‘Elevator to the Gallows’


Cahiers du Cinéma once summarily dismissed Louis Malle, a fellow traveler of the nouvelle vague but never officially one of its members, as a director “still in search of a ‘subject.’ ” But it’s precisely Malle’s omnivorous appetite that makes his first feature, adapted from a policier, so delectable, one stuffed with many sumptuous sights and sounds: gorgeous nighttime shots of Paris lensed by Henri Deca Miles Davis’s largely improvised score, the nail-biting breakout from the titular lift (rivaling the tension in Bresson’s 1956 A Man Escaped, on which Malle assisted), and Jeanne Moreau, here in the role that would make her a star after 20 films in nine years.

L’amour fou times two, Elevator to the Gallows tracks the machinations of its criminal lovers: gloomy dandy Julien (Maurice Ronet), a vet of the wars in Indochina and Algeria who kills his boss so he can run off with the chief’s wife, Florence (Moreau); and troubled teens Louis (Georges Poujouly) and Véronique (Yori Bertin), who steal Julien’s convertible—and his identity. Of all the sinning principals, Moreau stands out as the one craziest in love, deliriously declaring her devotion to Julien during a pre-homicide phone call in the seductive, disarming opening scene. Gliding down the Champs- in search of her man, Florence is a precursor of the even more besotted femme Moreau would play in Malle’s steamy next film, The Lovers. Melissa Anderson