The Day of the Jackal (film)

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The Day of the Jackal
Day of the Jackal 1973 Poster.jpg
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]


In the Paris suburb of Petit-Clamart 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". Agreeing to the killer's demand of half a million US dollars for his services, the OAS leaders order several bank robberies to raise the money. Meanwhile, the Jackal begins to plan his assassination of the highly protected French president. He travels to Genoa and commissions a custom-made rifle and fake identity papers. As a professional, he spares the reliable gunsmith, but kills the forger when the man attempts blackmail. 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 identify and kidnap the OAS chief clerk Viktor Wolenski (Jean Martin). Wolenski dies under interrogation but not before the agents have extracted some elements of the assassination plot, including the word "Jackal", and reported their findings to the Interior Minister (Alan Badel) who convenes a secret cabinet meeting of the heads of the French security forces. When asked to provide his best detective, the Police Commissioner Berthier (Timothy West) recommends his own deputy, Claude Lebel (Michel Lonsdale). Soon after, Lebel is given special emergency powers to conduct his investigation, which is complicated by de Gaulle's express orders for secrecy and his refusal to change any of his planned public appearances.

As the investigation progresses, Colonel St. Clair (Barrie Ingham), a personal aide to the President and one of the cabinet members, discloses the government's knowledge of the plot through pillow talk to his new mistress Denise (Olga Georges-Picot), who immediately passes this information on to her OAS contact. Meanwhile, Lebel uses an old boy network of police agencies in other countries to determine that British suspect Charles Calthrop may be travelling under the name Paul Oliver Duggan, who appears in British records as someone who died as a child. Learning that Duggan has crossed into France, Lebel orders his men to search all hotel registrations in an effort to locate the killer.

After learning from his OAS contact that his code name is known, the Jackal still decides to carry on with his plan. He meets and seduces the aristocratic Colette de Montpellier (Delphine Seyrig) in a hotel in Grasse. Just before Lebel and his men arrive, the Jackal eludes his pursuers in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, and drives to Madame de Montpellier's estate; he is almost killed in a car accident and forced to leave his Alfa Romeo behind, but he successfully reaches the Countess' country mansion. After sleeping with her again and discovering that the police had talked to her, he strangles her. The Jackal then assumes the identity of a bespectacled Danish school teacher called Per Lundquist, using a stolen Danish passport. He drives Madame de Montpellier's Renault Caravelle to the railway station at Tulle and catches a train for Paris.

After Madame de Montpellier's body is discovered, and her car is recovered at the Tulle railway station, Lebel initiates an open manhunt for a murderer—his investigation no longer hindered by forced secrecy. After checking the train schedule, he rushes to the Paris Austerlitz railway station, just a few minutes after the Jackal arrived. Looking to avoid hotels that are now being monitored, the Jackal goes to a Turkish bathhouse, where he allows himself to be picked up by a man and taken to his flat. The next day, the Jackal kills his host after the man learns from a television news flash that "Lundquist" is wanted for Madame de Montpellier's murder.

Meanwhile, at a meeting with the Interior Minister's cabinet, Lebel admits that the Jackal has not checked into any Paris hotel under his new identity. He informs the senior officials and officers present that they have three days to find the killer, who will most likely attempt to shoot de Gaulle on Liberation Day, 25 August, during the ceremony honouring members of the French Resistance. Later, Lebel plays a tape recording of a phone call made from the home of one of the cabinet members. The cabinet hears St. Clair's mistress Denise passing along information about the manhunt to her OAS contact. The colonel acknowledges that the call was made by a friend who is staying with him and 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, is allowed access to the building he had cased earlier. He assembles his rifle, which is disguised as one of his crutches, and takes up a position at a window in an upper apartment. When de Gaulle enters the square to present medals to veterans of the Resistance, the Jackal takes aim. Downstairs, Lebel questions the policeman who allowed the disguised Jackal to pass, and the two run to the building. As de Gaulle presents the first medal, the Jackal shoots just as the president leans down to kiss the recipient on the cheek. Because de Gaulle was so tall (196 cm, 6'5"), he had to bend down quite far, and the bullet misses. When Lebel and the policeman burst into the apartment, the Jackal turns and shoots the policeman, killing him. As the Jackal tries to re-load, Lebel picks up the policeman's submachine gun and kills the assassin.

Back in Britain, the real Charles Calthrop enters his flat surprising the police, who realise the Jackal's real name was not Charles Calthrop after all. At the cemetery, Lebel watches as the Jackal's coffin is lowered into an unmarked grave. As in the novel, the authorities wonder, "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), and a Fiat 128 (1969).

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]

  • 150 Rue de Rennes, Paris 6, Paris, France (assassination sequence)
  • Archives nationales, Hôtel de Soubise, 60 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, Paris 3, Paris, France (as the Élysée Palace)
  • Boulevard de la Reine, Versailles, Yvelines, France (bank, as "Banque de Grenoble", in fact a Savings bank)
  • Boulevard des Batignolles, Paris 17, Paris, France (OAS contacts Denise)
  • British Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London, England, UK (the Jackal reads Le Figaro)
  • Champs-Élysées, Paris 8, Paris, France (military parade)
  • Entrevaux, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France (the Jackal drives by toward Paris)
  • French Riviera, Alpes-Maritimes, France
  • Gare d'Austerlitz, Place Valhubert, Quai d'Austerlitz, Paris 13, Paris, France
  • Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London, England, UK
  • Hôtel de Beauveau, Place Beauvau, Paris 8, Paris, France (Ministry of Interior)
  • Hotel Colombia, Genoa, Liguria, Italy
  • Hotel Negresco, 37 Promenade des Anglais, Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, France
  • Imperia, Liguria, Italy
  • La Bastide de Tourtour, Tourtour, Var, France (hotel where the Jackal meets Colette)
  • Limousin, France
  • Piazza San Silvestro, Rome (Wolenski in the real central Post Office)
  • Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, UK (studio)
  • Place Charles Michels, Paris 15, Paris, France (van attacked)
  • Place du 18 juin 1940, Paris 6, Paris, France (final assassination sequence)
  • Place Valhubert, Quai d'Austerlitz, Paris 13, Paris, France
  • Place Vauban, Paris 7, Paris, France (biker stops to place the phone call)
  • Prater Park, Prater, Vienna, Austria (rendezvous with OAS heads)
  • Quai d'Austerlitz, Paris 13, Paris, France
  • Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris, France (outside the Palais de l'Élysée)
  • Scotland Yard, Whitehall, Westminster, London, England, UK (UK police)
  • Somerset House, Strand, London, England, UK (the Jackal obtains a birth certificate)
  • St. James's Park, St. James's, London, England, UK
  • Strand, London, England, UK (the Jackal obtains a birth certificate)
  • Studios de Boulogne, Avenue Jean-Baptiste Clément, Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine, France (studio)
  • Gare de Tulle, Corrèze, France (the Jackal boards a train for Paris)
  • Ventimiglia, Imperia, Liguria, Italy (before crossing the border into France)
  • Veynes, Hautes-Alpes, France (train station, as Tulle station)
  • Via di Panico, Rome (kidnapping of Wolenski)
  • Victoria Embankment, Westminster, London, England, UK (UK police)


Critical response[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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. ^ a b "The Day of the Jackal, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "Big Rental Films of 1973". Variety: 19. 9 January 1974. 
  5. ^ "Film of Abelard and Heloise". The Times. 9 March 1971. 
  6. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c "The Day of the Jackal: Awards". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 

External links[edit]