It's clear from the opening minutes of "Elevator to the Gallows" why this 1957 film -- with it's ahead-of-its-time sense of style, its haunting-yet-cool score improvised by Miles Davis and its ironic, post-modern take on film noir -- became the progenitor of a whole New Wave in French cinema.
The uncomplicated yet ingeniously knotted plot takes a classic noir murder -- a man killing his lover's husband so they can be together -- strips away the genre clichés and infuses the film with the introspective moodiness, dynamic camerawork, unadorned location shots, and stylized but emotionally naked performances that would become a hallmark of the New Wave pictures that followed by Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer and Malle himself.
To put it in backwards-thinking terms, the 24-year-old Malle was the Quentin Tarantino of his day, giving French cinema a creative, instantly influential shot in the arm that spawned imitators and opened new horizons in directorial thinking.
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Gallows gives us a familiar setup: Woman (Jeanne Moreau) wants rich husband dead. Her lover Julien (Maurice Roget), who works for the man, murders him and makes it look like a suicide. But Julien leaves his rope outside his penthouse office window. With all his gear in the car, Julien heads back to retrieve the evidence, but security guards shut off the power in the elevator on the way down. Meanwhile, the car is stolen, the young couple who take it pretend they're Julien and wife, and subsequently kill a pair of German tourists. Julien is unknowingly framed for that crime, all while trying to escape the elevator he's stuck in.
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In Roger Vadim's interpretation of the Latin lover, Jeanne (Bardot) eats men for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She takes a married politician and immediately ruins him by having him photographed at one of her orgies. She uses a hapless folk singer for sex and then leaves, prompting him to slice his wrists and bleed to death while strumming his guitar. She even extends her wiles to corrupting women, luring the innocent wife of a grotesquely self-absorbed businessman into the sack, then turning the tables on both members of the couple.
Continue reading: Don Juan (Or If Don Juan Were A Woman) Review
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.