Elevator to the Gallows (1958) Poster

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The black cat has it...
Spikeopath1 March 2014
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (AKA: Elevator to the Gallows/Lift to the Scaffold) is directed by Louis Malle and co-written by Malle, Roger Nimier and Noël Calef (novel). It stars Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin and Jean Wall. Music is by Miles Davis and cinematography by Henri Decaë.

A little ole devil this one, a sly slow pacer that itches away at your skin. Rightly seen as a bridging movie between the classic film noir cycle and the nouvelle vague, Malle's movie is in truth straightforward on narrative terms. Julien Tavernier (Ronet) is going to kill husband of his lover, Florence Carala (Moreau), who also happens to be his boss, but upon executing the perfect murder, he, through his own absent mindedness, winds up stuck in a lift close to the crime scene. Outside Florence is frantically awaiting his arrival so as to begin their life together in earnest, but when a couple of young lovers steal Julien's car, Florence gets the wrong end of the stick and a sequence of events lead to Julien and Florence hitching that ride to the gallows.

Simplicity of narrative be damned, Malle's movie is a classic case of that mattering not one jot. There is style to burn here, with bleak atmospherics dripping from every frame, and Miles Davis' sultry jazz music hovers over proceedings like a sleazy grim reaper. The ironic twists in the writing come straight off the bus to noirville, putting stings in the tale, the smart reverse of the norm finding Moreau (sensual) wandering the streets looking for her male lover, while elsewhere he's in isolation and a doppleganger murder scenario is cunningly being played out. Decaë's photography has a moody desperation about it that so fits the story, the use of natural light making fellow French film makers sit up and take notice. While the dialogue, and the caustic aside to arms dealings, ensures we know that Malle can be a sly old fox. He really should have done more noir like pictures.

A film that convinces us that Julien and Florence are deeply in love and passionate about each other, and yet they never are once together in the whole movie! It's just one of the many wonderful things about Louis Malle's excellent picture.

Remember folks, the camera never lies... 9/10
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A Film Noir Masterwork - Breathtaking to the Eye and the Ear
noralee29 August 2005
"Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud)" is a master work, so it's startling to learn that it was Louis Malle's first feature. It's a mother lode textbook of how-to for noir genre filmmakers as he creates his own style from what he's learned from other masters.

Malle pays tribute to the tense murder style of Hitchcock with Billy Wilder's cynicism of selfishness a la "Double Indemnity" plus Graham Greene-like, post-war politics from "The Third Man"-- and arms and oil dealers with military pasts in the Middle East are not outdated let alone adulterous lovers and rebellious teenagers.

The film drips with sex and violence without actually showing either -- sensuous Jeanne Moreau walking through a long, rainy Paris night is enough to incite both.

The black and white cinematography by Henri Decaë is breathtakingly beautiful in this newly struck 35 mm print, from smokey cafés with ever watchful eyes like ours to the titular, ironic alibi's long shafts (which surely must have inspired a key, far paler scene in "Speed") to highway lights, to a spare interrogation box, but particularly in the street scenes. The coincidences and clues are built up, step by step, visually, including the final damning evidence.

Miles Davis's improvisations gloriously and agitatedly burst forth as if pouring from the cafés and radios, but the bulk of the film is startlingly silent, except for ambient sounds like rain that adds to the tension in the plot.

The characters are archetypes -- the steely ex-Legonnaire, the James Dean and Natalie Wood imitators, the preening prosecutor -- that fit together in a marvelous puzzle. But all are cool besides Moreau's fire, as she dominates the look of the film, just wandering around Paris.

There is some dialog that doesn't quite make sense at the end, but, heck, neither does "The Big Sleep" and this is at least in that league, if not higher in the pantheon.
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This film should be widely available on DVD
Jerrold Baldwin3 June 2004
This film is a master piece. Miles Davis's music is superb. It is an object lesson on the art of combining sound and vision. The tension and the brooding Parisian atmosphere are heightened with cool and poignant playing. It is surprising (to the best of my knowledge) that this is the only complete original film score he produced.

The story of the crime is clever. It has reasonable human motivation and plot, and is steadily revealed. But, it is the study of 'being in the wrong place at the wrong time' that makes this film a classic. The series of chance events that will dramatically effect the characters' lives, give this film a similar feel to 'Run Lola Run' or 'Irreversible', dispute this film's linear structure and age. The dark cinematography is excellent.

I have only had an opportunity to see it once (I only just caught it because BBC4 listed it under its English title), but I would like to see it again.

The soundtrack is widely available, but I can not find the film on DVD or PAL VHS. This film should be available to a wider audience, for me, preferably in French with English subtitles.

P.S. This wonderful film is now available on DVD as part of the Louis Malle Collection: Volume 1. (Updated 11/10/2006.)
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Amazingly Good
thejman9918 July 2006
Elevator to the Gallows is a great film and even better, has a short running time! The acting is great in every instance, the plot is original, and the direction is probably among the best I've ever seen. I loved how the plot had a lot of twists but there weren't so many that you were confused as to what was going on. Although I won't reveal the ending, I thought it was great and made me smile. However, you have to like this type of movie to see it, as it is kind of complicated and there isn't a ton of action. This film shows how the perfect murder can be only planned so well; you can never plan what could happen. If you don't get bored too easily, stick with this gem and I'm sure you'll love it.
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A masterpiece and reference in "Film Noire" type films.
phmw26 November 2000
Warning: Spoilers
(Possible Spoiler!)

