“I was born with an ace in my palm.”
Jean-Pierre Melville took the romance of the French gangster film into the modern world with his elegant and elegiac French noir classic Bob le flambeur (France, 1956).
The wonderfully ironic tale stars Roger Duchenese as the aging gambler of the title. Generous, kind, and beloved by his friends, Bob is a kind of underworld aristocrat, a gentleman of the old school in a changing world. He did his time and left the criminal culture to live somewhere in the twilight between civilian and gangster, gracefully gambling his way through the life. And not just on cards and roulette wheels. He gambles on both Paulo (Daniel Cauchy), the son of a friend, and on a beautiful streetwalker (Isabelle Corey) he saves from a predatory pimp.
And then he learns that the Deauville casino has a safe that stores a small fortune in cash on its busiest nights and he plots an elaborate heist, enlisting his old friends in the Montmartre underworld and his callow young protégé Paulo to pull off the score of a lifetime.
Melville has a deft, light touch, a mix of calm confidence, a wry sense of irony, and restless ambition. This is French Noir mellowed by gentle humor, delightful characters, and a world of trenchcoat-clad wiseguys and streetside bars and gentlemanly manners that exists only in the romance of the movies. Melville described it as “a comedy of manners,” and it plays like winsome wish for the sentimental code of honor among thieves and underworld loyalty embodied by the gentleman gambler Bob and threatened by the mercenary impulses of brazen young punks and Bob’s own gambling fever.
Shot on location in the streets and bars of Montmartre on a low budget, this independently produced tribute to Hollywood film noir with a Gallic flavor was an inspiration to the directors of the French New Wave. Jean-Luc Godard paid tribute to Melville with a generous cameo in his 1959 debut Breathless.
Guy Decomble costars Ledru, the cop on his trail.
Black and white, in French with English subtitles
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Bob le flambeur [Blu-ray]
Bob le flambeur [DVD]
Bob le flambeur (The Criterion Channel) [DVD]
Originally released on DVD by Criterion Collection with a contemporary interview with actor Daniel Cauchy and an archival radio interview with Melville. It was subsequently remastered from a 4K restoration for Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber, featuring commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton and the documentary “Diary of a Villain.”