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Elevator to the Gallows (The Criterion Collection)
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|Genre||Mystery & Thrillers|
|Format||Multiple Formats, NTSC, Widescreen, Subtitled, Dolby|
|Contributor||Jeanne Moreau, Marcel Cuvelier, Micheline Bona, Yori Bertin, Gisle Grandpr, Nol Calef, Roger Nimier, Georges Poujouly, Maurice Ronet, Sylviane Aisenstein, Elga Andersen, Louis Malle, Grard Darrieu, Jean Wall, Jacqueline Staup See more|
|Runtime||1 hour and 28 minutes|
A French war hero plots to kill his lover's husband. Directed by Louis Malle. Music by Miles Davis.
Elevator to the Gallows is many things: A tight, delicious crime thriller; the debut of director Louis Malle (Zazie dans le metro, Atlantic City, Au Revoir, Les Enfants, and many more works of subtle genius); a movie with perhaps the greatest jazz soundtrack of all time, created improvisationally by trumpeter Miles Davis; but above all, Elevator to the Gallows is the blooming of Jeanne Moreau to the status of true movie star, launching her on a career that included Jules & Jim, La notte, and La Femme Nikita. After killing his lover's husband, Julien (Maurice Ronet, Purple Noon) gets trapped in an elevator, forcing him to miss his rendezvous with Florence (Moreau) and allowing his car to be stolen by a joy-riding young couple. From there, the movie splits into three directions: Julien's efforts to escape; Florence wandering the streets, trying not to believe that Julien has abandoned her; and the car thieves, who get caught up in a murder of their own. The movie skillfully fuses Hitchcockian suspense with intimate psychodrama. As she stalks through the night, Moreau is a vision of tortured heartbreak, her woeful eyes and lush, sensuous lips illuminated by neon signs and baleful streetlamps. This is pure cinematic pleasure, visual beauty fused with taut, edge-of-your-seat storytelling.
- Aspect Ratio : 1.66:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : Unrated (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 0.7 x 7.5 x 5.4 inches; 4 Ounces
- Item model number : 2250604
- Director : Louis Malle
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, NTSC, Widescreen, Subtitled, Dolby
- Run time : 1 hour and 28 minutes
- Release date : April 25, 2006
- Actors : Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Jean Wall
- Subtitles: : English
- Language : French (Dolby Digital 1.0), Unqualified (DTS ES 6.1)
- Studio : Criterion
- ASIN : B000E5LEVA
- Writers : Louis Malle, Nol Calef, Roger Nimier
- Number of discs : 2
- Best Sellers Rank: #86,541 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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More than half a century after the release of the album "Jazz Track," it's clear that whereas "On Green Dolphin Street" is superior movie music, "Elevator" ("Ascenseur Pour L'echafaud") is the better movie. It's both an example of "film noir"--the murky, high anxiety, atmospheric Hollywood product admired and emulated by the French--and of "decoupage classique"-- the smooth, seamless Hollywood style of editing and shot selection. The plot can be taken seriously or, if the spectator chooses, seen as a send-up of the genre--a dark comedy version of the prototype investigating motives and results of human greed and passion, violence and treachery.
As tempting as it is to retell the chain of events that lead to the convictions of the "wrong kilers" (who are killers all the same), any such summary would spoil the fun for a new viewer. Suffice it to say that the film, from the very first frame establishess a fast pace that's guaranteed to engage the most hostile viewer to films that are : 1. foreign (perhaps, above all, French); 2. photographed in black and white; 3. require the use of sub-titles (for the non-French spectator).