The atmosphere of 1950's Paris, a truly beautiful actress, a well-balanced plot and the ultimate Jazz soundtrack, recorded in one go by Miles Davis.

The 1958 Louis Malle masterpiece, more than 40 years later, is still one of the best police films ever, Hollywood included. If only more films could seek inspiration from it!

Every moment, from the time the nearly perfect crime is committed to the end, oozes with elegant Parisian sophistication and beauty, and artful camera work. The silences, punctuated with Davis' magnificent trumpet playing, gives the audience time to breathe without reaching boredom. The overall relatively slow pace is actually enthralling. Tension rises as the main protagonists gradually travel to their scaffold. As they finally are arrested and led to their cruel fate, one cannot but feel pity and even sympathy for the killer couple, for such is the sense of involvement that Malle manages to pass on to the audience.

The absence of the now necessary action scenes is also wonderfully refreshing, and the plot is thorough and intelligent.

"Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud" is masterpiece and reference in "Film Noir" type films. It is, along with "Aurevoir les Enfants" undoubtedly a Louis Malle "Chef d'Oeuvre".
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Malle's Atmospheric Debut Made Resonant by Moreau's Haunting Presence and Davis's Jazz Score
Ed Uyeshima20 May 2006
Louis Malle was all of 25 when he made his directorial debut with this 1958 noirish thriller that also serves as a morality play. Using the elevator of the title as a vehicle for his leitmotif, he does an admirable job of capturing the smoky gray atmosphere of Paris in the 1950's and using it to great cinematic effect on a chain-link story of deception and murder. In fact, the whole movie plays like a Francophile version of a James M. Cain novel times two with plot twists coming in quick and sometimes contrived succession. To its credit, the brief 92-minute running time trots by quickly given the multiple story lines.

The labyrinth story focuses first on illicit lovers Florence Carala, the restless wife of a corrupt arms dealer, and Julien Tavernier, a former war hero working for Florence's husband. There is not a wasted moment as they plot her husband's murder, but of course, things go awry with a forgotten piece of evidence and a running car ready to be taken. An amoral young couple, sullen and resentful Louis and free-spirited Veronique, enter the scene tangentially and get caught up in their own deceptions with a boisterous German couple whom they meet through a fender bender. The plot strands meander somewhat and eventually come together in a climax that has all the characters confronting the harsh reality of their past actions. There is a particular poignancy in the photos Florence sees at the end since we have no indication of the depth of emotion between the lovers otherwise.

Malle, along with co-screenwriter Roger Nimier, presents an interesting puzzle full of irony and chance events, but there is a periodic slackness to the suspense, for instance, Florence's endlessly despondent walk though nocturnal Paris. Jazz great Miles Davis contributes a fitting hipster score, though the music is not as big an element as I expected in setting the mood. With her sorrowful eyes and pouting intelligence, Jeanne Moreau makes a vivid impression as Florence and gives her obsessed character the necessary gravitas to make her journey worthy of our interest. Maurice Ronet effectively plays Julien like a coiled spring throughout, and it's intriguing to note how most of his performance takes place in an immobilized elevator. As Louis and Veronique, Georges Poujuloy and the especially pixyish Yori Bertin are the forerunners for the runaway pair in Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" replete with youthful angst and mercenary cool.

The print transfer on the 2006 Criterion Collection DVD package is wonderfully pristine. The first disc also contains the original and 2005 re-release trailers, though there is surprisingly no scholarly audio commentary track (the usual bonus for a Criterion release). The second disc, however, makes up for it with a bevy of extras starting with an extensive 1975 early career retrospective interview with Malle, a 2005 interview with an aged but still haunting Moreau, and a joint interview with the two icons and one-time lovers at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.

Three shorts on the second disc focus on Davis's contribution - the six-minute "The Record Session" shot the night Davis and his musicians recorded the score; a remembrance piece with pianist Rene Utreger, the only surviving member of Davis's ensemble; and the celebratory "Miles Goes Modal: The Breakthrough Score to Elevator to the Gallows" where jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis and music critic Gary Giddins discuss Davis's influence over the generation of musicians to come. There is also a short by Malle set to Charlie Parker's "Crazeology" and an informative 25-page photo essay booklet.
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Camera Has Many Photos
Claudio Carvalho6 October 2011
The former Captain Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) works in the company of the powerful arms dealer Simon Carala (Jean Wall) and is the lover of his wife Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau). Julien and Florence plot a scheme to kill Simon simulating a suicide. Julien stays after-hours in the company with the telephone operator and the doorman and comes to his office. He climbs to Simon's office using a rope outside the window and kills the executive. He runs to his office to attend a phone call and forgets the rope, and leaves the building with the two employees to have an alibi. When he is ready to drive his car, he sees the rope hanging outside the building and he returns to withdraw the rope, leaving his overcoat and revolver in the car. When he enters in the lift, the doorman shutdown the building and Julien is trapped inside the elevator.

