The Day of the Jackal (film)

The Day of the Jackal

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by John Woolf
Screenplay by Kenneth Ross
Based on The Day of the Jackal
by Frederick Forsyth
Music by Georges Delerue[1]
Cinematography Jean Tournier
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
16 May 1973
Running time
145 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • France
Language English
Box office $16,056,255

The Day of the Jackal is a 1973 Anglo-French political thriller film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Edward Fox and Michel Lonsdale. Based on the 1971 novel The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, the film is about a professional assassin known only as the "Jackal" who is hired to assassinate French president Charles de Gaulle in the summer of 1963.[2]

The Day of the Jackal received positive reviews and went on to win the BAFTA Award for Best Film Editing (Ralph Kemplen), five additional BAFTA Award nominations, two Golden Globe Award nominations, and one Academy Award nomination. The film grossed $16,056,255 at the box office,[3] and earned an additional $8,525,000 in North American rentals.[4]


Edward Fox as "the Jackal"

On 22 August 1962, an assassination attempt is made on the President of France General Charles de Gaulle by the militant French underground organisation OAS in anger over the French government granting independence to Algeria. As the president's motorcade passes, de Gaulle's unarmoured Citroën DS car is raked with machine-gun fire, but the entire entourage escapes without injury. Within six months, OAS leader Jean Bastien-Thiry and several other members of the plot are captured, and Bastien-Thiry is executed.

The remaining OAS leaders, now exiled in Vienna, decide to make another attempt, and hire a professional British assassin (Edward Fox), who chooses the code name "Jackal". They order several bank robberies to pay his fee: $500,000. Meanwhile, the Jackal travels to Genoa and commissions a custom-made rifle and fake identity papers. He kills the forger when the man tries to blackmail him. In Paris, he sneaks an impression of the key to a flat that overlooks the Place du 18 juin 1940.

In Rome, where the OAS team have moved, members of the French Action Service kidnap the OAS's chief clerk, Viktor Wolenski (Jean Martin). Wolenski dies under interrogation, but not before the agents have extracted some information about the plot, including the word "Jackal". The Interior Minister (Alan Badel) convenes a secret cabinet meeting of the heads of the French security forces. When asked to provide his best detective, Police Commissioner Berthier (Timothy West) recommends his deputy, Claude Lebel (Michel Lonsdale). Soon after, Lebel is given special emergency powers to conduct his investigation, which is complicated by de Gaulle's refusal to change his planned public appearances.

Colonel St. Clair (Barrie Ingham), a personal aide to the President and one of the cabinet members, discloses what the government knows to his new mistress Denise (Olga Georges-Picot), who passes this information on to her OAS contact. Meanwhile, Lebel determines that British suspect Charles Calthrop may be travelling under the name Paul Oliver Duggan, who died as a child, and has entered France.

Although he is told the authorities know about the plot, the Jackal carries on. He seduces the aristocratic Colette de Montpellier (Delphine Seyrig). Just before Lebel and his men arrive, the Jackal escapes and drives to Madame de Montpellier's country estate. After sleeping with her again and discovering that the police have talked to her, he strangles her. The Jackal then assumes the identity of a bespectacled Danish schoolteacher named Per Lundquist. He drives to the railway station and catches a train for Paris.

After Madame de Montpellier's body is discovered and her car recovered at the railway station, Lebel initiates an open manhunt, no longer hindered by secrecy concerns. The Jackal allows himself to be picked up at a Turkish bathhouse and taken to the man's flat. The next day, the Jackal kills his host after the man learns from a television broadcast that "Lundquist" is wanted for murder.

At a meeting with the Interior Minister's cabinet, Lebel states his belief that the Jackal will attempt to shoot de Gaulle three days later on Liberation Day, during a ceremony honouring members of the French Resistance. Later, Lebel plays a recording of a phone call, in which St. Clair's mistress gives information to her OAS contact. St. Clair leaves the meeting. Denise returns to St. Clair's apartment to find that he has killed himself and that the police are waiting for her.

On Liberation Day, the Jackal, disguised as an elderly veteran amputee, enters the building he had chosen earlier. He assembles his rifle, disguised as one of his crutches, and waits at a window in an upper apartment. When Lebel finds out a policeman allowed a man to pass through the cordon, the two race to the building. As de Gaulle presents the first medal, the Jackal shoots, but misses when the tall president leans down to kiss the recipient on the cheek. Lebel and the policeman burst in. The Jackal shoots the policeman, but Lebel kills him. The Jackal is later buried in an unmarked grave.

While searching his flat, police are confronted by Charles Calthrop, who insists on accompanying them to Scotland Yard. He is later cleared, leading to the film's final line: "but if the Jackal wasn't Calthrop, then who the hell was he?"



