Three Days of the Condor (1975) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A bookish CIA researcher finds all his co-workers dead, and must outwit those responsible until he figures out who he can really trust.

  • A mild mannered CIA researcher, paid to read books, returns from lunch to find all of his co-workers assassinated. "Condor" must find out who did this and get in from the cold before the hitmen get him.

  • Joe Turner, code name Condor, works as a reader for Section 17 - fronting as the American Literacy Historical Society - of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The section's readers read everything that is published to see if the material is being used or planted by national security agencies for the US or enemy regimes in actual operations. The office for the section, which is comprised of eight people in total, is located in a nondescript but secure building in New York City. After returning to the office from a lunch food run for which he initially left the building through an unofficial entrance/exit, Condor finds that all six of his colleagues at work that day, including his girlfriend Janice Chon, have been executed, their dead bodies strewn throughout the office. The seventh has been murdered in his home. Not knowing any of his superiors outside the section, Condor slowly begins not to trust the organization itself. After a botched attempt to bring him in, Condor decides to go on the run and try and figure out what is happening on his own. In his quest, Condor kidnaps a young, seemingly lonely woman named Kathy Hale, who, despite being scared by what is happening, eventually believes Condor's story and decides to help him. He also believes the executions have something to do with the tall Alsatian accented man he keeps encountering, and the last report he wrote and submitted to his superiors outside the section.

  • A man named Turner works for the CIA reading books and postulating possible scenarios that could be applied to inteliigence work. He goes out to get lunch but when he returns everyone at the center has been killed. He calls his superior and asks for someone to bring him in, he tells him that his section chief will get him but when he arrives, the man tries to shoot him, he manages to shoot back and escape. In an act of desparation, the abducts a woman and forces her to shelter him until he can figure out what is going on. When someone goes to the woman's house and tries to kill him, he kills the man and discovers that he has a connection to the CIA, which means that someone in the CIA is behind the attempt on him.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is an employee of the CIA. He's not a secret agent, his job is to read, and he and his co-workers at the American Literary Historical Society read everything; books, comics, magazines, and they scan everything into a database to be cross-checked against real CIA operations. On a rainy December morning it's business as usual, so no one notices the non-descript man sitting in plain sedan across the street from Joe's building, checking off names of every employee as they enter.

    Inside, Joe looks for an answer to a letter he'd sent to the main CIA office at Langley. He has a theory about connections he's noticed between operations in Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and other locations around the world, but so far there's no response. Noon approaches, and it's his turn to go out for lunch. Since it's still raining, he ducks out the basement door (which is against regulations) and cuts through several back alleys to the deli. Meanwhile, the sedan out front quietly pulls away after signaling to 3 men (one is a mailman) waiting in the street. They move in with quiet determination and knock on the front door. The mailman stands in view of the camera while the other two wait behind him.

    At the deli around the block, Joe picks up lunch for the others and then runs back. Since the rain has stopped, he goes to the front door, and buzzes the security intercom to be let in, but gets no answer. Pushing on the door, he finds it is unlocked, which it never is. Inside he finds a scene of carnage. Everyone has been murdered, shot to death in the few minutes he has been gone. Fighting down his shock and horror, he grabs a pistol from the receptionist's desk and flees.

    Suddenly, everyone on the street looks suspicious, and Joe realizes that whoever killed his coworkers is probably still looking for him. He finds a payphone and calls an emergency contact number at the CIA. "This is...uh...'Condor'" Joe says, fighting through the shock to remember his code name. "The section's been hit. Everyone's dead." Told not to panic, and to call back in two hours, a CIA response team quickly arrives and verifies Joe's story. Higgens (Cliff Robertson), the section chief in New York, wonders why in the world someone would take out a research office like this, and calls his supervisor at CIA headquarters.

    Joe calls back and is told to stay alive 1 more hour. One of the other workers had called in sick, so Joe goes to his apartment. He finds the co-worker in bed, shot to death, just before two men show up. Joe returns to his apartment building and is about to go in when a neighbor, sweeping the sidewalk, tells him that him that the two friends that he was expecting are waiting for him upstairs. Joe takes off without a word.

