There are coded messages buried in the books I’ve been reading

A few months ago, I re-read Frederick Forsyth‘s first novel, The Day of the Jackal.

In the 1970’s, when I was working at Paramount Pictures, the galleys of the book were rocketing around the major film companies. Everybody wanted the film rights, for good reason. Peter Bart, then Paramount’s VP of production, was the first at PPC to get the galleys and he read it with great excitement. He told me it was a duel between a French cop and a professional assassin considered the best in the world.

Although Jackal is fiction, woven throughout the book is factual French history, specific locations and real people, the most prominent of whom is Charles De Gaulle, the target of the assassin.

Paramount did not win the film rights to the book for reasons I won’t bother detailing, except to note a BIG Variety headline, after which a lot of teeth were gnashed down to the gums when Paramount’s bid was rejected in favor of Universal’s.

The film, too — which I recently saw again — was terrific. Still is terrific.

Whenever I get the itch to go to my bookshelf and pull Jackal out, I wonder whether the thrill will have worn off this time, whether I’ll read a couple of pages and put it back on the shelf.

Hasn’t happened yet.

The book was published in 1971. At that time, the Jackal required a fee of $500,000 to assassinate a world leader. What would be the fee today?

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A quote heading Chapter 29 of Lenin: The Man, The Dictator and The Master of Terror, by Victor Sebestyen:

‘People who imagined that they had made a revolution always saw next day that they did not know what they had been doing, and that the revolution which they made was nothing like the one they had wanted to make.’ — Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)

The quote is to die for, one way or the other.

And this, from Sebestyen himself:

In Petrograd the Bolsheviks organised a fanfare welcome for Lenin. In later years citizens in Communist states became used to big orchestrated ceremonies and mass rallies on the high days and holidays of socialist rule…They were a major part of the Soviet way of life. Even when some Communist regimes proved to be useless at organising virtually everything else, they could always mount a good parade.

“…they could always mount a good parade.”

If you are in any way like me, those two quotes will infiltrate your brain where they will reverberate as you gasp at the relevance to our contemporary lives.

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I had to buy a new copy of The Pelican Brief; my original paperback had fallen apart with all the readings I’ve done.

There was a time in the first decade and a half of this century when the words, “Pelican Brief, Pelican Brief,” were my muttered invocation whenever SCOTUS decisions were particularly rotten and calling them rotten here on the blog just didn’t lift me up from my righteous rage.

So, “Pelican Brief, Pelican Brief,” had become a prayer to some dark god.

And then it worked.

And then it didn’t. Maybe I let it go too soon, I don’t know.

Because of its outstanding cast, headed by Denzel, and intelligently trimmed down screenplay, the movie is better than the book. Stanley Tucci as an assassin? Oh yeah.

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War and Peace.

In which the conquering hero, Napoleon, invaded Russia with his gigantic army and military equipment, kept winning battles over the Russian army, which kept losing and retreating, until Napoleon, unable to feed, clothe and supply his forces over the vast frozen or muddy territory (depending on the seasons), even in Moscow which the Russians had burned as they evacuated, himself abandoned his soldiers and scurried back to France, leaving the remains of his mighty forces to die in Russia.

 

 

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