Day of the Jackal [1973]

With its high-intensity plot about an attempt to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle, the bestselling novel by Frederick Forsyth was a prime candidate for screen adaptation. Director Fred Zinnemann brought his veteran skills to bear on what has become a timeless classic of screen suspense. Not to be confused with the later remake The Jackal starring Bruce Willis (which shamelessly embraced all the bombast that Zinnemann so wisely avoided), this 1973 thriller opts for lethal elegance and low-key tenacity in the form of the Jackal, the suave assassin played with consummate British coolness by Edward Fox. He's a killer of the highest order, a master of disguise and international elusiveness, and this riveting film follows his path to de Gaulle with an intense, straightforward documentary style. Perhaps one of the last great films from a bygone age of pure, down-to-basics suspense (and a kind of debonair European alternative to the American grittiness of The French Connection), The Day of the Jackal is a cat-and-mouse thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat until its brilliantly executed final scene (pardon the pun), by which time Fox has achieved cinematic immortality as one of the screen's most memorable killers. --Jeff Shannon

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