Jean-Pierre Melville must have either made a big name for himself in France, or had a colossal ego, as his credit for Bob le Flambeur is listed only as “Melville”. Still, apparently Stanley Kubrick thought so much of Bob le Flambeur that he refused to make another crime film, stating that Melville had already made the best possible one that could be made. That’s a hell of a statement, and so I prepared myself for a noirish drama to come hitting at me with nothing held back. I probably shouldn’t have prepared myself, because this film certainly didn’t come at me swinging. Instead, it meandered and sauntered up to me casually, gaining my affections and trust, and leaving with a pat on my shoulder, and before I could realize it my wallet had been stolen, replaced with a well-wishes card. That’s what watching Bob le Flambeur felt like.
The titular Bob is a Parisian ex-con with a gambling streak the size of all France, gambling as much as he can as often as he can on pretty much anything, often with very little luck. He catches wind of a big stock of cash kept overnight in a casino, and decides to dust off his old knickers and set up one last caper to end his troubles. I delve into the plot for you because the film takes almost an hour to really set up the plot itself; most of the film up to then just follows Bob as he establishes connections with the other lead characters, and gambles – a lot. Only in the last half-hour or so did things somewhat pick up, as the plot was firmly in forward motion by then. Even then (mild spoiler alert), the caper itself technically never ends up happening, so if you’re watching for that reason, adjust your reasons before starting this one. The film is odd for a noir, in that it takes place mostly in the daytime. Thus, there are very few shadows, considered a staple of the noir genre. Really, it’s the feel of the film that has some calling it a noir; how the story bends and turns, and handles its characters and what they do. The film is also very blunt with its use of music, growing laughably sultry in the scenes with Bob and Anne, and perfectly “50s hard-nosed noir detective” when Bob is scheming his plans on the streets.
I found this oddly enjoyable for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being that it was very well done. I enjoyed the mash-up of French movie-making sensibilities and the American crime/gangster/noir genres into a hodgepodge film that pays tribute to both, and simultaneously paves the way for a new breed of both such films to follow. I felt I was watching something historically significant, and this was before I did the research into the film afterwards. The film is a bit slow at times, especially in the beginning when it takes so long to set up its own plot, but in the end I felt it was worth it. It was a revitalizing film for me; it spoke to me, and what it had to say was that there were still a great many gems to be found among the classic entries left on the list. I don’t know if I would call this a gem, per se, but it was almost like a vein of quartz – when you’ve found one, it’s a good indicator of nearby gold.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10