he himself is in the dark and wants Turner to stay "on the outside" to draw out the assassins so the CIA can figure out who's rotten within their own ranks. Now all Turner has to do is survive Joubert's attempts on his life, keep Kathy safe, and figure out why someone in the CIA wants him dead...


Three Days of the Condor provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The original novel had drug trafficking as the purpose of the internal conspiracy. After the 1973 energy crisis, the filmmakers decided to use oil instead. The original author agreed that this was a better and more plausible purpose.
  • Affably Evil: Joubert. He comes to respect Turner after his various escape attempts. And after killing Atwood instead of Turner, Joubert even offers Turner friendly advice, a ride to the train station... and even a gun.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: When Turner is talking to Kathy..

 Kathy: You're not entitled to personal questions! That gun gives you the right to rough me up; it doesn't give you the right to ask me...

Joe Turner: Wh- wh- Rough you up? Have I roughed you up?

Kathy: Yes! What are you doing in my house?

Joe Turner: Have I? Have I?

Kathy: Going through all my stuff? Force...

Joe Turner: Have I raped you?

Kathy: The night is young.

  • Artistic License Gun Safety: Averted when Joubert comes across Turner holding someone at gunpoint -- he tells Turner to put his thumb under the hammer of his pistol before lowering it. As the Colt M1911 he's holding is a single-action weapon (it can't fire unless cocked first) this not only prevents accidental discharge but also has the same effect as putting the safety catch on.
  • Badass Bookworm: Turner goes from being a meek researcher who reads books all day into a Crazy Prepared field operative able to outfox a trained assassin like Joubert. His background as a bookworm is why the CIA boss played by John Houseman thinks Turner will be able to evade both his would-be executioners and the CIA itself.
  • Bait and Switch: It looks like Joubert is going to shoot Turner, but he kills Atwood instead. Turner then naturally assumes he'll be next, but Joubert just offers him a lift as no-one has ordered him to kill Turner
  • Bulletproof Vest: Subverted. A CIA clerk who is a friend of the protagonist Turner is asked to help bring him in for debriefing and is issued a bulletproof vest "just in case". In reality the meeting is a set-up to kill Turner -- when it goes wrong the wounded killer aims carefully and shoots the clerk in the throat.
  • Camping a Crapper: One victim gets machine-gunned through the toilet door.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Noticeably subverted with the Downer Ending.
  • Cleanup Crew: A cleaning truck is seen investigating Turner's report of the shooting, and presumably cleaning up the mess afterwards.
  • Cold War: Higgins justifies what happens because "The other side plays games too."
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Atwood.
  • Deadly Delivery: The CIA analyst office where Turner works has its own security -- CCTV cameras, locked doors, a guard -- even the receptionist has a gun in the drawer. The killers get inside by sending in a man dressed as a postman, and as the place gets regular deliveries of books this doesn't seem strange. The postman killer tries the same trick on the protagonist later on, but this time he's ready.
  • Disposable Woman: Janice, Turner's almost-girlfriend.
  • Downer Ending: With eight innocent people dead all because of what Higgins calls "a war game," Turner reveals to Higgins that Turner had told everything to the New York Times. But as Turner walks away...

 Higgins: Hey, Turner! How do you know they'll print it? How do you know...?

    • Also it's suggested that Turner will eventually be killed too, as he is unwilling to flee the country as Joubert advises.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The protagonist goes out of the office to get lunch and returns minutes later to find that all of his colleagues, friends and even her love interest have been murdered, himself the actual target and chance survivor.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Janice looks up from her work to see three men pointing silenced Ingrams at her.

 Joubert: Would you please step away from the window.

Janice: (calmly) I won't scream.

Joubert: I know.

  • Film of the Book: Came out 1974 written by James Grady called Six Days of the Condor. The names of the characters were different, it had another reason for killing the readers (some higher ups in the CIA used the book shipments to smuggle drugs), had another faction (Oversight, which polices all intelligence agencies and reports only to the Senate) and killed Kathy on the last pages.
  • 555: Used with several numbers.
  • Front Organisation: American Literary Historical Society (the analyst group that Turner works for) and Five Continents Imports used by the Renegade Operation.
  • Genre Savvy (In-Universe): Turner, due to his constant reading of action novels and comics as part of his job.
  • Government Conspiracy
  • Heel Face Turn: Inverted. Joubert kills Atwood only because The Company hired him back. But while Joubert claims he doesn't kill Turner at the end because The Company didn't figure on Joubert finding Turner at Atwood's home, the assassin seems genuinely relieved he doesn't have to kill him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Joubert makes it look like Atwood's death is suicide.
  • Lawful Neutral: How Joubert sees himself. He's not evil: he just happens to be very good at killing people.

 Joubert: Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation. Someone is always willing to pay.

Turner: I would find it... tiring.

Joubert: Oh, no. 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.

  • Ominous Multiple Screens: Used by the Major.
  • Phone Trace Race: The CIA thinks they've traced Turner's whereabouts, but Turner has stolen a phone linesman's kit and wired fifty phones together.
  • Properly Paranoid: For the movie itself, Condor came out right after Watergate and Vietnam exposed a lot of criminal goings-on in government. And for Turner, this is how one day of being hunted by trained CIA assassins makes him this.

 Higgins: You never complained until yesterday.

Turner: You didn't start killing my friends until yesterday!

  • Shipper on Deck: Joubert asks Turner why he chose "the girl" (Hale) as a hostage. Turner claims it was random, but Joubert doesn't seem to buy it...
  • Slap Slap Kiss: Turner kidnaps Hale in an attempt to evade his pursuers. Hale is obviously terrified of this gun-toting lunatic raving about working for the CIA, and doesn't appreciate getting tied up half the time. But the first chance they get, they start making out.
  • Sniper Pistol: Joubert uses a silenced and scoped Broomhandle Mauser at one stage.
  • Spanner in the Works: The only reason Turner survived the massacre was because it was raining, so he goes out the back way to get lunch. As the assasins assume he's still in the building, they go ahead with their plan.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Kathy's decision to sleep with Turner clearly has elements of this. Until an assassin bursts into her home the next day, she has no reason to believe that anything Turner says is true.
  • World War II: Mentioned in-film by Houseman's CIA boss. He reminisces about serving in both the great wars and laments "I miss that kind of clarity."
  • You Know Too Much: Turner at both the beginning and end of the movie. Also Turner's friend who was supposed to help bring him in is killed because he sees Wicks try to shoot Turner instead.
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