A Sicilian family, headed by Vittorio Manalese, plan to steal a cache of diamonds. Roger Senet, in prison for murder, is hired for the job and sprung with the help of the family. However, once the caper is successfully carried out, Senet finds himself on the wrong side of the clan when they discover that he has been having an affair with Manalese's daughter-in-law. Based on the popular novel by Auguste Le Breton. Soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.
There's a familial aspect to mafia movies that makes them something unique, mysterious, and perhaps a bit romantic. The idea of an organization or a "family" being the primary source of crime in a particular area often proves to be a great source of suspense and drama. When used correctly, this familial element of organized crime can produce a solid little crime thriller that allows the audience to bask in the glory of criminal dealings as intrepid police investigators struggle to keep up with their traditional game of cat and mouse. With 1969's 'The Sicilian Clan' directed by Henri Verneuil from the Auguste Le Breton (Rififi) novel, we're treated to a family of Italian criminals living in France whose aid to an outsider could be their end.
Vittorio Manalese (Jean Gabin, La Grande Illusion) has spent a lifetime building an empire. To most people in Paris, he's a man who built his fortune designing table games and pinball machines. It's innocuous enough that most people wouldn't believe that such an amiable gentleman and his sons were actually international criminals. With the proceeds of each successful heist, Vittorio buys more and more acreage of his homeland in Sicily. Even when he has more than enough - Vittorio's greed is insatiable. After springing renowned murderer and criminal mastermind Sartet (Alain Delon) from prison, Vittorio can't help himself when the prospect of stealing millions of dollars worth of diamonds is brought to their attention. With the dedicated police Commissioner Le Goff (Lino Ventura) searching relentlessly for Sartet and the people who sprung him from jail, the risks may outweigh the benefits of such a grand scheme.
'The Sicilian Clan' is an interesting sort of "proto-Godfather" family-based criminal film. The novel and this film adaptation arrived the same year that Mario Puzo's 'Godfather' reached bookstore shelves. Side by side, it's difficult to separate the thematic similarities between the two stories about a patriarch who has committed his family to a life of crime. That familial bond is the essence of their criminal entrepreneurial successes. Trust is built on the foundation of family blood. When the Manalese blood becomes tainted by a pair of outsiders in the form of Delon's Sartet and Irina Demick's Jeanne who married into the family, Vittorio's empire becomes threatened.
While I absolutely enjoyed 'The Sicilian Clan' - I enjoy crime films of this nature where there is an internal blood bond - the final film can be a bit sluggish at times that may put people off. At the front end, Director Henri Verneuil wisely lets the film slow down after the tense and suspenseful Sartet prison break and let the film establish the numerous characters. Given the complexity of things, I appreciate that the film didn't rush headlong into a contrived caper just for entertainment's sake. However, I can't shake the feeling that this movie would have benefitted from a slightly quicker pace. While we watch Lino Ventura's Commissioner Le Goff turn over every stone he can to find Sartet, the A plot involving the Manalese family doesn't really move or go anywhere until it absolutely has to. By the time the heist is actually being pulled off, you'd swear you were seeing the end of the movie but there are a solid 30-minutes left to go.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Sicilian Clan.' Given the time of the film and its source material, I couldn't help but compare and contrast this film against the 'The Godfather' as there are a number of striking similarities among the respective families. Not that I would ever ardently say one was better than the other, it's just interesting to see how the two approach similar material differently. Add a jaunty score by Ennio Morricone and you have the makings of a great little crime story. It may not quite be the grand epic it sets out to be, but it hits most of the important notes and proves to be well worth the time you put into it. Between the 118-minute U.S. Cut and the 125-minute International Cut, the differences in the story are only slight, mostly scene extensions or material that didn't add or improve the story - so either cut makes for a fine viewing experience.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Sicilian Clan' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label in a two-disc set. Both the U.S. Cut disc and the International Cut disc are Region A BD-25 discs and are housed in a standard sturdy 2-disc Blu-ray case. Both discs load to their respective main menus with traditional navigation options and individual bonus features.
While the description states that U.S. Cut of the film received a 4K restoration with the International Cut getting a 2K restoration, and the results are damned impressive. With each film presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p, the differences between the two are discernible, the U.S. Cut has a clear uptick in detail clarity, a more stable grain structure, better defined black levels and a more robust color pallet. But that doesn't mean the 2K restoration work done for the International Cut is anything to be upset about. It's just as pleasing an experience and if you didn't see the two versions side by side you wouldn't necessarily notice the differences. The source prints for the respective cuts are in fantastic shape with only some very mild speckling to report. There is a bit of banding here and there with car grills and some of the patterned clothing in a shot or two, but nothing too severe. All around fans should be very happy with the respective presentations of this film.
Each cut of 'The Sicilian Clan' is given a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. The English dubbed U.S. Cut can sound a little heavy with the dubbing from time to time as the speaking voices can dominate much of the mix, but it doesn't exactly sound out of place either. Morricone's score is just as lively and there is a terrific sense of atmosphere and presence with the background effects to give scenes like the ones that take place in the Manalese pinball warehouse a sense of space and dimension. Levels are also just fine without any need to shift your volume once you have it set at a comfortable level. The International Cut with its original French dialogue and English Subtitles has a bit more of a natural polish to it. Dialogue is especially more nuanced and doesn't sound quite so heavy, but other than that, both mixes are top notch and serve the nature of the film quite well.
Audio Commentary: Film Historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger provide an interesting and informative commentary track. It's clear the two have a great respect for the film and offer up a lot of interesting tidbits about the production, it's tough editing process, and the film's release.
Animated Image Montage: (HD 5:33) This is a collection of behind the scenes, promotional, and publicity pictures. The images advance on their own without you needing to change the image.
Theatrical Trailer: (SD 2:21)
Legend of the Clan: (SD 63:32) This is an impressive and comprehensive look at the film with tons of behind the scenes material, crew interviews, archival interviews with Director Henri Verneuil. At such a comprehensive length, this is the perfect complement to the Thompson and Berger audio commentary on the U.S. Cut disc.
The Sicilian Clan by Fred Cavaye: (SD 4:15) This is a nice little love letter to the film and Director Henri Verneuil from filmmaker Fred Cavaye. The man clearly has a love for this film and it's kind of infectious to watch him gush about it.
French International Trailer: (SD 3:17)
'The Sicilian Clan' works as a nice little sister story to 'The Godfather' albeit as more of a thriller than a drama. The familial criminal empire aspect makes it difficult to avoid the comparisons, but this film manages to strike its own town, pace and stand on its own two feet. While the film's pace can feel a bit stuttered, the payoff delivers the goods. Kino Lorber has done an exceptional job with this release by including both cuts of the film each with solid restorations and great bonus features to dig through. If you're game for a solid international crime thriller, it doesn't get much better than 'The Sicilian Clan.' Highly recommended.