The Day of the Jackal (1973) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
saw The Jackal, the 1997 movie with Richard Gere and Bruce Willis,
then you have the general idea of what this earlier, better, version
is about. There are two key
The plot of the 1973 version is quasi-historical. Although the film is fictional, it could have happened and does not contradict any established facts. Back in the 1960's, De Gaulle offended the right wing in France by granting independence to Algeria. This sparked deep dissent, rancorous accusations, and even some assassination attempts. The premise of this movie is that the OAS (the French right wing underground) hired a noted international assassin named The Jackal to finish off the job they could not do themselves.
The French authorities got wind of the plot and of The Jackal's impending arrival, but the entire collective might of France seemed to cower before the wit of this one man. He was certainly well prepared. His car included various parts which could be re-assembled into an untraceable custom-made rifle, as well as a power painter which ran off the car battery, thus allowing him to change the color of the car. His cosmetics bag included two bottles of Old Spice which were actually filled with hair dye. His suitcases were filled with custom linings, and those linings contained everything he needed to switch identities. He had three identities prepared in advance, all nailed down to the last detail, all established by months of advance preparation. For example, one of his identities was a one-legged Frenchman who lived in the assassination zone (guess what was in the false leg?), and he established that personality by making mundane, innocent appearances in the neighborhood for weeks or months so that he would not be considered suspicious when the day of reckoning arrived.
Jackal was also a handsome sexual predator who used both successful gay men and rich older women to provide him with accommodations. The Jackal didn't seem to take any pleasure in sex or even in killing. He seemed to have no passion for anything. He was simply a man with a job, and he kept his mind focused on staying alive while completing that job successfully. His rich lovers were simply a means to avoid registering in public hotels. His most influential lovers, never suspecting his insidious intentions, continually provided him with inside information about the inner workings of the French cabinet and police, so that he always knew when he had been "made" and when to change identities.
The film is very clever in its portrayal of The Jackal. His true identity was never discovered. All of the clues led back to red herrings which he planted himself. It's quite a cool film in a lot of ways, a perfect example of the stories of international intrigue that were so popular during the Cold War era. It was shot splendidly in several beautiful locales (Vienna, Nice, Genoa, Paris, London, and several areas of the French countryside), and shows the result of dogged police legwork in the pre-computer era. In fact, the inspector's pursuit of The Jackal could easily be compared to Holmes' pursuit of Moriarty. It was produced by an Anglo-French company, and even the bit parts were filled by top notch actors from both sides of the channel (Derek Jacobi, e.g.). It was directed by a native Austrian, Fred Zinnemann, whose name is not well remembered today, but who was nonetheless an excellent Hollywood director, with 25 years of films under his belt before he made this one, including such successes as The Nun's Story, From Here to Eternity, A Man For All Seasons, and High Noon. He was still alive as late as 1997, although he had been retired for many years.
The film does have some realism problems and plot holes. For example:
I don't think you need to take these details too seriously. As I was watching the film, the only one that really bothered me was the last one, which was downright silly. Use the phone, man! Call other, closer, policemen; call the railroad office. That's what phones are for!
In my mind, you can consider those point to be quibbling, but there is one significant weakness of the film, or at least something that many of you will consider a weakness. Day of the Jackal is very cerebral, and generally lacking in passion and action. In the typical Brit fashion of the times, neither Mr. Jackal nor his pursuers show much resembling humor or enthusiasm for the chase. Nobody every raises his voice above a well-modulated conversational level. All of the conversations include those typical prefaces and dithering from period English upper class speech. (Characters never say directly "It was I". They always preface the factual transmission with verbal clutter. "I very much regret to inform you, my dear Nigel, that despite my best intentions, and in deference to the explicit wishes of her ladyship, who is now undoubtedly hiding behind the statue of Apollo in the library at St. Ives, it was I".) Even the French authorities were often played by very stuffy upper crust English actors, speaking English and acting very English.
That cerebral, passionless tone, extended over 140 minutes, may be tedious for some of you. I have to be honest and admit that I really like this kind of film in general, so I liked this one very much, given its status as one of the very best of its type. Although it is about 36 hours long (actually two hours and twenty minutes), I felt that it maintained tension through its running length, despite its minimal action, and I still wanted more details at the end. After such a long and lovingly constructed build-up, the whole thing seemed to end too abruptly for my taste.
Obviously, your mileage may vary. Given the lack of action and the staid attitude of the characters, I suppose most of you will be ready to break after two and a half hours, especially if this isn't your kind of genre film.
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