'jackal' of the title is the code name for a man who may (or may not)
be a British citizen specializing in professional assassinations. He
allegedly killed Trujillo of the Dominican Republic in 1961 and, now,
two years later, he has been hired by a group of Frenchmen who want de
custom rifle made by Cyril Cusack at left
government has received information that an attempt will be made on
de Gaulle’s life. The general absolutely insists that he will make no
changes in his public schedule, and that any attempt to prevent an
assassination must be made in secret. The French police cooperate
'unofficially' with the top police forces of other nations in
attempting an apprehension. But they don’t even know who the jackal is.
can they stop him? The movie provides a fascinating record of police
investigative work, which combines exhaustive checking with intuition.
But the jackal is clever, too, particularly when he’s cornered. Some of
the movie’s finest moments come after the jackal’s false identity is
discovered and his license plates and description are distributed. He
keeps running - and always convincingly; this isn’t a movie about a
killer with luck, but about one of uncommon intelligence and nerve."
Day of the Jackal” is two and a half hours long and seems over in about
fifteen minutes. There are some words you hesitate to use in a review,
because they sound so much like advertising copy, but in this case I
can truthfully say that the movie is spellbinding."
Sorel, the leader of an assassination attempt on General de Gaulle
The Algerian War was waged by France from 1954 until 1962. De Gaulle's granting of Algerian
independence (see The City Review's article on "The Battle of Algiers")
evidently raised the hackles of members of the Organisation armee
secrete (OAS), and
they staged an assassination attempt that saw de
Gaulle's motorcade assaulted with a barrage of machine gun fire, all to
no avail. The conspirators, whose leader was played in the film by Jean Sorel, were quickly rounded up, with the leader
meeting his fate at the hands of a firing squad whom the leader was convinced would not shoot him. All of this OAS
activity is documented in brief and appealing concise fashion in the
opening moments of the movie.
of the things that helps to establish a baseline of anxiety which
almost runs rampant through the film is the character of The Jackal
himself," Jeffrey Kauffman wrote in his December 10, 2017 review of the film at Blu-ray.com.
Delphine Seyrig, star
of "Last Year at Marienbad," is seduced by Fox
The Jackal finds out in a rare contact with his employers that the
French authorities know of his existence and his license plate, he
decides to seduce an attractive baroness, played by Delphine Seyrig,
the star of "Last Year at Marienbad" (see The City Review article), at an Alpine resort.
Fox realizes he must
kill Delphine who just told him the police were asking about him
baroness leaves the resort but not before The Jackal gets her address
and soon follows her home to continue their affair. In bed, she
tells him that the police had just visited her and asked questions
about him. He smokes a cigarette in bed with him and then quickly
and quietly kills her.
"This is one 'smooth operator,' a seemingly inherently suave
sort who is nonetheless almost appallingly vicious at times. In fact
one of the story's repeatedly disturbing aspects is just how
unperturbed The Jackal is when he's confronted by 'little' obstacles
like people who may know too much for their own good. Let's just say
that aside and apart from any attempted murder of Charles de Gaulle,
there's an accruing body count in this film as The Jackal goes about
his appointed rounds attempting to arrange a supposedly foolproof way
to off the French President. There's
a cat and mouse game that starts ensuing once some intelligence
services and police officials get wind of the plot, but even here the
film would seem to defy expectations since it's a given that The Jackal
is not going to ultimately succeed in his plan....a
couple of the most visceral moments in the film are when The Jackal is
suddenly confronted by something unexpected, which is when his feral
tendencies show themselves," Mr. Kauffman observed.
looking for Fox on Liberation Day
The French official heading
the search for The Jackal is played by Michael Lonsdale with a fine
tinge of desperation and determination.
Alan Badel plays the
Minister of the Interior
In his May 17, 1973 review of the movie in The New York Times,
Vincent Canby notes that "Frederick Forsyth novel, which was written
for the screen by Kenneth Ross, belongs to a very special subcategory
of fiction - one that leave me cold but apparently fascinates two out
of every three people in the Free World who can afford to buy adventure
novels in hardback editions." "Because history has tipped us off
that no one ever did assassinate De Gaulle, the suspense of the novel
and the film must depend on our wondering just how the assassin is
gaoing to fail. This prolonged failure also allows us to hope
rather tentatively for his success. We can identify with him in a
way that we certainly not allow outselves with an Oswald or a Ray," Mr.
Canby continued, not bothering to point out that De Gaulle was not the
most lovable world leader.
The French Minister of the
Interior, played by Alan Badel, has an impossible task of trying to
catch the assassin, especially when it is discovered that a member of
his cabinet was sleeping with a woman very sympathetic with the O.A.S.
and able to seduce him with her dog while he is horse-back
Badel tells Lonsdale that as head of the pursuit he is the most
powerful man in France and the detective looses no time in exercising
The Jackal on his way
to his sniper's perch
Canby states that he movie is "virtually encyclopedic in describing the
assassin's preparations" including extensive research of birth records,
securing identity papers and hair dyes. "Zinneman's way with his
material is cool, sober and geographically stunning," he noted, ending
his review that he has "no doubt it will be a smash."
Testing the rifle
film ends with a lengthy overview of the Liberation Day festivities and
preparations and then ends with a grey-haired cripple staggering his
way through security to his apartment overlooking the square where De
Gaulle will officiate.
We are sad, and guilty, when this anti-hero doesn't "get" his man even though we knew all along that he wouldn't, which is
why this remarkable "What If" movie is so daring, memorable and mind-boggling.