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CONSPIRACY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: The Day of the Jackal (1973)

The Day of the Jackal is a 1973 Anglo-French film, set in August 1963 and based on the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it stars Edward Fox as the assassin known only as "the Jackal" who is hired to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.

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The film opens with the recreation of an actual event, the assassination attempt on the President of France, Charles de Gaulle, on 22 August 1962, by the militant French underground organisation OAS in anger over the French government's decision to give independence to Algeria. The group, led by Jean Bastien-Thiry, raked de Gaulle's car, an unarmored Citroën DS, with machine gun fire in the Paris suburb of Petit-Clamart, but the entire entourage escaped without injury. Within six months, Bastien-Thiry and several other members of the plot were caught and executed.

The remaining OAS leadership decides to make another attempt, and hires a professional assassin who chooses the code name The Jackal (Edward Fox). He demands half a million US dollars for his services, so to raise the Jackal's fee, OAS members rob several banks. Meanwhile, the Jackal commissions a rifle disguised as a crutch and fake identity papers. (Notably, he spares the reliable gunsmith but murders the forger who tries to blackmail him.) In Paris, he sneaks an impression of the key to a flat that overlooks a large square (where de Gaulle will make an appearance on Liberation Day).

The French Service d'Action Civique (referred to throughout as the Action Service) identify and kidnap the OAS chief clerk, Adjutant Viktor Wolenski (Jean Martin) in Italy. They use torture to extract some elements of the plot, including the word "Jackal", before Wolenski dies.


Interior Minister (Alan Badel) convenes a secret cabinet. The police commissioner recommends the brilliant detective deputy commissioner Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale). He will have any resources he needs but must avoid publicity. One of the cabinet members, named St. Clair, unsuspectingly discloses the government's knowledge of the plot to his new mistress (Olga Georges-Picot), an OAS plant who immediately passes this information on to her contact.

Lebel uses an old boy network of police agencies in other countries to determine that suspect "Charles Calthrop" may be traveling under the name "Paul Oliver Duggan" and that Duggan has entered France.

The Jackal decides to carry on with his plan despite the fact that his code name is known. He meets and seduces Colette de Montpellier (Delphine Seyrig) in a Grasse hotel. Slipping away before Lebel arrives, he steals a Peugeot 404 that collided with his Alfa Romeo Giulietta and drives it to Madame de Montpellier's estate. After sleeping with her again and discovering that the police had talked to her, he strangles her. The Jackal then assumes a new identity as a bespectacled Dane, using a stolen passport. He drives Madame de Montpellier's Renault Caravelle to a station and catches a train for Paris.

Once the lady's servants discover her corpse and her car is recovered at the train station, Lebel is able to make an open manhunt for a murderer. But the Jackal makes it to Paris, slips into a cab and, avoiding hotels now, goes to a bathhouse, where he allows himself to be picked up by a man and taken to the man's flat.

At a meeting with the assembled cabinet, Lebel plays the tape of a phone call made from the house of one of the cabinet members. The cabinet hears St. Clair's mistress passing along information about the manhunt to her OAS contact. St. Clair acknowledges that the call was made from his house and leaves in disgrace. Another cabinet member asks Lebel how he knew which phone to tap, to which he replies that he didn't, so he tapped them all.

Lebel further reveals that the Jackal will most likely attempt to shoot de Gaulle in three days, when the president will make several appearances for Liberation Day.


Meanwhile, the Jackal kills the man who picked him up at the bathhouse after a television news flash reveals him to be wanted for murder.

On Liberation Day, the Jackal, disguised as an elderly veteran amputee, shows his forged papers and is allowed through to enter the apartment building he had cased earlier. He takes up a position at the window of the upper apartment. De Gaulle enters the square to present medals to veterans of the Resistance.

Lebel meets the policeman who met the disguised Jackal and becomes alarmed. As de Gaulle presents the first medal, the Jackal shoots but the bullet misses him because at that moment the president leans over to kiss the recipient on the cheek. Lebel and the policeman burst in to the room, the Jackal turns and shoots the policeman, Lebel uses the policeman's MAT-49 submachine gun to kill the Jackal as he tries to re-load his rifle.

Back in Britain, the real ? and completely unrelated to the case ? Charles Calthrop (Edward Hardwicke) walks in on the police in his flat. As the Jackal's coffin is lowered into a grave, the authorities wonder, "But if the Jackal wasn't Calthrop, then who the hell was he?"


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Posted by George Freund on February 3, 2012 at 9:30 PM 4571 Views