Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

elevatorto3This affair like a Racine tragedy will be over in 24 hours

Elevator to the Gallows was the debut of Louis Malle, a man who found success in both his native France and the United States. In truth, it’s an easy bit of delectable icy noir to enjoy, because it goes down quite effortlessly. From the cold open this film remains ridiculously cool, boasting a score from jazz visionary Miles Davis that dances and sways in sensual rhythm with the images onscreen. Recently I’ve gone through somewhat of a minor Jazz epiphany and Davis was a major instigator of that.

For all intent and purposes, this is the film that made Jeanne Moreau into an icon to be noticed. She’s not the same type of beauty as Brigitte Bardot or Catherine Deneuve, but this film shed some light on why she stands out among the best of France’s leading ladies. Really she’s the only character who we get inside the head of — we hear her thoughts as they drift in and out of her mind. Also, out of everyone, Malle allows his camera to dwell the longest on the face of Moreau with few distractions. We see her wander the streets listlessly, checking her complexion in windows, and somberly gliding upstream as cars speed past on all sides. It’s as if she’s constantly living in a dreamy alternate reality that is only broken when she must actually interact with the humans that inhabit the space that exists around her. But how did she get here?

elevatorto4Back to that cold open. Florence is communicating with her lover Julien, as they put their plan into action. It all happens so fast as the credits flash on the screen, but soon enough we gather that he plans to kill her husband, so the two of them can finally be together. So, in other words, it feels like some kind of love triangle with Florence Carala. As a former paratrooper deployed in Indo-China and then Algeria, Julien is more than capable of carrying out the task. It requires scaling a building on a rope, taking the shot to finish off the condescending war profiteer Mr. Carala, framing it as a suicide, and then making a getaway without anyone being wise.

All the pieces fall together, but Julien forgot one thing. The rope is still hanging there! He rushes up to fix his mistake, but on the way down another employee unwittingly shuts down the lift, and now Julien is stuck in the elevator with no easy way to get out of his jam. He is sure to be caught. It’s a tense spot he’s in, but really that’s not where the heart of the story lies because Julien remains where he is for much of the film.

elevatortoThe other arc feels closely tied to The French New Wave Movement as an angsty young man decides to take Julien’s sweet ride for a spin and his reluctant girlfriend takes part in their little escapade. Their final destination is a hotel where they decide to register as Mr. and Mrs. Julien Taverner because it’s bound to be a good bit of fun. They even get chummy with a pair of German tourists and the champagne flows freely.

Meanwhile,elevatorto1 an anxious Mrs. Carala begins to listlessly comb the streets trying to gather what happened to her lover. Where did he go? Julien
still sits in the elevator trying to rig a way out as the cigarette stubs pile around him. The good times of young lovers Louis and Veronique soon turn sour when the boy loses his temper and with that, all rationality goes out the window. As Godard once quipped all you need for a film is a girl and a gun, and in this case, it rings true.

Now Julien is wanted for a murder he did not commit and is still the unknown perpetrator of yet another murder that has yet to be uncovered. When he finally breaks out of his prison the following morning, he inadvertently walks into a big heap of trouble. But it is Louis and Florence, who end up back at the scene of the crime where a dark room becomes their downfall.

4.5/5 Stars

4 Great Movies Set in a Single Location


Great directors can take a restriction like a single, confined location and turn into something especially extraordinary. Because the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Lumet and Louis Malle prove that these are not limits at all, but sources of cinematic inspiration. It what you do with that space that is of the utmost importance.

1. Rear Window (1954)
The ultimate thriller, utilizing one Greenwich Village apartment complex to the nth degree. Jimmy Stewart being confined to a wheelchair has never been so compelling as he begins to suspect that his neighbor across courtyard is a wife murderer. Hitchcock builds up the tension by not allowing his character to escape, and he becomes embroiled in intrigue as well as romance. It all leads to a crackerjack ending.

2.12 Angry Men (1957)

There have been many courtroom dramas, but the beauty of this character study is its new perspective. Sidney Lumet’s debut is a thing of beauty, because he lets his characters work and there are 12 wonderful actors all playing off each other. The story is simple. These men must decide if a young boy should be sent to the electric chair. Put them together in a room for an hour and a half and we learn more about mankind than we could possibly imagine. There’s nothing to make the temperature rise like 12 angry men in a room together.

3.Lifeboat (1944)

Hitchcock was always one for technical challenges and Lifeboat is a film that reflects his penchant for cinematic experiments. After an ocean liner is sunk numerous passengers are forced to board a raft together, including friends and foes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the war drama is how Hitch is able to keep the story from being stagnant. It’s surprisingly compelling  for how simple it looks at first glance.

4.My Dinner with Andre (1981)

This film is less about dramatic tension and more about a concept. Two men sit together and share a conversation over dinner, full of all sorts of philosophical musings. Once again a simple premise gives way to interesting discussion led by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory playing fictional versions of themselves.

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

18639-my_dinner_with_andre_1981_Directed by Louis Maille and starring Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory playing characters named after themselves, this interesting film has a relatively simple, albeit, unique premise. A writer who lives in New York goes to a dinner engagement with a man who he used to know well. 

However, he approaches their meeting with some anxiety not knowing what to expect from a man who has no doubt changed. Andre greets Wally and pretty soon they are talking about this and that as they wait for their food. Andre initially talks about his experiences abroad in Poland, Findhorn Scotland, and even the Sahara. All the while Andre experimented with spiritual encounters, met unusual artists, and took part in performance art. During his time away he was made to contemplate humanity, life, death, and many other profound subjects. 

Wally for his part describes his own life in contrast and what he thinks about his more droll existence. It includes spending time with his girlfriend, reading an autobiography on Charlton Heston, sleeping with an electric blanket, and trying to write plays. Andre on his part believes there are problems with this lifestyle because it is more like a dream than reality. 

Both men leave the meeting content and Wally rides off in a taxi ready to tell his girlfriend about his dinner with Andre. Andre Gregory represents your philosophical existentialist who is discontent with the normalcy of life. Then, Wallace Shawn is your common everyman who lives his days simply, content with simple comforts and a normal existence. Maybe not your normal dinner conversation, but after all it is a movie. This film is certainly not for those with a short attention span and I myself find this film more intriguing in concept rather than in practice. However, there are many philosophical issues here so if you are ready to ponder and sit back so the conversation can flood over you, it can be an interesting film to take in.

3.5/5 Stars