Cast & Crew
Silverhaired ex-gangster Bob Montagné is a gambler with a heart of gold and a soft spot for women in peril. He's been straight for 20 years when he decides to rob the safe at the Deauville Casino. It's a big job that requires a huge team and while half of Paris ends up knowing about the job before it happens, the heist yields interesting results.
Bob le Flambeur (1955)
Bob stands apart from everyone else, but not because he's flashy. In his belted trench coat, collar and tie, and silver hair neatly combed straight back, Roger Duchesne evokes Jean Gabin in his stocky solidity. But he's finer-featured, never smiling, wary and squinty-eyed as he glides with comfortable familiarity through his Parisian world of racetracks, casinos and backroom card games. The film begins with him coming home to roost after an all-nighter, lulled by the sights and smells of his Montmartre neighborhood coming to life in the dawn - a water truck spraying the gutters, early-shift workers scurrying to their jobs, a just-opened newsstand, where Bob tips generously for the morning papers on his way home to a penthouse that speaks of more prosperous days. The film's title translates as Bob the High-Roller, but it's clear that most of his high-rolling is behind him. He wins a small jackpot at the track, only to lose it at a casino. The only time he doesn't lose is when he plays a slot machine he keeps in a cupboard in his digs. He has no illusions about himself. He acknowledges that he's a sucker.
But he's a sucker with style. He has dignity, and he's generous. How generous? During one of his flush periods, he staked an old friend, Yvonne (Simone Paris), to the bistro she now owns. It's one of his hangouts. But he always pays for his drinks there. When he picks up a young woman, Anne (Isabelle Corey), who has just set up as a prostitute, he addresses her as a "pavement princess," and makes his quarters available to her. He doesn't try to sleep with her. He can see that his protégé, Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), is gaga over her. So he takes a hands-off approach for the sake of the young man, son of a former partner in crime. He's perhaps the only one in his world with a touch of nobility about him. Everybody likes Bob - his concierge, Yvonne the bistro proprietor, the news vendor, even the commissaire in charge of his district (Guy Decomble), who owes Bob ever since Bob saved him from a bullet.
Old-school, classy, understated, underplayed Bob is a soft touch for everyone except a pimp, Marc (Gerard Buhr). When the latter, in trouble with the police, asks Bob to hide him, Bob throws him out because he doesn't like the way the pimp treats women. Bob is larger than the life he leads. He himself questions the futility of his existence. But old habits die hard. Or not at all. After having gone straight since a prewar jail stretch for bank robbery, he finds himself gravitating to thoughts of a last big larcenous caper after a prolonged slump at gambling. Beneath his stoical exterior and his quite believable toughness, he's a sentimental and sentimentalized criminal, marching shoulder to shoulder alongside his Hollywood counterparts - the tough, self-sufficient males with male codes of honor out of Hawks and Huston -- but, Bob being Bob, a la style francaise.
Film noir sidles into this gangster caper with the story's two bad-news women - the streetwalker, who hears of the Deauville scheme from Paolo when he's trying to impress her in bed, and the wife of the ex-con croupier they recruit as their inside man. She'd rather blow the whistle than risk seeing her husband behind bars again. Anne blabs injudiciously at the nightclub where she's employed. So the odds keep growing steeper against Bob and his gang as he obliviously prepares on a grassy field near an aerodrome, reproducing the casino layout and having his fellow heist-meisters walk through the job by way of rehearsal. The farther things move toward the showdown, the worse it's starting to look for Bob, although Bob doesn't know it. Yvonne tries to deflect Bob. Decomble's quite simpatico cop bends over backwards to try and dissuade him. You don't see how Bob and his confederates can possibly pull it off. All you want, as the cars start converging on Deauville, is for Bob to come out of it whole.
Melville, who began his career under the wing of Jean Cocteau (the latter supplied an early version of the script), made his first films on a shoestring. This forced inventiveness. He beat New Wave pioneers Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard to hand-held camera use, jump cuts and taking the camera out of the studio and into the streets. For his part, Godard openly declared Melville an influence on Breathless (1960) and cast him in a small role in it. That film's now legendary tracking shot filmed from a moving baby carriage was inspired by Melville shooting with a camera attached to a delivery bike. In his economy, pared-down dialogue and stress on actors embodying their characters rather than declaring them, Melville showed Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol & Co. how to keep things simple, yet elegant.
When he got bigger budgets, Melville went on to make films that left no doubt of his supremacy at refashioning American tough-guy movies. Le doulos (1962) with Jean-Paul Belmondo, Le samourai (1967) and Le cercle rouge (1970), both with Alain Delon, are genre masterpieces. Melville's masterpiece, L'armee des ombres (1969), starring the inexplicably neglected Lino Ventura, elevated gangster tropes into the best film about the WW II Resistance. (Melville rejected Delon for the role of Bob's protégé, incidentally, because he was afraid Delon's good looks would steal the film.) But Melville's mastery began with Bob le Flambeur. He brought the genre back full circle to Hollywood, influencing not only Neil Jordan's remake, The Good Thief (2002), but Ocean's Eleven (1960, 2001), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Hard Eight (1996), to name but a few. The French have long had a way with the English language as well as with Hollywood films. Proof? The felicitous transfer of a French political commentator's description of Barack Obama's chief attribute - le coolitude - to Melville and Bob le Flambeur. Both have it to spare.
