Bob le Flambeur (1956)
Bob le Flambeur (1956)

Genre: Film Noir and Heist Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: August 24th, 1956 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville Actors: Roger Duchesne, Isabel Corey, Daniel Cauchy, Guy Decomble, Andre Garet, Gerard Buhr, Claude Cerval, Colette Fleury, Simone Paris

 


 

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n Montmartre, high-roller Bob “The Gambler” Montagne (Roger Duchesne) is known for his questionable trade, the places he frequents (such as Carpeaux’s and the Heads or Tails Bar), his routine losses at the tables, and his checkered past – including doing time for robbing the Rimbaud bank 20 years ago. Though he’s considered a hood, he has favorable connections with the Paris police (namely with Lieutenant Ledru, played by Guy Decomble) and is regularly approached by mobsters for financial help. One shady conman in particular, Marc, needs cash to skip town, having beat up on one of his girls – but Bob has higher standards when dealing with such scum, as pimps register too low to be acceptable recipients of a handout.

When he’s not hanging out with his old partner’s kid, Paulo (Daniel Cauchy), Bob is something of a white knight, seemingly always on the lookout for potential victims – such as young Anne (Isabel Corey), a shapely girl who spends far too much time on the streets, hanging around “sidewalk Romeos,” and staying out late. Innocently enough, Anne takes up residence at Bob’s pricey apartment, where she expectedly sleeps with the age-appropriate Paulo. Meanwhile, Bob wins big at the racetrack but succumbs to the allure of cards and loses it all – a shameful custom that infuriates longtime pal Roger (Andre Garet). (Later scenes of gambling are obvious templates for similar moments in James Bond’s adventures, with winning streaks possessing an alien quality through their foreign maneuvers, considering that they make use of games mostly unknown in America.) But everything is about to change when Bob learns of the 800 million francs held in the Deauville casino vault during the last Grand Prix, initiating a plot to steal the holdings of this year’s event – for the heist to end all heists.

They’ll need a backer for funding, an exact map of the casino floor, a couple of cars, several men with guns, and the number and make for the safe. They’ll also need calm nerves and a level of trust that’s sure to intermeddle in their undoing. In writer/director Melville’s viewpoint on crime, those involved can never keep their mouths shut. And the entangled women are never just bystanders – they wield a power of their own as manipulators and influencers. Also, consequences are inextricably linked to fate, as if evildoers can never escape a destiny of fitting comeuppance; double-crossers may get it worst of all, but sympathetic thieves aren’t immune to the law. Or so it would at first appear, since an utterly brilliant twist (that Melville himself would liken to the wry futility of the most unforgettable minutes in “The Bridge on the River Kwai”) allows for one of the most astonishingly satisfying conclusions in cinema – a surprise so amusing that it redeems any minor flaws in pacing or technical imperfections.

Blinding light and the inky shadows, playful smoke wafting about stern visages, piano music that springs up as if someone is fingering a baby grand in the very room with the action, a throaty narrator (who unnecessarily comments on movements and activities explicitly shown onscreen), and plenty of tension detail this French film noir paradigm. It begins with an abundance of character development, introducing numerous key players with distinct skills and purposes, before segueing to the intricate planning of the robbery. But instead of moving on to the much-anticipated swindle, “Bob le flambeur” embarks down a startlingly different path, ensuring appropriate resolutions for its various players and something extra special for the titular antihero – one of the coolest and most original of all screen gangsters.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10