Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud) (1958) is about Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) who kills his lover, Florence’s(Jeanne Moreau) husband in his office because Julien plans on eloping with her, but while he’s leaving the office building he gets stuck in the elevator. While he’s stuck, his car is stolen by two juvenile delinquents. All this starts a chain of events that may turn out to be bad for Julien and Florence.
I loved the writing, it checks all the boxes for crafting a film noir. The script is very well measured, no detail is wasted. All the little plot details thrown throughout are tied together really smartly. Louis Malle has used mostly natural lighting, setting a new example for French cinema during that period. One remarkable scene is this stunning sequence in which Jeanne Morreau is walking around rainy Paris at night searching for Julien. Her face is lit by the street lamps. French films used a lot of artificial lighting to light up their actors, so this usage of natural light was new for that time.
Miles Davis’ incredible jazzy score creates a lonely and gloomy atmosphere. Henri Decai’s cinematography is bleak and his camera work sucks you in. This film is directed by the legend, Louis Malle and I was surprised to discover that this was his first feature. The way he’s told a noirish story with some elements of the French New Wave is outstanding. We can see the influence of Hitchcock and Welles in this, but he’s still managed to keep it very unique.
Elevator to the Gallows is a stylish noir that gave the French New Wave a head start and it’s one of the most influential films ever made. It’s perfect, go check it out.