Producer: Jean-Pierre Melville, Serge Silberman
Screenplay: Auguste Le Breton, Jean-Pierre Melville
Cinematography: Maurice Blettery, Henri Decaë
Music: Eddie Barclay, Jo Boyer
Film Editing: Monique Bonnot
Cast: Isabel Corey (Anne), Daniel Cauchy (Paolo), Roger Duchesne (Robert 'Bob' Montagné), André Garet (Roger), Gérard Buhr (Marc), Guy Decomble (Commissaire Ledru), Claude Cerval (Jean, le croupier), Howard Vernon (McKimmie, le commanditaire), Colette Fleury (Suzanne, la femme de Jean), Simone Paris (Yvonne)
by Jay Carr
Bob le Flambeur (1955)
Restorations - Bob Le Flambeur
BOB LE FLAMBEUR
Often cited as one of the most influential filmmakers of postwar France, whose work anticipated the look and style of the French New Wave, Jean-Pierre Melville is finally starting to receive some belated international recognition for his films. Bob Le Flambeur (1956) is currently enjoying a revival in major cities across the U.S. and several of his other films have recently been remastered and released on VHS and DVD.
Bob Le Flambeur was Melville's fourth feature and a distinct departure from his earlier adaptation of literary classics like Jean Vercors' Le Silence de la Mer (1947) and Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles (1950). The film is a detailed depiction (strikingly photographed in black and white) of the robbery of the Casino de Deauville's bank vault on the eve of the French Grand Prix. Melville was first approached with the story idea for Bob Le Flambeur just prior to seeing John Huston's The Asphalt Junge (1950). "After I had seen Huston's masterpiece," Melville told interviewer Rui Nogueira, "I could no longer deal, either dramatically or tragically, with the preparation and execution of a robbery. So I decided to reshape my scenario completely and turn it into a light-hearted film. Bob Le Flambeur is not a pure policier, but a comedy of manners."
Even at the time of its original release, Bob Le Flambeur was referred to as 'a love letter to Paris which no longer exists,' particularly in its evocative views of the Montmartre neighborhood. The film is just as atmospheric and beguiling today and has been championed by such critics as J. Hoberman of the Village Voice who called it, "The cinematic birth of the cool! Melville's drollest, most likable gangster movie!....a superb riff with a boffo finale!" The newly restored print of Bob Le Flambeur, which recently appeared at the Film Forum in New York City, features newly translated sub-titles by Lenny Borger, who did such a wonderful job on the recent restoration of Rififi (1955). With any luck, Bob Le Flambeur will get a release on home video and DVD later this year. In the meantime, you should check out Le Doulos (1961), Le Samourai (1967) and Un Flic (1971). There is also the possibility that Rialto, who distributed the original cut of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria (1957) a few years back, will be releasing a restored version of Melville's Le Cercle Rouge (1970) later this year.
APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX
Maybe you've heard the news that Francis Ford Coppola has re-edited an extra hour of material back into Apocalypse Now (this version premiered at the Cannes festival with a U.S. release planned for later this summer entitled Apocalypse Now Redux). What's new in Francis Ford Coppola's restored version? Here are a few highlights, culled from the Miramax web site: The much-discussed French plantation sequence, which includes a riverside encounter, the funeral of Clean, a rancorous dinner, and Willard's seduction of (and by) Roxanne, a young French widow (played by Aurore Clement). At the dinner, the patriarch of the French plantation, Hubert deMorais (played by the late Christian Marquand) asks rhetorically: "Why do we stay here? It keeps our family together. We fight to keep what is ours. You Americans fight for the biggest nothing in history." This sequence, Coppola says,"captures an exotic yearning, groping for long-vanished ideals and a crumbling way of life that presages and essentially predicts the folly of America's experience in Vietnam. These characters are sort of ghosts like Bunuel has ghosts: people who are trapped in their own thinking from years ago."
An expanded Playboy playmates sequence. Coppola remembers: "This was never even in the assembly because it was shot during the typhoon when we had to stop shooting, and the scene was never completed. But in this new version Walter found a way to get in and out of the sequence; In the beginning of the sequence, we learn that the Playboy helicopter has run out of fuel and landed at a remote Medevac base along the river. As Willard
leaves the boat, the chief (Albert Hall) asks: "Captain, are you giving away our fuel for a Playmate of the Month."; Willard replies: "No, Playmate of the Year, chief." Coppola says: "In their way, the girls are the corresponding characters of those young boys on the boat, except they're being exploited in sexual ways. But it's the same thing, you know how they're being consumed; used up by a society that calls itself moral and yet isn't."
