Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Day of The Jackal A Movie a Day Day 2

Well day two of the project was a little different. I had a lunch appointment so I ended up watching the film in two parts instead of one entire sitting. This was not a continuity issue for me since I remember the film well and I think I saw it just a year or two ago, so I knew where I was the whole time. The Day of the Jackal is based on an international bestseller that I actually read when it was on the bestseller list. When the film came out in 1973, I was deep into spy novels and intrigue on an international scale. The idea of an assassin pursuing a well known public figure was very interesting. We had had several political assassinations when I was a kid. I remember them as dramatic and frightening. The year before this movie came out, an American Presidential candidate was shot and nearly killed, so this material was not in the realm of the fantastic but of everyday international tension.

The movie is probably a little long and staid for audiences of today. We have become jaded by action as a substitute for suspense and character. I thought it was great in the suspense department even though you know that De Gaulle is not going to die at the hands of the Jackal. There are several near misses as the French Security police and Scotland Yard are sending information back and forth and each piece of data brings them closer to nabbing the assassin. Today, much of the procedural process would not make sense since our communication technology is so much more sophisticated. Waiting for a photograph, dashing for a telephone, relying on a police officer on a motorcycle to bring in key information is so 1963, which is when this movie is set.

In this story, the killer does rely on murder to escape the clutches of the police, but it is not in the form of a shootout or a car chase. Rather, key witnesses, and associates of the Jackal become victims to prevent them from offering assistance to the police or becoming an obstacle to his accomplishing his mission. Most of these people are innocent of anything other than being in the right place for the Jackal to exploit. He cleverly lifts a wallet, paints his car, seduces both men an women, to stay ahead of a massive French search effort. The interrogation technique that the French Security forces use to even discover the plot and give a codename to the assassin, are probably so politically incorrect today, that the police would be seen as the villains in a remake today. The killer is played by Edward Fox, and up until today I did not realize that he is not the same person as James Fox, even though their names are clearly different. Those two actors are brothers and resemble each other enough, that without looking closely or thinking about it, I just confused them with one another. As a younger man, Edward Fox is very good looking and could have been a good choice as James Bond, if Roger Moore had not worked out, although he would have been criticized much as Daniel Craig was for being blond.

All of the Jackal's personality is conveyed in his planning, improvisation, and ruthless pursuit of his goal. The only hero that stands out is the Police Commissioner, describe by his boss as the best detective in France, played by future Bond Villain Michel Lonsdale. He is just as dogged and ruthless as the Jackal but a lot less lethal for those he encounters. This movie develops slowly, but builds tempo going into the last forty minutes. There are plenty of twists and bits of business that will keep people that have a reasonable attention span involved.

I am pretty sure that I saw this movie with my friend Art, in fact he may have gotten us in for free since he worked at the Edwards Theater. I do know that we both read a subsequent Fredrick Forsyth book, The Odessa File, and we saw that movie when it came out a year or two later. There are a couple of other memories that stood out for me. In the finale,several people have cardboard periscopes to see over the crowd at a parade and public function. I always wondered why I never saw those things here. A periscope like that would be great at the Rose Parade or concert. I guess people here would simply not be patient enough if someone in front of them raised a cardboard tube that might block their view. The Jackal also uses cordite to make his skin gray, and I thought that was an interesting trick but I would never try it. Finally, the trailer for the film tells just enough of the story that it sucks you in, and there is a nice graphic with de Gaulle's profile and a crosshair that is used well in the trailer also.


Anne Yenny said...

Loved loved loved the movie and the book. Started my whole family of listening to Frederick Forsythe books on tape when were on road trips. My youngest brother, who was only 10 or 11 at the time, fondly remembers a line from either this book or The Key to Rebecca: "don't be so ****ing naive". It was the first time he heard the ef-bomb while in my mothers company.

le0pard13 said...

Love your take of this, Richard. Yeah, I agree that today's audience expectation has unfortunately morphed to that of an impatient five year-old. Too many would be fidgety far too soon with the pacing and storyline. Thanks for the read and forwarding your look at this film, my friend.

Richard Kirkham said...

Thanks for commenting Michael. This is a wonderful movie and I enjoyed comparing notes on it with you.