Elevator to the Gallows


1h 28m 1958
Elevator to the Gallows

Brief Synopsis

A businessman kills his boss to cover up his affair with the man's wife.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud
Genre
Drama
Crime
Thriller
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1958
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Jun 1961
Production Company
Nouvelles Editions de Films
Distribution Company
Times Film Corp.
Country
France
Location
France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Ascenseur pour l'échafaud by Noël Calef (Paris, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Julien Tavernier, a former war hero, is desperately in love with Florence Carala, the wife of his ruthless employer. Together the two lovers devise a scheme whereby Julien will murder Carala and escape undetected. Late one afternoon, Julien climbs by rope from his office window to Carala's chambers on the floor above. After shooting his victim, he returns to his office and at the usual time leaves for the day, a normal departure observed by the switchboard operator. Once on the street, however, he notices that the telltale rope is still dangling from the window ledge. He rushes back to retrieve it but becomes trapped in the elevator between floors when the current is turned off for the night. Meanwhile, two thrill-happy teenagers, Louis and Véronique, have taken his sports car for a ride. After racing a German couple in a Mercedes, the two youngsters try to steal their car during a night stopover at a motel. When they are caught in the act, Louis kills the German couple with Julien's revolver. The next morning, after his release from the elevator, Julien is arrested for the murder of the German couple. Unable to produce an alibi without involving himself in Carala's death, Julien appears doomed. Florence tracks down the two teenagers and follows them to the motel, where they have left some incriminating photographs taken with Julien's camera before the murder. Awaiting them is Inspector Chérier with the incriminating evidence--pictures of Louis and Véronique with the murdered couple--and additional photographs of Florence and Julien which provide him with a motivation for the murder of Carala.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud
Genre
Drama
Crime
Thriller
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1958
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 Jun 1961
Production Company
Nouvelles Editions de Films
Distribution Company
Times Film Corp.
Country
France
Location
France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Ascenseur pour l'échafaud by Noël Calef (Paris, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White

Articles

Elevator to the Gallows (aka Fanatic)


Back in 1957, before the French New Wave knew it was the New Wave, Louis Malle was a 24-year-old aspiring filmmaker who admired Robert Bresson, Alfred Hitchcock and Hollywood noirs ranging from The Asphalt Jungle (1950) to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Putting his own spin on these sources, Malle's debut feature, Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'echaufaud, 1958), remains a vivid, stylish thriller that genuflects to the noir genre with elegant brutality and cool rigor, taking it to a few new places en route. It and Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur (1956) are the New Wave's two great precursors, arriving before Truffaut's 400 Blows (1959) and Godard's Breathless (1960). But too much energy has gone into classifying it – and Malle – and not enough into simply enjoying it.

There's much to savor, especially the sculpted face of Jeanne Moreau in closeup as Florence Carala, plotting with her ex-paratrooper lover (Maurice Ronet) to murder her rich arms dealer husband (Jean Wall). Her face, first seen as she murmurs "Je t'aime, je t'aime" to her lover on a phone, is a mask of smoldering anticipation, then anxiety, then doom. She has no idea that the clever locked-room murder of her husband in his penthouse office by the acrobatic and physically fit combat veteran has gone off as planned, with him scaling the outside wall of the modern office building, entering via a window, shooting the husband, disguising it as a suicide, then leaving the office, locked from the inside. Remembering he left a piece of evidence behind, he goes back and retrieves it, but as he's descending in the elevator, it suddenly goes dark and stops. The superintendent has shut off the power and left the building for the weekend, leaving the impassive killer trapped. The Hitchcockian claustrophobic nightmare!

When Florence doesn't hear from her lover, anxiety and insecurity take over. She fears he has abandoned her, and bolts out into the streets, looking for him in the places they frequented. As Moreau wanders the boulevards, she gives the film its most famous sequence. Director of photography Henri Decae, wheeled alongside her in a converted baby carriage, tracked her restless promenade, lit by battery-activated lamps and the ambient light from the store windows on the Champs Elysees. When the lab got the film, they called the producer, aghast at how dark everything was, suggesting it be reshot. But of course Decae was right. The look imparted to the film by Decae -- who also launched Melville, Chabrol and Truffaut – captured the restlessness Malle wanted. The on-the-run shooting of Parisian streets – soon to become a New Wave trademark – begins here. Elevator to the Gallows was and still is moody and potent, and Moreau, who cemented her iconic status in Malle's next film, Les Amants (The Lovers) (1958), never looked back.