In response to the above objections, "Elevator" is definitely NOT like the cerebral, subtle satire of French film classics such as Renoir's "Grand Illusion" and "Rules of the Game." By comparison, "Elevator" is an "action movie" that tells its story viscerally, or cinematically, with minimal use of subtitles. It reduces film to its essence--sight and sound--with little reliance on "literary" devices such as dialogue. Moreover, Miles Davis' score is simplistic yet representative of the trumpet player's emergent brilliance. The limited mid-register, generic sound of his horn on the late '40s Charlie Parker recordings has been replaced by a technically accomplished musician whose range, power, and expressive control of individual notes--bending, shaping, half-valving, "sculpturing" of pitches--will arguably make his the most identifiable, respected instrumental voice in modern jazz. He uses two phrases--a minor scale in D with occasional relief from a suspended C7sus chord--played slow or fast, depending upon action and characterization. But it's Miles' steely, "lonely" sound, especially in the upper register of the horn, that prove sa perfect complement to story, theme, and characterization. No other trumpet player could have fallen into character as perfectly, as inimitably as Miles.
As a 1958 film (not 1968, as reported in the Amazon description) "Elevator" compares favorably with the more acclaimed, contemporaneous French "new wave" films of Godard, Truffaut and Resnais. In many respects it's a better-made, more satisfying movie than the usual films used in the classroom to illustrate French contributions to the history of cinema--"Breathless," "Shoot the Piano Player," "Last Year at Marienbad." I confess I enjoyed "Elevator" more than any of the these proclaimed classics. Unlike the comparatively neglected "Elevator to the Gallows," all of these familiar, iconic French titles have stretches that are tedious and confusing.
And none of them has Miles Davis, whose very sound is like a 5th leading character in the film, guiding us from the emotions of one character to the next.. So why does this film remain so anonymous? Many reasons, one being the last five minutes of the movie, which present audience-pleasing closure that is tight, tidy and moral. That part of the film is so unoriginal and unlike real life, that neither followers of French movies nor cineastes can forgive the director for "selling out" with an unnecessary, unwanted moral sermon.. (Hitchcock could get away with it at the end of "Psycho" because of his well-established reputation.)
Regardless, I maintain that "Ascenseur" deserves admittance to the same cinematic halls of glory as the aforementioned French films. Why? Because it's not only a well-made, perfectly balanced mix of film noir and black comedy, but it's also a mirror of America! More specifically, the film reflects how America is seen by foreigners and how they respond to our movies--in and outside of their own films. For a fast 90 mintues we're allowed to see ourselves through the revelations of the French lens.
Malle knows that America is defined by two objects--the automatic handgun and the stylish, full-powered automobile, the symbol of status and of speed. Just as F. Scott Fitzgerald took those two symbols and showed us their effect on a misguided American dreamer by the name of Jay Gatsby, Louis Malle does the same in "Ascenseur"--but with a difference. The person who dreams the most and who has the most to lose is French! and she's a woman! (Our consolation: Jeanne Moreau's character does, in fact, lose more than any of the other hapless characters in the movie. But Jeanne Moreau the actress would, largely on the strength of her performance in this film, be propelled to the front stage of female actors in world cinema. At the age of 88 she is today one of the true shining stars of the cosmopolitan silver screen.)
With skillful direction and co-authorship, Louis Malle depicts indifferent anti-social behavior capitulating 10 years after this directorial debut. Optimizing a minimal budget, the film-noir ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS employs stark natural lighting, shadows, and alternating depth-of-field, punctuated with just enough dialogue to make reading English subtitles a necessity but not a chore. ELEVATOR conveys the feeling that one is witnessing the genesis of something big. Indeed, the synergism of creative expression combined in roughly 90 minutes helped define future roles of Louis Malle, Jeanne Moreau, and Miles Davis.
The Criterion Collection of DVD extras makes this a true collector's item. With the silent film projected in front of him from a light booth over his shoulder, watch Miles Davis interpret the emotions of Moreau as she wanders along the Champs-Elysees under Paris streetlights. Listen to ambitious director Malle confidently discuss his yet-to-be-released film. Then sit down with him 18 years later as he reveals its impact on cinema. Hear Moreau in the 21st century convey how ELEVATOR was a catalyst for similar emotional attachment between her and the director nearly 50 years ago. At the 1993 Caines Festival, Moreau and Malle sit down together to share when they first met; Malle reveals that Moreau's prominent "Have you seen Julien?" introspective role was absent from the original novel but crafted just for her to give the film its enduring impact. Such footage is spectacular.
