Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:36 am 
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MELVILLE 100 @ PFA BERKELEY
1956 Bob le Flambeur


Image
Roger Duchesne in the raincoat as Bob Montagné ("Bob le flambeur")*

The good thief

This shows Melville at last in gangster mode, and Bob (Roger Duchesne), the "flambeur," or passionate, lavish gambler, is also charismatic crook (he has done some jail time decades ago for a failed heist) whose innate class, elegance, and decency, along with his weaknesses, engender the viewer's sympathy.

This is "film noir," alright: Bob Montagné lives in the "noir," Paris by night, in clubs and gambling dens; contrasty black-and-white photography is essential to this look. As the film opens he's returning, nicely dressed as always, to his nice flat in Montmartre, with its huge widown looking out on after a long night of gambling and making the rounds. He's well liked, even by a Inspector Ledru, a local cop whose life he once saved. As his nickname "Flambeur" implies, Bob's a high roller who burns up money with his gambling. He seems well off, but he keeps losing, and major losses are going to lead him to plan with some old confederates a raid on the Deauville casino, rumored to have lavish stores of cash on hand after the big races. He draws various collaborators into his planned operation, including his sporty but foolish young protégé, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy). He has a young woman he's just rescued off the street more or less, who lives in, most of the time, Anne (Isabelle Corey). She runs off with Paolo, whose desire to impress her will lead to fatal bragging.

There is a gentle wishfulness and a touch of class about Bob and all he does. He's a Good Crook, an amiable loser with style. Lucky for him he has a good friend, because he once saved his life, in a top cop, the cigarette-puffing Commissaire Ledru (Guy Decomble). Despite getting generous funding from a rich British crook called McKimmie (Howard Vernon), an insider with technical details, and a safe-cracking expert, due to several leks Bob's big robbery project will fail- but not brutally. The ironic twist is that at the Deauville casino, while waiting for the operation to begin, he gambles, and begins, for the first time in his life, winning enormous amounts of money. These winnings almost make him forget the heist altogether. If only he could have done, it would have gone so much better for him. But as he's cuffed and taken off, out come uniformed employees, looking like old-fashioned bellhops, carrying stacks and stacks of big old franc notes and as he and the friendly Ledru joke, with an expensive enough lawyer he can get a much reduced sentence. With a very, very expensive one, he may sue for damages!

Back in the day, this movie seemed to be on hand in many West Coast video stores. It was properly reissued in the US by Rialto 2001, and did well with the critics (Metacritic 80; Rotton Tomatoes 96). Bob le flambeur influenced the two versions of the American film Ocean's Eleven (1960 and 2001) as well as Paul Thomas Anderson's debut film Hard Eight, and was remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief in 2002 (Wikipedia, "[url="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_le_flambeur"]Bob le flambeur[/url]"). It may remind you also in some ways of Jules Dassin's heavily process-oriented Rififi.

Bob le flambeur is best watched on your VCR, late at night, while sipping whisky. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a piece of style. It's mood is cheerful and bemused. Featuring Bob's big creamy new Chrysler convertible, it already reflects Melville's love of all things American that was to come out further in his next picture, Deux hommes dans Manhattan/Two Men in Manhattan, in which he himself costarred, and which finally became available to Yanks in 2013. (See below.)

*This still with its garish walls strongly reminds me of the photography of William Klein, who liked garish, contrasty backgrounds, as in the image below, one of his best known.
Image
Photo by William Klein

Melville 100 Berkeley
Saturday, June 24 - 6:30 PM (98 mins) BAM/PFA

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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