I don't think I want to know you very well. I don't think you're going to live much longer.
Never complain too much when it’s your turn to get lunch for your coworkers, especially when you happen to work for the Central Intelligence Agency. It might save your life when someone decides to exterminate you and your coworkers.
That’s what Joe Turner (Robert Redford) finds out one day shortly before Christmas. He works for the “American Historical Literary Society,” which is a cover for a bunch of CIA-employed bookworms who pore over the pages of popular literature and magazines looking for anything that might be of interest to the agency. Turner is an eccentric with an eccentric theory that no one seems to take seriously. When he’s down at the deli for some sandwiches, a couple of mail carriers at his workplace show up to deliver a serving of hot lead. Turner returns to find that he probably won’t get reimbursed for lunch, because everyone is dead. He thinks maybe someone took his theory very seriously.
He tries to make contact with his superior at the agency (Cliff Robertson), but the rendezvous ends up with two men dead and Turner taking the blame. In desperation, he carjacks a beautiful photographer named Kathy (Faye Dunaway) and hides out at her apartment. At first, the terrified woman doesn’t think much of Turner’s ravings about working for the CIA and people trying to kill him. I can vouch for the fact that this usually doesn’t work as a pickup line. The machine-gun-toting mailman shooting up her apartment, however, makes her think that the lunatic kidnapper might have a point.
Three Days is the kind of spy movie that Hollywood used to make before it forgot how. It has more in common with the somber The Spy Who Came in from the Cold than it does with Jason Bourne. It’s low-key and serious and doesn’t just use the issues of the day as window dressing for a bunch of chop-socky fight scenes. In 1975, its backdrop of Middle East oil and political manipulation was just juicy paranoid spy fiction fodder. More recent events, of course, suggest that the screenwriters might have been doing their homework.
Redford brings a convincing intensity to the role of Turner, even if his leading-man looks make him a hard sell as a naive bookworm. He projects the necessary intelligence to make you believe that, although he lacks the street smarts of the men trying to kill him, his job has left Turner well-read enough to stay one step ahead of them.
The role of Kathy is somewhat less satisfying, mostly because the character seems saddled with the baggage of spy fiction chauvinism that would have us believe that an otherwise intelligent woman would willingly sleep with her kidnapper, even before she was convinced he wasn’t a raving lunatic, merely because he looked like Robert Redford and had sensitive eyes. Dunaway occupies the role with all the presence she can muster, but Kathy is ultimately just window dressing, there to serve a plot function and move offstage when Turner no longer needs her.
The head assassin, Joubert (Max von Sydow), is a fascinating creation. Urbane and thoroughly amoral, his loyalties are for sale to the highest bidder. When he isn’t being paid to kill you, however, he’s completely non-threatening, helpful and almost tender in his own twisted way. He never betrays much emotion or appears terribly menacing, but there is something about his icy calm, courtly exterior makes you uneasy when he’s on screen.
This is a genuinely satisfying example of the spy movie, even if the extended dialog scenes and lack of pyrotechnics will try the patience of viewers reared on the works of Mssrs. Bond and Bourne. Its dated elements, including the unenlightened treatment of Faye Dunaway’s character, might tempt someone to remake it, but I doubt that they would improve on it.