Bob Le Flambeur [Bob the Gambler]
by Alan Rode
Jean-Pierre Melville’s Cinematic Valentine to American Film Noir.
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Fold in varied amounts of The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, add both obligatory and surprising French seasoning from director Jean-Pierre Melville, stir well and you have his cinematic valentine to post WWII Paris and American Film Noir: Bob Le Flambeur (1955).
Bob the Gambler (Roger Duchesne) exudes a professional mien as he glides through the darkened streets and smoked-filled bars of Paris’ Montmartre district. The silver-haired and distinguished ex-criminal spends his evenings living off varied games of chance and only ventures out during the daylight hours during racing season to frequent the track. He hews to his ritualistic lifestyle while carefully maintaining a cordial relationship with the head of the local robbery/homicide police unit. As the district’s big stick, Inspector Ledru (Guy Decomble) believes Bob’s criminal days are well behind him after a stretch in prison for armed robbery. Bob also uses his nighttime jaunts to mentor a young up-and-comer, Paolo (Daniel Cuachy) on underworld etiquette and takes a filial interest in Anne, (Isabelle Corey) a young prostitute who doesn’t know or care that her youthful beauty has an abbreviated shelf life on the Paris night circuit.
Bob’s exalted veneer starts to crack when he forgets that all gamblers are really suckers who inevitably lose their shirt. After Bob goes bust, he concocts a daring plan to get well: a nighttime robbery of the Deauville casino. As Bob works meticulously to design the caper, some of his flawed compatriots begin to undermine the plan before its inception. The film noir themes of lust, greed and fate do their work, dooming the entire enterprise to failure and setting Bob up for that long stretch in prison that he is too old to survive.
Just as I expected to see a borrowed finale from The Killing with bills blowing across the tarmac and a downcast Bob being led off to the pokey, Melville crafted a final denouement that made me tip my hat. There is certainly some truth, irony and laughter in a cinematic French noir world.
This picture (with English subtitles) may not be for everyone, but the acting is compelling and the camera work is flawless. Film noir often takes you down the mean streets of a San Francisco or an L.A. that no longer exists. Bob Le Flambeur shows off a gritty, smoky part of Paris with some fascinating people of a long-ago night.
Vivé Le France!
Alan Rode is a film noir aficionado living in San Diego, California.
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