The Day of the Jackal (1973) Film Review A

DIRECTOR: Fred Zinnemmann.
BOTTOM LINE: In director Fred Zinnemmann’s superb edge-of-your-seat 142-minute adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel of the same name, two innocent people are murdered as the French and English police forces – led by French actor Michel Lonsdale- try desperately to find “The Jackal.” That is the code name of the hit man for hire who is planning to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle as he hands out medals on the Place du 18 juin 1940, in Paris, on Liberation Day, 1963. The first murder is the result of a heterosexual affair, so it gets more attention. Also, this first victim is an upper-class French woman, Madame de Montpellier, who is played by the gorgeous French star Delphine Seyrig, then at the peak of her appeal following the release of “Last Year at Marienbad,” “Muriel” and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” with “Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” just around the corner. “The Jackal,” brilliantly played by Edward Fox, meets her at an expensive hotel, and later, as the police close in around him, he follows her to her mansion and, after she tells him that the police have been to see her, he kills her.
The Day of the Jackal
The second murder is the result of a homosexual affair, so it gets less screen time. Back in Paris, with the murder of Madame de Montpellier on the news stations and the police now knowing his nom de guerre and having alerted all of the hotels in Paris, “The Jackal” knows that he must find somewhere else to stay. So, barely escaping the police at the train station, he asks the taxi driver to take him to a Turkish Bath where, as he hoped, he is hit on by a French man named Jules Bernard (played by English actor Anthony “Anton” Rodgers) who invites him back to his home to spend the evening. All seems to go as planned until Jules overhears the newsflash on the television, and like Madame de Montpellier before him, he is immediately dispatched, in his case, to that great gay sauna in the sky.
The Day of the Jackal
This is another example of a gay character whose sole purpose in a movie is to be killed. Our consolation is that Zinnemmann and Rodgers treat him with a modicum of respect – we get a glimpse of his life outside the bathhouse, and Rodgers manages to do his best with his few minutes of screentime. That his murder is a mirror image of Seyrig’s also eases the pain (a little).
Otherwise, I always sit back and enjoy this beautifully made film. It is a reminder of what a great director Fred Zinnemmann could be when he worked from suitable material.
Openly gay actor Derek Jacobi is among the marvelous cast, a virtual who’s who of excellent English and French character actors, plus the occasional star!

Oscar nomination for Best Editing of 1973. (Ralph Kemplen)


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