Forty four years on and THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is still as taut, tense and terrific as it was when released in cinemas in 1973.
Helmed by master craftsman Fred Zinnemann this original adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s best selling book is 143 minutes of precise methodical planning, suspenseful in a cool, measured way that reflects the cold calculating calm of the assassin code named The Jackal.
In a precision piece of police procedural, the movie painstakingly maps the trajectory of the hiring of the hitman to the cat and mouse chase and capture.
In an economic prologue which features an explosive attempted assassination of De Gaul we learn why the OAS so wanted the President dead and the reason for their persistent, obsessive plan for the deed to be done.
A quorum of conspirators contract a killer, played with strange sunny but overcast demeanour by Edward Fox. This killer has a penchant for beige, cravats, and Italian sports cars. Fox is unphased, unflappable and unforgiving, a formidable predatory psychopath.
Fox is flanked by a cast of incomparable actors, some already veterans, others near the beginning of long and impressive careers.
Cyril Cusak plays an affable gunsmith, looking more like an avuncular toymaker rather than a manufacturer of firearms, and its chilling to see a conversation between him and the assassin played over a coffee table on which is draped a magazine featuring a story on JFK. This is August 1963, three months before the deadly date in Dallas.
Ronald Pickup is perfectly perfidious as a hideous forger, a sleazy weasel with a counterfeit sense of honour.
Michael Lonsdale is outstanding as the dogged detective delegated to disarm the Jackal and deny him his kill. Diligence and fatigue have never been better personified.
Derek Jacobi plays his impeccably groomed assistant, Tony Britton is specal as a Special Branch operative and Alan Badel is magnificently magisterial as The Minister, reminiscent, somewhat, of another great acting Alan, the late Mr. Rickman.
In a largely male dominated movie, two major female roles are handled with dazzling aplomb. Olga Georges-Picot is striking as Denise, a honey trap of the OAS to seduce a member of the inner sanctum of the Government to keep abreast of their hunt for the Jackal and the gorgeous Delphine Seyrig as the aristocrat seduced by the asssasin.
In lesser hands, the film could have been plodding but Zinnemann takes Kenneth Ross’ globe trotting Golden Globe nominated screenplay – Ross was to adapt another Forsyth, The Odessa File the following year – and invests it with the Zinnemann zest for nuance and texture.
Ralph Kemplen was nominated for an Oscar and won the BAFTA for his exquisite editing, and have Paris streets, Nice and the Italian-French border area ever looked so gorgeous than here in Jean Tournier’s work ( he would later work his lighting fantastic in the French centric Bond extravaganza Moonraker, which also starred Michael Londsdale).
THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is right on target with intrigue, thrills, sex and suspense. With history in its cross hairs, its alarmingly contemporary with lone wolf operatives creating international havoc.
Trigger tense high calibre entertainment, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is available now on Blu-ray through Shock Entertainment’s Cinema Cult series.