Before “Ocean’s Eleven” came “Bob le Flambeur” from the French master of noir, Jean-Pierre Melville.
Roger Duchesne plays the eponymous high roller, a middle-aged gambler and ex-con whose elegance is so apparent that he has even won the respect of the town’s cops.
For Bob, gambling is not a mere addiction but an essential state of existence.
When it is revealed that the Deauville casino will hold 800 million francs on a given night, Bob, who’s on a bad streak of luck, assembles a crack team of cons to carry out the heist.
While the film yields chance encounters and unintended consequences fit for any gambling movie, the heist itself is perhaps less important than the setup, which is drawn out to maximum effect in the seedy underbelly of Montmartre’s chilly nighttime streets.
A calm and collected early feature from Melville, “Bob le Flambeur” practically oozes cool and anticipated the French New Wave with its innovative use of handheld camerawork and the jump cut.
In a decade that saw Robert Altman make “MASH,” “Mc Cabe & Mrs.
Miller,” “The Long Goodbye,” “Nashville” and “3 Women,” it makes sense his gambling drama “California Split” has gone relatively unseen since its 1974 release.
It may not have the ensemble dynamics or the psychological hold of his other titles, but “Split” is an assured two-hander between stars Elliot Gould and George Segal and an efficient beginner’s course to many of Altman’s auteur tendencies.
Eschewing much of a traditional plot, the drama is a study of behaviors chronicling the freindship between rookie Bill Denny (Segal) and his mentor Charlie Waters (Gould), a wisecracking pro.
The two’s bond grows deeper over the course of the film, as Bill becomes more addicted and finds himself in hot water with rival players and hotheaded bookies.
Slowly, the rush of the gamble turns into a draining habit and a numbing existence, and Altman seems less concerned with studying addiction and more with the business’ gravitational push and pull between bewildered addicts.