English Title: Elevator to the Gallows
Original Title: Ascenseur pour l’échafaud
Language: French, German
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Drama
Director: Louis Malle
Music: Miles Davis
Cinematography: Henri Decae
Malle’s career debut feature length at the age of 26, a stylized dramatization of a well-planned murder goes berserk. Florence (Moreau) and Julien (Ronet) are two lovers out of wedlock, the only barrier is Florence’s senescent but wealthy husband Simon (Wall), for whom Julien works as a corporate clerk, they diligently hatch a plot to get rid of Simon and make the pretense as a suicide scene. The scheme is executed according to the schedule until a last-moment hiccup (Julien forgets the damn rope on the roof), a black cat is always ominous, just when he returns to the company building to fetch it, Julien is accidentally left alone in the elevator. Meanwhile, a pair of youngster Louis and Véronique (Poujouly and Bertin) lift Julien’s posh car for a wild ride, en route, a harebrained Louis shot a German couple in a motel using the identity of Julien. The same night, Florence is aimlessly roaming around the streets of Paris, looking for her absent lover!
Things will get messier the next morning when Julien gets out of the elevator, he is wanted by the police and Florence starts to get a grip on the entire misidentified situation, after a concise confrontation with Louis and Véronique, a few developed photographs reveal the real culprits of both homicides, the star-crossed lovers meet their comeuppance as well as the hotheaded Louis.
Logically speaking, its 88 minutes running time seems a bit sketchy for clarifying the police’s investigation procedure and there are a flew negligible plot holes dangling (e.g. how the rope without a trace appears at the entrance of the building is never explained), obviously they are not Malle’s first choice. The picture is mostly preeminent for the bounteous close-ups to examine his then lover Moreau’s emotive visage (under a plain make-up free naturalism) with her inner voice-over, equally impressively is the Black & White shots of the night view on the expressway and in the interrogation part under a pitch-black background, it is a conflation of Film-Noir with a budding La Nouvelle Vague. My personal recommendation is a heart-in-the-mouth set piece for the acrophobic when Julien tries to scale down from the elevator when it abruptly descends, Ronet is solely in his prime and later his mojo would be evoked unconditionally in Malle’s THE FIRE WITHIN (1963). Two thumbs up to Malle for his immense dexterity in such an incipient stage of his career.
One can also find some scattered fun in the film, such as the chic vehicle or the gizmos of a spy camera or the telephone-cum-pencil-sharpener, certainly for me they are eye-openers. Let’s not forget Miles Davis’ saxophone-heavy score, downright impromptu, but tallies with the film impeccably!
A more on-topic note is the alert message “never leave photos around”, if only everyone could have watched this film before we reached this epoch of selfie fever, the world would be a bit less tumultuous indeed.