This is a review of two films 40 years apart but joined at the hip in spirit.
Three Days of The Condor is a terrific low-key seventies political paranoia movie. They used to show it on TV (cruelly edited to reduce the effect of its few brief violent scenes). For some reason (perhaps because it places the CIA headquarters in the Twin Towers) it’s no longer available on DVD or demand services. I picked up a second-hand copy in California last year and was entranced.
Robert Redford plays a guy who works for the CIA, as a back-room researcher, until his whole section is brutally assassinated by the ice cold hit-man who is working for a secret cell within the CIA. Redford goes on the run, unable to trust anyone, and doesn’t even know what makes him a target. He kidnaps a quivering submissive slice of sexuality (played by Faye Dunaway) and she reluctantly helps get him to a final showdown with head of the CIA (Cliff Robertson).
In the shadow of the Towers, Robertson calmly and reasonably explains that Redford’s unit had stumbled on a secret plan to invade the Middle East so that America can commandeer the oil supply. ‘If the oil dries up the American people will be begging us to do it’. Redford naively believes that he can bring down the CIA by using the ‘free’ press. As the new Captain America movie points out: what he actually needed was an ex- Russian Combat Spy, a flying man, and a Rip Van Winkle soldier who can run 30 miles in under ten minutes.
Captain America – The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s latest attempt to make their pen on paper characters effective in the movie business. They succeed more than they fail and the new film is both more subversive in tone and brutal in its execution than we have any right to expect from a ‘fantasy’ feature.
I expect that the kiddywinkies will be bored stupid between the action sequences. The UK ratings board, who are paid for by the taxpayer but actually work for the major US film and toy companies, describe it has having ‘frequent mild violence’. In the first five minutes the Black Widow (Scarlet Johannsen) nails a man’s hand to the wall with a knife and shoots dozens of terrorists in the head. It must be stated that although the rating may be flawed the violent sequences are superbly mounted, and the attempted assassination of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) ranks amongst the finest ever committed to screen.
The plot may sound familiar: S.H.I.E.L.D is now the new CIA, developed to deal with the emerging threats posed by Super Heroes/Villains and Extra Terrestrials. They have upped their hi-tech gadget game and also now employ Steve Rodgers (played by a man whose mask shows more emotion than his regular features). It is made clear at the start that Captain America (Rodgers) is not a spy but a warrior. When his boss is dispatched by an ice cold hit-man Rodgers goes on the run, unable to trust anyone, carrying an encrypted device containing information that makes him a target.
resembles a pale testicle recently
steamed in a waffle machine
The parallels with Three Days of the Condor increase exponentially with the casting of Robert Redford, who now plays the reverse of his younger self. He is Cliff Robertson from the Condor movie to a tee: a calm pragmatic wolf in sheep’s clothing explaining to those less politically mature that the authoritarian wet dream of an ‘eye in the sky’ to destroy potential subversives is really the only reasonable option.
Both films have an unsettling sexual subtext. In Condor it is the subtly implied sado-masochistic relationship between Redford and Dunaway. In CATWS it is the homosexual attraction between Rodgers (the all-Amercan male) and his old pal the savagely beautiful Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). The simmering tension between the two is only underlined by Johannsen’s constant teasing attempts to hook the Captain up with a succession of possible female partners. Cap doesn’t bite as he is still pining for Bucky (now the Winter Soldier with more than a touch of the Torture Garden to his mask).
Modern cameras are actually computers, which considerably aid colour-correction and special effects. The directors have chosen a gritty blue-steel look for the film, which is pleasing to the eye, but tough on the light-skinned actors. Mr. Redford’s face unfortunately resembles a pale testicle recently steamed in a waffle machine, and Miss Johansson’s orange make up varies considerably in thickness and colour from scene to scene. A bit of that old-time celluloid grain would have helped them both considerably.
Other things change over a 40 year period. The seventies movie ends on a typically bleak, ambiguous note. Today the hero triumphs against massive odds and saves the world, or at least the potentially subversive part of it (apparently there are quite a few million of us).
There is no actual Condor in the seventies film (it’s a code name) but there is Falcon in CATWS. He is an Afro American with metal wings (Anthony Mackie). In the comics this character was always a dud but here his wings seem to possess an avian intelligence, wise and sleek like the man who operates them. His late arrival glides the film’s climactic action scenes into new and more exotic territory.
Many people feel excluded from the series of interconnected Marvel films because they are not in on all of the sight gags and layers of continuity that comic people expect. No worries here; everything you need to know is efficiently and entertainingly explained. The film stands as both an adult strand of the Marvel Universe and a stand-alone Super Spy thriller.
Shame to end on a sour note but it would be remiss of me not to mention that the man who, along with Joe Simon, created the patriotic Captain for Timely comics in the nineteen-forties and then brought him back to life for Marvel in the nineteen-sixties (in partnership with Stan Lee) was the late great artist Jack Kirby. Stan gets an Executive Producer credit, a fat fee and a walk on part in all of the Marvel films.
The Kirby estate gets nothing.