Bob le Flambeur is a skillful, engaging tribute to the best aspects of hardboiled, Hollywood noir. It demonstrates Melville’s penchant for American gangster flicks while also presaging many of the stylistic flourishes which would demarcate the early works of the nouvelle vague. Upon watching this film, it is impossible not to compare it to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless which would be filmed just a few years later. It is clear that Godard was heavily influenced by this film, particularly in crafting Belmondo’s gangster as a direct riff on the character of Bob. At one point in BLF, characters even discuss the fact that Bob was among the first gangster in Paris to adopt the affectations of American mafiosos. Godard would take this idea and run with it to its logical conclusion, heightening these meta-theatric references by having Belmondo’s character adopt the mannerisms of Humphrey Bogart, a legendary performer well-known for his portrayals of troubled noir detectives. Similarly, BLF contains several instances of handheld camera shots as well as a non-traditional use of voiceover narration to provide key plot details in the film’s opening and conclusion. All of these traits would become hallmarks of the nouvelle vague school of film making at the dawn of the 1960’s.
Bob le Flambeur exhibits no real narrative inventiveness, providing the viewer a predictable but well-staged and performed tale of intrigue and strained loyalties set in Paris’ criminal underworld. Though the plot arc will offer no real surprises to those familiar with the major works of Hollywood noir and hardboiled pulp, Roger Duchesne’s masterful turn as Bob is more than enough to rescue the film from its more quotidian elements. Overall, it is not among the most groundbreaking or inventive of proto-new wave films, but it is certainly worth seeing if one is interested in the development of arthouse cinema in France as a product of certain filmmakers’ obsession with the works of Golden Age Hollywood.