Combustible Celluloid
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With: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Daniel Cauchy, Guy Decomble, Andre Garet, See more
Written by: Auguste Le Breton, Jean-Pierre Melville
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 08/24/1956

Bob le Flambeur (1955)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Gamblin' Guy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Most people credit Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut with the beginning of the French New Wave, and technically that's true. But both of them would be the first to tip their hats to Jean-Pierre Melville. Godard even gave Melville a worthy cameo in Breathless, as the old gent Jean Seberg interviews at the airport.

The New Wavers were always preoccupied with crime films, but Melville made perhaps the first (unofficial) New Wave crime film with Bob le Flambeur, four years before the other upstarts even conceived of their first features. And darned if it doesn't reveal a little stylistic influence.

Bob Montagne (Roger Duchesne) is so cool even the cops give him a ride home after an all-night gambling jag. Even as a career gambler and criminal, he still has a maid who makes his coffee and cleans his Paris apartment. Younger criminals look up to him and girls jump at his command.

Bob is getting on in years and has lots of wisdom to offer. He won't even loan money to a friend who really needs it because this lowlife beat his wife. This is a guy who knows. So when a friend approaches him and his young sidekick Paulie (Daniel Cauchy) with a chance to rob the Deauville Casino, he takes it.

Unfortunately, the one bit of wisdom Bob can't teach to Paulie is never squawk to a dame. Paulie falls for the alluring young night prowler Anne (Isabelle Corey) and tells her all about the gig. She passes it on and the gig gets ruined. Or does it?

Melville (who took his last name from author Herman) gives Bob le Flambeur a black-and-white, Paris back-alley look where the streets are still wet from the early morning street sweepers and everyone knows everyone. It's like a pulp novel's pages stuck straight onto the screen, the kind that Godard was fascinated with but always injected his own spin on.

Bob le Flambeur departs from its filmic counterparts mostly through Bob himself, filled with confidence and wisdom, but not enough to keep himself out of trouble forever. Duchesne's smooth, handsome performance puts him in a league with cool guys like Bogart, Eastwood and Mitchum, whereas the younger cons in other movies like Band of Outsiders and Rififi were just cocky and reckless.

Made in 1955, Bob le Flambeur was not released in the U.S. until 1982. Now the great Rialto Pictures has restored it for a fresh new U.S. release and hopefully a DVD to follow. It was Melville's fourth feature film; he would go on to do many more memorable crime flicks such as Le Doulos, Le Samourai and Un Flic.

Previously available on a Criterion DVD, Kino Lorber now offers a 2019 Blu-ray edition. The video and audio transfers are excellent. Bonuses include a commentary track by film critic Nick Pinkerton, a 25-minute documentary, and a selection of trailers.

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