Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 223: Elevator to the Gallows (1958) - Rank 5/5


There are few feature-length, directorial debuts that show as much promise as Louis Malle's amalgamation of new wave and film noir does. Malle takes the story of a simple murder gone disastrously awry and builds tension that draws the viewer in, supplementing it with a haunting atmosphere that makes it hang with you long after the film ends.

Adulterer Julien Tavernier ends his work week by ascending up the side of his office building with a grappling hook, executing his boss (who just happens to also be the husband of his lover), and preparing to meet his lover, Florence Carala (an early role by Jeanne Moreau). But before he leaves, he realizes that he foolishly left the telltale rope hanging from his balcony. During his ascent in the office elevator, the janitor shuts down the building's breakers and leaves for the night, trapping Julien for the weekend. Outside, a couple of teenage lovers realize Julien left his car's engine running and decide to steal it, along with Julien's gun. On their way out of town, they cruise by the restaurant where Florence is waiting, she catches a glimpse of the strange female sitting in the passenger seat of Julien's car and believing she's been stood up, wanders disillusioned about the city, reevaluating her life. And that's all in the first fifteen minutes.

It would have been really easy for Malle to make a successful thriller that merely surrounded the gimmick of a man trapped in an elevator. However, he takes advantage of the incapacitated Julien to throw the character's life into a horrendous turmoil, utterly unbeknown st to him. There were multiple times where I found myself wondering if the situation could get any worse for Julien, and as if answering my question, circumstances do worsen - almost infinitely so, to the point that viewer realizes that the rotting corpse in the top floor of his office building is the least of his concerns. The film is delightfully dark, both thematically and visually. A great deal of the action takes place during the first night of Julien's entrapment or within the shadowed walls of the locked elevator. Jeanne Moreau's tortured search for her longtime lover is especially moving. Simply put: it's a superb bit of noir that's hard to beat.

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