Elevator to the Gallows is a great example of how those small moments in life can bring drastic changes. One small piece of rope alters the lives of four people in the Louis Malle-directed film. Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) and his lover Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) come up with a plan to kill her husband, Simon. Everything goes smoothly until Julien realizes that he’s left behind the rope he used to climb the balcony into Simon’s office. He leaves his car running on the street, and races back into the building. Julien winds up stuck in the elevator when the power is shut off for the night, which allows Louis (Georges Poujouly) and his girlfriend Veronique (Yori Bertin) to steal his car. Now all four individuals face an evening of strange events that lead to their downfall.
That one piece of rope is the catalyst that destroys four lives, and in a sad twist, the rope is picked up by a little girl and most likely never seen again. While Julien and Florence carry the opening of the story, and it’s Julien’s mistake with the rope that kicks things off, their characters play a small role in the film. Julien spends almost the entire film stuck in the elevator, while Florence walks the streets all night, trying to find out what happened to Julien. The story of Louis and Veronique is the more important one here. Julien may have slipped up, but it’s the actions of Louis and Veronique after that moment that destroys the lives of everyone, including their own.
The chain of events that lead to the outcome are fantastic. It’s also very interesting how the lives of Julien and Florence hinge on the actions of Louis and Veronique. Seemingly small moments, like when Veronique signs in at a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Tavernier, have drastic impact on the events. On the opposite end of the spectrum, huge events, like a murder that takes place, seem to have less of an impact. Every terrible choice that Louis and Veronique make isn’t necessarily going to change the lives of Julien and Florence, but in order to save themselves, Florence may inadvertently bring the police right to them.
While the film is an incredible piece of cinema, it’s the way in which Louis Malle shot actress Jeanne Moreau that seems to have been considered more important. Plenty of close-ups were used, and the actress wore very little make-up. It’s hard to imagine that anybody would find Jeanne Moreau unattractive in the film, but that’s what happened. It seems a bold move for Louis Malle considering that this is his first feature film, but it pays off. The character of Florence seems much more vulnerable as she walks through the streets in the rain. Not only does the film look amazing, but the score by Miles Davis blends perfectly. A lone trumpet accompanies many of the shots of Florence, adding even more to the pain she’s feeling. It’s a great merge of sound and sight.
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