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Bob le Flambeur (1956) November 25, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Film Noir, Non-Asian, 1950s films , trackback

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville  Starring: Roger Duchesne; Daniel Cauchy; Isabelle Corey  Territory: France

Set in the Pigalle and Montmartre districts in Paris (which has changed surprisingly little since this film was made in 1956), Bob le Flambeur tells the tale of an ex-bank robber and fanatic gambler Bob Montagné (Roger Duchesne).  Bob is down on his luck and losing what little money he had left.  When an old colleague mentions that a casino can take as much as 800 million francs during the Grand Prix, the temptation proves too much for Bob and he starts assembling a team to steal the money.

Bob le Flambeur is a gangster film noir that builds atmosphere and mood rather than assaulting the viewer with gunfights and chases.  Which works mainly in its favour, with some rather interesting character relationships surrounding the titular Bob.  Respected on both sides of the law, Bob now thinks his criminal career is behind him.  He’s friendly with Inspector Ledru (Guy Decomble), a man whose life Bob saved (although the reasons why he did so are open to interpretation), while still friends with the underworld.  He’s a father figure to his protégé Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), but draws the line when a pimp comes running to him looking for help when he beats his woman too hard.  When the beautiful Anne (a gorgeous Isabelle Corey) wanders into Bob’s life, he ignores her obvious charms and advances and instead takes her under his wing, even manoeuvring her towards the more age-appropriate Paolo. 

Bob le Flambeur
The locations are superb, with Bob’s apartment overlooking the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (where I couldn’t help flashing back to a full-blown panic attack I had fifty years later on the rooftops) and the gritty Pigalle area.  Melville weaves a dark but intriguing story, and the characters demand the seemingly leisurely pace of the movie.  The film, like the other Melville films I’ve seen has a very cynical ending, and this one really does demand some mulling over after seeming like a slap in the face. 

The film’s low budget can be seen in a couple of scenes, especially when gunplay is needed.  Annoyingly, Melville felt the need for a narrator (Melville himself) to add colour to the script, and I felt this detracted from the overall effect of the film.  But on the whole, Bob le Flambeur is a fine film with what I’ve come to expect of the auteur’s moral ambivalence.  This one might not be the most obvious choice in the film noir canon, but it is full of style, character and has dated about as well as the Hollywood movies that it is clearly inspired by.  And, by God, Isabelle Corey looks damn fine…


1. Shawn "Masterofoneinchpunch" McKenna - November 30, 2010

Sometimes Melville puts in something overly low budget that makes you wonder why he did like the airplane scenes in ARMY OF SHADOWS (on Criterion; also coming out on BD for Criterion).

I loved the end gambling scene, because that’s what a dedicated gamber does when he is on a roll. Nothing else matters.

For me a narrator in these type of films always makes it feel more film noir :D .

Another film I believe where a character takes a long look in a mirror :D .

What is the next French film for you?

2. Cal - December 1, 2010

Well, the next film French film should be up here by the time you read this (or shortly after, if I have writer’s block again!). After that, well, I don’t want to give too much away but it’s funny you mention ARMY OF SHADOWS :) .

One thing I meant to ask you before I wrote this review, and completely forgot about, was I noticed a lot of transition wipes in this film. Obviously, this stuck out to me after watching a whole bunch of Kurosawa films over the last few months. I don’t really know how popular they were in movies from this period, but was Melville a fan of Kurosawa or was it just a common practice of the day?

3. Shawn "Masterofoneinchpunch" McKenna - December 2, 2010

From the movies I have watched and what I have read it seems that wipes were considered a bit passe by that point in the 1950s but still used. You see them quite a bit in 1930s films and not as much in the 50s and after (that’s of course not to say you won’t see them; some directors love to use them or occasionally use them like Fassbinder in Veronika Voss).

The normal film language for a wipe is usually a transition for a short period of time while a fade to black or black out usually means a longer period of time (Kurosawa does both of these).

I think with Melville it has more to do with him being a fan of the cinema of the 1930s, but you raised a good question that I’m going to look out for — what did Melville think of Kurosawa?

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