'Tis the Season for "Three Days of the Condor"
“I'm not a field agent, I just read books!”
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“Three Days of the Condor” Is a Christmas Movie
(Even though it first premiered 47 years ago, I should alert you that spoilers for Three Days of the Condor appear throughout this dispatch.)
By know everyone knows, and is likely tired of hearing about, the seasonal stance that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. There are movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street that are holiday traditions—they’re about Christmas and you watch them during the holiday season. Animated and stop-motion entertainment like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Grinch, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also fall into this category, but so do more modern movies like Elf, Scrooged, Home Alone, Love Actually, and The Family Stone. And The Hallmark Channel and Lifetime have around-the-clock seasonal programming dedicated to formulaic holiday love stories.
But along with Die Hard there’s a number of films set during Christmas, but not necessarily about Christmas, that continue to climb their way onto Top Christmas Movies roundups, pictures like Less Than Zero, Eyes Wide Shut, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon, Trading Places, and Batman Returns. At the top of the list would be one of my favorite Christmas movies, and one I watch every December, the 1975 paranoia-fueled thriller Three Days of the Condor.
The first time I saw it was when I was home from college on Christmas break in the late ‘80s. One night after midnight I was watching TV in the darkened den when Three Days of the Condor came on as the late-night movie on WPIX, a New York City station. I knew nothing about it but the opening credits had barely wrapped up when most of the cast of characters we’ve just been introduced to are taken out by a trio of mysterious assassins with silencer-capped machine guns.
Based on James Grady’s bestselling 1974 novel, Six Days of the Condor, Three Days of the Condor—directed by Sydney Pollack with a screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel—truncates the timeline of the book and moves the primary setting from Washington, DC, to New York City. Filmed on location in the fall of 1974, with scenes shot at the Guggenheim, the Ansonia, Central Park, the World Trade Center, and the Brooklyn Bridge, Three Days of the Condor is not only a Christmas movie, but a New York movie.
"The section's been hit. Everyone's dead."
The opening set piece takes place at the American Literary Historical Society, an Upper East Side townhouse that serves as the field office of Section 17 of the CIA. (The location used was the American Irish Historical Society at 55 East 77th Street and Madison Avenue). Robert Redford plays Joseph “Joe” Turner (codename “Condor”), a CIA analyst whose job is to read books, magazines, newspapers, and even comics and scan and cross-check them on the of-the-era giant computer banks to identify possible coded messages planted by US agents or foreign operatives. His recent report of an obscure book that has suddenly been translated in the Middle East, Mexico, and the Netherlands is what sparks the hit on his workplace and puts him on the run trying to get to the bottom of this mystery while fighting to stay alive.