Tag Archives: Sydney Pollack

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

This Property is Condemned (1966)

this property

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother pimps her daughter.

Owen Legate (Robert Redford) arrives in the small town of Dodson, Mississippi in the 1930’s to carry out an unpleasant task. He’s been assigned by his employer to layoff many of the railway workers in the area due to the economic depression. Many in town are not pleased with his presence and want him to go while even threatening him with violence. Alva (Natalie Wood) is the only one who takes a liking to him despite the fact that he consistently gives her the-cold-shoulder in return. She’s been forced by her mother (Kate Reid) to ‘entertain’ the male guests that stay at their boarding house and Owen wants none of it as he finds her dreamy, child-like personality to be off-putting and even an illness. Yet the longer he stays the more entranced with her he becomes, but he wonders if he’ll ever be able to get her away from the clutches of her domineering Mother.

This film was considered by critics at the time to be ‘trash’ and that was most likely due to its provocative subject matter that was clearly years-ahead-of-its-time, but with a script written by Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Coe, produced by John Houseman and directed by Sydney Pollack in a story based on a Tennessee Williams play couldn’t be all that bad and this clearly isn’t and in fact it’s excellent and should be considered a classic instead. The recreation of The Deep South from the ‘30s is spot-on and the on-location shooting done in the small town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi lends some terrific atmosphere. The dialogue is sharp and the well-paced script leads to emotionally charged scenes of high drama.

Redford’s cool and detached persona is put to great use and I liked seeing a scenario where it’s the girl chasing after the guy for a change. Mary Badham is equally good in her first film after doing To Kill a Mockingbird, but here she is much more attractive with long hair and sans the Tomboy look. There is also solid support from both Charles Bronson and a baby-faced Robert Blake who just three years later reteamed with Redford in Tell Them Willie Boy is Here.

Wood gives an excellent performance as well, but I had a hard time understanding her character as her perpetual flights of fancy didn’t make much sense. The script seems to say that this is her ‘defense’ and escape from her harsh life, but any woman whose been forced into prostitution by her mother and pawed at by literally every man who comes along would most likely become hardened and bitter and learn to distrust and dislike any man who came near her.

Kate Reid as the mother also posed some initial problems as she looks too young for the part and in reality was only 8 years older than Wood who played her daughter. However, there is a birthday celebration where she is given a cake full of candles to blow out, but she refuses as she feels that 43 is getting ‘too old’, which made me realize that back then people had kids earlier even before they were 18 and therefore her still youthful look by our standards could be forgiven and even understood.

The final half is where this thing really comes together and includes a great confrontational moment between a drunken Wood, who really did get drunk in order to get into the scene, as well as her picturesque journey to New Orleans. Like in most movies the odds of her suddenly bumping into Owen after a couple of short days in the city seemed pretty slim, but I could forgive it as the rest of the film is so strong that any minor flaw with it is hardly worth discussing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Absence of Malice (1981)

abscence of malice 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not fit to print.

Megan Carter (Sally Field) is a go-getter newspaper reporter who implicates innocent liquor wholesaler Mike Gallagher (Paul Newman) simply to get a big story. However, Mike proves to be quite clever and resourceful and spins a subtle, but effective line of revenge and eventually is able to expose the irresponsibility of the media.

The drama here is strong. The issues are relevant and the story is well structured. The points are hit home in a no-nonsense way while revealing how newspaper operations work and how easily they can abuse their power to the extent that it is almost horrifying.

Yet the film seems to defeat its own purpose by wrapping everything up in a much too tidy way. It is almost like saying yes we have a very serious and potentially dangerous issue here, but it can be easily contained and resolved so don’t worry about it.  Also, Mike is just a little too resourceful and slick and it becomes almost like wish-fulfillment at seeing the way he sticks it to the corrupt corporate fat-cats. An ordinary person would be destroyed by an untrue story printed about them and unable to find the money or resources to fight back and the film would have been much more hard-hitting had it taken this route instead.

I also wasn’t too crazy about the musical score. Not that the music sounded bad, but it was too upbeat while a downbeat score would have fit the mood better.

Newman has always been one of my favorite actors, but I felt he wasn’t a perfect fit here. His performance is too low-key and he doesn’t display enough anger or rage that one would expect.

Field is also miscast. Her features are too child-like and a taller woman with a few lines on her worn face would have worked better as it would have helped create the jaded persona of a character who had been is the business long enough to know what she was doing was wrong, but didn’t care.

Having Mike form a sexual relationship with Megan seemed particularly ridiculous on several levels. For one thing the graying Newman looked so much older than Field that it almost appeared like child molestation. Also, the chances of someone forming a relationship with a reporter who has just libeled him seem slim to none.

It’s the supporting cast that comes off better. John Harkins is completely on-target as the jaded corporate lawyer who toys the ethical line like it is some sort of game. Bob Balaban is memorable as a hot-shot young executive with a very interesting way of playing with rubber bands and chewing gum. Melinda Dillon is also outstanding in one of her best roles as a very emotionally fragile woman.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video