Meanwhile the smalltime thief Louis (Georges Poujouly) steals Julien's car and drives to a motel with his girlfriend Véronique (Yori Bertin) and lodge using the name of Julien. They drink with the German tourists Horst Bencker (Iván Petrovich) and his wife Frieda Bencker (Elga Andersen) and early in the morning, Louis tries to steal his Mercedes Benz. When he is surprised by Horst, Louis shots and kills the couple. Julien Tavernier becomes the prime suspect of the murder and when he leaves the lift, he does not have alibi for the murder of Simon Carala and the German tourists.

"Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud" is the first feature of Louis Malle, who is also one of the writers. The unpredictable and original story is fantastic, the screenplay has many plot points until the very last scene and the performances are top-notch.

Julien Tavernier is a methodic military with cold blood that gets caught between the rock and a hard place due to a mistake and lots of bad luck. The soundtrack with the music of Miles Davis gives a touch of class to this little masterpiece. The result is one of the best thrillers entwined with comedy of errors that I have ever seen. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "Ascensor Para o Cadafalso" ("Elevator to the Gallows")
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naturalistic to a T, cool to the bone, atmosphere and suspense pay-off
MisterWhiplash26 August 2005
I've only seen a couple of other of Louis Malle's films, but I'm sure I'll want to see more after getting to see this in its revival in theaters. It's an ironic, tense, a little aloof and engrossing thriller that plays on a couple of expectations if not all. At times I almost felt like I was watching a darker, dramatic French-noir version of Curb Your Enthusiasm; you're cringing in your seat at times because everything, at least for the first hour, seems realistic, and the inter-cutting between the three plot-lines (Julien in the elevator, Florence on the streets, the lovers-on-the-run at the Motel). You know something bad will happen, as par for the style Malle is working in (it's his first film, one can/can't tell if they didn't know beforehand). But it interested me, and kept me in my seat, how I knew things may unravel as they should in these films, and I found myself having to root for someone in a sea of anti-heroes.

I mention Curb Your Enthusiasm as there is a sort of everyday occurrence that basically kicks off the plot (in tune with the genius title of the film), as Julien Tavaneur gets stuck in an elevator after getting rid of Florence Carala's rich husband (Moreau's character). Two kids, one more dangerous (if a little inexplicable, Louis) than the other, steal his car and stay at a Motel, where they meet a genial German tourist. Out of bad luck (as it is a running theme of the play), he kills the German, and things get more out of hand for everybody. In fact, the plot is rather thin, leaving room for a) suspense tenseness in the elevator scenes (and later in the interrogation scene, superbly lit), b) narrative musings by the calm Moreau, or c) troubles of the kids. These narratives are handled well, along with the typical police procedural, and it leads up to an ending that may not necessarily have a message to it.

It can't be as pat as 'crime doesn't pay'. Moreau, in a classy close-up, says things that struck a chord with me, as did many parts of the film. It may be fate, as par for the naturalism, but is there something behind the cool veneer? The only downside for me was with the performance of the actor who played Louis. I didn't think he gave enough to what is indeed a rather small-minded character. The actress who plays his girlfriend fares fine, but he is one of the keys to the film, and I felt a little uneasy watching some of his scenes later on in the film. But still, any fault(s) I had with the film were minuscule when looking at how it is overall. This is one of those films that for pretty much the whole way through had me in its grip; I've rarely felt that watching a 'film-noir' before, but I did feel a very small kinship to another love/lust/cold-murder film, Blood Simple, which leaped off of some of the conventions we all know and admire in these films.

And the contribution from Miles Davis, who is to 'cool' as the Beatles are to love & peace, can't be over-estimated. If Moreau gives the film a kind of downtrodden, wandering and wondering soul, and Malle gives the right look of the film with the great Henri (Le Samourai) Decae as DP, Davis backs up everything else. Sometimes his fast, overwhelming notes come through (mostly as on-the-set background music), and his slower music is landmark stuff, but what's surprising is that he can also add suspense, like to the elevator and interrogation scenes, and the mood is inescapable. I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few filmmakers who saw this film were inspired by Malle's use of free-flow jazz to add to the 'cool-ness' of the picture (not that he was the first of course, but it can be spotted in many films, in particular Herrmann's score for Taxi Driver). I have a feeling this may be the kind of film that will play better on multiple viewings, and for now I'm content to say it was a very well-spent trip.
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pleasure to watch
berrin18 December 2000
I have seen several movies where a movie was very interesting at the time it was filmed, but is barely watchable today if not funny because of technological obsoleteness. This is not one of them. The plot is very interesting and is not at all predictable, making me wonder why it was not copied by later movies. This movie made me proud of myself for going to that art cinema without knowing anything about it, and watching it with a few other poor souls who had nothing else to do on a Friday afternoon. Definitely the best b/w movie and the best French movie I have seen, and one of the best films I have seen in the past 5 years.
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The Camera has more than one picture
David Ferguson22 April 2006
Greetings again from the darkness. The phrase Film Noir conjures up a certain feel and look and "Gallows" certainly captures what we have come to expect from the genre. However, the great director Louis Malle goes even further with his minimalistic approach to sound, lighting and dialog. Where 1944's "Double Indemnity" wreaks explosive on screen passion, Malle offers up a quiet simmering that draws the viewer into the lives of the main characters.

