Movie Afternoon: Elevator to the Gallows

Arguably the breaker that ushered in the French New Wave, “Elevator to the Gallows”, directed by Louis Malle when he was all of 24 years-old, is a compulsory course in cool. The Miles Davis score (which according to the director’s brother, Vincent, was recorded over the course of an evening, with Davis improvising each number and sipping champagne with lead actress Jeanne Moreau), Henri Decae’s gritty camera work and Moreau’s mesmerizing breakthrough performance naturally get top billing. 

A touchstone of the careers of both its star and director, Elevator to the Gallows is a richly atmospheric thriller of murder and mistaken identity unfolding over one restless Parisian night. This noirish thriller that also serves as a morality play. Using the elevator of the title as a vehicle for his leitmotif, Malle does an admirable job of capturing the smoky gray atmosphere of Paris in the 1950's and using it to great cinematic effect on a chain-link story of deception and murder. In fact, the whole movie plays like a Francophile version of a James M. Cain novel times two with plot twists coming in quick and sometimes contrived succession. Many of the scenes were filmed with natural light. Jeanne Moreau's penultimate scene walking down the Champs Elysees is lit only from the glare of the shop windows that she passes is stunning in its simple, shadowy beauty. Paris, in many ways has never looked more beautiful or more sinister. 

For those into mid century modern architecture, the Trappes Motel makes a stunning appearance as Malale couldn’t have found a groovier location. The Motel only one of its kind in France and it’s a beauty: A neatly landscaped bungalow colony, equipped with Eamsien décor and such amenities as individual carports, a restaurant and a photo-processing lab for creating those instant memories — or instant evidence. In other words, the ideal spot to knock back a few martinis and conduct a clandestine affair

We will be in the public meeting room on the second floor, just to your left as you exit the elevator. Parking at the library is free but limited. See our page on mid town parking

This movie is in French with English Subtitles.   


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  • Robert G.

    Great film. Sometime I'll bring "Rules of the Game" if anyone's interested.

    1 · April 14, 2014

  • Nicole

    Jim, thanks for organizing this! It was fun to see the film entirely in French, and now I want to find it on DVD so I can watch the end. Beautiful cinematography.

    1 · April 13, 2014

  • stephanie t.

    I really liked the movie. I got a tragically romantic feel from it. I will definitely have to watch this one again.

    April 13, 2014

  • Jay P.

    Ugh. Stuck on 400 ...

    April 12, 2014

  • Joelle

    I'll be out of town and will have to miss this one. See you guys next time!

    March 31, 2014

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