Louis Malle

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) and Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) are in the middle of a sordid affair.  The only thing standing in the way of them being together is Simon Carala, Florence’s husband and Julien’s boss.  As is the case in so many movies, they hatch a scheme to kill the husband and run off together.  And as is always the case, they think they’ve covered themselves in every way.  Julien goes into Simon’s office unnoticed, shoots him, makes it look like a suicide, escapes out the window using a rope, and goes straight to his car.  But once he gets to his car, he realizes he left behind one vital clue — the rope.  So he goes back to get it, but he leaves his car keys in the ignition.

What Julien doesn’t realize is that as he was getting ready to leave, flower shop sales girl Veronique (Yori Bertin) and her delinquent boyfriend Louis (Georges Poujouly) were admiring his car from a distance.  When he left, Louis couldn’t resist taking a closer look.  Then he couldn’t resist jumping in and taking a little ride with Veronique.  But nobody realizes the car has been stolen because the elevator Julien is in breaks down and he gets stuck.  As Louis and Veronique leave town, they pass the cafe where Julien was supposed to pick Florence up.  When Florence sees Julien’s car drive by with another woman in the passenger seat, she assumes that he’s leaving town with another woman and is devastated and spends the night wandering the streets of the city.

Louis and Veronique drive off to a motel where they check in as Mr. and Mrs. Julien Tavernier and spend the evening relaxing with a couple visiting from Germany.  The German couple also arrived in a pretty swanky car and after they go to bed, Louis decides to try to steal their car too.  When Louis’ attempts get the owner out of bed, Louis pulls out Julien’s gun, which had been left in his car, and shoots him and his wife.  They hurry back to Veronique’s apartment where they try to overdose on sleeping pills.  Meanwhile, when the police find Julien’s car and gun at the scene of the crime, of course the police start searching for him and Julien manages to escape from the elevator just in time for his picture to hit the morning papers.  He is quickly arrested and because the police don’t buy his elevator story, is charged with killing the German couple.  However, Florence does buy his story and sets out to put the record straight.  The police also found her husband’s body but suspected nothing, so if she could clear him of killing the Germans, he’d be free to be with her again.  Veronique and Louis survive their suicide attempt and Florence confronts them.  But after Florence leaves, they realize they left behind one clue at the motel that would undeniably tie them to the murders and Louis races back to the motel to retrieve it before it’s too late.

I loved every minute of Elevator to the Gallows.  Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and truly taut and suspenseful.  Very classic example of late 1950s French filmmaking.  And with a runtime of 88 minutes, I’m sure even people who don’t usually have the patience for foreign movies could handle this.  Do not let an aversion to subtitles turn you away from this one because you will be missing out big time.  Hands down, one of the best crime films I’ve ever seen.