Malle was justly proud that he had the idea to amplify the part of the woman, a character he insisted was merely sketchy in the Noel Calef novel that served as the film's source. And it wasn't as if Moreau was an unknown. She had starred on stage at the Comedie Francaise and got top billing in B movies with Jean Gabin. Malle didn't discover Moreau. In fact, his distributor insisted he hire her. Malle instinctively was drawn to her mix of toughness and sex appeal – in her walk and in her face, the voluptuousness of which could turn from pouty to sensual – and back again -- in the flick of an eyelid. As she had ample opportunity to confirm for decades afterward, she was France's Hepburn, but sexier, who couldn't be bothered to be anybody but herself. She has always been the kind of unruly independent woman – again, modern! – men would line up to be driven mad by.

She didn't need bolstering. But she gets it from one of film's great jazz scores in a golden age of jazz scores, even more envelope-pushing than Duke Ellington's score for Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Johnny Mandel's for I Want to Live! (1958) and The Modern Jazz Quartet in No Sun in Venice (1957). Malle was a jazz nut. He used Charlie Parker music in his student film. When he heard Miles Davis was coming to Paris to play at the Club St. Germain, he went to the airport to meet the great trumpeter, musician, and -- as Davis soon was to make clear to the world -- composer. No sooner had Davis deplaned and introductions were exchanged than Malle asked Davis to compose the music for his film. Davis agreed. Using drummer Kenny Clarke and three French musicians – Barney Wilen, Rene Urterger and Pierre Michelot -- Davis improvised and recorded the entire score – a suite of 10 pieces – on a single December night in 1957, working from midnight to dawn, sometimes watching scenes and conferring with Malle.

Ranging from moody and quiet to piercingly aggressive, the 10 pieces are fragmentary, but inspired and so unfailingly flavorful that they pass from merely creative to magical and serendipitous. Davis was spinning pure tonal gold here, filling the night with raw sounds ranging from rage to heartbreak, from reflection to agitation, convincingly deepening the essentially banal material to something like fateful tragedy. Jazz critics noticed that it represented a quantum leap forward in growth and confidence of expression in Davis, who later was to return to many of the sections of this film score, rightly recognizing in them seeds for musical ideas and themes that warranted further development.

The most thrusting section of the score, Sur l'Autoroute, helps propel the plot's twist-of-malignant-fate element. While the physically imposing, aggressive killer is paralyzed with helplessness in the stalled elevator, two kids steal the snazzy convertible he left parked in front of the building. These young lovers on the lam anticipate Arthur Penn's 1967 Bonnie and Clyde and Godard's 1960 Breathless, echo the Bonnie and Clyde films by Fritz Lang (You Only Live Once, 1937) and Nicholas Ray (They Live by Night, 1948). Ironically, Malle cast Georges Poujouly, the actor who played the innocent boy corrupted by war's deathliness in Rene Clement's Forbidden Games (1952), as the wannabe thug here. Neither Poujouly's alienated punk nor his thrill-susceptible girlfriend (Yori Bertin), with iconographic suggestibility fondling a loaded gun, is innocent here. The flash of underclass rage they bring to their impulsive actions as their joyride turns violent belies the inexplicable yet oft-stated critical view that the film is little more than precocious Hitchcockian game-playing.

It was difficult to do anything in France in the 1950s and not be political. One of the currents in Elevator to the Gallows is a spiritual ennui that's much more vividly alive than the kind of Left Bank café posing that was to become a staple of film parodies. If the younger generation feels impelled to crash through its generational imprisonment, its immediate elders are hemmed in by deeper issues – Moreau's emotionally precarious malcontent and especially Ronet's soured assassin, whom you can believe is trying to snatch back control of a life corroded by the colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. Not surprisingly, the film was assailed in some French critical circles as fascist at heart, given its violent teenage car thief, a resurgent German tourist he encounters at a motel, and the murdered arms dealer husband. The malaise sapping a France where Malle said he was trying to capture a galloping dehumanization is crystallized in the paratrooper turned killer, transferring his lethal job skills from the colonial wars to the corporate trenches of Paris. Mixing youthful cynicism and ironic fatalism, Malle tightens the screws with deadly efficiency and malignant causality as one murder leads to another. In the end, Moreau's haunted eyes are what you remember most. She has a lot to look worried about in this juicy and far from dated instance of cinematic lightning striking not just twice, but thrice – thanks to her, Malle and Davis.

