Friday, March 26, 2010

#150: Bob Le Flambeur

(Jean-Pierre Melville, 1950)

Despite Breathless and its obvious debt to noir, it's hard to imagine a film that seems to have simultaneously influenced the New Wave and inspired both versions of Ocean's Eleven. But Bob Le Flambeur is such a movie. Melville's first real heist pic, the movie's characters exist in filmworld, that place that is hot and sweaty and oozes saxophone.

Bob is addicted to gambling, to the point where he forgets about the massive casino robbery he planned once he gets into the room and sits down at a roulette table. But he's also a suave, struggling anti-hero, the kind of guy who will refuse to help a pimp but doesn't hesitate to slap a woman who lets slip his heist plot. He's Bogart but Frenched up, basically, and it's really fun to watch.

Melville hadn't perfected his craft yet when he made Bob Le Flambeur, and one of the reasons is that the film is in black and white. Part of the reason his later masterpieces Le Samurai and Army of Shadows are so memorable is the way Melville using color to evoke moods in the films. In fact, color is the first thing I think of when I think of these two movies - one hot and red, one faded blue and penetratingly sad. I enjoyed Bob Le Flambeur, but I get the sense that the three Melville films to come will have more to offer me.

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