Release Date(s)1973 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)Warwick Films/Universal Productions France/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Based on Frederick Forsyth’s best-seller, The Day of the Jackal is a political thriller about an attempted assassination of Charles de Gaulle in August, 1962. Ex-army extremists, furious by de Gaulle’s granting independence to Algeria, form an organization known as OAS and determine to assassinate him. When an early attempt fails, the OAS leaders are arrested and their leader executed six months later. The new leader, Colonel Rolland (Michel Auclair), along with his aides, go into hiding and hire a foreigner known as the Jackal (Edward Fox) to assassinate the president. They pay him $250,000 up front and agree to another $250,000 when the job is complete. The Jackal insists on formulating his own plan in absolute secrecy according to his own timeline.
As the Jackal goes about methodically forging passports, assuming disguises, ordering a custom-made rifle, finding an unoccupied flat, and planning his route from England to France, the authorities, who have been keeping Rolland under surveillance, suspect a plan is afoot, kidnap one of Rolland’s aides, torture him, and learn the assassin’s code name. With nothing else to go on, the cabinet ministers call on France’s top cop, Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), to lead the investigation, locate the Jackal, and stop him. To complicate matters, when De Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand) is informed that an elaborate assassination plot may be imminent, he refuses to alter his schedule of public appearances.
The film switches back and forth between Jackal’s preparations and the dogged detective work of Lebel and the police to figure out how, when and where the assassination attempt will be made.
Director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity) makes exhaustive police work look exciting, with its combination of investigation, intuition, and luck. They’re up against a clever adversary, yet persevere, knowing failure will result in a successful assassination. The director filmed in many locations across Europe, enhancing the film’s production value, and used mostly established British character actors. Lonsdale is excellent as the cop faced with the toughest job of his career. He conveys confidence in his abilities while recognizing the monumental task at hand and understands that the cooperation of many is necessary to foil the Jackal’s plot.
Cyril Cusack as the gunsmith has a nice scene in which his character and the Jackal discuss in detail the specifications of the custom-made gun that will have to be smuggled undetected into France. It must be lightweight, have a telescopic sight, be accurate at a great distance, and use exploding bullets. A later scene in which the Jackal takes the gun to a remote field shows him test firing it, calibrating the sight, and using one of the explosive bullets on a melon.
The Day of the Jackal is a first-rate thriller, even though we know at the outset that de Gaulle was not assassinated. The movie nonetheless keeps us riveted with its fast pace, dramatic developments, and climactic suspense. Zinnemann accomplishes this in an understated style, despite the life-and-death stakes, allowing puzzle pieces to fit into place naturally, without typical Hollywood-style theatrics. Made in 1973, the film seems particularly relevant today when international terrorism is a constant threat.
The Blu-ray release features a High Definition 1080p presentation and original uncompressed mono audio. The original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is maintained. A 35-mm interpositive was sourced for the picture and a 35-mm duplicate optical sound negative master was sourced for the audio. The film was remastered by NBC Universal, with additional restoration work performed by R3store Studios. The film has excellent grain and clarity comparable to is theatrical release, impressive considering the movie is 35 years old.
Bonus materials include In the Marksman’s Eye, a new interview with Neil Sinyard, author of Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience; two archival clips from the film set, including an interview with Fred Zinnemann; original screenplay by Kenneth Ross; reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork; and a 32-page collector’s booklet (available for first pressing purchasers) that discusses the genesis and making of The Day of the Jackal and the controversial editing of the movie for broadcast on British TV. The booklet also contains cast and crew credits and several color scenes from the film. Optional English subtitles are included. The film runs 107 minutes.
The 36-minute Sinyard interview should be watched after the film, since it contains spoilers. The author discusses the director’s manner of working, the style of The Day of the Jackal, and offers anecdotes about its production. The two short archival clips are in French, with English subtitles. One tells about the final scene being shot during a two-day national holiday so that streets could be shut down. The other contains excerpts from an interview with Zinnemann, in which the director speaks fluent French. He tells the interviewer he prefers to shoot his films where the action takes place, and cast the unknown Edward Fox rather than a star, because a star would suggest to audiences that everything would turn out OK for him. Zinnemann wanted to keep the element of suspense. The trailer features a montage of dialogue and action clips, some with a clock superimposed over images to suggest the importance of time in stopping the Jackal.
- Dennis Seuling