The Sicilian Clan (1969) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

The-Sicilian-Clan-blurayAs a youngster this thriller really got my attention. Sure, the fleeting nudity probably had something to do with it and the hypnotic Ennio Morricone score is truly unforgettable but this was a film where crooks, thieves, murderers and cops all seemed completely intertwined, governed by a code that matched the rules of the playground as I understood them. But then we grow up .. or do we? When this film was released on Blu-ray, I just had to find out if it stood the test of time.

The following review is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.

Vittorio Manalese (Gabin): “You’re the one I don’t trust!”
Roget (Delon): “Me?”
Vittorio: “Yeah, you! All your brains are below your belt! You almost got us all in cold storage last night playing games in a whorehouse!”

This big budget crime drama is set in France, Italy and the US (production funds came from these territories) and stars Alain Delon as the damned career criminal on the run; Jean Gabin is the ageing mafia boss looking to retire to Sicily; and Lino Ventura is the cop determined to arrest them. Irina Demick brings a touch of (much-needed) feminine glamour to a story of an audacious plan to hijack a New York plane and relieve it of its cargo of diamonds. Will they get away with it?

Ventura-Gabin-Delon-The-Sicilian-Clan

The film is first and foremost a star vehicle for its central triumvirate. Gabin and Delon had already co-starred in writer-director Henri Verneuil’s 1962 film Mélodie en sous-sol (aka Any Number Can Win), which incidentally is also about a jail-bird planning one last job, while Ventura was here making his third movie with the director. Each of them gets their own ‘entrance’ – Delon is the last getting out of a prison van, Ventura is seen initially only from behind as he awaits for Delon and then Gabin gets a classy slow reveal via a descending elevator in his house. Delon is a brutal killer who only loves his sister (who works as a restaurant cashier) but who, with help from Gabin, makes a daring escape while being transported to jail. Ventura, already irritable as he is trying to quit smoking (as he reminds seemingly everyone he meets) is of course furious and does all he can to track Delon down, who while hiding in Gabin’s house get’s just a bit too friendly with Demick. She is married to one of Gabin’s sons but, being French, is an outsider and is instantly attracted to bad boy Delon.

Delon-Sicilian-Clan

Delon pays for his escape with some valuable stamps but also has, up his sleeves almost (well, sewn in to his jacket actually) a plan for a diamond heist and Gabin is eager for one last score before he retires. He calls on an old ‘family’ friend from New York (Amedeo Nazzari, Italy’s great matinée idol of yore) to help bankroll it. There is a nice scene in which we see them case a museum together and indeed the film goes to a lot of trouble to make sure that the main actors all get an equivalent amount of screen time, cutting between Ventura’s investigation, Delon’s various escapades with the police (including a leap through window that would have impressed Jason Bourne) and his inevitable transgression with Demick, who in fairly unsubtle scene goes nude sunbathing while Delon fishes for eels (I’ll let the Freudian squad see through that one). The tone is occasionally a bit slow and deliberate as the various elements of the heist come into place, though the hijacking is fairly dynamic. Though it is slightly undermined by some occasionally ropey special effects and the basic absurdity of having all the robbers hold up a plane without even bothering to cover their faces – don’t they know it’s the late 60s?

Demick-Sicilian-Clan

Despite being set in the present day, this does have a very old-fashioned feel despite the aforementioned nudity (French cinema was always much more advanced int his sense anyway), references to porn and some clearly gay characters. But the mindset is clearly one from decades earlier, from a very macho and patriarchal culture. The movie was based on the novel by Auguste Le Breton, author of the Rififi books, the first of which had been turned into a classic Noir by blacklisted emigree director Jules Dassin in 1954 – this later story once again sees a group of thieves falling out after a caper. That same year Gabin had re-launched his postwar career thanks to the huge success of the crime melodrama Touchez pas au grisbi (Don’t Touch the Loot) and while fairly rotund by this point, he still exudes his taciturn authority. This is seen at its best in an early dinner scene, typical of Mafia and Italian movies of course, in which he is the clear ‘pater familias’ serving the spaghetti first to himself, then his grandson and then passing it on to the others. When he sees a guest look at Demick’s legs, he tells his son, and not her, that her skirt is too short. As in Rififi it’s the romantic complications that ultimately lead to everybody’s downfall.

Does the film stand up? Well, the cast is great value though none of them are exactly stretched here. And then there is that killer soundtrack by the great Ennio Morricone (which makes great use of a jew’s harp), which you can listen to illegally over on YouTube. It is a bit slow and ponderous, as is typical of European films of the era, but on the whole this stands up fairly well if you don’t mind a story without any real heroes and a depiction of patriarchal culture that, while doubtless accurate, the social and sexual politics of which are truly mind-boggling. As a bonus, the cinematography by the great Henri Decaë comes across very well indeed here, especially on the English-language version (the movie was literally shot twice – once in French and once in English though only Delon’s original voice was used in the English version).

DVD Availability: This film is available in an excellent region free Blu-ray edition in France which includes both the French and English language edition. The set also provides the film on DVD. Also included is an hour-long documentary on the complex making of the films.

The Sicilian Clan (1969)
Director: Henri Verneuil
Producer: Jacques-Eric Strauss
Screenplay: Henri Verneuil, José Giovanni, Pierre Pelegri
Cinematography: Henri Decaë
Art Direction: Jacques Saulnier
Music: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura, Irina Demick, Amedeo Nazzari,

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

About these ads
This entry was posted in Ennio Morricone, France, Jean Gabin, Tuesday's Overlooked Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Sicilian Clan (1969) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Colin says:

    Never seen it Sergio but I’ve had it in mind for a while now. That’s a great write-up and I’ll admit I’m sold. I will be getting this.

