*Slight spoiler alert – though this film is over fifty years old!*
Bob le Flambeur is a classic French film from 1955 directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. A full five years before A Bout de Souffle this is really one of the first films of the Nouvelle Vague, a gangster picture from the days when gangsters had morals and friends – rather than stooges – in high places. A forerunner of Oceans Eleven and all the other caper films, Bob’s character stands out as a man wrestling with himself, acting against his better judgement.
Bob is of course an addict. His life revolves around cards, horses and fruit machines. He even has a one armed bandit in his bedroom. We feel that he would be straight if life gave him a break. Played by Roger Duchesne Bob gets our sympathy right from the early scenes when he helps a young girl with nowhere to stay with no expectation of reward.
Bob is brought down by his own morals – the word of a pimp to whom he has refused to lend money helps the police to sniff out the plans he has to rob a casino. The narrative is taut and the thriller aspect works well. But the best part of the film is the black and white imagery of Paris. It makes the city appear stunning and adds a whole new character to the story. Paris has rarely looked so enticing.
Melville was the director of Le Samourai and a lover of American gangster films. Using a handheld camera and even a jump-cut he is the director to whom the New Wave are indebted. Indeed this is said to be Godard’s favourite Melville film. Bob is dressed in a raincoat as Bogart was so often and draws his lineage straight from the American classics. Melville himself speaks the voice-over, elevating this heist-gone-wrong pic to something more fulfilling.
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Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Length: 98 mins