Jeanne Moreau is the perfect pouty French femme fatale. Her scenes of walking (wandering) the dark, rainy streets of Paris are chilling to watch for film lovers. The weak lighting and lack of make-up allow Moreau's true emotions to guide us. Malle also is tremendous in his filming of the elevator scenes with Maurice Ronet.

The secondary characters of the young lovers played by Yori Bertin (Veronique) and George Poujouly (Louis) are unmistakable in their likeness to Natalie Wood and James Dean. Watching two young kids carelessly destroy their own lives, as well as that of others, is quite the contrast to the well-conceived scheme of Moreau and Ronet.

I have not been able to come up with an apt description of the powerfully improvised jazz score from the legendary Miles Davis. The approach has been mimicked over the years, but never duplicated. It is startling in its ability to slap the viewer in the face! Moreau is of course a screen legend and went on to star in "Jules and Jim", Truffaut's "The Four Hundred Blows" and my personal favorite, "The Bride Wore Black". As great as she was in all of these, I am not sure her essence was ever better captured than her wandering through the Paris streets in "Elevator to the Gallows".
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Beginner's "luck"
Polaris_DiB7 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A man named Tavernier and his lover, the wife of his boss, decide to off the big guy and escape together for some ideal life of love somewhere else, probably in the country-side or something. After a strange and unreal telephone conversation on the matter, he gets right to work and everything seems to be going spiffy... until they don't. Then everything starts to go wrong.

Honestly the only thing that sets this film apart from other film noir-type thrillers is an astounding score by Miles Davis and the fact that the lovers are separated throughout the entire film, unless you count the photos at the end, which are still by degrees separated from us. Actually, that's the strongest moment of the film, when that ideal dream the two shared seems a lot more reasonable than the loose and eccentric ravings of the woman as she goes on and on about her slightly obsessed love.

Otherwise it's generally a pretty open guide to ineptitude. Here's where I disagree with Terrence Rafferty, writer of "Louis Malle on the Ground Floor", the essay in the booklet included in the Criterion Collection edition of this film. It's not "bad luck" to leave a rope hanging so that you have to go back to get it, it's pretty much just simply stupidity. Almost all of the characters suffer from an inability to think critically or resolve themselves to their situation, which is why everything just keeps falling apart.

It's a fun movie, but--and I hate to say it in such crass terms--it's been done thousands of times before and after, and many times better. The pulp novel influence is clear, characters that we don't care about because they don't really have personality (except those completely unbelievable) run around doing stuff pretty much because they need to only to keep the plot going. If it wasn't for the complete lack of ability to think, all we'd have is a guy trapped in an elevator for nearly an hour and a half.

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Dusky fun
evening127 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Intriguing policier with a very off-beat plot and a neat little reminder about the best-laid plans of mice and men.

As much as we may think that we can plan our lives, a simple little thing -- say, taking an elevator, or leaving a camera in one's car -- may turn out to have life-or-death consequences.

I found it quite interesting that the two romantic leads, Mrs. Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), spend the entire length of the film apart.

I think the movie falters toward its end, when Mrs. Carala turns detective and the police case falls too neatly into place. However, I enjoyed the little steps of the cat-and-mouse game.

The younger, all-too-ordinary, unintelligent lovers' antics, and the way their lives go down the tubes in a heartbeat, is fascinating to watch and, sadly, not that hard to believe.

This was a fun, if not totally coherent, highly atmospheric viewing experience. It kept my attention thoroughly.
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Three murders, a moron stuck in an elevator, a lot of existential ennui, and Bof.
felixoteiza28 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Now I think I know why the French lost Indochina, Argelia, Libya: because they were led by imbeciles like Capt. Tavernier. See, this is a guy who was in those wars, in Special Forces and who now in his civil life is some kind of executive in some firm. One of these days he murders his boss to get the wife, using the old trick of the hook--and--cord thrown from his office's balcony to the next up. And then, when he's done and back there he, wait for it...he forgets to pull the cord back! And when he realizes it, already in the street, after the thing has been up there for ten min. in front of everyone's eyes, in broad daylight, he goes back to retrieve it. And, guess what...he gets stuck in the elevator. But it doesn't end up there. As the Stooges have shown many times, morons are usually unlucky too. So, while Tavernier is stuck in the elevator trying to get out, some punk and his girlfriend steal his car and go for a joyride. Can you say dog urinated moron? But it gets even better. The boss's wife, the cause of all his trouble, who is waiting anxiously in the street for him to be back from the job, sees instead a couple riding his car and recognizes only the girl--not the man driving--and logically suspects infidelity. Anyway, she'll spent most of the time going to random places and asking for the guy, in a wonderful metaphor, I guess, of life as a meaningless pursuit of something that's already gone, damned, screwed up. But then the punk murders a couple of German tourists, while impersonating Tavernier, and the Para gets instead blamed for those murders, as he doesn't have an alibi. But the ending is even more convoluted than that and, if you are not dozing off at this point, better see it by yourself. (BTW: Para Tavernir ignores that he can't retrieve the hooked cord from downstairs, he must replace it by a folded one, while still upstairs).

