Movie star team-ups doesn’t get any better and bigger than in Henri Verneuil’s 1969 crime thriller Les Clans des Siciliens (aka The Sicilian Clan). Verneuil pulled off something that was considered near impossible by some: He cast three of French cinema’s acting heavyweights – Jean Gabin, Alain Delon, and Lino Ventura. Even Jean-Pierre Melville, the reigning king of French crime films at the time, couldn’t have dreamt of doing something like this. Maybe he would’ve but perhaps wasn’t so lucky. This is the only Verneuil film that I really enjoyed. The primary reason being the fact that these three actors were in it and they happen to be my favorites. The one famous French thespian who is sorely missed here is Jean-Paul Belmondo.
The plot isn’t any different from the ones you see in any of Melville’s films but at the same time, I wish that it were made by Melville instead. Not that there is anything wrong with it but once you’ve seen Melville films, you naturally start comparing every other crime film with his. Gabin plays Vittorio Malanese, the aging patriarch of the Malanese crime family, also known as the “The Sicilian Clan”. After the family helps a dangerous criminal called Roger Sartet (played by Alain Delon) escape from police custody, Sartet sees this as an opportunity to pitch a business proposition to Malanese. Sartet plans to rob a plane carrying precious jewels from Paris to New York and he needs Malanese’s help. Hot on Sartet’s tail is a tough cop called Le Goff (played by Lino Ventura) who is hell-bent on bringing Sartet to justice after he murders two of his men in cold blood.
Le Goff learns about the robbery and resolves to catch everyone red-handed. Meanwhile, the relationship between Malanese and Sartet becomes complicated when Jeanne, the wife of Malanese’s eldest son, becomes romantically involved with Sartet. The script was written by Verneuil himself, based on a novel by Auguste Le Breton, the man who wrote Rififi, Razzia sur la chnouf etc., which were all turned into successful film adaptations. Le Breton had also written dialogues for Melville’s Bob le flambeur.Verneuil had the assistance on another famous French screenwriter José Giovanni, who wrote Jacques Becker’s Le Trou and Claude Sautet’s Classe Tous Risques. The film is slick, fast-paced and has a memorable score by legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, whose score for the film slightly resembles the work he has done on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns.
Delon’s character feels like a reckless version (or an extension, if you will) of Jeff Costello, his character from Melville’s Le Samourai. Ventura’s character isn’t that different from the one he played in Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows. Actually, all three actors are typecast here and this is exactly where the appeal of the film lies and this is exactly why it works. It wouldn’t have worked any other way. There are few standout sequences in the film, especially the escape sequence at the beginning and the robbery sequence that comes much later. Once again I emphasize that the quality of the film is nowhere near the films of Melville but it stands on it own and works largely due to the presence of these three actors.