Sunday, 2 July 2017

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Louis Malle's Taut Fiction Feature Debut at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in the Summer 2017 series "Panique: French Crime Classics" and, of course, on a gorgeous Criterion Collection DVD

Babes. Hunks. Cigarettes. Murder. Paris. UNBEATABLE!!!

Elevator to the Gallows - Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958)
Dir. Louis Malle
Scr. Malle & Roger Nimier
Nvl. Noël Calef
Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin,
Jean Wall, Iván Petrovich, Elga Andersen, Félix Marten, Lino Ventura, Charles Denner

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Some movies demand the ingestion of popcorn. Others require mind-altering illicit substances. Louis Malle's stylish crime picture Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) makes the insistent and peremptory request that you light up the strongest cigarettes imaginable and chain smoke your way through it from beginning to end. (For anyone planning a big-screen sojourn to see the picture at TIFF Bell Lightbox, you will sadly be shit out of luck on this front due to our city's regressive anti-smoking by-laws.)

Though Louis Malle (Au revoir les enfants, My Dinner with Andre, Atlantic City, Pretty Baby) had already garnered an Academy Award for his 1956 Jacques Cousteau documentary The Silent World, the French New Wave director wisely put together a sure-fire low-budget hit with this first dramatic feature film to solidify his place as a bankable filmmaker and damn, did he dazzle everyone with this très-cool crime thriller based on the pulpy Noël Calef novel. If it's a trifle cold and bereft of some of the hallmarks of Malle's later humanity, we can easily forgive that and just sit back and enjoy this delectable, unbeatable, suspensful indulgence replete with babes, hunks, plenty of cigarettes, zippy cars, cheap motels and murder most foul.

Our movie opens with the impossibly gorgeous couple Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) passionately professing their love for each other over the telephone. A murder is committed, a mistake is made and our lovers are kept apart when our hero is caught in an elevator without power and the heroine is left alone waiting for him and forced to wander the streets of Paris, desperately looking for him. Tavernier's car is stolen by the impossibly handsome young thug Louis (Georges Poujoully) and his impossibly gorgeous girlfriend Véronique (Yori Bertin). The barely-out-of-their-teens couple goes on a joy ride and encounter the gregarious vacationing and champagne-armed German couple Horst (Iván Petrovich) and Frieda (Elga Andersen).

Partying and sex is assured. More murder is just round the corner.

Nail-biting suspense, mistaken identity and dogged detective work from cops Lino Ventura and Charles Denner follow in due course. Henri Decaë's gorgeous black and white cinematographic lensing of Paris and an astonishing music score by Miles Davis carry us along in one of the most delightful noir-tinged crime pictures of the period.

No need to spoil the proceedings with any further details. Just sit back with plenty of throat-shredding ciggies and enjoy!


Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud) plays on the big screen at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox in the Summer 2017 series "Panique: French Crime Classics" and, of course, on a gorgeous Criterion Collection special edition double disc DVD that includes a new interview with Jeanne Moreau, archival interviews with Malle, Ronet, Moreau and soundtrack session pianist René Urtreger, footage of Miles Davis and Louis Malle from the soundtrack recording session, a new video program about the score with jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis and critic Gary Giddins, Malle’s student film Crazeologie, featuring the title song by Charlie Parker, Theatrical trailers and a booklet featuring a Terrence Rafferty essay, Malle interview and tribute by producer Vincent Malle.