(1955)4Craig ButlerA rich character study and an excellent "big heist" film (made before such films were in vogue), Bob le Flambeur is a gem of a movie that borrows from and anticipates many other films. Its prior influences are obvious, namely the American film noir movies that Hollywood produced in the 1940s and '50s and that made a tremendous impact on French filmmakers. And Bob's location shooting, use of improvisation, reliance on character actors and/or actors with little experience and extensive (although, in Bob, certainly not exclusive) use of natural light would all be echoed in the French New Wave films that would emerge a few years later. Yet in spite of all this, Bob remains uniquely and excitingly its own. For one thing, while it's as serious and in some ways as existential as any noir, it's also somehow lighthearted. The code that Bob lives by may be self-destructive, but it's also gentlemanly, and one feels that Bob enjoys living by it and does so willingly. Indeed, Bob is a complex and finely drawn character, and engages the audience's interest throughout; as a matter of fact, all of the characters share this trait, if to a lesser degree, despite the fact that they are all essentially familiar types we've seen elsewhere. Credit both Jean-Pierre Melville and Auguste Le Breton's precise screenplay and the cast's spot-on performances. Roger Duchesne, in the title role, is spectacular, an anchor who is strong without being showy. Avuncular, vulnerable, rueful, sweet, firm, melancholy, hopeful, and determined -- all at the same time -- Duchesne's work here is a simply superb. Isabelle Corey is perhaps limited as an actress, but she has the presence that the role requires, and no one could be as engaging as Daniel Cauchy. Melville's direction is also impeccable; even the few false moves are still the right moves. He has remarkable control throughout, no small feat considering that the movie was filmed "patchwork" style -- a few days here and there -- over the course of two years, and Henri Decaë's cinematography is a beautiful triumph. Those who have never met Bob should immediately seek him out; it's no gamble that they will be well rewarded for the effort.
Both a tribute to classic American gangster films and the source of inspiration for French New Wave filmmakers, Bob le Flambeur is the first in a series of stylish noirs that Jean-Pierre Melville started in the mid-'50s. Co-scripted by the popular crime writer Auguste Le Breton (Rififi), this is a story of ex-bank robber and compulsive gambler Bob (Roger Duchesne), who plans a heist at the Deauville casino. As in many films of that genre, he assembles a team of old friends and new acquaintances to do the job and is determined to perform it despite all the odds that continue to pile up before him. The overall tone is admirably lighthearted, however, and despite many stylistic and thematic references to American caper movies, the whole enterprise remains genuinely French. "This is a kind of film that we want to make!" exclaimed the young and rebellious François Truffaut back in 1955. Jean-Luc Godard, in his turn, acknowledged Melville's influence, giving him an extended cameo in Breathless.