In his mesmerizing debut feature, twenty-four-year-old director Louis Malle brought together the beauty of Jeanne Moreau, the camerawork of Henri Decaë, and a now legendary score by Miles Davis. A touchstone of the careers of both its star and director, Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) is a richly atmospheric thriller of murder and mistaken identity unfolding over one restless Parisian night.
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.