ⓘ The Day of the Jackal (film)


ⓘ The Day of the Jackal (film)

The Day of the Jackal is a 1973 British-French political thriller film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Edward Fox and Michael Lonsdale. Based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth, the film is about a professional assassin known only as the "Jackal" who is hired to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle in the summer of 1963.

The Day of the Jackal received positive reviews and went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Editing Ralph Kemplen, five additional BAFTA Award nominations, two Golden Globe Award nominations, and one Oscar nomination. The film grossed $16.056.255 at the box office, and earned an additional $8.525.000 in North American rentals. The British Film Institute ranked it the 74th greatest British film of the 20th century. A remake titled in U.S., The Jackal, was released on November 14, 1997, which starred Bruce Willis in the film.


1. Plot

On 22 August 1962, an assassination attempt is made on the President, General Charles de Gaulle, by the militant French underground organisation OAS in anger over the French government granting independence to Algeria. As the presidents motorcade passes, de Gaulles unarmoured Citroen DS car is raked with machine-gun fire, but the entire entourage escapes without injury. Within six months, OAS leader Jean Bastien-Thiry and several other members of the plot are captured, and Bastien-Thiry is executed.

The remaining OAS leaders, now hiding in Austria, decide to make another attempt, and hire a professional British assassin, who chooses the code name "Jackal". They order several bank robberies to pay his fee: $500.000. Meanwhile, the Jackal travels to Genoa and commissions a custom-made rifle and fake identity papers. He kills the forger when the man tries to blackmail him. In Paris, he sneaks an impression of the key to a flat that overlooks the Place du 18 juin 1940.

In Rome, where the OAS team have moved, members of the French Action Service kidnap the OASs chief clerk, Viktor Wolenski. Wolenski dies under interrogation, but not before the agents have extracted some information about the plot, including the word "Jackal". The Interior Minister convenes a secret cabinet meeting of the heads of the French security forces. When asked to provide his best detective, Police Commissioner Berthier recommends his deputy, Claude Lebel. Soon afterwards, Lebel is given special emergency powers to conduct his investigation, which is complicated by de Gaulles refusal to change his planned public appearances.

Colonel St. Clair, a personal aide to the President and one of the cabinet members, discloses what the government knows to his mistress Denise, who passes this information on to her OAS contact. Meanwhile, Lebel determines that British suspect Charles Calthrop may be travelling under the name Paul Oliver Duggan, who died as a child, and has entered France.

Although he is told that the authorities know about the plot, the Jackal carries on. He seduces the aristocratic Colette de Montpellier. Just before Lebel and his men arrive, the Jackal escapes and drives to Madame de Montpelliers country estate. After sleeping with her again and discovering that the police have talked to her, he strangles de Montpellier. The Jackal then assumes the identity of a bespectacled Danish schoolteacher named Per Lundquist. He drives to the railway station and catches a train for Paris.

After Montpelliers body is discovered and her car recovered at the railway station, Lebel initiates an open manhunt, no longer hindered by secrecy concerns. The Jackal picks up a man at a Turkish bathhouse and is taken to the mans flat. The next day, the Jackal kills his host after the man learns from a television broadcast that Lundquist is wanted for murder.

At a meeting with the Interior Ministers cabinet, Lebel states his belief that the Jackal will attempt to shoot de Gaulle three days later on 25 August, the day commemorating the liberation of Paris during World War II. Later, Lebel plays a recording of a phone call, in which St. Clairs mistress gives information to her OAS contact. St. Clair apologizes for his indiscretion and leaves the meeting. Denise returns to St. Clairs apartment to find that he has killed himself and that the police are waiting for her.

On Liberation Day, the Jackal, disguised as an elderly veteran amputee, enters the building he had chosen earlier. He assembles his rifle, hidden disassembled in one of his crutches, and waits at a window in an upper apartment. When Lebel finds out a policeman allowed a man to pass through the cordon, the two race to the building. As de Gaulle presents the first medal, the Jackal shoots, but misses when the tall president suddenly leans down to kiss the recipient on the cheek. Lebel and the policeman burst in. The Jackal shoots the policeman, but Lebel kills him.

