A self-assured businessman murders his employer, the husband of his mistress, which unintentionally provokes an ill-fated chain of events.
The black cat has it... Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (AKA: Elevator to the Gallows/Lift to the Scaffold) is directed by Louis Malle and co-written by Malle, Roger Nimier and Noël Calef (novel). It stars Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin and Jean Wall. Music is by Miles Davis and cinematography by Henri Decaë. A little ole devil this one, a sly slow pacer that itches away at your skin. Rightly seen as a bridging movie between the classic film noir cycle and the nouvelle vague, Malle's movie is in truth straightforward on narrative terms. Julien Tavernier (Ronet) is going to kill husband of his lover, Florence Carala (Moreau), who also happens to be his boss, but upon executing the perfect murder, he, through his own absent mindedness, winds up stuck in a lift close to the crime scene. Outside Florence is frantically awaiting his arrival so as to begin their life together in earnest, but when a couple of young lovers steal Julien's car, Florence gets the wrong end of the stick and a sequence of events lead to Julien and Florence hitching that ride to the gallows. Simplicity of narrative be damned, Malle's movie is a classic case of that mattering not one jot. There is style to burn here, with bleak atmospherics dripping from every frame, and Miles Davis' sultry jazz music hovers over proceedings like a sleazy grim reaper. The ironic twists in the writing come straight off the bus to noirville, putting stings in the tale, the smart reverse of the norm finding Moreau (sensual) wandering the streets looking for her male lover, while elsewhere he's in isolation and a doppleganger murder scenario is cunningly being played out. Decaë's photography has a moody desperation about it that so fits the story, the use of natural light making fellow French film makers sit up and take notice. While the dialogue, and the caustic aside to arms dealings, ensures we know that Malle can be a sly old fox. He really should have done more noir like pictures. A film that convinces us that Julien and Florence are deeply in love and passionate about each other, and yet they never are once together in the whole movie! It's just one of the many wonderful things about Louis Malle's excellent picture. Remember folks, the camera never lies... 8/10