Bob Le Flambeur


Criterion Collection, $29.95

SINCE YOU can't yet buy the DVD for Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven remake (due May 7), why not check out this influential 1956 casino heist flick instead? Debuting on disc April 16, Jean-Pierre Melville's paean to American gangster pictures didn't even reach the U.S. until 1982 —unfairly making it seem like an imitator, not an innovator.

"Flambeur" translates not as mere "gambler" but as "high roller," which describes our down-on-his-luck hero, who clings to his chivalric code despite a bad losing streak. His tools? Hat. Trench coat. Cigarette. The usual. Melville provides hard-boiled yet elegiac voice-over narration, calling Bob "an old young man, legend of a recent past."

Even as Bob plans to knock over the casino in Deauville, the cop on his trail is more concerned friend than avid pursuer. Meanwhile, Bob takes time to set up his prot駩 with a teen sex kitten, showing almost paternal tenderness to the pair. Everybody loves Bob, but as his barmaid pal warns him, "You're no kid anymore." He's a man out of time, and Flambeur is in this way Melville's ode to the lost prewar demimonde of Paris' Montmartre and Pigalle districts.

Shot piecemeal over two years (when Melville could afford film stock), the movie celebrates both a style and a city that now seem almost mythical. (As usual, the Criterion transfer is phenomenally sharp; subtitles are newly retranslated.) For those building a library of classic heist movies, Flambeur belongs alongside The Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, Topkapi, and, yes, Ocean's Eleven (not the original, of course, which sucks).

ALSO SUCKING their way onto disc April 23 are Novocaine (with Steve Martin and Helena Bonham Carter) and a special edition of Behind Enemy Lines (with Owen Wilson). In both cases, the stars wisely opted not to participate on the chat tracks. Better bets are the recent Happenstance (with Am鬩e's Audrey Tautou) and the 1992 Husbands and Wives (out April 16), which lacks any commentary. Though he'll fly to the Oscars, apparently Woody won't stoop to the microphone. The Coen brothers, however, do gab away on The Man Who Wasn't There—originally due April 16, but its release date is now a mystery.

Brian Miller

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