The Jackal is buried in an unmarked grave. While searching Charles Calthrops flat, the police are confronted by its occupier who insists on accompanying them to Scotland Yard. He is later cleared, leading Inspector Thomas to ask, "But if the Jackal wasnt Calthrop, then who the hell was he?"


2. Production

The Day of the Jackal was originally part of a two-picture deal between John Woolf and Fred Zinnemann, the other being an adaptation of the play Abelard and Heloise by Ronald Millar. Although the story takes place in 1962 and 1963, the film shows car models whose production began later, for example the Peugeot 504 built from 1968, Renault 12 built from 1969, a Fiat 128 1969, and an orange Volkswagen Bus, around 1973.

Zinnemann wrote that Adrien Cayla-Legrand, the actor who played de Gaulle, was mistaken by several Parisians for the real de Gaulle during filming - though de Gaulle had been dead for two years prior to the films release. The sequence was filmed during a real parade, leading to confusion; the crowd many of whom were unaware that a film was being shot mistook the actors portraying police officers for real officers, and many tried to help them arrest the "suspects" they were apprehending in the crowd.

The Day of the Jackal was filmed in studios and on location in France, Britain, Italy and Austria. Zinnemann was able to film in locations usually denied to filmmakers - such as inside the Ministry of the Interior - due in large part to French producer Julien Derodes skill in dealing with authorities. Nevertheless, the opening sequence was not shot in the Elysee courtyard but at the hotel de Soubise, main office of the French National Archives. The two palaces were both built at the beginning of the 18th century, but the Hotel de Soubise is more accessible and has less security than the Elysee.

During the massive annual 14 July parade down the Champs-Elysees, the company was allowed to film inside the police lines, capturing extraordinary closeup footage of the massing of troops, tanks, and artillery during the final Liberation Day sequence. During the weekend of 15 August, the Paris police cleared a very busy square of all traffic to film additional scenes.

Frederick Forsyth later wrote that for the film contract to buy rights for his novel, he was offered two options: £17.500 plus a small percentage of subsequent film profits, or £20.000 and no royalties. He took £20.000, noting that such a payment was already a massive sum to him, but due to his naivete about finances he waived rights to a small fortune in royalties given the films enduring success.


3.1. Reception Critical response

The film received positive reviews, with a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 22 reviews. Among those who praised the film was Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave it his highest rating of four stars, writing:

I wasnt prepared for how good it really is: its not just a suspense classic, but a beautifully executed example of filmmaking. Its put together like a fine watch. The screenplay meticulously assembles an incredible array of material, and then Zinnemann choreographs it so that the story - complicated as it is - unfolds in almost documentary starkness.

Ebert concluded, "Zinnemann has mastered every detail. 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." Ebert included the film at No. 7 on his list of the Top 10 films of the year for 1973.


3.2. Reception Box office

The film grossed $16.056.255 at the box office earning North American rentals of $8.525.000. Zinnemann was pleased with the films reception at the box office, telling an interviewer in 1993, "The idea that excited me was to make a suspense film where everybody knew the end - that de Gaulle was not killed. In spite of knowing the end, would the audience sit still? And it turned out that they did, just as the readers of the book did."


4. Subsequent films

The film was the inspiration for the 1997 American remake film The Jackal, featuring Richard Gere, Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier and Jack Black. The 1997 film is about an assassin nicknamed The Jackal who wants to assassinate a highly significant target, but other than that, it has little in common with the original story. Frederick Forsyth refused to allow his name to be used in connection with it, and director Fred Zinnemann fought with the studio to ensure that the new film did not share the first films title.

In 1988, the same plot inspired the Malayalam movie August 1.