The Day of the Jackal (1973) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

If you 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 differences.
  • First of all, the original is not about assassinating the American first lady, but features an attempt to assassinate the storied French President Charles De Gaulle. The 1997 movie updates the 1960s plot to the present.
  • Second, the remake added an element of "to catch a thief" by having the police hire another terrorist (the Richard Gere character with the Lucky Charms accent) to help catch the Jackal. There was nothing comparable in the original.

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:

  • Research takes far less time in the film than it really would. The British, immediately comparing death certificates to passport applications in the pre-computer age? Be serious. In the case of death certificates and passport applications, the U.K. had physical records in many different locations - Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, wherever. The cross-checking would have been a monumental task before computerization. Hell, if you made a plane reservation through a travel agent in the U.K. in those days, it used to take the reservations clerks at Heathrow forever just to find the little index card with your name on it. They'd ask you to spell your name forty times, and take a few tea breaks before getting to it.
  • If the Jackal was such a smart guy, why did he leave his stolen car parked in front of the railroad station in Tulle? Why didn't he drive the car into a river somewhere and walk to the railroad station?
  • Why did the Jackal kill the co-operative and trusting French woman in her bed and leave her there for the servants to find? Why not tell the servants they were going on a trip, take her along for a few miles, kill her, and dump her body in the forest, thereby arousing no suspicion.
  • Why didn't the detective have the woman's place watched after she admitted sleeping with The Jackal? Ol' Jackal showed up again after the police left, and was in no jeopardy!
  • When the Jackal stole the license plates from the amorous couple, he could see them making out from the car. Why sneak into the woods to make love if you plan to stay in sight of the road?
  • Why did the detective drive to the railroad station in Paris (thereby assuring he'd miss the Jackal's train) rather than simply calling up a police office near the station and having them pick up "Per Lindstrom" (The Jackal). Is he the only policeman in the city of Paris?

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.


DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterbox, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features



  • Olga Georges-Picot is seen naked in a dark scene in which she gets out of bed to make a phone call. Her breasts and buns are visible.
  • Delphine Seyrig exposes one breast while she is in bed with Mr Jackal.
  • Edward Fox shows his buns in a dark scene.


The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: more than three stars. BBC 4/5, Maltin 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.6, very close to their Top 250
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Excellent genre film, but probably too long and too detailed if you don't generally like the genre.

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