Wednesday 29 August 2012

1,001 Films: "Bob Le Flambeur/Bob The Gambler" (1955)

The protagonist of Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur is a gentleman gambler of the old school, but he's also another of this filmmaker's heroes who prove unable to escape a particular milieu - in this case the backrooms and backstreets of Montmartre and Pigalle - without putting themselves at some considerable risk. Still, risk is all Bob (Roger Duchesne) knows: though he's far from the stereotypical sleazy hood, even professorial in his dealings with a young protege and the girl he rescues from the streets, this supremely dapper individual can't pass up a bet - on dice, cards, the one-armed bandit he keeps like a skeleton in the closet, or the flip of a coin - an addiction that places him in mortal danger when he chances his arm on a casino heist.

Much of the film's first hour is given over to Bob's random whims, establishing the loose yet clearly defined personal code he operates within; then the expected noir plot lines up like cherries on a slot machine, as a far less reliable crew is assembled, and one of Bob's underlings makes the fatal error of letting on far too much to the woman he loves. Later remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief, you can also spy its influence in the following year's far punchier The Killing, but it has virtues all its own to admire: quickfire editing, the usual grittiness of Melville's mean-streets photography, and an astonishingly sexy performance - easily the equal of the young Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle - by Isabelle Corey as a moll on the make.

Bob le Flambeur is available on DVD through Optimum Home Releasing.

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