Like Hitchcock, Malle makes a brief cameo appearance. A lighthearted reference to his prior experience with Jacques Cousteau is made when a woman tells Veronique, "You ought to try underwater photography." It is amazing to think that prior to ELEVATOR, the only thing Malle directed was fish.
The spatial void of physical contact, melancholy music, and to American audiences, lack of English dialogue may leave some wanting more action. But such desire turns out to be a platform for power in the movie -- the sense of an unsatiated night of emotional turmoil transmigrates to the viewer. If I were were fluent in French, I would likely rate this movie with 5 stars. Feeling that some of the natural dialogue is lost in the translation, I subtract one when recommending to fellow English speaking viewers.
Movie quote: "I lost you in the night Julien. I shouldn't have kissed you or caressed your face. If you didn't kill Simon, never mind. If you were afraid, so much better. But you must come back."
Top reviews from other countries
I found the film to be superb. Directed by Louis Malle directing his first feature film, “Elevator to the Gallows” has a great story that is delivered brilliantly and a cool soundtrack from Miles Davis and his fellow musicians. I watched in from a DVD (ASIN: B00QQGO6O8) and it would seem that both the original photography and the transfer of it onto the DVD are top quality. The picture and sound were faultless. Re the cinematography, I might almost have expected some poorly lit shots where the action takes place at night and in the street or in bars, but everythign is photographed (and illuminated) perfectly. The film has an Hitchcock-esque feel about it and the tension doesn't let up from pretty much the start of the film until the last frame. There are unexpected twitst and turns to the plot and Jeanne Moreau oozes sex appeal as she walks Paris by night wanting answers.
If you appreciate French Cinema from the 1950's (or at least the best of it) then I'd highly recommend watching this film.
On the DVD (ASIN: B00QQGO6O8) you get:
“Elevator to the Gallows” (1 hour 32 minutes)
Optional English and Korean Subtitles
The other notable structural aspect to Malle’s film is the telling of its story via three distinct strands, in which the main protagonists’ paths virtually never cross. Malle gives us (in the film’s most emotive thread) infatuated love, via Jeanne Moreau’s stunning portrayal of businessman’s wife, Florence Carala, Hitchcock-like suspense and conspiring circumstance, as the murderous plan of Maurice Ronet’s illicit lover to Florence, Julien Tavernier, backfires and he finds himself trapped (fatalistically) in the titular lift, and anarchic idealism, as the boy-girl pairing of Georges Pujouly’s petty crook, Louis, and Yori Bertin’s flower-seller Véronique, make off (opportunistically) with Julien’s car on a Bonnie and Clyde-like escapade. Malle’s film turned the 30-year old Moreau into a star and it is the actress’ turn here as the sultry, aloof, but 'desperately obsessed’ Florence, whose presence dominates the screen – the sequences of the ‘abandoned lover’ wandering the Parisian streets in search of her man (as admirers look on), to the heartfelt tones of Davis’ playing and her own voiceover monologue, are brilliantly done.
The film’s political thread, around Louis’ 'anger’ at the war-mongering (Indochina, Algeria) activities of Florence’s businessman husband feels a little 'tacked on’, however, the on-the-run lovers’ story has some intriguing (and darkly comic) moments as their fate becomes entwined with that of a wealthy German couple (and their Mercedes 300-SL gullwing), allowing Malle to make some points around German vs. French post-war prosperity. Acting-wise, also worthy of mention is Hubert Deschamps’ ‘showy’ cameo as a deputy District Attorney and Lino Ventura’s typically dour Commissioner Cherrier.
Throughout, Malle keeps us engaged via a series of (Hitchcock-like) plot twists – with the recurring uncertainty as to whether it is Julien or Louis (or both) who are destined for 'the drop’ – and provides a suitably memorable finale.
