• Sicilian Clan, The



    Released by: Kino Studio Classics
    Released on: February 7th, 2017.
    Director: Henri Verneuil
    Cast: Jean Gabin, Alain Delon, Lino Ventura, Irina Demick
    Year: 1969
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    The Movie:

    Corsican Roger Sartet (the ridiculously good-looking Alain Delon), is one bad hombre. A jewel thief with an itchy trigger finger who makes no apologies for killing cops and civilians, the last time anybody had anything nice to say about him was on a character assessment from a guidance counselor when he was a schoolboy (he smiled a lot).

    When we first see him in Henri Verneuil's extraordinary French crime thriller he's being run through processing at a Paris lockup. Bulldog commissaire Le Goff (French actor Lino Ventura) has dropped by to watch this routine transfer to prison since the capture of the bloodthirsty Sartet was a personal obsession of his. But this doesn't go according to plan - Sartet is rescued by a highly organized Sicilian crime family run by patriarch Vittorio Manalese (iconic French star Jean Gabin). The Manalese front is their pinball warehouse - a bizarrely imaginative touch. But before we see this, we have the film's opening gambit - a brilliantly shot sequence with Sartet escaping an armored police van, rife with tension and expertly scored by the great Ennio Morricone. It sets a high bar for the film right out of the gate.

    THE SICILIAN CLAN represents one of the early high points of the genre of the French crime thriller. Predating both THE GODFATHER and the wave of Italian gangster epics helmed by the likes of Fernando Di Leo that would flood the market in the 70's, in many ways this film has more in common with classic heist films of the Hollywood golden age and the then recently released THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR than the saga of Don Corleone. The romantic overtones of Coppola's film are notably absent here - these French and Sicilian pit vipers may have have a passing interest in sex, but love and loyalty are thin on the ground. And while the Italian variants would become increasingly cartoonish and outlandishly violent, the French films always stayed closer to the art line of the exploitation/respectable divide.

    Sartet, once rescued by the Manalese clan, is heavily restricted in his movements. Holed up in a hideout, unable to even communicate with his only beloved relative - his sister Monique (Danielle Volle), he's going a bit stir crazy. But he's got a terrific heist for Vittorio and his three sons - one of whom is played by tragic Euro star Marc Porel - to offer. In one of his prison stints, Sartet befriended a wimpy engineer for a massive upcoming jewelry exhibition in Rome. Sartet now has the plans for the security system. Can the family put aside their various suspicions about each other to make this complex scheme a success? How badly will Sartet's affair with one of the wives (Irina Demick) of Vittorio's sons throw a spanner in the works?

    Unlike the films of his contemporary Jean Pierre-Melville, Verneuil's epic isn't light on dialog. These characters certainly like to talk and that's one of the pleasures here. Billed as a sort of multi-generational Mount Olympus triumvirate of French film stardom at the time of its release, the three stars don't disappoint. Gabin, at the twilight of an extraordinary career, us particularly good. Cold and reptilian with his only warmth reserved for his grandson and an Italian mafioso pal crucial to the plan in NYC, Gabin is a fantastic foil for the hot-blooded Sartet. While he's cunning, Sartet is also willing to take crazy chances for sex and quick to use violence. Third component Lino Ventura centers the film. His weary but determined inspector is relentless and not prone to outward displays of emotion - but he can slap around a suspect with the best of them.

    The film's centerpiece is an elaborate airplane hijacking that's both thrilling and engrossing. It's a very complicated setup, and it's quite interesting how the filmmakers don't cater to the audience's ignorance. The heist spans two continents and the viewer is simply expected to keep up as we flip back and forth from Paris to NYC.

    Of course, none of this ends well. But what do you expect from a French crime film?

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino have gone all out on this excellent special edition. Two discs, one with the English cut restored in beautiful 4K and the other with the international cut done in 2K. Both versions are framed at 2.35:1 in 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encodes. The USA cut is slightly stronger (benefitting from the 4K no doubt) with a slight increase in image detail and marginally better black levels. The biggest thing I noticed was facial detail. Every line and crack on those marvelous Gabin and Ventura mugs is lovingly displayed. The 2K international version is hardly shabby however - it's a transfer that anyone looking for an upgrade from the DVD would be happy with. It's also worth noting that a Kino's package represents an upgrade from the previous Blu-ray that was released in France.

    Both films are gifted with limited but strong 2.0 DTS-HD MA tracks - English for the USA cut and French (with optional English subtitles) for the international. This was a typical period polyglot international production - so aside from Delon, who was fluent in both English and French and hence dubbed all his own dialog in both cuts, you win dome and lose some depending on the cut with the actor's voices. The tracks are both robust and strong with no distortion. Morricone's memorable score sounds lovely - but this is not a fancy mix so adjust your expectations accordingly.

    The meaty set of extras kicks off with a highly informative commentary track by historians Howard Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Both are very familiar with the film and know about everything from the complicated nature of the financing to the film's various levels of critical acceptance. Some of their observations about the technique of cinematographer Henri Decaë are particularly interesting. Both men are clearly fans but never descend to fawning.

    Next up is an almost hour long documentary titled "Legend Of The Clan" which covers the production quite comprehensively. This contains a mix of archival and more contemporary footage with most of the key players represented in interviews. The material about Delon's time as a murder suspect (!!) during filming is unusually riveting, as are the anecdotes about the great star Gabin in the twilight of his career. There is also a shorter five minute appreciation piece by filmmaker Fred Cavaye that's a fun mash note to the film: the man is clearly quite enamored with it!

    Lastly, a nice animated image montage and theatrical trailers in both English and French are included. And Kino have provided English subtitles for all material not presented in English.

    The Final Word:

    An engrossing and exotic treat (at least for non-French viewers), THE SICILIAN CLAN is superbly acted, marvelously shot and magnificently scored. Watching Gabin, Delon and Ventura all under the same lens is not soon forgotten. Kino have also done a first class job with this set in every way that counts. Highest possible recommendation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!