Some of the best US thrillers were made by European emigrés: Austrian-born Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal is a fine example. Slick, riveting and thoroughly classy, it transports us back to the early 1970s where a professional political assassin bags a million dollar fee to kill President Charles de Gaulle, on behalf of a group of French officers disenchanted with the way things turned out in North Africa.
The Jackal, the code name for the killer, is played by Edward Fox in the style of a Viyella-House clad test-pilot. But Fox is no slouch when it comes to negotiating his way around the hotspots of Paris, Vienna, London and the Cote d’Azur, and bedding Delphine Seyrig’s elegant baroness in a Château in Var, although she gives him the slip soon afterwards and is later found murdered.
Based on Frederick Forsyth’s novel, Zinnemann directs from a script by Kenneth Ross, but the suspense is slightly diluted because history has already revealed the ending. The enjoyment is all about seeing how Fox fails, hoping – the while – that he might succeed in his meticulously researched and gracefully performed endeavour.
Zinnemann plays it straight down the line in a crime thriller that certainly gets about in its glamorous international locations captured by Jean Tournier’s skilful camera. There’s very little humour here apart from Tony Britton’s hammed up Birmingham accent, which probably wasn’t intentionally drôle – he did in fact come from the West Midlands. The ensemble cast is solid gold with endlessly enjoyable turns from Alan Badel (whose voice was once described as “the sound of tears”); Terence Alexander; Cyril Cusack; Derek Jacobi; Jean Martin and Ronald Pickup – to name but a few. Marvellous, easy-going entertainment despite its running time of over two hours. MT
NOW OUT ON BLURAY on 4 SEPTEMBER COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS