Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Lino Ventura
Written by: Louis Malle, Roger Nimier, based on the novel by Noel Calef
Directed by: Louis Malle
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 88
Date: 01/29/1958

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Big Lift

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like a black-and-white Hitchcockian tour of hell, Louis Malle's feature debut, Elevator to the Gallows (1958) introduces Julien (Maurice Ronet), who murders his boss so that he can skip town with the boss's wife (Jeanne Moreau). But on his way to meet her, he gets trapped in an elevator! Beautiful, brooding Moreau wanders around Paris in the rain, wondering what could have happened, while two bored, attractive teens (Georges Poujouly and Yori Bertin) steal her lover's car and his identity. Malle (Pretty Baby, My Dinner with Andre, Vanya on 42nd Street) marries suspense with bourgeoisie ennui, which works quite effectively for most of the film's running time. Best of all is the glorious, yet restrained, original score by Miles Davis at the height of his powers.

The Criterion Collection released Elevator to the Gallows on DVD in 2006, following Rialto's 2005 theatrical re-release. Now in 2018, they are offering a Blu-ray, as well as a freshened-up DVD. It includes an uncompressed monaural soundtrack that makes Davis's score sound magnificent, and its black-and-white transfer is flawless. The extras appear to be largely the same as the older DVD. There's a 2005 interview with Moreau, archival interviews with Moreau, Malle, Ronet, and original soundtrack session pianist René Urtreger, footage of Davis during the recording session, a 2005 featurette about the score, Malle's student film Crazeologie, and the original and re-release trailers. The liner notes booklet comes with an essay by Terrence Rafferty, an interview with Malle, and a tribute by film producer Vincent Malle.

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