Every industry has its first family.
Alain Delon (Notre Historie) is Roger Sartet, the cop-killing convict. Jean Gabin (Le Grande Illusion) is Vittorio Manalese, capo of The Sicilian Clan, who authorizes the springing of said con from French police custody, so that Sartet can help execute a jewelry heist, worth millions. Lino Ventura (Army of Shadows) is Le Goff, the restless cop–with a hound-dog countenance–that won’t stop until he has Sartet back in custody. Irena Demick (The Longest Day) is Jeanne Manalese, Vittorio’s sexy daughter-in-law. The capo already disapproves of Jeanne’s short skirts and flirtatious manner–how do you think he’d feel about her undue curiosity towards the devilishly handsome cop-killing convict?
There are daring escapes. Double-crosses turn into triple-crosses, and what’s a bona fide actioner without some sexual intrigue to put some skin in the game?
If I had to go with one word to pin on The Sicilian Clan, I’d go with oddity. First: despite their name–and the patriarch’s teary-eyed talk about returning to his southern Italian homeland–this famiglia seems all-too entirely assimilated to its French confines, and who can blame them? Certainly not the film’s French director (Henri Verneuil, The Burglars), nor the French novelist (August Le Breton) that provided the source material and certainly not the holy trinity of French superstars (Delon, Gabin, Ventura) that guaranteed its international box office success.
The conversations are glib, the cat-and-mouse conflicts, the characterizations and even the caper itself play like hastily-constructed justifications for the film’s extremely high production value–and yet, it all works magnificently! I haven’t figured out how, exactly, but The Sicilian Clan represents a triumph of style over substance, a phrase I heretofore thought of almost exclusively as an explanation of a film’s ultimate shortcoming.
The actors account themselves well enough as a whole, and the three leads more than justify their superstar status; each of them making magic with what, in ordinary hands, would be cookie-cutter roles. I’ve not seen other examples of Verneuil’s work and apparently he was regarded in his time as something of a commercially-minded hack, but the man certainly made sure that The Sicilian Clan didn’t want for moments of beauty, humor, nail-biting tension and pulse-pounding suspense, throughout.
Kino Lorber has done a fine job of bringing this high production value to Blu-ray, with a two disc set featuring a brand new 4K restoration of the film’s “U.S. Cut,” and a 2K restoration of the “International Cut.” Confused? Don’t be: Two different versions were made simultaneously–one in English, the other in French, in order to accommodate world-wide audiences without resorting to dubbing–always a plus. The French language version runs seven minutes longer and benefits from the actors speaking more comfortably in their native tongue, though I’d hardly call the English cut inferior. Both appear in stunning 2.35:1/1080p transfers, with dialogue, sonic action and the marvelously quirky Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) score coming through loud and clear.
Bonus features are between among the discs. The “U.S. Cut” comes with audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson; a colorful, five minute montage of production stills and the original U.S. theatrical trailer. The “International Cut” features a fantastic, hour-long featurette detailing the production from start to finish, while providing a comprehensive overview of Verneuil’s career. There’s also a brief appreciation by filmmaker Fred Cavayé (Point Blank), and the original French-language theatrical trailer.
Well, color me gob-smacked. This extremely reasonably-priced is easily the pleasantest surprise I’ve gotten in a long time and I urge serious film collectors to jump on it before supplies run out and/or the vendors realize its true market value.