“August 1962 was a stormy time for France. Many people felt that President Charles de Gaulle had betrayed France by giving independence to Algeria. Extremists, mostly from the army, swore to kill him in revenge. They banded together in an underground movement and called themselves the OAS.”
This was the beginning narration of what would become…
…The Day of the Jackal. Based on a novel by Frederich Forsythe and directed by Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity). It is entirely fiction save the very beginning, when we are treated to an assassination attempt depicting the OAS and their ill-fated, puegot-chopping ambush of DeGaull’s motorcade.
That happened. And when the ring leader was informed that he would be shot and showed no emotion insisting he would live because ‘no French soldier would ever raise their rifle to me.” But, you know, they did. That actually happened, too. The exquisite sting.
The OAS at this point is on the run, its leaders holed up in an Alpine love-nest scared of every ray of sunshine that wiggles its way past the curtains. It’s here they realize they have to go outside the leaky ship of the OAS and find a foreigner to do the job.
No Englishman could ever harm the French President, for any price, not a hair on his lazy, catholic, unbathed, lustful, drunken, brie-eating, snail-suckin’, bed bugs spreadin’, crotch-spritzin’, mime-lovin’, stupid hat wearin” head…I’ll do it.
This lanky, blonde Englishman is none other than ‘the Jackal’ played to faux-posh perfection by Edward Fox, but don’t get any ideas, this isn’t your typical Bond-esque adventure tale, The Jackal is a murderer, the film quickly forces you to take him seriously, no cutesy one liners, no dashing smirks in the bedroom mirror, Fox lets you see the darkness of the man, he has no loyalty or sentiment, no kindness and nobody lives if they are even tangentially aware of what he’s up to…but he’s no thrill killer either, amongst the darkness you see the flicker, not of remorse, but of disappointment that fate, the gendarme, and pretty, unescorted hotel-frauen won’t let him just kill the pompous fragg already.
You could call Fox’s Jackal the anti-Bond, whereas Bond’s success is mostly luck, his life handed and re-handed back to him by bunglers stepping on twigs as they raise their, I dunno, ‘shoe-bazooka’ his way, the Jackal doesn’t have luck (Bond must have gotten his portion), the Jackal has tenacity, what you don’t see is frustration, and he should be frustrated, he should be demoralized half way in, even when his OAS contact tells him his cover is blown, that they have his name, his face, his white Alfa-Romeo, what does he do? He gets a new face, a new name and paints his Alfa-Romeo blue. When they get his new name and face and he wrecks his newly blue Alfa-Romeo, he has a new face and name and country of origin and then steals a station wagon.
But unlike Bond we aren’t left to assume he’s just got the skills for it and that ends all the argument, we get to see what we’ll never see with Bond: actual, honest tradecraft. The first hour we see him getting several passports, discussing ways to make your skin old and sickly looking (you eat small portions of cordite), smuggling hair die in Old Spice bottles. Unlike Bond there is no Q, he scouts the false identities himself in church graveyards, he builds backstory after backstory, he has a forger in one country and he has one aged gunsmith to craft his collapsible weapon and the explosive mercury-tipped bullets to make DeGaulle’s head atomize like a train-smacked tomato. He is double, triple, quadruple prepared and things still go south, as it might when bad luck conjures up a 100,000-cop nationwide manhunt. The exquisite sting.
Light. Powerful. Concealable even in the tightest of English rectums, the .762 Sig-Sphincter sadly went out of fashion sometime in the late 70s.
That manhunt was just the result of luck and good detective work, led by gendarme detective Lebel, played with usual subtlety by Michael Lonsdale. If you don’t know Lonsdale, pluck every nostril hair out of your head with hot tweezers, because he’s phenomenal, a character actor relied upon to evoke decency and sincerity. I believe his casting was inspired and intentional, to contrast the good guys to the bad guys because in this film it is so easy to start rooting for the bad guys. Lonsdale ensures we don’t dip too deep in our admiration for Jackal.
He is a chameleon, but we have good information he will disguise himself as a 9 year-old Chinese girl, got that? You see anything in saddle shoes and a jumper and you pop it, pop it quick!]
We are struggling to figure out Jackal’s motivation for the entire film. It isn’t the $500,000 dollars (4.5 million in today’s inflation-raped currency), the OAS paid him half up-front, and even they knew once the police had his name and car the deal was off, this leads to the defining image of the movie: a fleeing Jackal, the entire nation of France on his tail, sitting in his car at a crossroads, turn right to ‘Italie’, turn left for Paris, and in all that heat, with half the money earned and sheer mathematical impossibility smothering this caper in the crib…the bastard goes to Paris.
Why? The real mystery behind the movie is him. He told OAS before he quoted his price that whoever did it ‘wouldn’t be able to work again’, but he could go to Italy, take half the money and work again. He didn’t hate De Gaulle or love the OAS or have a scintilla of woe for lost Algiers. What cogs were rolling in this guy’s clock?
Certain failure and possible death OR no ice; rude, surly drunkards OR waiter’s thumb in soup…accordian music OR menacingly happy pop radio…[deep sigh] herpes or gohnorrhea.]
It’s the game. This man became so dead inside his only glimmer of animation is when the odds are as bad as they become in France, it’s the only answer, DeGaulle had to die, not out of a craftsman’s pride, but out of a coreless man’s need to feel really, truly alive.
The World Stage. I was here. I mattered. Because he knew there would be no tombstone for him. How did he know?
When Scotland yard found his real name and searched his flat, the only piece of evidence was his passport, left there, which lacked an outbound stamp from a South American country which years before had a high-profile assassination, this assassination, according MI5 gossip, involved ‘an Englishman’. BAM! Got him! But this was the set-up to the film’s final assessment of the character, because at the end of the film, into the rough reception of Scotland Yard, who walks into the flat where The Jackal supposedly lived and who owned that passport and the bottles of Old Spice on the bureau?
BAM! Uh, just…some…dude.
Then who the hell was The Jackal?!
No tombstone would be carved because he had no name or country after all, and his true story, the film portends, could never be told.
That’s the exquisite sting.