Melville’s sly if laidback anti-heist noir (if there ever was one) is an absorbing take on how individuals and the collective operate in matters of vice and deception.
Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
1956 | France | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 102 min | 1.33:1 | French
NC16 (passed clean) for brief nudity
Cast: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Daniel Cauchy
Plot: Bob is practically synonymous with gambling – and winning. However, when Bob’s luck turns sour, he begins to lose friends and makes the most desperate gamble of his life: to rob the Deauville casino during Grand Prix weekend, when the vaults are full.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Gambling; Heist
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Before he reached god-tier levels of filmmaking with Le samourai (1967), Army of Shadows (1969) and Le cercle rouge (1970), Jean-Pierre Melville made arguably his best film of the ‘50s in Bob le flambeur.
It is a sly and cheeky attempt at an anti-heist noir (if there ever was one), where Roger Duchesne plays the titular gambler who’s out of luck. With all his money running out, Bob’s calm and collected demeanour hides a real sense of desperation, yet he continues to gamble, hoping for a miracle.
In this milieu of gambling and heavy drinking, other vices also come to the fore, notably in the form of a young woman (Isabelle Corey in a spellbinding performance) who has no qualms selling her body, her strings unceremoniously pulled by the devious men around her.
“Nothing but the safe is pretty in all of this.”
As word gets out that a nearby casino has millions of moolah in its high-security safe, Bob begins to put on his nefarious thinking cap, planning an elaborate heist with a trustworthy group of friends (or so he thinks).
Melville’s film is unexpectedly laidback in its tone—there is almost a casual nonchalance to the filmmaking as the director employs a cool, jazzy soundtrack to go with scenes of nightlife that operate at an energy level best described as just a tad higher than low-key.
Bob le flambeur is an absorbing take on how individuals and the collective operate in matters of vice and deception. Bob, who has a love-hate relationship with the local police, must contend with the prospect of jail time if caught.
In that sense, maybe gambling isn’t so bad after all, a point that Melville takes seriously for once in the film in one of the most unexpected third acts in French cinema of that period.