Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Louis Malle
Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin
Duration: 88 min.
A self-assured business man conspires to murder his employer, and the husband of his lover, which unintentionally provokes an ill-fated chain of events.
Elevator to the Gallows is the debut feature film from Louis Malle, an adaptation from a novel by Noël Calef. It was awarded the prestigious Prix Louis-Delluc French film prize in December 1957.
Malle opens the film with an extreme close-up of Jeanne Moreau's striking visage, we see her character Florence Carala conspiring over the phone with her illicit lover. A brash and stylish introduction that draws us into the beauty of her entrancing eyes, and within seconds establishes how someone could be convinced to murder for her. Said lover is Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) a former paratrooper currently working for her husband a rich arms dealer. Their plan is for Julien to kill her husband, his boss, make it look like a suicide and live happily ever after. Though as is the case with every film noir, things don't exactly go quite as planned.
What works well here is the film's exceedingly cool style. Henri Decaë's remarkable black and white cinematography captures the action and characters in a perfect mix of light and shadows. Highlighted by the elegant icon making sequences of Florence walking through Paris streets at night. We watch her hopelessly and fruitlessly searching for Julien in every hotel, bar, and cafe window, while wearing a forlorn and anguished look upon her face. These scenes are backed by a glorious jazz score from Miles Davis, whose sad trumpet melodies flawlessly echo and emphasize the heartbreaking emotional state delicately and for the most part wordlessly expressed by the stunning Moreau. I could easily watch an entire film with nothing but Jeanne Moreau wandering through Paris at night.
Where the film falters is in the storyline. Malle fractures the narrative into three separate threads, one of Julien trapped in an elevator between floors while going to retrieve a piece of evidence he left behind, the second of Florence looking for him when he fails to show up at their rendezvous, and the third of a young couple who steal Julien's car that he left running and unattended to go back into the building. The idea in itself is inventive but the execution played out rather predictably, lacking any real suspense; and without revealing too much of the details, there were several logical and character flaws that were not adequately explained and thus not entirely believable.
Still this was an amazing first effort from Louis Malle, who was only 26 when this was released. Delivering one of the first recognized films of the New Wave, and one that clearly displays the immense talent of this eclectic filmmaker.
— Bonjour Tristesse