September 1, 2006

Elevator to the Gallows

Reviewer: Marc Barrite
Rating (out of 5): ****

In his first feature, French director Louis Malle struck cinematic gold with this film noir, an adaptation of a novel by Noel Calef. There are many faces appearing here who would become fixtures in French cinema but it's the lovely Jeanne Moreau who leaves the most indellible impression; she gives a stand-out performance as the bourgeois Florence Carala helplessly wandering the streets of Paris at night in search of her lover. Moreau's travels are masterfully captured by cinematographer Henri Decae, who employs many of the groundbreaking, budget-conscious techniques that would be used more overtly in the subsequent French new wave movement, including the sole use of available light, which in this film results in a beautiful array of natural shadows cast about in each scene.

Elevator's success and timelessness was further sealed by having jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis perform the unforgettable soundtrack. The improvised score is a shining example of the cool and seductive sound Davis purveyed during the rise of his career. The spare instrumentation and smoky atmosphere of the recordings are hypnotic, complementing the film perfectly.

Though nearing its 50th birthday, Elevator holds up with the best of its contemporaries. The pacing and plot complexities will keep today's less-than-patient viewer attentive, there's enough isolation and paranoia to satiate even the most hardened Hitchcock and noir fans, and the screenplay (by Malle and Roger Nimier) is at once sharp, romantic and political. The Criterion bonus disc offers interviews with Malle and Moreau from 1975 and 2005 respectively, rare footage of Miles Davis performing the soundtrack, and Malle's rarely seen film school short, Crazeologie, to boot.

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Posted by cphillips at September 1, 2006 9:57 AM | TrackBack
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