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Literature: The Day of the Jackal

Frederick Forsyth's most famous novel, by some margin.

The year is 1963. Following a bloody and costly colonial war, French President Charles de Gaulle has granted independence to Algeria. His decision is seen as a betrayal by many of his former supporters. A disenchanted paramilitary group, the OAS, has vowed to kill de Gaulle in revenge but each plot has failed. In desperation, the OAS turn to a mysterious foreign assassin, known only as The Jackal, to carry out the job. The government learns of the plot, but know nothing of the would-be assassin besides his code name. So they call upon the best detective in France: Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel, who is given unlimited authority to capture or kill The Jackal, with only two requirements: no publicity, and do not fail.

The 1973 movie holds us for nearly two and a half hours as we watch as the Jackal's plans proceed with inexorable precision, as Lebel struggles to thwart a man of whom he knows nothing: no name, no picture, no nationality. He isn't even sure if the plot is real or simply the ravings of a tortured terrorist. To make matters worse, the terrorists have infiltrated the French Cabinet, and the Jackal is being passed valuable information about the pursuit. After the members of the cabinet tire of Lebel using the authority they granted him to find the cabinet member who is leaking information, they essentially fire him, thinking they can find the Jackal easily enough. When that doesn't work, they reluctantly call Lebel back, in desperation, because the Jackal has eventually disappeared, and they need to find him before he carries out the assassination.

Has been adapted twice - in the famous 1973 film The Day of the Jackal starring Edward Fox (of the Fox acting dynasty), while the second, just called The Jackal is a far looser 1997 adaptation.

