Monday, March 28, 2011

Elevator to the Gallows

TCM's Employee Picks continue this evening with one of the employees selecting an all-too-rarely shown French film: Elevator to the Gallows, at 11:45 PM ET.

Julien is a French World War II veteran now working in a Parisian office building. In the great stereotypical French tradition, he's carrying on an affair, which just happens to be with his boss's wife Florence (Jeanne Moreau). The two come up with a plan to do away with his boss/her husband, so that they can go off together. However, as always seems to happen in the movies, the "perfect" murder plot has a way of going wrong. (There wouldn't be a movie otherwise, of course, but if you've seen enough movies, you still know to expect a screw-up somewhere.) In this case, the murder involves going around the outside of the building to get into the boss's locked office, and Julien has left a rope on the outside of the building. When he tries to get the rope, however, he gets locked in the elevator when the building's night watchman/custodian shuts off the elevator.

That's not the only problem. Julien left his car outside for a quick getaway, and while he's trying to get himself out of the elevator, two young hoods take the car, and go off for a joyride out into the French countryside. There, they wind up a a nice little motel where they meet a German couple, one of whom ends up dead. And that, combined with a camera left in the car, leads the police back to Julien and Florence who, while they're clearly not guilty of the motel killing, might have culpability in some other crime....

Elevator to the Gallows is a wonderful little piece directed by Louis Malle; in fact, it was Malle's first feature film. The story is well-constructed and as far as murder mysteries (or thrillers since we already know who's guilty) go, one of the more plausible ones out there. As I commented with Georgy Girl last week, it's always nice to see vintage looks at places like London or Paris, as the more realistic movies of the post-war and New Wave periods show us a side of the city the tourist guides don't mention. Then, there's the score; it's jazzy music by Miles Davis, which adds just the right atmosphere to late-1950s Paris.

As is often the case with case with foreign films, there's just enough interest among movie buffs for Elevator to the Gallows to have gotten an American DVD release. However, because that interest is "just enough", it also means that the DVD release is relegated to one of the specialty companies (the Criterion Collection), which means it comes at a higher price.

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