Fred Zinnemann / UK, France / 1973 / 143mins
Available on Blu-ray from Mon 4 Sep 2017
Based on Frederick Forsyth’s bestseller, Day of the Jackal takes elements of the spy caper, political thriller and a police procedural and adds up to an enjoyable, suspenseful story. Stop-at-nothing extremists are at the centre of the plot, so the film has a resonance with today’s headlines of vicious terrorist cells.
Edward Fox plays a hitman hired to assassinate France’s president de Gaulle. Of course the president wasn’t assassinated so the ending is a foregone conclusion. There is a car chase and a honeytrap and a multiplicity of European locations. Even the interiors have an authenticity about them. The movie is no Bond fantasy, it has a gritty, real feeling – it’s partly based on real events – and it fairly bounds along thanks to Zinnemann’s direction and Ralph Kemplen’s zippy editing.
It should come as no surprise that Zinnemann started in documentaries. There’s not an ounce of flab in the plotting and the tension never seems like cheap manipulation. There is also a cracking central performance by the dashing Fox as the coldblooded, calculating killer who has grisly encounters with a series of expendable bystanders. Fox pulls off the trick of being a thoroughly nasty piece of goods while, nevertheless, having the viewer rooting for him. There’s also lots of enjoyable bits of business as Fox works out the logistics of the sniper’s nest, the fake passports and commissioning an ingenious telescopic rifle that leaves Bond’s boffin Q looking a tad ham-fisted. The denouement, set on Bastille Day, is gloriously inventive.
A lull in the story line at the halfway point and the political subplot slows things up a little, but when furrowed-browed Fox is on screen the movie is a great, believable, intelligent watch.