Updated: Aug 6, 2019
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“THE DAY OF THE JACKAL”
Blu-ray, 1973, PG for bloodless violence, brief nudity
Best extra: “In the Marksman’s Eye: Fred Zinnemann and ‘The Day of the Jackal,’” a new interview with author Neil Sinyard
IN MANY WAYS, “The Day of the Jackal,” the edge-of-the-seat political thriller that’s FINALLY making its Stateside Blu-ray debut, is right out of director Fred Zinnemann’s playbook.
Start with the “sheer craftsmanship. There isn’t a wasted shot,” says author Neil Sinyard in a new interview included on the Arrow Video disc. The parallel, then converging, storylines are another hallmark, and the race against time is reminiscent of “High Noon.”
But “Jackal’s” theme of the individual standing up to society and its institutions, which defined his Oscar-winning “From Here to Eternity” (director) and “A Man for All Seasons” (picture, director), and Oscar-nominated “High Noon” and “The Nun’s Story,” is crucial, Sinyard says.
Except that Zinnemann turned it on its head and took “a nihilistic direction.”
Did he ever.
Zinnemann was in the office of producer John Woolf when he saw the galleys for Frederick Forsyth’s (“The Negotiator”) first novel, which was based on his experience as a reporter for Reuters. Forsyth had followed Prime Minister Charles de Gaulle and learned that the police had dossiers on every dissident in France. He created the story on the premise that an assassination attempt would have to be by an outsider.
Adapting it presented two challenges, Sinyard says: How would audiences respond when they knew the outcome, and how would they react to a character for whom they felt no empathy?
Probably just like viewers who pick up this overdue Blu-ray: Forty-five years on, “The Day of the Jackal” is one of the most gripping thrillers you’ll find.
Unfolding like a documentary, it builds to an attempted assassination of de Gaulle that’s set in motion by the Organisation armée secrète, a short-lived paramilitary group that opposed independence for Algiers. After de Gaulle’s motorcade escapes an OAS fusillade, the group recruits an erudite Englishman known only as The Jackal (Edward Fox, “Edward & Mrs. Simpson”), but the police get wind of the plot.
Facing a choice that Gary Cooper would appreciate, he heads to Paris anyway.
Charming one moment, cold-blooded the next, Fox couldn’t be more convincing. The solid supporting cast includes Michael Lonsdale (“Ronin”) as Lebel, the police commissioner running the manhunt; Derek Jacobi (“I, Claudius”) as his assistant, Caron; and Cyril Cusack (“1984”) as The Gunsmith.
The just-as-solid print, the same one that was mastered for the U.K. release a few years ago, gives you a real appreciation Jean Tournier’s (“The Train”) meticulous cinematography. Colors are exceptional, blacks are deep and the consistent grain never gets in the way. While the detail is good in the close-ups, it occasionally gets lost in the shadows. The audio, though, isn’t as satisfying. Dialogue is always clear but the soundtrack hurts for depth.
Other than “In the Marksman’s Eye,” the wide-ranging interview with Sinyard, extras are a mixed bag. They include two archival clips from the set, including an interview with Zinnemann, and the original script by Kenneth Ross (“The Odessa File”) on BD-ROM. Arrow has also put together a booklet that recounts the making of the film and its broadcast on British television. Zinnemann and Woolf were not pleased.
But, really, extras are beside the point.
What matters is the wait for “The Day of the Jackal,” not to be confused with the Bruce Willis-Richard Gere clunker “The Jackal,” is, at long last, over.
— Craig Shapiro
Arrow Video trailer for "The Day of the Jackal"