“Bob le Flambeur” means “Bob the Gambler” in French, and the lead character is indeed called “Bob” in the movie; I wouldn’t have thought there was such a name in French.
This Jean-Pierre Melville movie is from 1955, and it’s of the noir style, or maybe an homage to noir movies. Lots of tough guys and tough talk in shady Paris neighborhoods.
Bob (Roger Duchesne) is a cool, suave, popular denizen of this world. He has stayed straight since getting out of prison a decade earlier after a career as a burglar mostly, and indeed one of his best friends is a police inspector whose life he once saved. But he still rubs shoulders with the hoodlum elements, and spends the bulk of his time gambling and hanging out in bars and clubs.
His persona is kind of like that of gentleman thief Alexander Mundy of It Takes a Thief, or the older, wiser Eddie Felson of The Color of Money.
He becomes something of a sugar daddy for a hot clueless young blonde who arrives in the big city looking for excitement, though his interest seems more paternal than sexual, and in fact he primarily tries to fix her up with a friend (the son of a former crime partner of his) closer to her age.
Eventually he decides to come out of retirement when an opportunity presents itself for a big score at a casino. He rounds up partners old and new for the heist, which is called into doubt when somebody squeals to the police.
Especially in the early going, this film is quite slow. It picks up noticeably once the caper material is introduced (though it’s still not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff even then), but that doesn’t even start until 30-40 minutes into the film. Until then it’s really just establishing atmosphere and giving you some sense of who some of the characters are, and is pretty dull.
The girl is about as much of a zero as any female character with a decent size part I’ve ever seen in a movie. She’s totally gorgeous, no question about that, but there’s nothing at all going on inside her.
She just wants to party and be in the fast life. For awhile you expect she’ll turn out to be of a really sweet disposition, kind of a good-natured idiot type, but not really. Then you wonder if she’ll turn out to be sharper than she’s letting on and is working some kind of angle, but again, not really. She’s just an utter simpleton gravitating to money and excitement, and because of her looks and the fact that she’s pretty easy sexually (she neither seems all that much into sex, nor cannily treats her sexuality as a commodity, but just kind of drifts through it in a fog like everything else), people will always want her around and will give her what she wants and needs.
She’s not the only completely shallow, materialistic woman in the movie (though certainly she’s the best to look at). Another particularly odious one complains to her husband about his being insufficiently generous toward her: “I got you a car!” “Yeah, but I wanted a bigger one!”
The caper plan itself is suspiciously slapdash. Then when word about it leaks out, it makes zero sense to move forward, but they do. Yes, the suspected informant is killed, but so what? That’s closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.
Someone really needs to gather together everyone involved in this plot and scream at them until they get it through their thick heads “Learn to keep your mouth shut! Especially around dames!”
So these maybe aren’t the slick professional crooks they seemed to be. Beyond that-and this is one of the more interesting points about the movie to me-the deeper it gets into the story and the more you think about it, Bob himself is a lot more mixed and complex a character than he first appeared. Initially he seems the shrewd, classy, ultra cool Alexander Mundy type, but then there emerge a lot of other elements to him that are hard to square with that.
Actually the gambling itself is one of them. To people who know nothing about gambling and who see only the image, maybe he seems big time just because of the way he carries himself and the stakes he plays for and such. But in fact he gambles on utterly idiotic things like baccarat and roulette with a fixed house advantage, or when he does gamble on something winnable like poker, he appears to be a below average player who loses quite a bit more often than he wins.
He’s the “brains” behind the clearly flawed caper. He hits a woman. And then the ending-which is somewhat clever and maybe a little more whimsical than one might expect in a noir-involves him screwing things up.
So he may have elements of the hero, gentleman, or master criminal to him, but there’s a lot more to him too, most of it far less impressive.
Overall Bob Le Flambeur is mildly interesting, more so the second half, and Bob himself is a worthwhile character, but this movie didn’t win me over in a big way.