Ever since the publication of Conspiracy Theory in Film, Television, and Politics, I’ve often been asked to recommend movies with a conspiracy theme. To mark the 10th anniversary of the book, this summer I’m offering weekly suggestions of classic conspiracy-themed films. All of the movies on the list have a lot of offer. Yes, they have the conspiracy element, but they also have unique qualities as movies. They also tell us a lot about American society–where it’s head is at, how it has and hasn’t changed, and more.
To get things started and launch this weekly selection of film suggestions — what we could call a do-it-yourself Paranoid Summer Film Festival — the first recommendation is a conspiracy classic from the 1970s: Three Days of the Condor.
THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975)
Director Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor does something that seems unremarkable now, but it was a very different take on conspiracies and the U.S. government when it was released. To say more would take us into spoiler territory, but this angle — which you’ll recognize immediately upon viewing it — represented a new direction in mainstream conspiracy movies.
For movie buff with an interest in such things, an intriguing film that Three Days of the Condor could be compared to is Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, North by Northwest (1959). Even though Hitchcock dealt with similar themes and the two films are only separated by 16 years, they are light years apart in terms of tone and substance. Surprisingly, Hitchcock’s movie will likely strike many viewers as the more optimistic of the two films. But then again, Hitchcock often looked to simply upset the apple cart for an hour or two. Despite the drama and suspense, the world Hitchcock depicted was mostly one of relative calm. Three Days of the Condor is a different story, however. It suggests a darkness that is far more pervasive and implies that maybe things have changed — and changed dramatically — in terrifying ways we haven’t noticed.
Not long after Three Days of the Condor was released, the media journal Jump Cut published a wide-ranging interview with Pollack that was largely about the film. Pollack wanted to dispel some theories about the movie itself, it seems, but he covers a lot of ground. (You can read the interview here.)
Three Days of the Condor stars Robert Redford (who would go on to star in a true-life conspiracy film, All the President’s Men, the following year), along with Faye Dunaway, Cliff Roberston, and other luminaries. It has all the essential elements for an effective conspiracy thriller. An appearance by Max von Sydow adds an appropriate aura of menace to the proceedings.
If you’re looking to dive into classic conspiracy movies, Three Days of the Condor will put you in the middle of a decades-long Hollywood tradition. An interesting side note: Sydney Pollack’s movie Three Days of the Condor is based on a popular novel named Six Days of the Condor. (That’s right six — not three.) That novel, by James Grady, is also the basis for a new series on AT&T’s Audience network. (The new series is simply called Condor, so at least viewers won’t be confused about how many days are involved.)
Next week, we’ll go back to an earlier conspiracy movie and see what develops.
If you want to comment about the movie and share your reactions or insights, head on over to Twitter @garnold360 and join the conversation there.