A quintessential French crime film, enamored of its Hollywood antecedents yet distinctly French in its blasé attitude to sex, women, and the daily doldrums of the post-War Parisian male. Melville shot this over a two-year period in piecemeal fashion as finances allowed, and that explains the slipshod, somewhat chintzy, feel of many of its scenes; intentionally or not, Bob le Flambeur’s from-the-hip shooting style–using hand-held cameras in cars, on streets, etc.–helped usher in the French New Wave at the end of the ’50s. All that aside, this is, ultimately, a generally absorbing and sometimes funny look at the capricious nature of Luck.
Bob, a hardluck gambler in Paris’s Montmartre section, is on a losing streak but that doesn’t stop him from being generous to Paolo (Cauchy) and Anne (Corey), a couple of reckless, dreamy-eyed kids who look up to him. When he hits rock bottom, Bob decides to rob a Deauville casino–a haul that would make him and his co-conspirators comfortable forever. True to the heist genre, then, Melville follows Bob as he goes about financing his operation, painstakingly planning it step by step. The minutiae of Bob’s safecracker perfecting his trade is so engrossing it’s a testament of Melville’s talent for dramatizing the tropes of the crime genre. An impetuous murder and a police inspector hot on Bob’s trail wrinkle the gamblers’ plans, but Lady Luck–that most coveted and fickle of women–shows she hasn’t completely abandoned Bob, her most dedicated of suitors.
Flambeur’s casual commodification of women–going so far as to depict them as untrustworthy and emotionally disloyal tarts–is charmingly jokey up to a point, and Melville’s lurid gaze at Corey’s supple lines is enticing. But the sexual politics at play here, as Anne nearly derails Bob’s heist scheme out of nothing more than feminine whimsy feels cheap and gimmicky, as does Paolo’s girl-crazy naïveté. Still, Le Breton and Melville’s script knows how to bring it all home in a climax in which our sympathies for Bob, the lovable rogue dutifully chasing that winning streak, are marvelously realized and rewarded.
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by: Auguste Le Breton, Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Isabelle Corey, Daniel Cauchy, Roger Duchesne, Guy Decomble, André Garet, Gérard Buhr, Claude Cerval, Colette Fleury