A new scene with Marlon Brando: "Don't try to escape, or you'll be killed," Kurtz tells Willard in their first meeting. Kurtz, holding Willard captive in a metal shed, quotes an American intelligence analyst recently returned to Vietnam to sound out the situation for President Nixon. "He told the President last week that: 'Things felt much better, and smelled much better over there.'; How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks his charge. The deletion of this scene was one of the last cuts the filmmakers made in 1979, in the interest of time. Restoring this philosophical scene, Murch says, "sets up the last scene in the film much more effectively."
All of this talk about Apocalypse Now Redux started us wondering about films that exist in two versions. Sure there are countless films that were slightly different in America and overseas (such as Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train), had minor trims for content (Robocop), were reworked by the director (The Wild Bunch) or other similar oddities (Abbott and Costello's first film One Night in the Tropics was for years missing an entire scene that triggered the plot!). But what really got us thinking are films that can be seen in your choice of Version A or Version B. Our crack TCM researchers came up with the following:
The Big Sleep - Made right at the tail end of World War II, this Humphrey Bogart classic was held up by the studio because they had a glut of films to release. In the meantime, though, co-star Lauren Bacall lept from new face to major star which, along with some other behind-the-scenes maneuvering, resulted in the filming of new material and some re-editing to emphasize her new status. This reworking is the familiar one but the original was recently released to the public. You can see both versions on TCM.
The Godfather - Coppola isn't new to re-editing. For a TV showing of the first two Godfather films he put all the material into chronological sequence and added deleted material to make one giant epic called The Godfather Saga. Then that big saga was again slightly re-edited and released on video as The Godfather Epic. Then after the third film appeared, that too was edited into the chronological story for a video set called The Godfather Trilogy. And of course all the films are also available separately.
Passion of Joan of Arc - Here's one that's even more complicated than the Godfather films. This 1928 classic was immediately denounced by censors which resulted in some small cuts but the real tragedy occurred when the negative and most of the prints were destroyed in a laboratory fire. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer reconstructed another negative using outtakes and other surviving material but guess what? That too burned up in a fire. Apparently still floating around at the time were prints of these two versions but they seem to have been chopped up or simply destroyed. In the early '30s the film was trimmed to almost an hour and had voice-overs added while during the next decade came a poorly regarded "restoration" and then in 1951 there was yet another version done with additional dubious shots added. Finally 1981 brought a wonderful surprise. A Norweigan mental hospital discovered that it had a print of Dreyer's original cut stored literally in one of their closets. This was restored to as much of its full glory as possible and can be seen on TCM.
Touch of Evil - Orson Welles' struggles with the studios are legendary and perhaps only the butchering of The Magnificent Ambersons rivals his travails with this one. A 1958 film noir classic, Touch of Evil apparently so horrified the studio that they looked for a way to cut their losses. So they took a 108 minute version prepared for preview screenings that Welles was still working on, cut it down to 95 minutes and dumped that into theatres. For years, this was all that was available until the preview version quietly appeared on video in the 1980s. But that wasn't enough. Welles had prepared a 58-page memo about how envisioned the film, information that guided a 1998 revision by restoration expert Rick Schmidlin which may be as close as we're likely to get to Welles' intentions. So where does this leave us? Three different versions of the same film, none of them definitive or a "director's cut" and all three available at one time or another on video (though unfortunately only the revision is on DVD).
The Big Sky - Maybe you've noticed that when TCM shows Howard Hawks' classic Western (chosen by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum as one of the 100 greatest American films) it runs about 20 minutes longer than most reference book listings and the video release. That's because the material was trimmed shortly after release and practically unseen until our airings.
Black Sunday - A good example of how small changes can really alter a film is Mario Bava's classic horror film. It's a subtle and atmospheric story (adapted from the same Gogol tale used for the cult Russian film Vij) but marketed almost as kiddie fare in the U.S. The grown-up dialogue was watered down, the moody music replaced by a typically schlocky Les Baxter score, and numerous small edits were made to protect sensitive Americans. Recently, though, the original version appeared on DVD and can be seen for the striking visual experience it really is. (An even more extreme revision exists in Bava's career. After his oblique, dream-like film Lisa and the Devil was considered unreleasable it was taken over by the producer and so drastically reworked with new material that the story turned out quite different. That version was released as House of Exorcism to capitalize on that trend but both can now be found on DVD.)
Restorations - Bob Le Flambeur
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1955
Re-released in United States July 27, 2001
Limited re-release in United States January 5, 2018
Re-release includes new subtitles.
Melville is widely considered the "spiritual godfather" of the French New Wave and many of his cinematic techniques in this film pre-date the actual birth of that movement.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1955
Re-released in United States July 27, 2001 (Film Forum; New York City)
Melville's first foray into the gangster genre--the type of film that he would eventually become widely known for.
Limited re-release in United States January 5, 2018 (New York)