This clip is taken from the beginning of Sidney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor. The film addresses nostalgia, paranoia, and cynicism at different moments in different combinations during it’s 118 minute runtime. It juxtaposes an apparently straightforward, honest, and intelligent Joe Turner (Robert Redford) with a crooked organization, the CIA. This clip is our first real introduction to the greater entity that the CIA is portrayed as in this film. Turner’s detailed description of his co-workers make him seem more human and personal. In including Turner describing his female co-worker’s fears and antics, Pollack shows us that the corruption does not extend to all levels and that at some level, the CIA is actually just like a normal organizations. Pollack shows us that these are the people who are effected, the normal people are the ones that are dead. The people we have just seen killed are the human beings and the dispassionate phone operator who refuses to acknowledge the urgency of Turner’s situation and chooses instead to interrogate him is an arm of a larger machine.
Formally, the clip shows Turner trapped, caught between two sleek machined metal bars and behind glass. The world outside keeps moving, obliviously, as we see pedestrians lackadaisically strolling by on the right of the wide anamorphic frame while inside the phone booth, Turner becomes more and more tense. Conversely, the operator sits at a sprawling control desk with the world at his finger tips, visually represented by a map of the world in the background. The operator’s eyes never stray from his controls, this is business as usual for him and he just won’t react. The system doesn’t react, it exists as it is and acts upon you. This scene says visually what another bureaucrat eventually says in a later clip.
“Today it’s oil right, in ten or fifteen years food, plutonium and maybe even sooner. Now what do you think that people are gonna want us to do then… Not now, then, ask them when they’re running out, ask them when theres no heat in their homes and they’re cold. Ask them when people who’ve never known hunger are hungry. You wanna know something? They won’t want us to ask them, they’ll just want us to get it for ’em”
The killing of Turner’s co-workers, which the film opens with, and the CIA’s unemotional response are the reality of this line of thinking which was so pervasive in both the film and politics of this era.