Tag Archives: Max Von Sydow

The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

It’s been almost fifty years since The Quiller Memorandum, and spy movies have changed quite a bit in the ensuing half-century. It’s unfair to say they’re better or worse nowadays, especially considering the qualification of “spy movie” can mean anything from Skyfall to Syriana to Agent Cody Banks (though, if we’re talking about the latter, then yes: they’re worse). Even the superhero genre is dabbling in spy-ish flicks, with the espionage thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier drawing favorable comparisons to Three Days of the Condor; Condor, of course, is a spy movie with a main character who is not in fact a spy, nor is he a suave step-ahead killer fighting for what’s right, nor does he even know what’s going on — this all by way of saying that a great “spy” movie doesn’t even need a spy.

But Peter Quiller is a spy, and a damn good one to boot. He’s good by today’s standards, he’s good by the standards of 1966, and he’s good by the standards of his fellow spies in Memorandum. The film opens with a stark, memorable sequence of a man plodding cautiously down a dark, quiet street. He looks around constantly, fearing that the hidden blade might finally come from the shadows. Cautious, quiet. He enters a phone booth and reaches for the receiver when bam! — he’s shot in the back. Dead.

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Never Say Never Again (1983)

The next Bond movie will be Spectre, which will mark the fourth outing for Daniel Craig’s modernized James Blonde and the second for director Sam Mendes following 2012’s Skyfall. Mendes won’t be the first to return for another helping of 007, and in fact the trend since Dr. No has hewed closer to “we’ll ask you back if your movie doesn’t suck” than anything else. The math, for those of you struggling here: Skyfall doesn’t suck = Mendes returns.

But Spectre will also mark the return of…well, SPECTRE. The evil organization (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) has been absent from the Bond franchise for the past eleven films, at least according to Bond purists. According to everyone else, the last time SPECTRE plotted against MI6 was in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the only Bond film not produced (or sanctioned) by Eon Productions, a film that saw the valiant (ahem) return of Sean Connery to the James Bond role. Never Say Never Again pits this 53-year-old version of the spy against SPECTRE as the organization counter-intelligences, terrorizes, revenges and extorts all over everybody’s ass. Math: SPECTRE = evil.

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Three Days of the Condor (1975)

When people say it’s just like a ’70s spy thriller! or if you like ’70s spy thrillers, you’ll love this!, the movie they’re all referring to whether they know it or not is Three Days of the Condor. This is how we measure the influence that the Pollack-Redford political drama has had on our current film industry: in remakes, spinoffs, tributes, allusions, shoutouts and straight-up copies of the original.

Written as the novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, the book translated to the screen so well thanks to the the meticulous aplomb of Sydney Pollack and the solid performances of the entire cast. Three Days of the Condor wasn’t written to be an overtly political film, all appearances to the contrary, and according to Pollack and Redford the “thriller” aspect of “political thriller” was the part they tried to emphasize. It worked. Still, the political associations were all but unavoidable in 1975; Watergate was certainly still fresh, but more immediate was the leaking of highly sensitive CIA documents known as the Family Jewels scandal. This occurrence ended up being one of those Hollywood coincidences where a movie gets made about a particular subject and then that particular subject, one day out of the seeming blue, becomes the particular subject of the day’s news. Three Days of the Condor came out too close to the Family Jewels scandal to be able to say anything explicitly about it, but it managed to wrestle with the issue all the same.

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