Like Rififi, another heist film based on the work of Auguste Le Breton, Bob Le Flambeur is hard to watch without hearing echoes of the many films it influenced, from Ocean's 11 (either version) to Hard Eight and beyond. But Bob director Jean-Pierre Melville was himself influenced, in a different sense, by an American film. Realizing that he couldn't top John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, Melville decided to play a little looser than planned with his gangland milieu, giving Bob the playfulness that would, in time, cause him to be recognized as one of the chief influences of the French New Wave. At one point, the screen irises into blackness on the profile of a cigar-smoking driver. When it irises back out, only the length of the cigar has changed. Who needs dialogue or titles to announce the passing of time when film grammar can do it even better, and get a laugh in the process? And why work on soundstages, when actual locations will do the trick, even if the camera must be hidden from unsuspecting passersby? Even with the director's light touch, Melville underscores almost every moment with a highly refined sense of melancholy. Bob's eponymous hero (Roger Duchesne) comes from a bygone era, from before the war brought guns to the underworld culture. By reputation "the first to copy the American hoods," Duchesne looks more like the last of the Mohicans than the first of a breed; his old haunts are overrun with compassionless pimps and feckless would-be criminals. He can at least exert a little influence over the latter, keeping one (Daniel Cauchy) from getting into too much trouble. Though semi-retired from crime, Duchesne still lives for the game, spending his nights moving from back rooms to casinos, suffering from the quintessential gambler's affliction that makes enough never enough. Presented with the possibility of one last score, a casino stuffed with cash, Duchesne decides to take yet another gamble. In a remarkable balancing act, Melville soaks his film in romantic ambiance while never forgetting that the same ambiance corrodes the soul of his characters; whatever comfort they find in each other's company takes a backseat to the needs that drive them. As Cauchy recalls in a new interview included on the disc, Melville shot the film over a two-year period, a few days at a time, whenever he could find the money. No doubt he knew a thing or two about drives and needs.

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