The story is set in Paris during a week in August of 1962. The president of France, Charles De Gaulle, by granting Algeria their independence has upset ex-army extremists, who formed a secret organization known as OAS. They vow to assassinate him. The film opens to a failed attempt on De Gaulle as he rides in a motorcade. After the OAS culprits are arrested and their leader executed six months later, the new leader Colonel Rolland flees to Rome. Under Rolland and his three top aides, the group in secret hires the foreigner Jackal to assassinate the president. They pay him $250,000 down and another $250,000 on completion of the job, and allow him to execute his own plan.
The French police are watching Rolland carefully and through their many informers learn that another attempt on DeGaulle will be tried. Failing to come up with more information they kidnap Wolenski, one of the extremists living with Rolland, and torture him until he gives up the code name of the hired killer. With little else to go on the cabinet ministers call upon the best cop in France to get the assassin, Lebel, who is sworn to secrecy about his mission and chooses to work only with Detective Caron. Through a mixture of skill, luck and hard work they start to close in on the Jackal, as they trail him between London, Paris, Vienna, and Rome. The heart of the film consists of the Jackal’s elaborate preparations for the assassination and Lebel’s efforts to nab him, as the filmmaker crosscuts between the two opposites efficiently going about their jobs. The Jackal goes to a gunsmith, a forger, tries out various disguises, and has fatal flings with the wealthy married woman Colette and the homosexual Bernard. Lebel works the phones contacting his counterparts in the British police and meets with the bureaucratic cabinet ministers to report his findings, who treat him more as a servant than one of them. —Ozu’s World of Movie Reviews
Vienna-born Fred Zinnemann had childhood dreams of becoming a musician, and later planned on a law career, before his viewing of the movies of Erich Von Stroheim drew him into the movie business, initially as a cameraman. He came to the United States in 1929, and later found work as an editor, and subsequently as an assistant to documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, and then as an assistant to choreographer Busby Berkeley. He joined MGM in the late ‘30s as a director of comedy shorts, and won an Academy award for his 1938 short subject That Mothers Might Live. Zinnemann moved up to full-length features in 1941, but found little opportunity to work on anything but B-pictures until 1948, with The Search, a drama set in post-World War II Europe. He didn’t really become a major recognized box-office name as a director, however, until 1952 when his Western drama High Noon, starring Gary Cooper, which had been perceived by most observers as headed for commercial disaster, became a monster… read more