Le Clan des Siciliens (1969)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Gangster Film, Caper, Crime Thriller, Police Detective Film  |   Run Time - 121 min.  |   Countries - France, Italy  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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One of the better European crime thrillers of the late 1960s, Le Clan des Siciliens (aka The Sicilian Clan) isn't especially flashy, but it's clever, well crafted, throws some welcome surprises into the mix and features a number of fine performances from a strong cast. Jean Gabin brings both gravitas and world-weary cool to the role of Vittorio Manalese, an aging crime boss who has blocked out plans for a multi-billion dollar jewel heist, and though Alain Delon isn't quite as impressive as impulsive career criminal Roger Santet, he deftly captures the man's talent for violence and his moody impatience, which respectively prove to be his greatest strength and his Achilles Heel. By comparison, Lino Ventura is given a thankless role as Le Goff, the police detective determined to put Manalese and his underlings behind bars, but Ventura's steely determination makes his presence keenly felt even if he gets less screen time than his co-stars, and he generates some subtle but welcome comedy relief as perhaps the first Frenchman who has ever tried to quit smoking. Director Henri Verneuil (who also helped write the screenplay, adapted from Auguste Le Breton's novel) lets the momentum of the film build gradually, and if it takes its time getting up to full speed, he carefully sets up the stage rather than dawdling, and the characters and their situations have plenty of time to establish themselves before we're pulled in to the big caper and its grim aftermath (both played with a welcome sense of restraint). The story casually jumps from one continent to another through the course of the running time, and Henri Decae's cinematography captures the look of each location with clarity, while Ennio Morricone contributes a typically impressive and idiosyncratic score (this one prominently featuring a Jew's Harp). Le Clan des Siciliens is not the kind of movie that calls attention to its narrative devices; it's a straightforward bit of crime storytelling, but the craft is strong enough (and it's applied with enough intelligence) that Verneuil and his cast deliver something several cuts above the usual Euro-thriller of the era, and it plays well decades after its initial release.