It's worthy of attention that this flick is considered a classic by the artsy, one more that makes them wet their designer pants, even if it doesn't rate much in a pure cinematographic scale. But the most blatant thing is the lack of smarts in the story. There's the subplot for ex. where the punk and his girl encounter the German tourists, wealthy people, who treated them as if they were William & Kate. Now, I can understand Germans trying to ingratiate themselves with their former enemies, but it's quite a stretch that they'd mingle and consort with such wretched urchins, even treating to them to champagne and friendly conversation. It just stretches credibility to a limit. And the stupidity of the punks exceeds even that of the Para when they try to steal the German couple's Mercedes and then murder them when they are caught in the act, while leaving in the photo shop pictures taken of all four together! And this is the kind of flick that euro intellectuals love and praise for their intelligence.

The cinematography is ordinary, even for that time; the acting goes from Okay to the putrid. Specially bad are the cop sequences. When Ventura and the police brass talk to the press they don't seem to be taking their parts seriously, so much so I was fearing then that they would explode in guffaws at any moment. Even worse is Tavernier's interrogation. Not for a moment I forgot I was just watching a movie, as the three guys were falling over themselves trying to prove how good actor is each one, rather than striving to make the scene work, which at the end gives it the mood of a staged play. That's true for most scenes with Ventura, even for the one that should be the climatic. Now, what can be said of the overall acting is that it lacks emotional punch, tension, drama. Instead APLE exudes from beginning to end the usual, Gallic, existential "Je m'en fiche" aka "ennui". Every performance is dripping ennui "Oh, you have a gun, you're gonna kill me? Bof"; "Oh, you got me there. Yes, I killed him. Twenty years WP you say? Bof". So, where the yanks use to overact the French show ennui, they go "Bof." So, what you'll find here plenty is: Moreau; those long, meaningful, stares into the camera; the also long, thought charged, silences; but above all, existential ennui. As for the lovers, in French flicks we know people love one another very much not because they'll show it but because they'll talk endlessly about it. So, the way we know here that Tavernier and Mrs. Carola love each other a lot it is by hearing them drone on and on about their immense love. If you like French chick flicks, get used to it. And Bof.
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dougdoepke25 April 2011
No need to recap the plot. The movie really represents a triumph of form over content. Seldom have I seen a smoother technique than director Malle shows here. The transition from scene to scene is almost seamless and keeps the viewer engaged regardless what's developing plot-wise. Then too, Decae's camera work shows how compelling natural lighting can be. The overall effect is one of effortless fluidity, a style well suited to lyrical subjects.

The trouble is the material itself is better suited to Hollywood B-movie techniques. In short, the material is jagged, while Malle's style is smooth, resulting unfortunately in a thriller drained of inherent drama. Note, for example, the elevator sequence, a predicament fairly bursting with suspenseful potential. Yet Malle's style does little to heighten the implicit desperation and even cuts away (though smoothly) from the mounting tension. To be fair, Ronet (Tavernier) adds nothing by remaining impassive throughout. (Perhaps paratroopers never sweat.) Thus the movie's dramatic centerpiece flattens out into just one more event among many.

Then there are the various misadventures of the free-spirited kids. They look cuddly, but remain amoral cyphers throughout, their double homicide coming across again as just one more event, no more important than Florence's (Moreau) dispirited walk up the avenue. In fact, the one time Malle highlights with his camera is that lengthy trudge through Paris, a director clearly fascinated by Moreau's distinctive appearance. Again, the style is smooth and polished, but also highly impersonal and homogenizing. I kept wishing one of Hollywood's noir masters like Nicholas Ray or Billy Wilder had gotten hold of the material first.

No need to go on apart from Malle about a sloppy script with its number of plot holes helpfully cited by other reviewers, or about overlooked details like a bullet to the head that raises no blood. All in all, I wonder how many folks would celebrate the film if it were not from France with Malle's name on it. Apart from its influence on French cinema, the movie does not wear well over time. Moreover, given the style he shows here, it's no surprise to me that Malle's breakthrough movie would be titled The Lovers rather than this over-civilized slice of thick ear.
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Not seduced
Felix-283 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I was bored by this film. I got it on DVD, an excellent print, and as a Louis Malle fan I was expecting something really intriguing. But in fact it was just boring. Yes, I know there were lots of good things about the way it was made: the music is truly sensational; the photography is outstanding. But it goes off the rails quite early. Others have mentioned the mystery of the hook; but what about the improbability of a man in a suit climbing up the outside of an office building in central Paris, in full view of neighbourhood cafés, apartment blocks and pedestrians, with nobody noticing -- although the dangling hook was plainly visible to Tavernier from the street below?

Then there was the fact that Tavernier was trapped in the elevator from Saturday afternoon until Sunday – or perhaps Monday – morning, during which time he felt the need to smoke a great number of cigarettes, but not, apparently, to relieve himself.

