Friday, April 17, 2015
The Day Of The Jackal, Indeed-Frederick Forsyth’s Day Of The Jackal
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Day of the Jackal, starring Edward Fox, from the novel by Frederick Forsyth, 1973
One of the interesting things about having a healthy regard for the history of cinematography is to be able to date the films from a look at their production values, at least since the close of the silent era. Those early black and white films with their grainy flickering quality later refined to some very dramatic and story enhancing shadowing that made many a film better than its story line or acting. A bit later the surprisingly liquid-ish quality of the first color films (I still am amazed though by the purity of that dazzling snow-drenched mountain in the Paramount logo when one of their products hits my screen) and how the digital age has refined that process to a greater sharpness. We can also, and the film under review, The Day Of The Jackal, is a prime example of this, pretty much date the time when a film took place by such things as the cars used, the kinds of travel, the fashions, and technology used at the time.
And in the case of political thrillers like Jackal the police procedures. While the film was released in 1973 the time line of the story is set in 1963 in France just after then President Charles de Gaulle agreed, reluctantly agreed, to Algerian independence (the massive resistance led by the Algerian National Liberation Front had a lot to do with that fact as did the ferocity of the struggle they lead and the French reaction as poignantly shown in a film like Battle of Algiers). Naturally, as we witnessed in the United States in the wake of our own Algeria-like fight in the former French possession of Vietnam not everybody was happy about that outcome, especially among some elements of the French military who had actually fought and bled in those battles. I have never seen or heard of anything similar here by the military around the defeat in Vietnam, at least that has been exposed, but in France some elements decided to do something about the matter and formed a secret organization, the OAS, to overthrow the de Gaulle government.
In the normal course of events such operations usually are exposed, are usually thwarted in their attempts and that is that. For the most part that is what happened with the OAS using its own personnel to create chaos in due course and the leaders and ranks were rounded up. So those still left on the outside of prison or of the country decided to hire a professional, a “hit man,” somebody outside the organization to assassinate de Gaulle. The thread of the rest of the story goes on from there.
Of course to hire the services of hit man (we will use “hit man” here because as we find out in the end who knows what his real name was), a man of such specialized skills who would need to retire after such a kill means providing enough dough to do that. And that is really where the whole project comes unglued since OAS agents are forced into a series of large scale bank robberies to finance the caper, some getting caught and if not informing then the police had an idea that something was being planned by the organization. Those actions set off the various police agencies under the direction of the Ministry of Interior who were monitoring OAS activities to try to find out what they were up to, why they needed so much money. It is that old-fashioned process of tracking down the hit man (played by Edward Fox) which dates this film. The almost painful use of registries and other archival documents to trace who might have come into the country at a certain point and where, where he might have stayed, who he might be once the police decided it was not a French national, to speak of the untold number of man hours in such searches almost seemed comical some fifty plus years later. Today all that could have been gleaned from some international centralized computer base in about an hour and that would be that. Or maybe a quick check of the NSA vacuum cleaner operation.
Well not quite because old-fashioned paper hunts or digital speed our hit man is quite the professional, knows enough to keep ahead of the police through most of the two hours of the film and the remake does that with a more modern hit man (Bruce Willis). One would think our hit man would also have competing technologies to keep himself in the game. What our hit man, our hit man, needed to be then, or now, is a ruthless stone-cold killer to carry out his mission and along the way use and discard (kill) anybody and everybody who could possibly identify him. So our hit man had good run but as we know, or should know by now, President de Gaulle died in his bed so you know stone-cold killer or not he ran out of luck. All in all though still a pretty good film.