Bob Le Flambeur

The original poster for Bob Le Flambeur



If you’ve seen Frank Oz’s garbled heist movie The Score, starring Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Edward Norton, you might have asked how come three acting legends were inveigled into appearing in something so average. The answer is Bob Le Flambeur, the “one last heist” film they obviously thought they were channelling. Reeking of the late 40s but made in the 50s just as France was about to embark on the New Wave, it is the last word in Parisian chic, a mix of Gallic savoir faire, American hats and cars, dialogue drawled out the side of the mouth and jazz pouring out of radios, bars and nightclubs. Roger Duchesne plays white-haired Bob the Gambler, a retired crook with a one-armed bandit in his room, a bad debt on the roulette tables and a “one last job” idea up his sleeve. What’s different about Bob, as opposed to almost every cinematic heist merchant since, is that he’s patently a loser – not a guy who has had a bit of bad luck, like George Clooney in Ocean’s 11, but someone who wins big, then loses big, then does the whole thing again. He’s in the grip of the gambling process, believes in lady luck and all that stuff. What will be familiar will be the dry run for the heist itself, a familiar trope even in 1956, though Melville puts a new spin on it, one I won’t ruin by explaining.

Some claim Bob Le Flambeur is the first film of the French New Wave – Melville shot much of it on a handheld camera attached to a bicycle. But whereas Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol and the New Wavers shot handheld for artistic reasons, Melville was doing it because he was broke, and he took pains to hide the paucity of his technical means and made his film look as slick as he could.

A lover of film noir and Americana in general, Melville had changed his name from Grumberg to honour the author of Moby Dick. His characters, Duchesne in particular, are working the same turf, collars flicked up, eyes narrowed, they’re paying homage to characters played by Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and James Cagney – bad guys, sure, but bad guys with a code of honour. Perhaps, from some angles, they were actually the good guys. Which is where we are with Bob, respected by the cops, admired by his contemporaries, regarded with awe by younger guys, who are perhaps surprised he’s even still alive. Neil Jordan took the bones of Bob Le Flambeur and remade it as The Good Thief in 2002. But even with Nick Nolte in the lead as the fascinating deadbeat it simply doesn’t get close.

© Steve Morrissey 2013



Bob Le Flambeur – at Amazon





Cary Grant in Charade




It’s the early Sixties, and the high artifice of the Hollywood studio system is suddenly being challenged by the supposedly more believable movie-making styles of a younger, hipper generation, among them the French Nouvelle Vague. Does Stanley Donen, an arch exponent of pure Hollywood artifice (he directed Singin’ in the Rain, for proof), take this sort of thing lying down? He does not. Instead he heads right into the heart of enemy territory, Paris, and makes a romantic suspense film that is stylistically and thematically all about artifice. The plot is, or appears to be, about the hunt for stolen money. Audrey Hepburn may or may not be a doe-eyed grieving widow. Cary Grant, who she turns to for help, may be precisely the wrong man to save her – what sort of guy has four-plus identities? As for the other guys (among them Walter Matthau and James Coburn, his first movie role after half a career already in TV), all of whom seem to want Hepburn dead, we’re never quite sure what their motivation is.

Never mind Jean Luc Godard’s dictum – “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” – with Charade you get a masterpiece of tight control, plus girl, plus gun. Every hair on Cary Grant’s head is iconic Hollywood make-believe, Hepburn’s clothes are by Givenchy, the colour is by Technicolor and the French bit-parts are try-outs for Inspector Clouseau. And as for Peter Stone’s script, it’s an arch invitation to watch the film with one eyebrow raised. An invitation entirely worth accepting.


Charade – Watch it/buy it at Amazon