A daring - if somewhat unlikely - escape from custody for cop-killer Roger Sartet (Delon) kicks this one off. He's been liberated because his inside knowledge of a jewellery exhibition, which will set up Vittorio Manalese (Gabin), the aged boss of his clan, and let him retire to Sicily. However, a dogged detective (Ventura) is only a step behind Sartet, intent on recapturing him, with the unwilling help of the fugitive's sister. Complicating matters further is the ongoing relationship between Sartet and the wife of one of Manalese's sons, an accomplice in the plot. An exploratory mission shows that their first plan - to hit the exhibit directly - is unfeasible, so they come up with an alternative, to target the jewels in transit, with a more audacious scheme [albeit one that may trigger uncomfortable memories for residents of Manhattan].
This is not your typically high-octane heist caper, with the characters rarely moving at above a walking pace. It may be all the better for that, giving it a gritty and realistic tone for the most part, as the criminals plan their heist; things are allowed to unfold at their own pace. The most frantic moment is likely Sartet smashing an eel to death on a rock as he watches his woman sunbathing naked, a chunk of symbolism of which Freud would certainly have approved. Delon is great, cool as ever, and Ventura is also memorable; the script hands all the participants quirks, with which the actors can run, and the results are less characters than personalities. Morricone's score stands out from the first notes, and though this predates Coppola's Godfather [it was released the same year as Puzo's novel], it certainly captures many similar elements, involving family and loyalty.