I’m not always the biggest fan of French New Wave cinema, especially when it gets into its more avant garde machinations. But, films like 1958’s Elevator to the Gallows are a standing reminder that for every bit of artsy, formless film-making, there are really meaty flicks to sink your teeth into. The plot centers around Maurice Ronet – just a couple years before his role in Purple Noon – as Julien Tavernier, a former special forces soldier, turned oil company man who hatches a plot to kill his boss and run off with the boss’ wife. Simples.
Everything goes to plan until, through an unfortunate set of circumstances, Tavernier becomes trapped in his office building’s elevator, between floors, overnight. At the same time, his newly widowed mistress is out searching for him, and a pair of restless teenagers decide to steal his car for their own evening of fun. As the police investigate and the noose tightens, questions mount: Will Tavernier be caught and charged? For which crime? Or can he escape altogether?
The film – based on the Noël Calef novel of the same name – marks the feature debut of famed French filmmaker Louis Malle, who would go on to make notable American pictures like My Dinner with Andre and Atlantic City, as well as critically beloved films like Lacombe, Lucien and Au Revoir Les Enfants. The movie also helped cement the stardom of its leading actress, Jeanne Moreau, who would become a staple of New Wave cinema as well as a long standing French cinematic icon.
Between Moreau and Ronet – and helped greatly by Lino Ventura in a supporting role – the film features a fantastic cast that adds great depth to twisty crime thriller. The camerawork and sets vary between relatively uninteresting and fantastically moody, but are bolstered across the board by a wonderful jazz score from Miles Davis. The combination of all of this is a fantastic film filled with twists and turns about a relatively simple murder gone entirely haywire.
Purple Noon (1960)
Bob the Gambler (1956)
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Le Samourai (1967)