Bob le Flambeur (1956) November 25, 2010Posted 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.
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…