Jean-Pierre Melville’s largely influential 1956 film noir “Bob Le Flambeur” stars Roger Duchesne as Bob, a gambler who claims to have a criminal past, but who has recently gone clean. But, as with most noir or heist film anti-heroes, there’s always one last gig up his sleeve. Unfortunately for Bob, his attempt to rob the Deauville casino on Grand Prix night doesn’t go quite how Bob originally planned.
The set-up for the film is largely simple, but it’s the way that director Jean-Pierre Melville went about staging this noir that really makes the already-good performances and writing energized. The jazz score largely boosts the mood and atmosphere of the picture, while the black and white cinematography is often beautiful, with crisp daylight shots and some night sequences with striking shadows.
That’s not to sell the screenplay short, either. The film, written by Auguste Le Breton (“Rififi”), creates wonderfully realized characters and a universe of personalities that are connected to one another (Bob is friends with the police and knows most of the criminals – his magnetic style and charm wins him friends, associates and even an understudy in Paulo (Daniel Cauchy).) The characters are engaging, the dialogue is entertaining and there are a few layers of drama: will Bob be sold-out to the police by his friends before the job goes down? Is Bob getting too old for this kind of work?
A suspenseful film with style, substance and great performances, “Bob Le Flambeur” is a highly entertaining French import that probably influenced many of the more recent American heist pictures.
VIDEO: Criterion presents “Bob Le Flambeur” in the film’s original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. This new high-definition digital transfer was created from a 35mm composite fine-grain master. As Criterion is doing more and more lately, the MTI restoration system was used to remove scratches, dirt and other debris from the image. The picture quality is fine, but is not up to some of the presentations that Criterion has offered from films of similar age. Still, this presentation was likely created from the best materials of this particular film available.
Sharpness and detail vary a bit throughout the film. Most scenes appeared crisp and fairly well-defined, especially some of the brighter, outdoor sequences. Other scenes, especially some of the dimly-lit interiors, could appear somewhat softer in comparison.
Flaws were minimal throughout much of the picture and more noticable during other stretches. Where most of the film seems pretty cleaned up and crisp, there are still some stray specks and the occasional mark on the print used. Some scenes also could appear noticably grainy, while others did not. Edge enhancement was not seen, nor was any pixelation or other problems. Overall, the black and white imagery looked rich and, aside from some instances of wear, certainly satisfactory.
SOUND: The film is presented in French mono. The audio was mastered at 24-bit and restored to remove hiss, scratches and other flaws. Overall, it’s about as good as one would expect from a mono soundtrack that’s now about 36-years-old. There’s no range to the soundtrack at all, but it at least doesn’t sound thin or harsh. The music and French dialogue seemed largely clear and clean.
EXTRAS: There is a lengthy (21m) interview with Daniel Cauchy, who plays Paulo in the picture. Also included is an audio interview with Melville. While not as packed as some of Criterion’s special editions usually are, these two supplements at least do provide a fair amount of insight into the film and how it was recieved by audiences.
Final Thoughts: “Bob Le Flambeur” is a stylish and highly enjoyable heist picture that offers terrific performances and a great screenplay. Criterion’s DVD presents the film with very good audio/video and a couple of supplements. Recommended.