IN THEATERS (SF) – “Elevator to the Gallows”

rsz_elevator-to-the-gallowsElevator to the Gallows (1958; Dir.: Louis Malle)

GRADE: B+

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, September 9, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

This punchy debut feature from French New Wave satellite Louis Malle recently received a 2K digital restoration and a restored soundtrack, all the better to admire the documentary-style depiction of Paris nightlife and the electrifying jazz score by Miles Davis.  Lovers Florence and Julien (Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet) plot the perfect murder, but when Julien returns to the scene of the crime to fix a crucial mistake, he gets trapped between floors in a high-rise elevator, leaving a distraught Florence to ponder his whereabouts.  From there, the narrative splits into three threads, alternating between Julien’s precarious situation in the elevator, Florence wandering the streets and seedy bars of Paris like a zombie, and a young couple who kick off a crimewave by boosting Julien’s car.  The narratives re-intersect in a way that makes Elevator to the Gallows feel like a direct influence on twisty 1990’s indie crime movies, but the film’s finest quality is a very Malle-ian interest in physical environments and clashing cultures.  It’s compelling but a little gangly, very much a first film, with a few head-scratching plot holes (whatever happened to that dangling rope, anyway?), but those complaints seem insignificant in the glare of the Paris lights, the flare in Jeanne Moreau’s eyes and the blare of Miles Davis’ trumpet.