Thursday, January 29, 2009

Watching: The Day of the Jackal

It took me a while to warm up to this movie. The biggest problem is that it begins with the least competent attempted homicide since Double Indemnity. Some disaffected French army guys, pissed off about Charles de Gaulle's capitulation in Algiers, stand along a wide boulevard in Paris and open fire as his motorcade whizzes by at 50 miles 80 kilometres an hour. Of course, they miss. Then the narrator says, "As if by a miracle, neither [de Gaulle] nor anyone else was hurt."

Wha? A miracle? Did these beauzeaus really think they were likely to hit de Gaulle with any of their shots, let alone kill him? Why didn't they roll something out into the road to stop, or at least slow down, his car? Then again, it's just like French soldiers to fail to stop an enemy from advancing past their defenses without even noticing they were there.

Well, guess what? It turns out to be less a dramatic failure of the movie than yet another tactical error by French forces. The whole scene was, basically, historically accurate:

While the OAS did exist as described in the novel, and the film opens with a remarkably accurate re-enactment of the Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry-led attempt on President De Gaulle's life, the remaining plot is fiction.
The group set themselves up in the Paris suburb of Petit-Clamart on 22 August 1962. De Gaulle's car, an unarmored Citroën DS, and nearby shops were raked with machine gun fire, but de Gaulle, along with his wife and entourage, were able to escape without injury. After the attempt, some fourteen bullet holes were found in the president's vehicle, with another twenty striking the nearby Café Trianon, and an additional one-hundred-eighty-seven found on the pavement. This event was fictionalized in the 1971 book and 1973 film The Day of the Jackal.
With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Here it is, more or less:

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