Back in the early ‘60s, there were Frenchmen on the far-right who were not best pleased with Charles de Gaulle. It wasn’t his accordion playing with The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band causing offence as that wasn’t until 1967. The problem was that he’d allowed Algeria to become independent and that never goes down well with generals and former legionnaires who’d just spent the last few years fighting in the Algerian War on their government’s behalf. So, the far-right never being ones to overreact, they formed a paramilitary group called Organisation de l'armée secrete (OAS) and repeatedly tried assassinating the general, most notoriously with an ambush led by Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry in 1962. Despite the expenditure of an enormous amount of ammunition, they missed the general (and, indeed, everyone else) and Bastien-Thiry gained the honour of being the last person in France to be put before a firing squad. Much to the Colonel’s apparent surprise, the firing squad didn’t miss.
All of this inspired the then-unheard of British journalist Frederick Forsyth to base his highly authentic debut novel, The Day of the Jackal, on the OAS’ next (entirely fictional) attempt at getting de Gaulle. Having just noticed we’d lost an empire, this was a time when we were bizarrely convinced that if anyone wanted something doing properly, they’d get an English gentleman to do it (or the partly Scottish James Bond). So our angry Frenchmen do precisely that. The book was a huge success and the movie shortly followed.
Today Jackal feels like a piece of history, but it’s still a thoroughly entertaining one. In fact, in the face of 21st century terrorism, a little bit of elegant presidential assassination seems like a jolly jape. Especially if it’s done by Edward Fox doing a European travelogue in a sports car. It’s Jackal’s combination of authenticity (the assassin’s method of obtaining a false identity is now known as the "Day of the Jackal fraud") and sheer fantasy (bespoke sniper rifles and masterful one-legged disguises) that make it so compelling; you know Bond is a load of nonsense but this might not be. Fox is in fine fettle in a difficult role here: he’s not so much an anti-hero as a ruthless, if charming, professional, and apart from his almost schoolboy enthusiasm he has for his job, we actually know nothing about him (not even who he really is). We might be given a ringside view of his travails but we’re as much the dark about his character as the dogged cops on his trail led by the always brilliant Michael Lonsdale. This wasn’t the sort of movie Fred Zinnemann directed too often but his cranking up of the tension is pitch-perfect. Will he get away with? Are we actually rooting for him or Michael Lonsdale? Hard to tell...
A classic thriller of the ‘70s and with a French President potentially being knocked off by a posh Brit, this is probably Nigel Farage’s favourite film. .
Special Features: Production notes / Trailer
THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: FRED ZINNERMANN / SCREENPLAY: KENNETH ROSS / STARRING: EDWARD FOX, MICHAEL LONSDALE, MICHEL AUCLAIR, DEREK JACOBI, OLGA GEORGES-PICOT, RONALD PICKUP, CYRIL CUSACK, TERENCE ALEXANDER, TONY BRITTON, MAURICE DENHAM, ADRIEN CAYLA-LEGRAND / RELEASED: OUT NOW