The Day of the Jackal was originally part of a two-picture deal between John Woolf and Fred Zinnemann, the other being an adaptation of the play Abelard and Heloise by Ronald Millar.[5] Although the story takes place in 1962 and 1963, the filmmakers made no efforts to avoid showing car models whose production began later, for example Peugeot 504 (built from 1968), Renault 12 (built from 1969), a Fiat 128 (1969), and an orange Volkswagen Bus, circa 1973.

Zinnemann wrote that Adrien Cayla-Legrand, the actor who played de Gaulle, was mistaken by several Parisians for the real thing during filming—though de Gaulle had been dead for two years prior to the film's release. The sequence was filmed during a real parade, leading to confusion; the crowd (many of whom were unaware that a film was being shot) mistook the actors portraying police officers for real officers, and many tried to help them arrest the "suspects" they were apprehending in the crowd.

The Reading Room at the British Museum Library, where the Jackal reads Le Figaro
Hotel Negresco in Nice where the Jackal learns his identity has been revealed.

The Day of the Jackal was filmed on location in France, Britain, Italy and Austria.[6] Zinnemann was able to film in locations usually restricted to filmmakers—such as inside the Ministry of the Interior—due in large part to French producer Julien Derode's skill in dealing with authorities.[6] During the massive annual 14 July parade down the Champs-Élysées, the company was allowed to film inside the police lines, capturing extraordinary closeup footage of the massing of troops, tanks, and artillery during the final Liberation Day sequence. During the weekend of 15 August, the Paris police cleared a very busy square of all traffic to film additional scenes.[6][7]


Critical response

UK quad poster

The film received positive reviews, with a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[8] Among those who praised the film was Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave it his highest rating of 4 stars, writing:

I wasn't prepared for how good it really is: it's not just a suspense classic, but a beautifully executed example of filmmaking. It's put together like a fine watch. The screenplay meticulously assembles an incredible array of material, and then Zinnemann choreographs it so that the story—complicated as it is—unfolds in almost documentary starkness.[9]

Ebert concluded, "Zinnemann has mastered every detail ... There are some words you hesitate to use in a review, because they sound so much like advertising copy, but in this case I can truthfully say that the movie is spellbinding."[9] Ebert included the film at No. 7 on his list of the Top 10 films of the year for 1973.[10]

Box office

The film grossed $16,056,255 at the box office[3] earning North American rentals of $8,525,000.[4] Zinnemann was pleased with the film's reception at the box office, telling an interviewer in 1993, "The idea that excited me was to make a suspense film where everybody knew the end - that de Gaulle was not killed. In spite of knowing the end, would the audience sit still? And it turned out that they did, just as the readers of the book did."[11]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee Result
Academy Awards, 1974[12] Best Film Editing Ralph Kemplen Nominated
BAFTA Awards, 1974[12] Best Film Editing Ralph Kemplen Won
Best Film Nominated
Best Direction Fred Zinnemann Nominated
Best Screenplay Kenneth Ross Nominated
Best Sound Track Nicholas Stevenson, Bob Allen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Michael Lonsdale Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Delphine Seyrig Nominated
Golden Globe Awards, 1974[12] Best Director Fred Zinnemann Nominated
Best Motion Picture, Drama Nominated
Best Screenplay Kenneth Ross Nominated


The film was the inspiration for the 1997 American film The Jackal, featuring Richard Gere, Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier and Jack Black. The 1997 film is about an assassin nicknamed The Jackal who wants to assassinate a highly significant target, other than that, it has little in common with the original story. Frederick Forsyth refused to allow his name to be used in connection with it, and director Fred Zinnemann fought with the studio to ensure that the new film did not share the first film's title.


  1. "The Day of the Jackal". British Film Institute. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  2. Lockhart, Freda Bruce (20 July 1973). "Unpretentious perfectionist". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  3. 1 2 "The Day of the Jackal, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  4. 1 2 "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety: 19. 9 January 1974.
  5. "Film of Abelard and Heloise". The Times. 9 March 1971.
  6. 1 2 3 Nixon, Rob. "The Day of the Jackal (1973)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  7. "The Day of the Jackal film locations". Movie Locations. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  8. "The Day of the Jackal". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  9. 1 2 Ebert, Roger (30 July 1973). "The Day of the Jackal". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  10. "Ten Best Lists by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert". Inner Mind. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  11. Arthur Nolletti, ed. (1999). The Films of Fred Zinnemann: Critical Perspectives. Albany: State University of New York. p. 20. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  12. 1 2 3 "The Day of the Jackal: Awards". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2015.

External links

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