Bet the Rent on 'Bob' as Noir Fest 2 Busts Out
By Jim Ridley
on Thu, Feb 11, 2010 at 4:07 PM
Last night, anyone who wasn't at Sarratt's packed-to-capacity screening of Peter Guralnick's Sam Cooke doc was a few blocks away at The Belcourt, where what looked like a couple hundred people turned out for the opening night of the theater's Noir Fest 2. You've still got a few more chances to see last night's feature, the 1949 Carol Reed classic The Third Man, but tonight's 7:30 feature is no less a must-see: Jean-Pierre Melville's top-notch 1955 caper thriller Bob le Flambeur. A few words on the film that didn't make it into this week's Scene:
"The cinematic birth of the cool," critic J. Hoberman called Jean-Pierre Melville's smashing caper movie, and he's got a point. In 1955, it predated the influential gangster homages of the Nouvelle Vague by four years -- Godard gave Melville a shout-out and a cameo in 1959's Breathless -- and it remains a feast of underworld ambience, hot jazz and gaming-table brinkmanship. It's an admiring character study of Bob Montagné (Roger Duchesne), a silver-haired card sharp known as "le Flambeur" (the high roller), who navigates the Montmartre demimonde with kingly assurance. (According to Rialto Pictures' press notes, Duchesne was well cast: He spent a stretch in prison for a botched stick-up and was chased out of Paris by the Mob.)
When he isn't mentoring a young hood (Daniel Cauchy) or shielding a sizzling babe (15-year-old Isabelle Corey) from the advances of a predatory pimp, he's cruising from back-room poker games to casinos to feed his gambling habit. But he bets all his chips on a long shot: a heist of the Deauville casino that could net the retired gangster 800 million francs. Can he hold off his addiction until the job is done -- or will the call of the cards prove too strong to resist?
The movie was co-written by Auguste le Breton, the pulp novelist who supplied the source material for the previous year's Rififi; it shares with the earlier film a love of criminal lingo as well as a debt to American caper procedurals like The Asphalt Jungle. But the mood is wittier, less brutal. Bob's such a standup guy that crooks and cops alike respect him, and Melville delights in his raffish aristocracy. And the closing kicker is a beaut. If you enjoyed the glamorous grift of the Ocean's Eleven remake, put all your chips here. With Guy Decomble (the French teacher in Truffaut's The 400 Blows); the snappy B&W cinematography is by New Wave mainstay Henri Decae.