The Day of the Jackal novel provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Lampshaded by Lebel when witnesses talk of what a perfect gentleman the Jackal is.
    They were the worse ones. No-one ever suspected them.
  • Arms Dealer
  • Bad Ass: The Jackal. Ruthless, intelligent, elusive and a cold-blooded killer.
  • Bad Habits: One of the Jackal's disguises is a Danish clergyman.
  • Bank Robbery: The Jackal suggests the OAS carry out some of these to fund his fees.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The OAS are far-right terrorists who tortured during the war in Algeria. Their opposition are more than capable of being bastards in return, torturing an OAS member just to get information.
  • Blackmail: A forger tries to blackmail the Jackal. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Cold Sniper: The Jackal himself, though occasionally he snaps.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: The Jackal plans to assassinate Charles de Gaulle at a public event, notably the award ceremony on Liberation Day, the one occasion he can be certain the President of France will turn up, no matter what threats have been made against his life.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Done to a blackmailing photographer.
  • Electric Torture: With crocodile clips to the testicles. The subject dies.
  • Evil Brit: The Jackal is British and a Professional Killer. Or is he? At the end of the novel, Her Majesty's Government point out there's no proof, given his multiple identities, that he was ever British in the first place. The Brit who originally came under suspicion, Charles Calthrop, turned out to be innocent.
  • Faux Yay: The Jackal pretends to be gay to sneak past a French manhunt, counting on the homophobia of the policemen to make them not bother to look closely.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Jackal's mission will fail, as De Gaulle died peacefully of natural causes several years later; the reader is reminded of this early in the novel.
  • Game Changer: None of the OAS's efforts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle succeeded, because their ranks were riddled with police informers. The Game Changer comes when the OAS leaders contract the services of a British assassin, about whom the French Secret Service know almost nothing.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: The Jackal is characterized as similar to this type, albeit an evil version.
  • Gray Eyes: The Jackal has them and fits the danger archetype.
  • Great Detective: Lebel.
  • Groin Attack: A would-be blackmailer gets this before the Jackal finishes him off. Of course, the Electric Torture to the penis and testicles...
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?
  • Hero Antagonist
  • Honey Trap: One character in the book was the girlfriend of a (now dead) OAS member and she starts up a relationship with a high-ranking French official so she can learn about developments in the investigation and aid the Jackal.
  • "How Did You Know?" "I Didn't.": Lebel taps all of the phones of the entire French Cabinet to discover a mole.
  • The Infiltration: The OAS has an insider close to a Government minister, who passes on information to the Jackal.
  • I Work Alone: The second reason why the Jackal is so hard to catch. Not only is he not on their files, the French intelligence agencies can't use their network of informants in the OAS either. The Jackal supplies his own weapon, false identities, and safe houses, only phoning a single contact who can pass on information from The Mole.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Jackal points out that it would be far easier (and more practical) for the OAS to simply get a suicidal fanatic to jump de Gaulle than to spend a fortune on an assassin.
  • Last Stand: Kowalski, the huge Polish OAS member who is kidnapped by French security forces, goes down fighting and immobilizes three agents before the rest finally overpower him.
  • Life Imitates Art: Infamous terrorist and assassin Ilich "Carlos" Ramírez Sánchez was given the nickname "The Jackal" after a Guardian correspondent saw a copy of this book among his possessions.
  • Master of Disguise: The movie adaptation in turn depict The Jackal as a Master of Disguise, which Carlos was known for being.
    • In the book it's the forger who advises the Jackal how to disguise himself to fit the false passports he's created.
  • Murder Simulators: Several assassins/attempted assassins are fans of the book or at least rumored to be. Carlos the Jackal got his nickname because he was mistakenly believed to own a copy. Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir was found to have a copy; while his assassination of Rabin was quite different than that the Jackal attempts on de Gaulle, it's easy to see parallels between Amir and Bastien-Thiry. Vladimir Arutyunian, who attempted to assassinate both George W. Bush and the President of Georgia, kept an annotated copy of the book as a how-to-guide.
  • Mysterious Past
  • Near Villain Victory: The Jackal actually manages one shot at de Gaulle before he gets killed.
  • Neck Snap: The Jackal does this a few times.
  • No Name Given: We never find out the real name of the Jackal.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The war veteran identity, which justifies the crutches in which he hides his Scaramanga Special.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Lebel has to report to a committee full of them. Every day.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted by Lebel, who is very effective at his job.
  • Pressure Point: Action Service men once demonstrate their knowledge of this.
  • Professional Killer: The Jackal is one. His wages are so high that the OAS has to rob several banks to gather the money needed.
  • Red Herring: A man on British Intelligence's list of suspected assassins-for-hire has a name which suggests a Steven Ulysses Per Hero for the Jackal: Charles Calthrop ("Chacal" is French for "jackal"). He turns out to be a completely different person.
  • Reverse Mole: The OAS is so full of Action Service infiltrators that its head trusts only two others and has to rely on an outsider, namely the title assassin, for the task.
  • Right Wing Militia Fantatic: The OAS, as was Truth in Television.
  • Scaramanga Special: The Sniper Rifle is disguised as a crutch.
  • Sedgwick Speech: Bastien-Thiry gives one before his execution.
  • Shown Their Work
    • The opening assassination attempt really took place and is a very good re-creation.
    • Perhaps most notably the method where the Jackal gets a fake passport, getting a birth certificate from a person who died as a child. Forsyth got some criticism for revealing that method. In his defense, Forsyth was trying to call attention to the loophole so it would be closed, and almost the entire criminal world was already aware of the trick and had been using it for years. See this article for more — amazingly, they only really started to close the loophole after almost 30 years.
      • A year earlier, hippie author Abbie Hoffman had refused to publicize the method in Steal This Book!, out of fear of governments closing the loophole.
    • Not surprising as Frederick Forsyth had covered the real-life events which inspired the film as a journalist for Reuters.
  • Shout-Out: A fairly subliminal one, but in one section of the book it's mentioned that the head of British Intelligence plays cards at a club called Blades. Blades is from the James Bond series.
  • Sniper Rifle: No surprise.
  • Spanner in the Works: Quite a few, but the most ironic one was Charles de Gaulle himself who's French, and therefore more likely to kiss a man on the cheeks instead of shaking his hand, thereby just dodging the Jackal's bullet.
    • The otherwise well-planned opening assassination failed because Bastien-Thirty looked at an almanac for the wrong year and so misjudged when the sun would go down. As a result it was too dark for the gunners to see his signal and they opened fire too late.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: The Jackal's true identity.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Worthy Opponent: Lebel and the Jackal (Chacal in French) develop a grudging respect for each other, without ever meeting - with the Jackal again and again evading Lebel's clever traps and Lebel again and again penetrating the Jackal's clever disguises. Lebel certainly appreciates the Jackal far higher then he does the government officials he has to work with. When they at last meet face to face they look for a split second into each other's eyes, Lebel saying "Chacal" and the Jackal saying "Lebel" before they scramble to kill each other. Lebel having been a split second quicker, he on the following day attends the Jackal's burial in a nameless grave, saying nothing to the handful of other people present.
  • Your Head A Splode: Not 100%, but that's the Jackal's aim. Witness the watermelon scene.

The 1973 film provides examples of:

  • Bi the Way: The Jackal is certainly not averse to picking up a guy in a Turkish bath in order to get a bed for the night.
  • Blown Across the Room - To save himself from being shot, Lebel grabs a machine gun in desperation, and the bullets splash his target spread-eagle into the wall.
  • The Cameo: French actor/singer Philippe Leotard, as the ill-fated gendarme in the climactic scene.
  • Casting Gag: OAS adjutant Wolenski is played by Jean Martin, better-known as Colonel Mathieu from The Battle of Algiers.
  • Hollywood Silencer
  • Master of Disguise: The character (along with Jason Bourne) is heavily influenced by the real life terrorist Carlos "The Jackal", who was a Master of Disguise. This is carried over into the remake film, The Jackal.
  • Shirtless Scene: Quite a few.
  • Source Music: Opening narrative or at least the last part of it is apparently spoken by a newsman on the radio OAS members are listening to.

ComaThriller LiteratureDeception Point
The Dark Side of the SunLiterature of the 1970sThe Dead Zone
Day for NightFilms of the 1970sDon't be Afraid of the Dark
Dalziel and PascoeCrime FictionThe Da Vinci Code

alternative title(s): The Day Of The Jackal; The Day Of The Jackal
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