The pace of the film ground virtually to a halt while we followed the florist and her no-hoper boyfriend, mainly because the boyfriend was a very tedious character. His motivation was never explained. The constant cutting to Tavernier failing to escape from the lift and Jeanne Moreau padding around Paris failing to find him did not help.

This is a film that seems to seduce a lot of people with its incidentals – musical score, photography, etc. – although it lacks the most essential ingredient of a good thriller, viz., thrills.
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Louis Malle's auspicious debut
blanche-22 April 2015
Louis Malle made his striking directorial debut in this French film, "Elevator to the Gallows" in 1958, with the script cowritten by him and Roger Nimier.

Jeanne Moreau plays an unhappily married woman who colludes with her lover Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) to kill her husband (Jean Wall), for whom he works. Tavernier takes a gun, goes up to his boss' office via a rope out his own office window, and kills him. As he's leaving the building, he sees that he did not collect the rope. He leaves his car running, leaving his coat and gun inside while he runs in to retrieve the rope. Unfortunately, while he's in the elevator, the building is closed, and that includes the power. He's stuck.

Meanwhile, two young people, an impulsive, cagey young man and his girlfriend from a flower shop (Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin) steal Tavernier's fancy car and take off.

Fabulous noir set in rainy France with captivating scenery and Miles Davis music, perfectly catching the atmosphere - Moreau, not knowing where Tavernier is, walking in the rain, going from bar to bar trying to find him; the two young lovers on an adventure, the girl with a romantic, Juliet-like attitude, the boy headstrong; Tavernier, smoking in the elevator as he works on how to get out; people still talking of the Occupation and war in Algiers...Malle weaves a fascinating story of fate and random circumstance.

There isn't a lot of dialogue in this film, but the actions say it all. Paris in the rain and suspense - it doesn't get much better.
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Surf'in French New Wave.
morrison-dylan-fan6 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Ever since hearing a number of critics widely praise films from the French New Wave I have always gotten a feeling of intimidation and inaccessibility from the wide group of films due to how most of the mainstream critics seem to constantly try and put the New Wave films in a special box just for themselves.

After having become completely fascinated by tremendous "genre" films from Italy and Sweden,I started to look over at the New Wave films from France and began to feel that I should completely tear down the wall of intimidation around them by jumping straight into one of the first ever French New Wave films made that also starred one of the most famous (and most loved) actresses from the period

The plot:

Finishing his latest phone call by arranging a meeting with his secret lover Florence Carala,Julien Tavernier goes back to his office and tells all his staff that he is not to be disturbed for any reason.Gathering up a rope,gloves and a fully loaded gun,Julien quietly grapples his way to a building on the opposite side where Tavernier plans to stage an I'm prov meeting with his boss,who is also Florence's husband.

Succeeding in getting the short meeting to take place,Tavernier shoots his soon to be ex-boss in a style which will make it look like a suicide.Feeling that he should get back to his office before anyone gets suspicious,Julien picks up everything and quickly glides back to his office.Getting set to finally spend the rest of his life with the now-widowed Carala,Tavernier walks past two rebellious looking teenagers and jumps straight into his gleaming car.

Just as Julien is about to set off ,he has a look back at the building Tavernier gets a feeling of terror running down his spine when he notices that during the rush to get back to safety he had accidentally left the grappling rope hanging outside the room where the murder had taken place!.Leaving the car still running,Julian makes a dash for the lift in the building so that he can correct his dangerous mistake.

As the lift starts nearing the all important floor,Tavernier is suddenly left trapped and with no where to run when the buildings lift is shout down as the staff close the office block down to get set for all having the weekend off work.Meanwhile outside,the two teenagers start to take a real interest in Julien's abandoned car and soon decide that they will steal it so the they can use it for some wild weekend travailing.

Driving down one of the cities main roads,the teens inadvertently drive past lady in waiting Florence Carala,who due to mistaking one of the teens for Julien begins a long furious search for him all over the city which will lead to her and Tavernier discovering that their troubles are far from being confined in a shut down lift.

View on the film:

For his tremendous directing of what is possibly the first ever French New Wave film, Louis Malle (who also wrote the stunning screenplay adaptation of Noel Calef's novel with Roger Nimer)starts the new era off with a "bang", as the film opens on a proto-Segio Leone extreme close up of a beautiful Jeanne Moreau.

Checking for any info about the making of the film,one of the very best decisions that I feel Malle made was to show Moreau's face with no make up on at all,which along with allowing Malle to show Florence as a real femme fatale who is more than ready to walk through the shadows of the city to catch the smallest glimpse of her murdering lover,also allows Jeanne to give an elegant performance as she shows Florence to go from being self assured of her and Julian's murder plot,to shivering with fear as Florence realises that the situation has gotten completely out of her control.

Whilst Moreau unforgettable face does open this fantastic film,the rest of the cast easily deserve equal praise,with the sadly under rated Maurice Ronet giving a terrific performance as Julian Tavernier who along with showing a chilling precision of executing the murder is also able to show an increase feeling of dread as the walls of the lift start to close in on him as his fear of getting found really starts to take its toll on him,and also gives the audience of great sense of isolation.

