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May 29, 2018

The Sicilian Clan


Le clan des siciliens
Henri Verneuil - 1969
KL Studio Classics Region 1 DVD

I had seen The Sicilian Clan once, back at the time of its U.S. release in 1970. This was the version that was cut and dubbed into English. At the time, I had a little bit of familiarity with Jean Gabin from The Grand Illusion, and slightly more of Delon from TV viewings of The Leopard and Once a Thief. As for Verneuil, I was admittedly both snobbish and ignorant about French cinema, assuming that the only worthwhile stuff was made by those filmmakers associated with the Nouvelle Vague and approved elders. I saw the film in a private screening with Denver Post film critic Barry Morrison, and made a crack comparing Verneuil to Gordon Douglas, a journeyman director I have since grown to appreciate.

After almost forty-eight years, I was curious about revisiting this film. What fueled this curiosity was a combination of factors, seeing more films with the lead actors during my time in New York City when the only reliable way to see classic or foreign films was in a theater, followed by seeing more films following the advent of home video, especially when the market for DVDs exploded. Also the availability of information on the internet helped in making some of the other credited names more meaningful than they would be to all but the most devoted Francophile.


The Sicilian Clan originated from the novel by Auguste Le Breton. One of Le Breton's other novels was Riffifi, better remembered for the 1955 film by Jules Dassin. Between Le Breton's novels and Dassin's film, the genre, if you want to call it that, of the heist film, began, or at least became popular. What I call the heist film is one where a group of people, often strangers, get together to stage a seemingly impossible theft. One of the screenwriters was Jose Giovanni, a crime novelist who later wrote screenplays as well as becoming a film director as well. Giovanni's work was frequently in collaboration with Ventura, Delon and Gabin. An interesting footnote here: Jean-Pierre Melville filmed Giovanni's novel, and collaborated on the screenplay for Le Deuxieme Souffle. One wonders if the two would have worked together had Melville, Jewish and a member of the Resistance during World War II, had known that Giovanni, under his real name, had been actively part of the Vichy government, and committed as series of vicious crimes, including blackmail and murder, against French Jews both during and immediately after the war.

Alain Delon plays a killer whose escape is from Parisian police is facilitated by the son of Sicilian patriarch Jean Gabin. Delon is obsessively pursued by cop Lino Ventura. Delon shares plans concerning an exhibition of jewels in Rome. Gabin comes up with an usual plan to steal the jewels. Unfortunately for Delon, family comes first for Gabin, with Ventura neatly wrapping things up at the end.

The film holds up pretty well, with some of the twists and turns in the narrative. I still think that there were too many zoom shots, seen primarily in the first half. Where the Panavision screen works best is the scene where Delon is escaping from a prison van, crawling underneath the van to the one driven by the two clan brothers. I'm not sure if it was meant to be a visual joke, but in a later scene, by a beach, Delon is fishing, catching an eel. He glances at Gabin's daughter-in-law, played by Irina Demick, sunbathing nude (possibly a stand-in for Demick as it is a long shot, and Demick was the mistress of Fox chief Darryl Zanuck at the time). Delon is next seen flogging the eel against a nearby rock, then walks by Demick with the limp eel in hand. This is followed by the two making love somewhat discretely hidden by a very large rock.

The version of The Sicilian Clan I originally saw was dubbed in English, no real surprise there as it was still very much a common practice for foreign language films that were intended for a play outside the arthouse circuit. What I was unaware of was that Verneuil was contracted to film two versions, one primarily in French with some spoken Italian, and one in English. This meant that there are small differences with each shot, with some brief shots also eliminated or shortened in the English language version which Verneuil edited to a length under two hours per his contract with 20th Century-Fox. No changes were made for any of the sexually charged moments. It may surprise some to know that even with the bare breasts and bottoms, the MPAA at the time rated The Sicilian Clan GP, the rating with a note of caution that briefly existed after M, and before PG, for stateside viewers. For myself, I prefer the French version which clocks in at a little over two hours.

Appreciated as a supplement to the DVD is an hour long French documentary from 2013 on the making of The Sicilian Clan with excerpts of recorded interviews with Verneuil, Ventura, Delon and Gabin. There is also a very short appreciation by Fred Cavaye, director of Point Blank (2010) part of France's current crop of action filmmakers, a newer wave unencumbered by some of the orthodoxies regarding French cinema at the time The Sicilian Clan was made.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 29, 2018 09:18 AM