The killer goes back to retrieve a piece of evidence and is trapped in the lift when the concierge shuts the place up. That's it. A young couple quickly become involved and the killer's mistress prowls the cafes at night looking for her man. The events are cleverly devised but the fact is that everyone involved has to do something a bit stupid. How else would they have a film?Louis Malle, a well known director of post war France and Simone Moreau, a popular actor, both do their jobs well, but it all seems a little automatic.
The film is best known for its score by Mile Davis and his group, some of his trumpet playing being improvised as he watched the film. This
you will like or dislike, but you certainly can't ignore it. The copy,from the Far East is excellent.
However, I was disappointed. The plot was ludicrous, it all felt rather clunky. There were moments, where I felt really engaged, but all too briefly, heralding better films by the director. If this was Louis Malle's first attempt at cinema, it shows. It is 'noirish', if that's a word, but in that case give me Philip Marlowe, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum.
The visual quality of the film was very good as was the sound.
The film is brooding with unfortunate twists of fate as you would expect from the style of French film noir. The DVD quotes Halliwell’s guide to the film as “Cold, Clever and rather Elegant:” I agree! The music score by Miles Davis undertones a brood of menace, and seems to follow you everywhere without escape –ubiquitously!
The film and the music appear to be inseparable -and this is how the music affects me: “Night time, night train – black and sinister – the train approaching, it has a blue light of menace, lingering and watching, like a mechanical, revolving eye of evil -but too late: the blue eye has spotted me from afar, and I await –frozen in thoughts of dreams, in black terror and shadows, as I walk across yards of railway lines, in criminal and devious mind, to escape the black train....”
Of course, there is no train in this film, but when I hear Miles Davis pumping out prolonged sounds from his trumpet, and then the music stops -and in silence - my mind goes into a guilty state of panic as though I have been caught; but strangely with the music playing, I get some solace that I am still fearfully running away from the crime....my idea comes from the main and throbbing theme ( 'Nuit Sur Les Champs-Elysees' ) while Jeanne Moreau is parading down the avenue in despair: (... there is a clap of thunder in the sky, and rain is near: ) The music certainly enhances the quality of the film!
The film takes you on a journey of dread: dark humour, hate, and murder - and it all starts with a premeditated murder, and then a spontaneous one....the unfortunate turn of fate begins when the elevator ( lift ) in the office -shuts down along with the electrical current at close of office time -with the murderer inside the lift, who is keen to flee the scene with a remarkable alibi in hand.
The journey will also involve a couple of tear-away lovers who steal the murderer's car outside the office - and so we have the beginnings of two dramas -interlinked, and with a casual and indiscreet police department involved here and there; it is like a double-pieced jigsaw puzzle that fits either way, but with different pictures and patterns? The film seems to reflect a tough period in France that had been influenced in an undertone of past occupation following their involvement with Algeria:
That is a rough sketch of the plot, except that the story and film is attractive to a remarkable and exquisite feeling of being there in the film, and in the present - and draws the viewer closely into the tension of drama.
I just love how the film unfolds with remarkable cinematography in black and white, mesmerizing and sensational, as though the photography is in a singular formation of imaginary: Sensational!
It is wonderful to have a DVD copy of the film, ( and the CD music as well. ) Louis Malle, the film director had a thought of genius to ask Miles Davis to write and play the music score while Miles was in Paris: The result is astonishing!
The film is angry, arrogant: dry, and has a fresh feeling to French New Wave cinema: film buffs will love this film in awe of classic French cinema and photography, and I would highly recommend. Timeless, never dated I say!
I dedicate my review to Lynn in Cirencester ( on behalf of Oxam ) of whom, on heartfelt zeal - she kindly provided me with a copy of the DVD, and upon speaking to the lady herself, she assured me of its postal delivery: I thank her!
NB. I do acknowledge that the movie comes under 'French film noir' -or 'French New Wave' - but I have just gained a very much needed sense of humour and lightness with regard to the compulsory, but casual need of French I/D cards and to the theatrical police procedures during a prevalent time of history in France: ( remembering that France is a Republic! )