Producer: Jean Thuillier
Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Noel Calef (novel), Louis Malle, Roger Nimier
Cinematography: Henri Decae
Film Editing: Leonide Azar
Art Direction: Jean Mandaroux, Rino Mondellini
Music: Miles Davis
Cast: Jeanne Moreau (Florence Carala), Maurice Ronet (Julien Tavernier), Georges Poujouly (Louis), Yori Bertin (Veronique), Jean Wall (Simon Carala), Elga Andersen (Madame Bencker).
BW-88m. Letterboxed.

by Jay Carr

Sources:
IMDb
Malle on Malle: Edited by Philip French
Louis Malle – Hugh Frey
Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography – Ian Carr
Elevator to the Gallows – Recollection by Vincent Malle
Louis Malle on the Ground Floor – Terrence Rafferty
Elevator To The Gallows (Aka Fanatic)

Elevator to the Gallows (aka Fanatic)

Back in 1957, before the French New Wave knew it was the New Wave, Louis Malle was a 24-year-old aspiring filmmaker who admired Robert Bresson, Alfred Hitchcock and Hollywood noirs ranging from The Asphalt Jungle (1950) to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Putting his own spin on these sources, Malle's debut feature, Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'echaufaud, 1958), remains a vivid, stylish thriller that genuflects to the noir genre with elegant brutality and cool rigor, taking it to a few new places en route. It and Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur (1956) are the New Wave's two great precursors, arriving before Truffaut's 400 Blows (1959) and Godard's Breathless (1960). But too much energy has gone into classifying it – and Malle – and not enough into simply enjoying it. There's much to savor, especially the sculpted face of Jeanne Moreau in closeup as Florence Carala, plotting with her ex-paratrooper lover (Maurice Ronet) to murder her rich arms dealer husband (Jean Wall). Her face, first seen as she murmurs "Je t'aime, je t'aime" to her lover on a phone, is a mask of smoldering anticipation, then anxiety, then doom. She has no idea that the clever locked-room murder of her husband in his penthouse office by the acrobatic and physically fit combat veteran has gone off as planned, with him scaling the outside wall of the modern office building, entering via a window, shooting the husband, disguising it as a suicide, then leaving the office, locked from the inside. Remembering he left a piece of evidence behind, he goes back and retrieves it, but as he's descending in the elevator, it suddenly goes dark and stops. The superintendent has shut off the power and left the building for the weekend, leaving the impassive killer trapped. The Hitchcockian claustrophobic nightmare! When Florence doesn't hear from her lover, anxiety and insecurity take over. She fears he has abandoned her, and bolts out into the streets, looking for him in the places they frequented. As Moreau wanders the boulevards, she gives the film its most famous sequence. Director of photography Henri Decae, wheeled alongside her in a converted baby carriage, tracked her restless promenade, lit by battery-activated lamps and the ambient light from the store windows on the Champs Elysees. When the lab got the film, they called the producer, aghast at how dark everything was, suggesting it be reshot. But of course Decae was right. The look imparted to the film by Decae -- who also launched Melville, Chabrol and Truffaut – captured the restlessness Malle wanted. The on-the-run shooting of Parisian streets – soon to become a New Wave trademark – begins here. Elevator to the Gallows was and still is moody and potent, and Moreau, who cemented her iconic status in Malle's next film, Les Amants (The Lovers) (1958), never looked back. Malle was justly proud that he had the idea to amplify the part of the woman, a character he insisted was merely sketchy in the Noel Calef novel that served as the film's source. And it wasn't as if Moreau was an unknown. She had starred on stage at the Comedie Francaise and got top billing in B movies with Jean Gabin. Malle didn't discover Moreau. In fact, his distributor insisted he hire her. Malle instinctively was drawn to her mix of toughness and sex appeal – in her walk and in her face, the voluptuousness of which could turn from pouty to sensual – and back again -- in the flick of an eyelid. As she had ample opportunity to confirm for decades afterward, she was France's Hepburn, but sexier, who couldn't be bothered to be anybody but herself. She has always been the kind of unruly independent woman – again, modern! – men would line up to be driven mad by. She didn't need bolstering. But she gets it from one of film's great jazz scores in a golden age of jazz scores, even more envelope-pushing than Duke Ellington's score for Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Johnny Mandel's for I Want to Live! (1958) and The Modern Jazz Quartet in No Sun in Venice (1957). Malle was a jazz nut. He used Charlie Parker music in his student film. When he heard Miles Davis was coming to Paris to play at the Club St. Germain, he went to the airport to meet the great trumpeter, musician, and -- as Davis soon was to make clear to the world -- composer. No sooner had Davis deplaned and introductions were exchanged than Malle asked Davis to compose the music for his film. Davis agreed. Using drummer Kenny Clarke and three French musicians – Barney Wilen, Rene Urterger and