After opening his New Wave Film Noir on a stunning shot and a rolling score from Miles Davis,Malle brilliantly creates a world of darkness as he goes from a truly edge of the seat,gripping murder sequence to making the city filled with wonderful characters who go from an edgy proto-James Dean teenage rebel who steals a car from under everyone's nose,to a cop,who like the audience finds the activates of Florence and Julian something that he will never forget.

Final view on the film:

A stunning,unforgettable and extremely moody New Wave Film Noir,with an astonishing cast,a fantastic tension building screenplay and artful directing from an amazing Malle.
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My Friend before Dinner
tedg18 June 2007
I never physically met the man, but I consider Malle an old friend.

He made two films that I think are among the most perfect and intellectually adventurous I know. He also made some good films that aren't life-changing but that show insight. This is one of them.

There are no new ideas here. It unfolds as one expects. The drama is muted to the point of homeopathy.

And yet we like it because it is so economical. Its bare, honest, true. So we like it, just like we gravitate to an open person regardless of whether she is dumb. I appreciate Bresson for this, his economy which blesses the viewer with a mind that necessarily filters what we see. But Bresson goes too far and presses into the impress of abstraction. Malle is real because it is overtly untheatrical.

Its worth seeing because it is seamless bamboo and because it informs "Vanya" and "Dinner." But in terms of its effect; its callow post-noir noir. And it has that hint at the end of a "film" within that condemns the couple.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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Snap shots
jotix10031 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Ascenseur pour l'echafaud" was Louis Malle's first film. It's strange that the man that showed a natural talent for telling a crime story in a somewhat unusual way, didn't go back to the genre in his interesting and distinguished career as a director. The timing was right, the film came out in 1958. It was followed by "Les Amants", which proved he was a force to be reckoned with.

The director adapted a novel by Noel Calef that presented a classic situation for these types of crime films. A young and beautiful woman married to an rich older man who finds herself passionately in love with a younger man that works for her husband. The old man has to be eliminated if the lovers are to aspire to a life together.

Julien Tavernier, the young man, plans and executes the crime that appears to be flawless. Stupidly, he overlooks a piece of rope he has left hanging from an the upstairs floor. As he does that, he is about to leave to meet Florence Carala, his lover, at a cafe on Boulevard Hausmann. As he goes back to take care of his mistake, the janitor stops the elevator that is carrying him upstairs. What to do? In the meantime, a young punk and petty criminal, Louis, who is picking up his girlfriend, Veronique, sees Julien has left the keys in the convertible car, plus his raincoat. He decides to take a joy ride. Florence, who happens to be looking to the street sees the car go by, but she notices there is a woman on the passenger's side. Florence decides to look for him.

This intensely satisfying crime film was given a great treatment by an inspired Louis Malle and he was blessed to have Jeanne Moreau to portray Florence. Louis Malle, like the directors that were arriving on the scene of the French cinema were impressed by the American crime and film noir genre, they discussed in magazines. These crop of new directors wanted to revolutionize the narrative and create a different way to present their stories. The streets of Paris became the backdrop to the movies that will follow.

What Louis Malle created was a moody film that tells a lot about the mind of the criminals as they are going through the anxieties of knowing what they had done and thinking how they would get away with the horrible crime they had committed. On the one hand, Julien, is the victim of Louis and Veronique, as they steal the convertible, only to get into trouble themselves. Florence's state of mind is right there on the screen, in front of us, as she roams the streets of Paris trying to make sense of what happened to Julien.

Jeanne Moreau gives an impeccable performance as Florence. We watch her as she goes from being sure of herself, to suddenly realizing she is defeated. What's more, in a ironic twist, her confession to the police will work against Julien, instead of helping him. She also incriminates herself in ways she never suspected when the candid pictures on a forgotten camera are developed. Jeanne Moreau is nothing short of fabulous.

Maurice Ronet, doesn't have the flashy opportunity in which to shine as does his co-star. His Julien is a man that wants to have it all, but he makes serious mistakes along the way. Georges Poujouly is seen as the petty criminal Louis who passes himself as Julien Tavernier. Charles Denner and Lino Ventura, who will go to bigger and better things later on in their respective careers are excellent, especially Mr. Ventura as the inspector Cherier, who figures the whole mystery.

