The 1969 French neo-noir The Sicilian Clan is an exemplar of noir’s Perfect Crime sub-genre – they’re going to get away with the elaborately planned big heist EXCEPT FOR ONE THING. In this case, the one thing is Sicilian macho pride.
There’s an inventive jail break, an exciting boudoir escape and an impossibly brilliant heist plan. There’s also a great scene with a kid and his toy gun. The suspense tightens even more when a minor character’s wife unexpectedly shows up and threatens to derail the heist again and again.
Most of all, director Henri Verneuil knew that he had three unbeatable cards to play, and he got the most from them:
- Alain Delon – Impossibly handsome and dashing, no one ever removed their sunglasses with more of a flourish than Delon. Delon was in his early thirties, and at the peak of his string of crime movie vehicles, after Anybody Can Win and Le Samourai and before Le Cercle Rouge and The Gypsy.
- Lino Ventura – One of the most watchable French stars, Ventura’s bloodhound face had been reshaped by his earlier career as a professional wrestler. Here, he’s the guy you’re drawn to whenever he’s on-screen.
- Jean Gabin – Probably the greatest male French movie star ever, Gabin had dominated prewar French cinema with Pepe LeMoko, La Grande Illusion, Port of Shadows and Le Bete Humaine. After the war, he aged into noir (Touchez Pas aux Grisbi) and, in the 1960s, into neo-noir. Gabin oozed a seasoned cool (like Bogart) and imparted a stately gravitas to his noir and neo-noir characters.
In The Sicilian Clan, Delon plays the reckless hood in over his head. Gabin plays the crime boss who is exploiting him. And Ventura plays the cagey detective after them both.
Here’s a nice touch – the highly professional gang brings in an outsider who is a hopeless drunk. What is his specialty and why do they need him? When we find out during the final heist, it’s a stunner that no one could see coming.
The whistling and boings in the offbeat score tell us that it’s the work of Ennio Morricone in his Spaghetti Western period; I’m a Morricone fan, but this is not one of his best.
The Sicilian Clan is not a classic. The dialogue is grossly clichéd. There is not a single ordinary looking woman in the film. An obligatory tryst is tiresomely predictable and made worse by the score’s wacky, clanging music.
But the plot, while contrived, is well-contrived. And the combination of Delon, Ventura and Gabin will make almost anything work. You can watch The Sicilian Clan at the Castro Theatre during Noir City 2017, or stream it from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
[Note: In our post 9/11 world, audiences will feel uneasy when a hijacked airplane flies low over the Manhattan skyscrapers.]