WolfmanOz at the Movies #77

Charles Calthrop.

From start to finish, The Day Of The Jackal (released in 1973) is one stylish thriller that qualifies among the best of its genre. Based on Frederick Forsyth’s best-selling novel and handsomely photographed it is impressively acted by the entire cast, whilst showcasing Edward Fox as The Jackal in a performance of smooth villainy that is totally convincing all the way.

With nary a car chase or shoot out in sight, it manages to cram as much excitement into its 143 minute running time thanks to the combination of expert direction by Fred Zinnemann and a faultless script by Kenneth Ross. Highly detailed and never less than compelling, this film follows the exploits of a professional assassin about to embark on his biggest job yet, as he makes an attempt to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle; and we follow him every painstaking step of the way.

The Jackal is hired by the OAS, a militant underground group that opposes de Gaulle giving independence to Algeria. The group has learned the hard way that a man who survived, in fact, led, the Resistance in France during WW II is not easy to bump off. After shooting something like 110 bullets into his car in a failed attempt on de Gaulle’s life; the OAS turns to an outsider, a crack assassin.


If The Jackal is working hard as he carefully plans each step, so is the French Security. Due to bank robberies in France organised by the OAS to pay for The Jackal, the French government deduce that the OAS needs to fund something. The OAS security chief is kidnapped and tortured. French Security walks away with the name: The Jackal, and realise that President de Gaulle may be in danger. There is no way to find The Jackal as they can’t detain him at the border since they don’t know his name. Government assassins can’t destroy him if he’s in another country. They can’t arrest him in France because they don’t know who he is, and they can’t search for him as they don’t know what he looks like. The French Government calls in a police detective recommended by the Police Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel (Michel Lonsdale).

With precious little to go on, made worse because the entire operation must be kept secret, Lebel and his assistant (a young Derek Jacobi) start the step by step police work necessary to uncover this man. It’s a massive job.

Absolutely fascinating the film shows the careful preparations on the side of both the police and the assassin and the roadblocks each runs into. Edward Fox is outstanding as The Jackal, even with precious little dialogue, he manages to show his coldness, preciseness, and quick mind as he carefully plots his moves and is methodical in his precision, whilst killing with cool detachment. Lonsdale as Lebel seems like a real police detective, underplayed, exhausted, unflappable, and dogged. A wonderful performance.


The film’s final thirty minutes are worth waiting for, as is The Jackal’s final disguise that convinces the French authorities to let him pass. Fred Zinnemann keeps it all moving at a steady pace and there’s never any letdown in suspense since the film has had the power to draw you in from the start.


The period detail and French locations are superbly shot, so cinematically this is a very attractive looking film. It’s well-paced and directed with no wastage. We never get into The Jackal character’s head ourselves as viewers, there is a definite distance and we don’t always immediately know why he does certain things. This only adds to the compelling voyeurism of watching him on his deadly mission. Despite the genre, there is a restraint shown in the depictions of violence. It’s often implied or shown just off-screen. The focus of the film is very much on the way in which the assassin navigates through his mission via different methods of subterfuge. And of course, all this when we know de Gaulle is not assassinated which acts as a compelling testament to the skill and mastery of film craft that the movie displays.

The Day Of The Jackal is overall an outstanding thriller that combines intelligence with a gripping narrative. It shows how this kind of material should be presented on screen, where less can absolutely be more. The way that it always stays within the realm of the plausible is one of its strongest suits too. All this combined with its enigmatic central villain make it a superlative movie thriller.


and the tease for next weeks post . . . You must remember this.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Louis Litt
Louis Litt
June 29, 2023 7:32 am

The British are masters of suspense. This is the way it is.
The cinematography is the star of the movie for me. The locations are lovingly caught and they are not over the top or opulent. The other film with cinematography this good was Blowup which beautifully capture London, the English accent and behaviour.
The seduction of Madam Montpellier has allways stuck in mind. Ladies if you want to know what boys like watch her actions, the way she speaks and what she says. Her dress and how she keeps her self are arresting. Compare her to your Cambraaa wimmenz mid winter pollie “ball”.
As some one mentioned dressed lite with a lot of flesh in cold weather shivering in goosebumps by females who think they are now liberated.
Great show – made me want to emigrate to Europe and how Europe was the worlds super power with those locations.

June 29, 2023 8:23 am

One of my favourite films.
I enjoy these reviews.
Look forward to best photo of Ingrid.

June 29, 2023 8:49 am

I liked it because pretty well everyone was acting extremely competently.
Mistakes are made and clues picked up but there is no bumbling buffoon.
From memory of the book, the main reason the Jackal fails is more or less the vanity of wanting it to be a head shot instead of a safer (but still lethal) chest shot.

June 29, 2023 10:29 am

Another superb movie. Thanks Wolfie.

June 29, 2023 11:17 am

No Citroens were harmed during the making of this movie

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
June 29, 2023 11:19 am

T’rrific movie. I actually also liked the remake. Don’t hate me.

June 29, 2023 12:28 pm

The Jackal demands half a million US dollars for the job (per the clip).
That wouldn’t buy you the assassination of Chris Hipkins these days.


June 29, 2023 12:33 pm

I read a funny review once of the half-arsed quasi re-make. That film had the Jackal closing in on his target in a succession of guises. The reviewer noted that they all looked a lot like Bruce Willis.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
June 29, 2023 12:43 pm

I’ve only seen the movie once, but I recall it was a fine adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s novel which I’d read when in high school. It captured the feel very nicely as I recall although it’s been a long time since I saw the movie. Both that novel and The Dogs of War were wonderfully detailed and forensic explorations of the underbelly of postwar Europe of the time. You had the people floating around who’d been involved in all this stuff during the war and in the chaos after it, and there was all these black markets in equipment there for those who knew about them.

It was interesting to read about a guy called Capt. Bob (Park) Yunnie, who was special forces in WW2 for the Poms. He wrote an account of his time, and his son completed a postscript noting that his dad had knocked around after the war, not finding a calling that he liked, then signed up and died as a mercenary in the Congolese Civil War, which features in Forsyth’s novels. The feel likewise dovetailed with the Jackal’s feel, which suggests it was just fictional. Carlos the Jackal of course was a real and notorious assassin.

I suspect there’s a lot of that sort of thing going on in Ukraine right now. Frederick Forsyth is still around, and is a solid Cattish righty. He regularly has columns in The Express.

June 29, 2023 12:46 pm

Top movie. Time to dust off the DVD.

Bruce in WA
June 29, 2023 4:52 pm

It puzzled me when I first saw it as to why The Jackal would use what was obviously a doctored .22 WMR round. The case was standard, but they had bodgied up a new “projectile” which, to my eye, looks to be too large and (presumably) too heavy to stabilise in any standard WMR rifling twist, especially given the small(is) amount of powder the cartridge holds.

But that’s just a minor quibble (well, also that he didn’t get deGaulle in the end) with what is a sculpted film.

Bruce in WA
June 29, 2023 4:53 pm

smallish, damnit, smallish

June 29, 2023 7:29 pm

Just watched it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for the suggestion!

June 29, 2023 7:30 pm

Brilliant film from a brilliant book.

July 2, 2023 6:15 am


Love your reviews and I thank you, and Dover0Beach, for presenting them.

I never watched the movie but like BoN have read Forsythe’s books.

Daniel Silva in his Gabriel Allon series is also good.

  1. They jumped the gun by a day. They’ve a new one up now: Iran-Israel LIVE: Middle East tensions reach boiling…

  2. I don’t know about Westfield but my observation of store security is Indians checking receipts at JBHIFi, watching for shoplifters…

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x