Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bob le Flambeur


Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville (The Shadow Army; The Red Circle; Le Samourai)

This French heist film may be one of those films that is more important historically than it is entertaining. I fear the film may be victim to what I now call "The French Connection Syndrome," suffering from its imitators. The film is really good, but the genre has moven beyond it and, to my mind, in better directions.

First, though, praise. The plot is boilerplate, but the depth of the characters is unique. Bob is addicted to gambling, yet retains a personal bearing that communicates confidence. I was reminded of Jackie Gleason in "The Hustler," who in the middle of a marathon pool game with
Paul Newman took the time out to wash and straigthen his tie. Right and wrong is clear to Bob, even among the lechery and violence of the French underworld. His protoge is dedicated, but naive. And there is the disturbingly angelic Isabelle Corey as Anne, the aloof and ambitious call girl who serves as the femme fatale. She is in Barabra Stanwyck territory here, using sex appeal to determine the fates of the various men in the story. Reading up later, I learned she was 15 or 16 at the time of the movie. I hope that is an urban legend, because I was thinking some very inappropraite things then.

Those characters all very well drawn, and the way Bob's obsession unfolds is good to watch. What falls short in the film is the heist itself. I know, the film isn't ABOUT the heist in the way "Ocean's 11" or "$" is. But I have come to want the movie to be about the heist! What we get here, especially the safe cracking practice scene, is very exciting. I want much more of that. I see where others took that energy and blew it up into a whole movie. The chracter study is good, but not enough to elevate the movie into the stratosphere, in my mind.

It is the look, feel, and coolness of this movie that was no doubt influential on the Continent. But the American iterations of this theme have surpassed it.