    When Joe calls the CIA back, he's to meet his dept. head in a specified back alley off 72nd street where he'll be picked up and brought in safely. Very skittish over the murder and close calls, Joe hesitates because he's never met his section chief (Wicks) or Director Higgins. They see in Joe's file that a college friend, Sam Barber, is a CIA accountant. Joe agrees to the meet if Sam is there. When Joe enters the alley, only Sam is visible. Suddenly, Wicks darts into view and shots ring out. His own department head is trying to kill him. Joe fires back and wounds Wicks and then runs away in a panic. Wicks is seriously injured, but steadies himself long enough to shoot Sam in the throat. Convinced he can trust no one, in desperation he kidnaps a woman on the street as she gets into her truck. Kathy (Faye Dunaway) is terrified, but drives Turner to her apartment. Terrified himself, he holds the gun on her as he tries to figure out what to do next.

    Gradually, Kathy begins to realize that Turner is in real trouble and doesn't want to hurt her, but she still doesn't believe his story. When 6pm rolls around, he turns on the evening news only to find that they are calling the incident in the alley an attempted robbery in which only Wicks was shot. There is no mention of Sam. Still unsure of Kathy's loyalty, he ties her up and sneaks over to Sam's apartment in her car. Sam's wife Mae (a former lover from college) has prepared dinner and drinks as if she and Sam were expecting him. When pressed, she reveals that the office (CIA) had called AFTER Sam met Joe in the alley to say he would be running late. Joe realizes that this is a trap and hustles Mae upstairs to the neighbors.

    Realizing the assassin is hard on his tail, he tries to get out of the building alive, and when he gets on the elevator, Joe finds himself next to a quiet man in a trenchcoat. This is Joubert (Max Von Sydow), a freelance assassin from Europe. (As we will learn, his hobbies include fine wine, classical music, and painting military miniatures from perhaps the Napoleonic Era.) Some inner sense tells Joe that this fellow is part of the problem, and Joe lags behind as Joubert walks out through the lobby. Convincing a group of loitering youth to walk out with him and screen him, he makes it back to Kathy's Bronco as the trenchcoated man waits nearby, holding a sniper rifle, seeking Joe in the crowd. Unable to get a clear shot, Joubert runs after the truck and uses his scope to get the vehicle's license plate number.

    Joe returns to Kathy's apartment just as her boyfriend is calling. Joe lets Kathy talk to the boyfriend, who is angry, at first, that she's not on her way their rendezvous. Kathy is on-the-edge but manages to hold up her end of the conversation. They hang up. Joe begins to feel guilty and tells her that he'll leave in the morning. They discuss her work (photography) and Joe pieces her life from his observations. Joe says he just wants to "make it all stop" for a few hours - the horror. They connect. They spent the night together.

    The next morning, Kathy is in the shower when THE Mailman (the guy who rang the bell at the building the day before) knocks at the door. Joe has been traced here via Joubert's writing down of the license plate the night before. The Mailman/hitman has a package for Kathy that must be signed for. Joe doesn't want to open the door but the Mailman has a well-rehearsed reply for every one of Joe's objections. (Joe yells through the window, "She's not home!" Mailman: "That's OK, YOU can sign for it." etc.) Joe opens the door but the Mailman's pen doesn't work (again, a rehearsed device to enable the Mailman to get inside and shut the door). As Joe goes looking for a pen he glances back at the Mailman's shoes. Suddenly, a stunned Joe realizes the Mailman is a hitman. He knows this because of the distinctive style of shoes he wears - one more thing Joe picked up in his voluminous reading. Thinking fast, he hurls hot coffee at the Mailman just as the nasty guy begins firing with a suppressor-equipped machine gun. The machine gun ends up on the floor. Joe's .45 is out of reach. A fight ensues - the Mailman is a martial arts expert with a nasty kick; Joe wields a fireplace poker and knows this man is a trained killer. Kathy emerges from her shower to find them fighting, provides a crucial bit of help to Joe, and retreats. The fight continues. Kathy's photo equipment plays a pivotal role. The fight concludes with Joe retrieving the .45 in the nick of time, firing two shots, and killing the Mailman/hitman. Kathy emerges to find her living room messed up and Joe sitting next to the dead mailman. She, needless to say, is terribly upset. Joe tries to console her. Joe searches the hit man and finds a couple of vital pieces of information including a hotel key (mentioned below). Joe and Kathy must now flee because the bad guys know where he is.

