Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal


The Cast

The JACKAL  . . . .               Edward Fox

INSPECTOR LEBEL . . . .  Michel Auclair

CHARLES DeGAULLE . .  Adrien LeGrand

The MINISTER  . . . . .        Tony Britton



directed by Fred Zinneman.  137 minutes.  1973.



The Story

In March 1954 Ahmed Ben Bella, an ex-sergeant in the French army, joined eight other Algerian exiles in Egypt to form a revolutionary committee that later became the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FLN). A few months later, the FLN launched its bid for Algerian independence with coordinated attacks on public buildings, military and police posts, and communications installations.

A steady rise in guerrilla action over the next two years forced the French to bring in reinforcements; eventually 400,000 French troops were stationed in Algeria. The FLN combined guerrilla tactics with the deliberate use of terrorism which effectively immobilized the superior French forces while creating a climate of fear throughout the country. This in turn brought counterterrorism, as French army units raided muslim villages and slaughtered suspected FLN sympathizers.

In 1956 the war spread to the cities. In Algiers, cafés, schools, and shops became targets, as the nationalists sought to weaken French morale and draw international attention to their cause. This Algiers uprising was ruthlessly put down, and the French gradually gained the upper hand by using new tactics:  villages suspected of aiding the guerillas were subject to massacres, bombings, and  forced relocation.  Electrified fences along the Tunisian and Moroccan borders effectively cut off FLN soldiers outside Algeria from units inside the country.

Despite their military superiority, the French were unable to find a political solution satisfactory to both the French army and the FLN. International criticism of France increased, and France’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization worried about the commitment of French forces to an unpopular war.

In May 1958 French army officers threatened to overthrow the French government, charging it with vacillation.  A Committee for Public Safety demanded the return to office of General Charles de Gaulle--the wartime leader of the Free French--as the only one who could settle the war and preserve French Algeria.  De Gaulle, however, was a realist; once in power he recognized that the war was unwinnable. In 1959 DeGaulle founded the Fifth Republic and as its new president, he announced his intention of allowing Algerians to choose between independence and continued association with France through a popular referendum.

The plan struck the military like a thunderbolt. Outraged, they staged an unsuccessful revolt against de Gaulle in early 1960, and again in 1961. Both times, however, the bulk of the army remained loyal to the government. Associated with the generals’ plot was a group of military extremists called the Secret Army Organization (OAS), which carried on a brutal campaign of counterterrorism against both the FLN and French authorities.  Riots were initiated, public buidlings were bombed, and banks were robbed.  There were also several unsuccessful to assassinate DeGaulle until a cease-fire was finally arranged between government and FLN representatives at Evian, France in 1962.

This movie is a fictionalized account of an actual attempt on DeGaulle's life.

In this story, the OAS commanders desperation to assassinate DeGaulle and overthrow the Fifth Republic coupled with the dire consequences that face them if they are unsuccessful forces them to turn to a professional.  Their search is made even more difficult by the government's determination to stamp out the OAS for good and the President's declaration of a National Emergency under Article 16 of the constitution; this removed the legal restraints from law enforcement. The OAS search leads to an extremely able and professional hit man who agrees to take up the assignment for half a million US dollars and on the conditions that he will remain anonymous and operate on his own terms with absolutely no outside interference. The OAS is in the dark about the true identity of this assassin and only refer to him by the code name “Le Chacal” (“Jackal” in French).

To finance their operation, the OAS goes on a spree of robbing banks and armored cars. They also engage one of their female operatives to get close to an official high in De Gaulle’s government so she can keep the OAS informed of the French Government’s investigations into the OAS and the leaders in turn pass on the information to the Jackal.

The Jackal then sets about carefully planning and meticulously preparing for the assassination. He starts by contacting a gun maker to make a customized break-away gun complete with specialized telescopic sight and explosive bullets.

On the other side, French government agents--concerned by the lack of information about the OAS and its plans--kidnap an OAS courier in Italy and pack him back to France. The courier is tortured into revealing the existence of the Jackal, and the French put their best detective, Claude Lebel, on the case to track down the Jackal before he can assassinate the president. The OAS informs the Jackal that his code name is known to French officials, but the assassin feels challenged and decides to go ahead with the plan anyway.  The result is a cat-and-mouse game in which Lebel uses every means possible to find out about the whereabouts of The Jackal before he can carry out his assignment.



Consulting your textbook, notes, the Tyne article, the BBC article, and the constitution of the Fifth Republic, discuss and give your opinion on the accuracy of the film.  What accounts for Lebel's ability to ignore basic human rights in his quest to stop the Jackal?  Was DeGaulle as important to the stability and continued legitimacy of the Fifth Republic as the OAS seemed to think? Why or why not? Use the correct political vocabulary terms.

Write out your answers on the AP Comparative Government Blackboard Discussion Board no later than Midnight Sunday, December 12.

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