Pierre Michelot -- Davis improvised and recorded the entire score – a suite of 10 pieces – on a single December night in 1957, working from midnight to dawn, sometimes watching scenes and conferring with Malle. Ranging from moody and quiet to piercingly aggressive, the 10 pieces are fragmentary, but inspired and so unfailingly flavorful that they pass from merely creative to magical and serendipitous. Davis was spinning pure tonal gold here, filling the night with raw sounds ranging from rage to heartbreak, from reflection to agitation, convincingly deepening the essentially banal material to something like fateful tragedy. Jazz critics noticed that it represented a quantum leap forward in growth and confidence of expression in Davis, who later was to return to many of the sections of this film score, rightly recognizing in them seeds for musical ideas and themes that warranted further development. The most thrusting section of the score, Sur l'Autoroute, helps propel the plot's twist-of-malignant-fate element. While the physically imposing, aggressive killer is paralyzed with helplessness in the stalled elevator, two kids steal the snazzy convertible he left parked in front of the building. These young lovers on the lam anticipate Arthur Penn's 1967 Bonnie and Clyde and Godard's 1960 Breathless, echo the Bonnie and Clyde films by Fritz Lang (You Only Live Once, 1937) and Nicholas Ray (They Live by Night, 1948). Ironically, Malle cast Georges Poujouly, the actor who played the innocent boy corrupted by war's deathliness in Rene Clement's Forbidden Games (1952), as the wannabe thug here. Neither Poujouly's alienated punk nor his thrill-susceptible girlfriend (Yori Bertin), with iconographic suggestibility fondling a loaded gun, is innocent here. The flash of underclass rage they bring to their impulsive actions as their joyride turns violent belies the inexplicable yet oft-stated critical view that the film is little more than precocious Hitchcockian game-playing. It was difficult to do anything in France in the 1950s and not be political. One of the currents in Elevator to the Gallows is a spiritual ennui that's much more vividly alive than the kind of Left Bank café posing that was to become a staple of film parodies. If the younger generation feels impelled to crash through its generational imprisonment, its immediate elders are hemmed in by deeper issues – Moreau's emotionally precarious malcontent and especially Ronet's soured assassin, whom you can believe is trying to snatch back control of a life corroded by the colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. Not surprisingly, the film was assailed in some French critical circles as fascist at heart, given its violent teenage car thief, a resurgent German tourist he encounters at a motel, and the murdered arms dealer husband. The malaise sapping a France where Malle said he was trying to capture a galloping dehumanization is crystallized in the paratrooper turned killer, transferring his lethal job skills from the colonial wars to the corporate trenches of Paris. Mixing youthful cynicism and ironic fatalism, Malle tightens the screws with deadly efficiency and malignant causality as one murder leads to another. In the end, Moreau's haunted eyes are what you remember most. She has a lot to look worried about in this juicy and far from dated instance of cinematic lightning striking not just twice, but thrice – thanks to her, Malle and Davis. Producer: Jean Thuillier Director: Louis Malle Screenplay: Noel Calef (novel), Louis Malle, Roger Nimier Cinematography: Henri Decae Film Editing: Leonide Azar Art Direction: Jean Mandaroux, Rino Mondellini Music: Miles Davis Cast: Jeanne Moreau (Florence Carala), Maurice Ronet (Julien Tavernier), Georges Poujouly (Louis), Yori Bertin (Veronique), Jean Wall (Simon Carala), Elga Andersen (Madame Bencker). BW-88m. Letterboxed. by Jay Carr Sources: IMDb Malle on Malle: Edited by Philip French Louis Malle – Hugh Frey Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography – Ian Carr Elevator to the Gallows – Recollection by Vincent Malle Louis Malle on the Ground Floor – Terrence Rafferty

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed at Le Touquet. Opened in Paris in January 1958 as Ascenseur pour l'échafaud.

Miscellaneous Notes

Re-released in United States June 24, 2005

Re-released in United States June 29, 2005

Re-released in United States August 3, 2016

Released in United States on Video January 23, 1992

Re-released in United States on Video July 23, 1996

Released in United States April 1988

Released in United States 1994

Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.

Shown at MOMA (Jeanne Moreau: Nouvelle Vague and Beyond) in New York City February 18 - March 25, 1994.

Feature directorial debut for Louis Malle.

Re-released in United States June 24, 2005 (New York City)

Re-released in United States June 29, 2005 (Los Angeles)

Re-released in United States August 3, 2016 (New York)

Released in United States on Video January 23, 1992

Re-released in United States on Video July 23, 1996

Released in United States April 1988 (Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.)

Formerly distributed by Times Film Corporation.

Released in United States 1994 (Shown at MOMA (Jeanne Moreau: Nouvelle Vague and Beyond) in New York City February 18 - March 25, 1994.)