Crooks, Cops, Rocks and Airplanes

'The Sicilian Clan'

by Michael Barrett

15 February 2017

After being mostly buried for decades, a Eurocrime caper emerges into the Blu.
Alain Delon in The Italian Job (1969) 
cover art

The Sicilian Clan

Director: Henri Verneuil
Cast: Jean Gabin, Alain Delon

USDVD release date: 7 Feb 2017

The Sicilian Clan is a late ‘60s heist caper boasting three major stars of the Eurocrime genre. Kino Lorber has performed a service for film buffs by making this “lost” film available at last, not only in Blu-ray but in two distinct versions.

Elder statesman Jean Gabin exudes his distinctive weary, grizzled authority as Vittorio Malanese, the patriarch of a family whose criminal activities are somehow too careful and clean to get them caught. It’s implied that they don’t like to kill anybody, and it’s not entirely clear what they do besides sell legitimate pinball machines. Apparently, they’re not on police radar.
  
Alain Delon plays Roger Sartet, a handsome callow Delon-type who opens the film with an ingenious jailbreak masterminded by the Malanese family. It’s one of several tightly edited, lovingly shot setpieces dotting a rather lanky narrative that unwinds through its several sections. Sartet brings the family news of security precautions around a fabulous jewelry exposition, and the question is whether they’ll be able to pull off the heist as Sartet continually flirts with police capture in one sequence after another.

The third wheel is Le Goff, the gruff cop on the case, played by Lino Ventura. His running characteristic is that he keeps an unlit cigarette in his mouth because he’s trying to quit smoking. According to the excellent making-of, Ventura’s character was added at the insistence of 20th Century Fox honcho Darryl Zanuck, who agreed to finance what’s basically a French-Italian co-production if they beefed up the suspense of the cop angle and, oh yeah, also added more business for Zanuck’s beautiful girlfriend, Irina Demick. Thus, she becomes a Malanese daughter-in-law who right away starts vamping Sartet and creating complications for the finalé.

This movie has been the stuff of legend among film buffs for a few reasons, not least its unavailability. When you don’t have easy access to a movie, it’s easy to imagine a lost masterpiece, especially when Ennio Morricone’s lilting soundtrack (complete with whistling and jew’s harp) comes from his most creative period. Director Henri Verneuil specialized in handsomely realized pop cinema, and nothing could be more handsome than the glistening widescreen photography of Henri Decaë, complete with the significant zooms idiomatic to the era and genre. Finally, fans just want to see the interaction of three iconic stars of the era doing what they do best.

Those fans won’t be disappointed, even if we observe that the film isn’t some kind of cinematic milestone. It’s simply—as if such things are simple—a well-made, entertaining, satisfying example of its day and genre, like the same year’s The Italian Job, or the previous year’s The Thomas Crown Affair. It’s worn well, such that as we fall into its rhythms, we may wonder why generic throwaways of today don’t usually look so effortlessly sleek nor sound so voluptuously scored.

In addition to the one-hour making-of and a separate appreciative piece, two critical fans collaborate on a commentary track that ranges widely. The most remarkable extra is a second disc with the film’s French version, shot simultaneously with the English version. The difference is more than dubbing; most of the actors besides Delon mouthed their lines phonetically for the English version and then got dubbed more fluidly, but even the non-dialogue scenes were re-shot so Fox would have a full original print.

The French cut is several minutes longer and has notably different approaches to a few ideas, like the moment when Amadeo Nazzari knocks a toy gun out of a child’s hands, and the suspenseful airport scene when Gabin passes Sally Nesbitt on the stairs. Watching both films makes a nice alternate-world double-feature, and this is the kind of thoughtful presentation that separates a casual release from one that really cares about the movie and those who have been longing to see it.

The Sicilian Clan

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