    • Cheers mate – I am fairly sure that because it was an Italian co-production it used to get shown fairly often in Italy when i was growing up though it was definitely shown late an night by the BBC at least once (way back when) – it was mainly produced by Fox when Zanuck was partly based in France (and still trying to make a career for Demick, who was his mistress at the time). The Blu is easy to get through Amazon France and I think really worth it.

      • Colin says:

        Yes, the BD sounds very nice indeed.

        • It’s a shame that Delon isn’t interviewed in the extras (he’s the only one of the main cast members still around) but they do dwell on the murder case he was involved with during the filming (the so-called ‘Markovic Affair’) as they were genuinely worried he’d be arrested for the crime – here’s what The Guardian had to say about it in 1969 – click here.

          • Colin says:

            Been out running back and forth all day so I only just had a chance to look at that link. Interesting, has Delon ever said much about the incident in interviews since?

            Actually, I just realized I need to add more Alain Delon movies to my collection.

          • I don’t think he has much but then again then again, it probably fit the image!

  2. Sergio – Glad to hear it stood up fairly well against the test of time. Films don’t always. And I”m always one for an excellent soundtrack. I’m not keen on dated attitudes and assumptions, but that’s what you get with GA crime fiction and classic films. This one definitely looks worth a view. Thanks as ever for a great review.

    • Thanks Margot – I seemed to have remembered the film fairly well, flaws and all, let’s put it that way! At the time the fairly amoral, ennui-laden style of French policiers seemed a bit radical to me I guess!

  3. Patti Abbott says:

    new to me but boy did I love Delon as a teenager.

  4. Sergio, the mention of Ennio Morricone is enough to get me looking for this film I didn’t know of previously. He’s had an amazing musical career, trailblazing, in fact. I might add this airline thriller to the ones I’ve already seen recently.Thanks for writing about it.

    • Thanks Prashant- this is one of those movies that I seem to have known about practically all my life but is probably a bit obscure now. Worth a look if you get the chance.

  5. robert says:

    It must be said (and I lived in USA and UK for many years) that it’s quite rare to find a french film in the mainstream movie theaters in USA or UK. Mostly you get to see the absolutely “huge” success (more than 10 millions viewer in France, which happens once or twice a year in the good years…) and often it’s in “art” cinemas. In France (and probably Europe in general) probably 50% of the films are foreigner films, with of course a huge chunk of american ones. So it’s not surprising that only few europeans countries (like Belgium, Italy or Germany) ever got to show a film like “le clan des Siciliens”.
    I remember living in Edinburgh and seeing “le diner de cons” at the New Picture House cinema (a very small one) even though this film did nearly 10 millions viewers in France.
    Since foreign films are not dubbed but subtitled it probably adds to the problem. For example I saw “Cyrano” with Depardieu still in Edinburgh and it was subtitled. Of course I was able to hear the french poetry and from time to time I was reading the subtitles. Obviously you lose a huge part of it, and since you have to read it means you leave the image 1 or 2 seconds each time to concentrate on the lines.
    As for “le clan des siciliens” of course it’s a good classic, worth a look, with Gabin . I remember thinking that sometimes kids should not speak too much, but I don’t remember that much nudity in the film… :)

    • Thanks Robert and I take you point, absolutely – though Cyrano of course was a bit of a special case as the theatrical screenings had rhyming subtitles written by Anthony Burgess (sadly not re-used for the DVD) – the point about The Sicilian Clan is that, unusually, it was re-shot in its entirety, from the first frame to the last, in English with all actors speaking in English (mostly phonetically) as it was mostly bankrolled by twentieth Century Fox, so you’d have though that this one would have got a proper release. It certainly did huge business in Italy and France – but no idea about English-speaking territories.

      • robert says:

        I was not aware it had been re-shot in english. I knew it was done sometimes at that time. I will try to have a look because I am a great fan of many english tv series and I had the opportunity to see some of them in the original version and in the french dubbed version. It’s funny but I always end up thinking: hummm John thaw has a strange voice when he plays Morse… oh, strange, MacManus doesn’t sound so harsh when he speaks scottish, his voice is too soft, is this really how PM Glaser and D Soul were speaking?… :)
        Most of the time the original voices of the characters don’t sound right :D
        So Gabin or Ventura speaking english…hmm, I am curious to hear that!

        • Ah, well, actually … Although they all spoke English (it was literally remade shot for shot to create a new negative, so even the action scenes use different takes – as a result, the English version is in fact slightly shorter, although this is also due to trims to speed up the pace), in the end only Delon’s actual voice was retained while Ventura, Gabin, Demick et al were professionally dubbed – still, at least the lips synch in the English version!

  6. Yvette says:

    A terrific post, Sergio. I’m glad the film lived up to your memories of it – more or less. Don’t you love when that happens? So often it’s the other way around and you wind up disappointed and wondering what you could have been thinking. Then we realize that it’s not the film, it’s us. We’ve changed. It’s a tricky think going back into the past.

  7. robert says:

    Funnily enough they are showing the film tonight on the french tv :)

  8. TracyK says:

    This sounds great. Everything about it sounds good, and we have liked the French thrillers we have tried. We will definitely get it sometime.

    • Thanks TracyK – really hope you get round to it. The Blu-ray edition available in Europe is region free – but it is possible, in fact likely, that the accompanying DVD is region 2 (i.e. Europe) so might only play on a computer or a region-free DVD player (common in Europe but not so much in the US from what I gather).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s