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Fashion & Film: Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor

I’ve made a habit of watching Three Days of the Condor (1975) over the holidays. It’s a Christmas classic. But the word Christmas doesn’t even spark a line of dialogue. The jolly music heard over the radio or on the streets is the only indication of the time of year. Even the snow-barren streets, although obviously cold and wintry, I have come to associate with winter much more than a dreamy snowy landscape. Dave Grusin’s musical score wouldn’t have made sense in a dreamy snowy landscape, or cityscape for that matter.  “He did an extraordinary score to that picture, kind of a jazz thriller score with a very bluesy love theme done on a saxophone, as I remember. He always got great players. That score was unique,” Sydney Pollack said about his frequent soundtrack collaborator. But it is the subtle bursts of holiday music that have this heightened effect of taunting the character and throwing him deeper in this state of loneliness and alienation when he finds himself not trusting anyone after his co-workers are shot and he is forced to take a hostage while constantly looking over his shoulder in order to stay alive.  And look over his shoulder he does, from the start to the open-to-interpretation ending – is he, is each one of us, just an individual, just another face in the crowd? Timely, much?

© 1975 Wildwood Enterprises

Robert Redford plays CIA analyst on the run Joseph Turner in one of Sydney Pollack’s best political thrillers, set in 1974 New York. More than its star power, the film is a great thriller, which is what the director intended. The film has been, from the beginning, considered by critics to tap into the political sensibilities of the times and of a nation faltering from the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War and Watergate. And it did, but without knowing it.

“I think that the critics are falling into all kinds of traps with this movie,” Sydney Pollack commented in an interview with Patrick McGilligan in 1976, reproduced in the booklet issued by the Masters of Cinema along with the Blu-ray edition of the film. “Absolutely falling all over themselves. Half the critics are looking at it as a serious political piece of propaganda and criticising it on that level which, God knows, wasn’t intended, the film was three-quarters finished before any of these CIA revelations began to happen. We were doing a straight thriller. That’s what we wanted to do. And we were shocked that as much of what we imagined, if you will, was coming to pass. We were absolutely dumbfounded. The attempt was, first of all, to make it faithful to the genre of a thriller. And within that, to explore certain ideas of suspicion, trust, morality, if you will; but it was not intended in any way as a documentary, I suppose, but as a warning – using the CIA almost as a metaphor, and drawing certain conclusions from post-Watergate America.”

But, probably again without Sydney Pollack’s or Robert Redford’s intention, Three Days of the Condor instantly became important on another front as well, as it is also one of the films men take their sartorial cues from.

© 1975 Wildwood Enterprises

A popped collar on a grey herringbone blazer, a layered effect made from a combination of crew neck sweater, chambray shirt and tie paired with blue jeans, the ease of this look has an appeal that has spun decades. The popped collar may, on the wrong person, seem forced, overdone and too self-assured, but it serves a purpose here, and it’s when it is this seemingly unstudied that it becomes a detail of style.

Robert Redford’s Joe Turner reads books all day and introduces codes and plots into a computer. His simple, preppy clothes are exactly what the character asks for, and the situation he finds himself in clearly seems insane just by looking at the way he is dressed  – “I’m not a field agent, I just read books!” – but his all-American clothes are certainly worth taking inspiration from decades on. This may be a ’70s film, but it doesn’t look dated at all, maybe except for the wide shirt collar and the wide, tweedy tie, recalling Ralph Lauren’s beginnings in fashion – “I loved the look of the wide tie,” the designer remarks in his book, Ralph Lauren. “I had seen it on some stylish character like the Duke of Windsor or in a movie or magazine from the thirties.” He called his ties Polo “because it was a sport that had a sensibility that was sporty and international”, it was a new direction that really changed the way men were dressing.

Robert Redford’s Joseph Turner has a timeless sensibility in the way he dresses – Joseph Aulisi was the costume designer (Faye Dunaway’s costumes were designed, however, by Theoni V. Aldridge) but the costumes were most probably the result of a close collaboration between Pollack, Aulisi and Redford – and looks a heck of a lot better than a lot of the men you see on the street today. Because, as in the case of all cinema’s sartorial emblems, Redford’s day-to-day style has always seemed to come through in his films just as much as his style when in character has transcended the screen.

There are two looks Redford is sporting in the film, and they both exemplify New England campus attire. The kind of looks Redford’s bookish CIA researcher would wear, but also the kind of looks men can wear year in and year out, without giving the slightest importance to what is the latest this or that. There is a quiet in-ness about this style, which is as fresh and relevant as ever. Utilitarian, pared-down, confident, traditional, yet exuding modernity. The first one is described above, the second one has the blazer switched with the pea coat – smart it may be with its sturdy construction and anchor buttons, but this item is also ideal for fending off the bitter cold due to its closely woven texture. And the choice of hiking boots as footwear deserves points on its own – for one, they make a very individual statement, and secondly, I like when men are not shy of wearing boots in the cold, because men shouldn’t give up comfort and their natural sense of style for fashion. Joe Turner must and does understand the power of restraint, and his clothes are certainly a way for him to get there.

© 1975 Wildwood Enterprises

This piece is published courtesy of classiq.me

By Ada Pîrvu

Ada writes the blog Classiq, where she funnels her lifelong passion for cinema and her interest in fashion in film, of which she is a fervent proponent as one of cinema's most far-reaching influences. She is an optimistic by nature, but she hates forced happy endings. Maybe that’s why film noir is her favourite genre. She regards it as a prime contributor to restoring the balance disrupted by the traditional notion of a Hollywoodian happy ending.

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