Elevator to the Gallows 1958 Movie Jean Wall with a gun in his face

Elevator to the Gallows AKA Ascenseur pour l’échafaud [1958]

With a title like Elevator to the Gallows you just know this is going to be one of those noir classics that you will love. Well, if you like those movies, anyways. I stumbled upon this movie as I was looking for more moody French black and white crime movies. Once you start watching them and develop a taste for doomed characters, highly stylized visuals, and authentic plots, you just can’t stop! This sense of realism and unpredictability of the story is incredibly engaging. Unfolding at a slower pace, this is an atmospheric and distinctly French movie. And don’t worry, with a runtime of just ninety minutes you won’t be bored at any time.

Elevator to the Gallows also features beautiful cinematography with an emphasis on natural lighting. Some of the movies these black and white movies do feel outdated, but not this one. Restored and re-released in the highest quality it’s definitely worth watching. Especially if you caught the French crime bug. There are three distinctly different and engaging stories unfolding at the same time here. We smoothly transition from one to another, getting more drawn into the story. Granted, there are a few plot holes and contrived developments but nothing that would ruin your viewing pleasure.

Florence Carala is anxiously smoking cigarettes in a local cafe while waiting for her lover. Julien Tavernier is a capable and handsome man working for Florence’s husband Simon. The two of them are madly in love and they’ve hatched a plan to kill Simon. A perfectly planned murder down to the smallest detail. However, life has a strange habit of turning the best plans into the worst. Is this the case with our lovers’ plan is up to you to find out.

There’s something really subversive about Elevator to the Gallows. The apparent lack of deeper motivations is frightening to the ordinary citizen. He needs stability and explanations so he can remain unaltered along with its antiquated system of values. And while we do have a classic tale of love, murder, and mystery here, underneath it runs a strong and devious current. A current that runs in us all. The characters we follow are very different. Some are passionate, some calculated but all of them feel realistic and not out of place. The story has some pretty clever twists and moments worthy of further exploration.

I’ll just take the scene where Louis sits in the car and decides to steal them. He first just gets a taste of what it feels to be in such a car, without any real intent of stealing it. His girlfriend Véronique tries to persuade him to leave, manifesting the right values but is still intrigued by the proposition of driving in the car. As he’s driving away, she seemingly reluctantly gets in the car like I’ve tried my best, you all saw it. She continues to reason as they’re driving, vocalizing her thoughts and worries.

However, what’s ultimately happened is that they’ve stolen a car. The scene paints a morally ambiguous picture where you’re wondering is to what degree is she culpable and how this whole thing happened. You can also pay attention to what happens later in the movie with them. Furthermore, you can explore whether he ever had a choice and do they deserve their own convertible. Their characters are young and naive but equally capable of crime as any other. Feel free to leave a comment about this or any other scene. I would love to know what do you think.

Finally, if you’re looking for more similar movies I recommend Le Feu Follet, and here are a couple more: Plein Soleil, Le Trou, Bob le Flambeur, Le Cercle Rouge, and Le Doulos.

Director: Louis Malle

Writers: Louis Malle, Roger Nimier, Noël Calef

Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Ivan Petrovich, Yori Bertin, Jean Wall, Elga Andersen, Charles Denner, Lino Ventura

Fun Facts: Miles Davis recorded the music with a quartet of French and US musicians in a few hours (from 11pm to 5am one night), improvising each number and allegedly sipping champagne with Jeanne Moreau and Louis Malle.


IMDb Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051378/

YouTube player