Last night, I watched the 1973 film, “The Day of the Jackal,” directed by Fred Zinnemann and based on the Fredrick Forsyth book. From a contemporary perspective, it seemed quaint – a period piece.
The villain, played by Edward Fox, is debonair, well-dressed, smokes cigarettes and drives an Aston Martin convertible. He is a complete professional. He only wants to kill his target: Charles de Gaulle. He enjoys playing cat-and-mouse with the authorities but he does not want to be captured or killed.
In those days, it was not so easy to forge a passport. The police – and even hotel keepers – could ask anyone to show their “papers,” and a Virginia driver’s license was not sufficient. The police could tap phones – even those of government ministers without a peep from the ACLU. A government official who was compromised (his mistress was working for the anti-Gaullist underground) politely excuses himself from a high-level meeting and returns home – not to call William Morris but to commit suicide.
Again, it all seems very quaint. But what is troubling: Today, the rules are stiffer for the good guys, while the bad guys play by no rules.
Also, it’s worth recalling this Paul Berman piece on Che chic among intellectuals.