This film was the debut of a man who went to do great work in his native France and have a second career in America. What distinguishes this film from others of the genre is the jazzy score by Miles Davis, whose music blends perfectly with the images one sees. The cinematography by Henri Decae shows us a nocturnal Paris far from the touristy places most directors love to present. Paris, as a backdrop, is what makes this film the joy it is to watch.
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vandicla17 February 2006
The film is a masterpiece. One of the best directors, one of the most beautiful towns in the world and a great soundtrack, composed by Miles Davis. The music talks with the images, to the point that sometimes you can even think they are a comments on the music, and not the contrary. However, we know that the soundtrack was extemporized by Davis and his sidemen as they were watching the film. As if they were sat down at the cinema and they whistled during the showing. The musicians playing with Davis on this record are: Miles Davis Trumpet Barney Wilen Tenor Saxophone René Urtreger Piano Pierre Michelot Bass Kenny Clarke Drums It's enough to see the movie, isn't it ?
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When Irish Eyes Are Smiling ...
writers_reign20 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
...it's twelve to seven the eyes in question belong to William Irish, aka Cornell Woollrich and the smile will be ironic because this plot is PURE Woollrich/Irish - in fact Moreau starred in a GENUINE Irish plot some years later, The Bride Wore Black. If you like serendipitous coincidence then this will be right down your rue; Julien and his bosse's wife are an item and conspire to kill said boss and make it look like suicide. The plot goes like clockwork til, having left the building for the weekend Julien (Maurice Ronet) gets in his car, starts the engine then spots a glaring clue he omitted to take care of. Leaving the engine running he goes back to the building, gets in the elevator only to have it switched off by the janitor, who's leaving for the weekend. Trapped in the elevator Julien has no idea that a tearaway, Louis, and his girlfriend, Veronique, have 'borrowed' the car and will subsequently kill two German tourists in a motel, using Julien's gun - conveniently left in the car. Meanwhile Moreau spots Veronique in the car but, not seeing Louis behind the wheel, assumes Julien is stepping out on her. When the janitor turns on the elevator so that the police can search Julien's office, he seizes his chance to escape not realizing he is wanted for a double murder of which he is completely innocent. Nice plot, nice atmos, nice score a la Miles Davis. Improbable, okay, but entertaining with it.
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Almost Perfect
brostonjon19 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Somehow I missed seeing this film when it came out in 1958. (I was old enough to see any restricted movie by then.) I just saw it in a fresh theater print and loved it for all the reasons covered by the previous respondents. It holds up tremendously well for a fifties flick I think because the director, being new to the game, was concentrating on telling the story and avoided any self-conscious stylization. Style is there of course and I detected minor references to one or two American "noirs". The cutting between Florence and Julien seen through the metal gates of the office entrance and the elevator reminded me of Mary Astor's last shot in "The Maltese Falcon", hinting of jail-time to come. No explanation was given for the sudden appearance of the grappling hooks and rope which are seen at Florence's feet as she tries to find Julien at the office. The small girl she talks to then makes off with them. Julien at that point had not escaped from the elevator, so how did they fall to the street? Is there a scene missing here? I also thought it very unlikely that Julien, who was obviously very experienced in climbing with these hooks, would neglect to automatically take them with him after the murder. Also it seemed out of character for a well-trained paratrooper like him to actually leave his car on the street with the motor running when he had to return for the hooks. The later incident with the kids and German tourists relied on accepting that the tourists were remarkably good-humored with the kids who followed them to the motel. After a highway chicken-race and having the back of my Mercedes gull-wing roadster rear-ended at the motel I would have called the cops right away. When Julien was being questioned by the police he could have proved he was stuck in the elevator all night by describing how he dropped the flaming Gauloise pack down the shaft (its remains still had to be there) and take his chances that the cops would still accept that his victim had actually committed suicide and his night in the elevator was just an unfortunate coincidence. Small gripes, but they really did not spoil the movie for me. I thought the "denouement" was very inventive and satisfying. Worth another look.
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Meandering French thriller
Framescourer6 June 2008
Celebrated... but a little clarity is needed. The real draw of this film is Henri Decaë's wonderful photography. With Jean Moreau exuding Gallic-stymied emotion and Miles Davis' timelessly cool soundtrack, a short sequence at the confluence of the first act (as she wanders the streets) manages a unique tone.

I didn't go for a lot of the rather more laboured contrivances of the film though. There's meant to be some sort of allegorical, parallel plot thread with the two lovers whose carefree immorality is a more realist counterpart to the doomed lovers who open the film. The acting's just not good enough though (À bout de soufflé sets too high a bar, once seen) and the plot too bizarre, without some sort of magic realist treatment.

In fact, Davis' score can't save it either, inconsistently applied as it is. There's a host of good ideas but a remake would never recapture those one or two magic moments of Parisian wistfulness for which the film is rightly known. 4/10
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Miles Davis and Paris at Night--and some great crime suspense, too...
secondtake11 January 2010
Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

The ambiance, with a woman walking the streets of night time Paris as Miles Davis growls in the background is as good as it gets. And the plot, with all its surprises and twists, is great. The only thing that will strike a lot of us, especially those used to American crime films, is a lack of believability now and then--a reaction, or actual decision, that just isn't quite right.

You can write this all off to style, and that's good enough because it's just being in the movie that is rewarding. The plot will get you going, and with each odd turn, people left out and others killed so incidentally it's a surprise, you are really caught up wondering what is next. Louis Malle directed a number of distinctive films (including another from 1958, The Lovers, again starring Jeanne Moreau), and they precede and later parallel the French New Wave films which are a little looser and grittier than his. Elevator to the Gallows is a film noir of sorts, though with a very French, lyrical quality. And an odd lack of hero, as you'll see. Meanwhile, watch every scene--the black and white photography is simply beautiful.
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This is an example of how movie becomes art...
ervetor18 January 2003
This is more then just a movie... ... This is something like field where you can find great symbiosis between photography, music and drama. This film you can watch also as display or ambient for beautiful Miles Davis music. Fantastic. This is real European movie. This is art. It's a petty that young generation have no way, to watch masterpieces like this one.
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