Blu-ray Review: Elevator to the Gallows (Criterion Collection)

In Blu-Ray’s by Rebecca WrightLeave a Comment

French director Louis Malle (Au revoir les enfants) isn’t generally associated with the noir genre, but his first narrative feature, Elevator to the Gallows, based on the pulp novel by Noël Calef, and set to a haunting score by Miles Davis, is as dark and suspenseful as any crime drama produced in Hollywood during the late 1950’s.

Florence Carola (Jeanne Moreau) and her lover Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet, Purple Noon) share a frantic phone call; closeups of their mouths serve to emphasize the passion in their voices. Amongst words of love, the two conspire to kill her husband–his boss, Simon (Jean Wall) a wealthy arms dealer. It would seem like the perfect plan. Just before the office closes, Julien climb up one floor on the outside of the building and enters a window of Simon’s office. He shoots his boss, makes it look like a suicide, bolts the office door from the inside and exits through the window. Everything’s perfect until later, when Julien realizes he’s left evidence behind. Returning to the office, he gets trapped in the elevator when the power shuts off for the weekend. Florence, meanwhile, grows concerned, as she waits in a cafe for her lover to return. Wandering the streets, she visits places she and Julien frequented, convinced he has left her.

With Julien stranded in the elevator and Florence wandering the streets of Paris, a teenage couple Louis and Véronique (Georges Poujouly and Yori Bertin), steal Julien’s sports car for a joyride. They spend the evening partying with a couple of German tourists, who were later found murdered; Julien’s car at the scene. All three plot threads are woven together to accentuate the idea that despite careful planning, Florence and Julien are doomed by bad timing and a lot of bad luck!

Beautifully shot by by Henri Decaë (who would lense François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows the next year), it’s the closeups of Veronique that give the movie an overriding sense of dread. By 1958, Jeanne Moreau had been working in film for nearly two decades. It’s no surprise Elevator to the Gallows made her a star. Louis Malle was able to highlight the vulnerability and sense of longing that can exist for the most detached femme fatales. Add in Miles Davis’ largely improvised jazz score and the result is a memorable thriller.

Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 1080p transfer (sourced from a 2K restoration of the original 35mm negative) is a vast improvement over the previous DVD release. The level of detail is outstanding, and contrast is well defined throughout. Night scenes and dimly lit interiors offer up impressive shadow detail and inky blacks. Film grain is well distributed. Criterion has provided another stellar transfer.

While nothing particularly exciting, the PCM 1.0 track provides a fine audio experience for the film. Dialogue, music, and effects are clear throughout. There are no distortion issues and occasional depth is in evidence. Given the tracks overall clarity, this lossless mono presentation likely comes close to the filmmaker’s original intentions.

English subtitles are included.

As for extras, everything from Criterion’s original 2006 DVD release has been ported over:

  • Jeanne Moreau (HD, 18:00) Conducted for Criterion in 2005, the actress discusses being offered the role of Florence and her experience making the film. She also shares some thoughts on her character and Miles Davis’ legendary score.
  • Louis Malle (HD, 17:07) Conducted in 1975 for Canadian television, Malle discusses various aspects of his early years as a filmmaker and the conception of Elevator to the Gallows, its visual style, tone and more.
  • Maurice Ronet (HD, 4:39) Conducted by Francois Chalais in May 1957 for the French television program Reflets de Cannes, before the actor starred in Elevator to the Gallows, Ronet discusses his image as the “romantic lead.”
  • Malle and Moreau at Cannes (HD, 10:41) Conducted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993, Louis Malle and Jeanne Moreau discuss their relationship with journalist Michael A. Field, with much of the conversation focusing on their time working on Elevator to the Gallows.
  • The Miles Davis Score:
    • The Recording Session (HD, 5:52) Rare studio footage filmed for the French television program Cinepanorama from the night when the score was recorded in 1957, plus a short interview with Louis Malle conducted by reporter Francois Chalais.
    • On Piano, Rene Urtreger (HD, 14:43) Conducted in 2005, and presented courtesy of Arte France, the pianist discusses working with Miles Davis and the jazz legends tremendous improvisational skills.
    • Miles Goes Modal: The Breakthrough Score for Elevator to the Gallows (HD, 25:00) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2005, jazz trumpeter and composer Jon Faddis and critic Gary Giddins discuss the legendary score of Elevator to the Gallows, Miles Davis’ career and how he changed the genre.
  • Crazeologie (1954) (HD, 6:16) Louie Malle’s student film featuring the title song by Charlie Parker.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:02)
  • Rialto Re-Release Trailer (HD, 1:59) Created in 2005.
  • Booklet: Fully illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Terrence Rafferty, reprinted archival interview with Louis Malle and a tribute by film producer Vincent Malle.

Movie title: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

Director(s): Louis Malle

Actor(s): Jeanne Moreau , Maurice Ronet , Georges Poujouly , Yori Bertin , Jean Wall , Elga Andersen

Genre: Foriegn, Drama, Film Noir, Thriller, Crime

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