    Despite his fear, Joe has the beginnings of a plan, and Kathy agrees to help. They visit the NYC office of the CIA and Kathy pretends to apply for a job, then gets "lost" while she looks for Joe's section chief, Higgins. Once spotted, she helps Joe kidnap him while he eats lunch, and Higgins is hustled into the back of Kathy's Bronco. Interrogated by Turner, he confesses that he doesn't know what's going on any more that they do. "This is obviously an inside operation", he says, and it doesn't help that Wicks died, mysteriously, in the hospital. Joe confronts Higgins with the Mailman's ID and that he had a phone number that rang an office in CIA-Langley. Higgins begins to suspect that the lead assassin is Joubert, a former CIA assassin that now does contract work. Back at the office, Higgins does a search and finds information linking Joubert and the Mailman as partners in past CIA hits.

    Joe manages to put the pieces together by tracking down Joubert, the quiet man in the trenchcoat. Joe found a hotel key on the Mailman and finds Joubert in the same hotel. Tapping into the phone exchange in Joubert's hotel, he monitors the calls, and places an anonymous one himself to Joubert. "Do you believe the Condor is an endangered species?" he asks, and hangs up. Joubert quickly calls his controller, and Joe is able to track the call to a man named Atwood, a high-level supervisor in the CIA. From a telco trunk, he crosswires 50 phones to block a trace and calls to tell Higgins that he's found Joubert and asks who Atwood is. Higgins doesn't answer and Joe hangs up. One of Higgins supervisors is listening close by and tells him "this" needs to be ended, NOW. As he prepares to confront Atwood, Joe thanks Kathy for all her help, and they reluctantly part company.

    At Atwood's country home, the stereo suddenly comes on in the middle of the night, and when he investigates the noise in his study, Atwood finds Turner sitting quietly in a chair, holding a gun. Forced to confess, Atwood tells Joe that the hit on the section was due to that paper he'd sent to CIA headquarters. Joe demands to know why so many people had to die over some nothing book that suddenly became popular in the Middle East, Netherlands (Dutch), Mexico, Venezu......ohhhhh....OIL! Atwood is involved in a scheme to manipulate the world's oil markets and Turner's paper had hit too close to the truth. He and anyone else who might know about it had to be eliminated. Furious, Joe points the gun at Atwood.

    "Drop the gun," says a quiet voice; It's Joubert, standing quietly behind him. Realizing his defeat, Joe drops the pistol on the floor and waits for the inevitable, thinking that at least now he knows why all this has happened. Joubert, still holding his gun on Joe, takes a position next to Atwood, and like a cobra strike, turns and shoots Atwood in the right temple! As Joe stutters, Joubert places his gun in Atwood's hand and calmly begins to wipe down the room, asking what he had touched. Joe realizes that Joubert had a new contract to take out Atwood. Joubert confirms, "Atwood had become an embarrassment," and that the contract that Atwood put on Condor has died with him.

    After leading him outside the house and handing back his pistol. "Can I drop you somewhere?", he asks in a friendly tone. Joe agrees to be taken back to New York. As they leave, Joubert advises that his life will never be the same again and there is no guarantee that "someone" won't decide that he's a liability in the future. He even describes how IT might happen, and offers that Europe is not a bad place to live. Impressed by how he handled the situation, Joubert suggests that he strongly consider a future as an assassin.

    With a new lease on life, Joe still has a few loose ends to tie up. Returning to New York, Joe waits for Higgins to walk past on the street, and they have a tense final confrontation. Higgins explains that the CIA does business this way because they need to. There is no other way. Turner disagrees, and as they stop in front of a distribution center of the New York Times, Turner tells Higgins that they've become too used to killing people as part of their job. He's told a reporter everything.

    "Ah, you fool," sighs Higgins. "You've done more harm than you know." As Turner walks away, Higgins calls after him. "It didn't have to end this way Condor. You're about to become a very lonely man." Joe seems not to care. He believes he's had his revenge on the CIA, and he fades away into the crowd as a Salvation Army Band plays Christmas music. But the haunting last words of Higgins linger in the air: "How do you know they'll publish? How do you know???"

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