The Sicilian Clan from 1969 with Alain Delon, Jean Gabin and Lino Ventura
The Sicilian Clan is a classic heist movie with cool 1960s French style and serious acting heft. It also has a fresh take on the age-old game of jewelry robbery, plus plenty of mob intrigue and a dogged French detective stalking the bad guys throughout.
Opening with a dramatic escape from police custody by a notorious jewel thief and cop killer, played by Alain Delon, the movie sets a fast pace as we learn Delon's escape was planned by the head, played by Jean Gabin, of a mob family,
Gabin wants Delon out of jail as Delon, while incarcerated, has discovered the security plans for a traveling jewelry exhibit, which the older Gabin wants to steal as his swan song to crime before retiring.
High-profile Delon's escape puts a smart, weary French detective, played by Lino Ventura, on the case. From wiretapping Delon's sister's phone, to following every small lead, Ventura is always only a few steps behind.
The heart of the movie is the jewelry heist itself, which morphs from a traditional break-in into a hijacking of the security plane used for ferrying the jewelry exhibit to different countries. It's a gripping scene that doesn't exhaust you as some modern action sequences can.
The post-heist denouement, no spoilers coming, is driven, as it is in so many movies, by unnecessary mistakes owing to some of the gang members’ greed, (of course) lust and betrayals. Gang discipline is the Achilles heel of almost every movie heist.
The Sicilian Clan has its action moments, but it is a plot- and character-driven movie. It slowly builds to its heist scene as we learn about Delon, Gabin and Ventura. Theirs is an complex triangle where the three play a sophisticated game of cops-and-robbers chess.
Delon is the least interesting character as he is psychotic. He exists solely for himself and kills without emotion. Gabin feels like a real mob boss who has to balance everyday family obligations against the pressures of running a large illegal business.
Ventura, though, is the most interesting character as he's smart, resourceful but flawed. He makes mistakes, but then, picks himself back up and continues the pursuit. He provides the story's grounding as detective work is a plodding contrast to the criminals' daring exploits.
Director and co-writer Henri Verneuil spent the time necessary to create these complex characters. It helped that in Delon, Gabin and Ventura he had the acting talent of three of France's most noted stars of that era.
In just a few years, The Godfather would become the iconic mafia movie with its brilliant but exaggerated soap opera portrayal of a crime family. For a more realistic portrayal of a mafia family, though, there are movies like The Sicilian Clan.
Today, directors like Guy Ritchie, in movies like The Gentlemen, are making outstanding mob movies. They didn't, however, spring de novo as you can see the roots of these new fast-moving, personality-driven pictures in the stylish and engaging The Sicilian Clan.