Bob, an old gangster and gambler is almost broke, so he decides in spite of the warnings of a friend, a high official from the police, to rob a gambling casino in Dauville. Everything is ...
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Bob, an old gangster and gambler is almost broke, so he decides in spite of the warnings of a friend, a high official from the police, to rob a gambling casino in Dauville. Everything is planned exactly, but the police is informed about the planned coup. Meanwhile in the Casino Bob starts to gamble. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
Yesterday I have watched Jean-Pierre Melville's BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1955) for the first time, by way of Criterion's exemplary DVD edition. The film is a typical 50s French noir in its presentation of divided loyalties among a gang of crooks, women causing trouble, an elaborate heist-gone-wrong, police interrogation, etc. With this, Melville's first outing in a genre he later made his own, the director shows he is already at one with the milieu, capturing its every nuance and mannerism with almost effortless ease.
The cast is relatively low-key but all the main roles are admirably filled. Unfortunately, none went on to do much else of importance (apart from Howard Vernon) - and it was, in fact, lead actor Roger Duchesne's penultimate film. Looking a bit like Rudolf Klein-Rogge (who as Dr. Mabuse also played a gambling crime lord), he exudes a smooth charisma and is quite arresting in his playing. Isabel Corey, still a teenager but looking incredibly sexy and mature, was literally hand-picked by Melville himself for the role of Anne, the lovely waif whom Bob takes under his wing but whose inexperience eventually leads, in part, to his downfall. The film also makes brief yet subtle use of nudity which, at that time, was not something one would hope to find in American movies! Daniel Cauchy as Paulo, Bob's right-hand man who also falls for Corey, acquits himself well too here and, on the DVD, delivers an intelligent and delightful 20-minute interview which gives some insight into Melville's working methods, the film's pain-staking shooting schedule (it took some two years to complete during which time Cauchy found time to appear in another four movies!) and also the director's insistence in portraying the 'correct' way of dying on screen. Howard Vernon has a brief but pivotal role as the shady Scotsman who offers to finance Bob's 'scheme'.
Apart from the usual conventions of typical French crime dramas, BOB LE FLAMBEUR introduces some new forms of technique which anticipated the off-the-cuff style of the Nouvelle Vague by some years: the editing has a strange, almost disjointed rhythm to it which is particularly felt near the end during the long gambling sequence at the casino; the hand-held camera-work lends it a slightly amateurish look which suits the mood perfectly; a vaguely avant-gardist touch is also evident in the set design, as in the domino-styled walls of the gambling-dens Bob frequents and the closet in his apartment that is fitted with a privately-owned slot machine! Another interesting aspect (derived perhaps from Julien Duvivier's PEPE' LE MOKO ) is the mutual admiration that is present between Bob and the Police Inspector played by Guy Decomble.
Unlike most of Melville's other work, and particularly his film noirs, the gloomy 'atmosphere' is here counter-pointed by a deft playful mood that makes the film extremely enjoyable despite its fairly slow pace. The film's conclusion then, improbable as it may seem, provides a perfect and deliciously ironic twist - complete with a wonderful closing line.
Criterion's DVD also includes a rather vague radio interview, conducted in English in 1961, with Jean-Pierre Melville who is made distinctly uneasy by interviewer Gideon Bachmann's frustratingly opaque questions. We learn, however, of Melville's great love of American cinema as well as his own work's belated but well-deserved international recognition. I have now watched 8 of Melville's films - LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (1950); BOB LE FLAMBEUR; LEON MORIN, PRETRE (1961 - possibly forthcoming on DVD from Criterion); LE DOULOS (1962 - possibly forthcoming on DVD from Criterion); L' AINE' DES FERCHEAUX (1963); LE SAMOURAI (1967); L' ARMEE' DES OMBRES (1969 - possibly forthcoming on DVD from Criterion); and UN FLIC (1972 - I still haven't gotten round to purchasing the Anchor Bay R1 DVD). I haven't yet watched LE CERCLE ROUGE (1970 - possibly forthcoming on DVD from Criterion) which I own on VHS, but I may just check it out now that I'm in the mood for more Melville movies!
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