Daily Archives: August 17, 2014

The Day of the Jackal (1973)


*. This is an odd film in that it is quite well known and highly regarded but doesn’t get talked about much. I think perhaps because the low-key presentation makes it seem dull to modern tastes. It’s a well crafted, but not an exciting film.
*. So let’s talk about the presentation. This is not a conventional suspense thriller, though the plot would make you think otherwise.
*. For starters, there’s the music. Most great suspense films have memorable scores. The score here is by George Delerue. The production notes on the DVD I have refer to the way it “heightens the film’s edge-of-the-seat excitement.” Please. In fact, it isn’t heard outside of the opening few minutes. This is a very quiet movie that mainly gets by using muted, background sound. There isn’t even very much dialogue, especially in the final movement.
*. The lack of a dramatic score is part of the documentary, almost at times newsreel feel to the proceedings. Is this an Anglo-French remake of The Naked City? The voiceover at the beginning might make you think so.
*. Adding to the newsreel quality is the use of locations and the number of long shots where the actors seem to be sliding into anonymity. We see people from a distance, but we can’t hear what they’re saying.
*. It’s a very workmanlike, functional bit of direction from Fred Zinnemann, but then that’s the Jackal, isn’t it? Workmanlike, functional.
*. The editing does catch your eye. It’s very abrupt, especially the closer we get to the end. I know the book well, but still feel a jerk when we go from the Paris cemetery to Charles Calthrop’s apartment.
*. Who the hell wears glasses in a sauna? Who?
*. I wonder what happened to those periscope devices we see in the Liberation Day crowds. Were they not very effective? Do people still use them?
*. The only scene where I thought they made a mistake with the Jackal comes when he throws the suitcase off the bridge while saying “Good-bye, Mr. Duggan.” The Jackal would never talk to himself like that.
*. Is that Derek Jacobi? It is! God he looks young. But I guess he was.
*. What is it with Zinnemann’s fascination with clocks? How many shots of clocks are there in this movie? It seems like there are dozens (actually, somebody has counted and there are 31). And they don’t serve much purpose, the one exception being the glance at the clock to see how much time the French police have to get to the train station before the Jackal is due to arrive in Paris. Perhaps they’re meant as a metaphor (the Jackal operates like clockwork), but mainly I think they’re just meant to remind us that time is indeed passing and is of the essence.
*. The surveillance footage we see of the bodyguard Wolenski is ridiculous. They must have been sticking the camera practically in his face to get such shots.
*. In case you’re wondering what the Jackal’s preferred neckwear is, I believe it’s an ascot. Though in some scenes it just looks like a scarf.
*. Michel Lonsdale is decent as the slightly comic Lebel. It’s the moustache that makes him funny. A moustache can be so expressive.


*. Having read the novel first, the main thing I was interested in when I first saw this movie was seeing what the gun looked like. Forsyth spends a lot of time describing it but I could never visualize it properly. It is an odd looking thing. An extension of the Jackal himself, who is another slender machine obsessed with precision.
*. I loved the scene where the Jackal is lying in bed having the obligatory post-coital cig and Delphine Seyrig lies next to him with her breast and nipple prominently – nay, defiantly! – on display. It’s so artificial when filmmakers cover up nudity in bed.
*. Aren’t we all rooting for the Jackal? He’s an individual up against the massive bureaucratic power of the state. Admit it: you want to seem him pull it off.