Bob le flambeur (1956)

Bob’s a gambling man. He dresses smart and lives large; he drives a gorgeous 1955 Plymouth Belvedere convertible, and everyone in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre knows his name.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s gangster-noir film Bob le flambeur (Bob the High Roller) is still regarded by many as a pioneering precursor to the French New Wave. And it’s held in very high regard by others as an important work in the gangster film genre. But sixty years since its début, it’s hard not to notice the wear and tear of this aging classic.

Bob’s winning streak has ended, and finding himself flat broke, he gathers a crew and plots a complicated scheme to rob the millions of francs sitting in the safe of the Casino Barrière de Deauville.

Bob le flambeur (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, DOP Henri Decaë, Maurice Blettery)

It’s almost set up to be a kind of French Ocean’s Eleven (1960/2001) – that is, until the plot basically fizzles out and loses pace. This isn’t the gangster movie that you’re expecting to see. Perhaps it’s lost in translation, be it culturally or by the passage of time, but it feels too slow and loose.

That said, there’s certainly a lot to enjoy about Bob le flambeur. Its French film-noir mood is at times completely mesmerising, and Henri Decaë’s handheld camera work is as beautiful as it is revolutionary.

So despite its lasting critical acclaim, to your non-academic, average Joe who just wants to sit down and enjoy a great mob movie, time hasn’t been so forgiving. Bob le flambeur lacks urgency, and with its awkward, random pace, it’s more than a little rough around the edges.

The Podfather Score: 5.5

(Will Duncan)


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