The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Sicilian Clan

Well, here we are again, and it's been too long. Mostly because they're not readily available in the U.S., I have to search out Euro-crime thrillers from the 1960s and 1970s on Netflix, on Youtube, and occasionally random channels on TV. So when I do find one, I better savor it, right? Not an issue with 1969's The Sicilian Clan, a very stylish, very easy movie to like.

About to be sent to trial over the murder of two police officers, accused killer and thief Roger Sartet (Alain Delon) instead manages a daring escape aided by a former partner in crime, Aldo (Yves Lefebvre). In exchange for helping him pull off the escape, Sartet agrees to work with Aldo's family, the Manalese clan, a small-scale but successful Sicilian crime family, headed by patriarch Vittorio (Jean Gabin). Their plan? Take down a heavily guarded diamond exhibit displayed in Rome, state of the art technology intended to trip them up at any given moment. It seems an impossible, even suicidal objective with virtually no shot of succeeding. With some help from an American mafioso counterpart, Sartet and the Manalese clan put a plan into action though. It's as daring as they come, but some rivalries and personal motivations threaten to tear it apart before the heist is ever put into action. Their time is limited too, the police commissioner, Le Goff (Lino Ventura), obsessively searching for Sartet.

These movies never get old. Okay, well that's not completely true. There are some duds, but even the duds usually have something worth recommending. This one from director Henri Verneuil is a gem so no worries in that department. When it works, it just does, plain and simple. There is a style that helps carry the sub-genre from one movie to another. The on-location shooting never hurts, especially here in Paris, but the music goes a long way too. Here it's one of the best composers ever, Ennio Morricone providing a score that's equal parts playful and catchy with darker samples as needed. Listen to a sample HERE. For me though, the most appealing part of the Euro-crime genre is simple. These movies are cynical, brutal and dark. A majority of the stories play like tweaked American film noirs. Crime doesn't pay, the crooks are pretty nasty, the cops sometimes more so, and we're rarely talking about a happy Hollywood ending.

Released in 1969, this French crime thriller's appeal is more than obvious. One movie that stars Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Jean Gabin?!? These were three iconic actors in France, internationally, in the genre, in all sorts of ways, so to see them working together in a single movie is just a lot of fun. There are lots of characters, but the ensemble cast leaves the focus on this trio. Delon is one of my favorites, his cool, calm, even icy demeanor just reflecting well as the anti-hero you can't help but like. Gabin is the smooth one here though, his Vittorio almost monotone in his delivery. His facial expressions almost never change, nothing rattling him. Even when things go awry, he calmly deals with, internalizing the rage. As for Ventura, it's cool to see him in a non-villain role, his Le Goff an experienced police officer who becomes almost obsessed with catching the murdering Sartet. All characters/actors that are capable of carrying a movie on their own, working together in a very worthwhile ensemble.

Who else to look out for? Those are the most recognizable names, but there's some cool supporting parts. Vittorio's sons include Lefebvre and Marc Porel, his son-in-law played by Philippe Baronnet, all three taking active parts in their crime family. Aldo's wife, Jeanne, is played by Irina Dernick, a Frenchwoman who takes a liking to Delon's Sartet as a fellow Frenchman as she's not used to living with all these Sicilians. Amedeo Nazzari is excellent as Tony, an American mobster who's worked with Vittorio in the past, working together again to pull off this diamond heist. Tony sends one of his men, Sydney Chaplin playing the alcoholic crook, Jack. Danielle Volle has a small but necessary (and good) part as Sartet's sister, worried about her brother's well-being.

And now for that heist. This is a genre that's done just about everything it can do to throw something new and original and fresh at the audience. Well, kudos to you The Sicilian Clan. This is definitely something new. When the diamond exhibit is introduced, I thought I was watching Rififi or Le Cercle Rouge (actually released a year later in 1970), but I was in for a surprise. 'Sicilian' doesn't go for the status all. This French crime thriller definitely comes up with something new and different, Sartet, Vittorio and the Manalese clan working with Tony and his New York mobsters to pull off the job. No spoilers here, the heist coming together nicely. If you think about it, there is a flaw in their plan that involves kidnapping -- it's rather unnecessary if you ask me -- but you get so caught up in what they're doing it isn't a huge issue. It becomes far more about 'Can they pull it off?'

But as Euro-crime thrillers have taught me, that ending.....well, the heist is usually the easy part. It's the fallout that provides the most drama. Again, I'm not going to spoil how it develops because even though it is hinted at in the build-up, it gets lost in the shuffle. When it does reveal itself, yeah, it works after some initial issues I had with it. The twist comes from a special place in the Mafia family lexicon. Don't....go....against....the....Family. That's it. Don't mess it up, and you'll probably be okay. It is quite an ending, very appropriate to the general darkness of the genre. An excellent movie, one very much worth catching up to.

The Sicilian Clan (1969): *** 1/2 /****

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