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BOB LE FLAMBEUR

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Roger Duchesne, Daniel Cauchy, Isabelle Corey, Guy Decombie
Director:  Jean-Pierre Melville
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  April 16, 2002

“I’ve been straight for 20 years.”

“Good.  Stay that way.”

Film ***

 “A real hood’s face.”  That’s how Robert Montagne (Duchesne) assesses himself after a glance in the mirror.  He’s the title character of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur, a likeable middle-aged gambler whose presence is felt by crook and cop alike in Paris.

Gambling is his life and his passion…he even keeps a slot machine in his home for one last chance at fate every night before he goes to bed.  We learn that he masterminded, but didn’t succeed at, a bank heist in his youth.  He served his time, and has since been on the straight and narrow path.

His unusual collection of friends include the youthful Paulo (Cauchy), who seems to be modeling himself after Bob, the local police lieutenant Ledru (Decombie) whose life was saved by Bob once, and a young, sexy but naïve girl Anne (Corey), who ends up playing a bigger role in their lives than she could have imagined.

Bob, as mentioned, has been out of trouble for many years, but a new opportunity arises, which he sees more as an ultimate gamble than a robbery…cracking the safe at the Deauville Casino for a 200 million franc payday.  He begins the elaborate plans and arranging for the right people to be involved.

It won’t be easy.  The safe has four separate combination locks and is positioned on hydraulic lifts that lower it into concrete casing when closed.  That’s the first big problem.  The second is the slow build-up of forces against Bob.  A loose tongue here, a greedy partner there…soon, even Lt. Ledru is aware of the plan.  He desperately tries to get a message to Bob to call it off…otherwise, he’ll have no choice but to arrest his friend.

This is an enjoyable, slightly comic take on the heist picture that falls somewhere between American film noir and French New Wave.  It’s a brisk moving story with good characters and thoughtful camerawork, and a terrific script including dialogue by Auguste Le Breton, who also penned words for the immortal crime caper Rififi. 

But what I liked best about the movie is that it ends beautifully, but unconventionally.  Are the only two choices for Bob to go ahead or call it off?  And if he goes ahead, will he succeed or fail?  The answers are probably different than you might expect, but it all leads to one of the greatest last lines in moviedom, ranking right up there with “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, “Tomorrow is another day”, and “Nobody’s perfect”.

Bob Le Flambeur is a good gamble all the way.

Video ***

This is an impressive looking black and white transfer from Criterion, with deep blacks, pure whites and strong, solid image and detail throughout.  Only a couple of flaws were apparent…a brief shot of Anne in bed that inexplicably darkens, and a softer looking nightclub sequence late in the picture.  Those aside, this is a remarkably clean print, with very little in the way of dirt or debris visible, and no noticeable compression effects to mar the images.  High marks.

Audio **

The mono soundtrack is serviceable, with a fair amount of dynamic range and seemingly clear dialogue (in French)…as good as you would expect for a single channel of audio.

Features **1/2

The disc contains two interviews…the first is a brand new video interview with actor Daniel Cauchy, a very delightful fellow with fond memories.  He points out that Bob was both his third and seventh film…i.e., it was his third when he started, but because of how long it took to finish, it was his seventh by the time it was released!  The other interview is a 1961 short radio piece with Jean-Pierre Melville, accompanied by still photos of the director in action.  Also featured is the original trailer.

Summary:

Bob Le Flambeur is an entertaining, character driven story that uses the structure of a heist film to spin the tale of a few memorable people.  Well acted, written, and directed, this is another quality film given quality treatment from Criterion.