Quite often, movie adaptations of novels turn out to be a disappointment, particularly if one has already read, and become fond of, the book. I find that the celluloid recreation usually fails to summon up the same mental images which seep from the pages into the mind.
Happily, The Day of The Jackal, the 1973 film, does full justice to Frederick Forsyth's novel, and is a worthy and gripping piece of work in its own right. It is somewhat surprising to read that it was not a massive success at the box office.
The storyline centres on a plot to assassinate President de Gaulle of France, and the hiring of a contract killer to accomplish this task. The then largely unknown Edward Fox played the part of the would-be assassin, the Jackal.
From the outset, the "Jackal" character fascinates. A dapper and cultured English gentleman, but also a clinical, ruthless and cold-blooded killer. The charm and patter are constantly employed as a means to an end, and emotion is really seen as an impediment....
The bulk of the film is reserved for a portrayal of the parallel campaigns of the Jackal and the French police, the prospective assassin making his preparations, and the authorities striving to foil the plot. Cleverly, we are constantly switched between the two, and are able to contrast the methodical and measured approach of the Jackal with the desperation and improvisation of the security services, who are always a step or two behind.
Probably the most absorbing sequences in the movie are those during which the Jackal procures weapons and false documentation, emphasising the elaborate precautions essential for operations of such gravity. Other crime stories tend to gloss over such things, but in this case the attention to detail adds appreciably to the sense of authenticity. The "water melon" scene is particularly chilling...
The film lasts nearly two and a half hours, but this amount of time is necessary to cram in the bewildering amount of detail, and also for the tension to build remorselessly. The Jackal exhibits his single-minded nature, by eliminating several people who either threatened to compromise his plans, or whose presence represented a hindrance. In the end, of course, he is narrowly thwarted.
A very pleasing 1960s-meets-1970s aesthetic permeates The Day of The Jackal, in particular the fashions and the tasteful motor vehicles on view! A cosmopolitan feel also prevails, with the action moving between London, France and Italy. There are some fine performances in the more minor roles, including a young Derek Jacobi, adding to the depth of quality.
This is probably one of the better movies of its type. My advice would be to read the novel first, and then watch the film!