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  Lift to the Scaffold Up Or Down?
Year: 1958
Director: Louis Malle
Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Jean Wall, Elga Andersen, Sylviane Aisenstein, Micheline Bona, Gisele Grandpre, Jacqueline Staup, Marcel Cuvelier, Gerard Darrieu, Charles Denner, Hubert Deschamps, Ivan Petrovich
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) and Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) are pledging their love for one another over the phone line, she in a telephone box and he in his office in Paris. They are doing so because they have devised a scheme that will see Florence freed from her commitments to her arms dealer husband (Jean Wall), drastically so, as they want to stage his apparent suicide, actually a murder, and head off into the sunset. Their plan appears foolproof, and Julien has every beat memorised to perfection, but even the best laid plans can suffer a fatal drawback that nobody foresaw...

Lift to the Scaffold, or Ascenseur pour l'echafaud, or Elevator to the Gallows if you were American, was director Louis Malle's feature debut after a selection of shorts and documentaries, often cited as one of the starting points of the French New Wave. Malle was well-known for picking and choosing his projects carefully so he would not be repeating himself, and inasmuch as this was a French version of film noir, made just as the original cycle was winding down, it is true he did not return to this territory over a career that lasted to the nineteen-nineties and was often hugely acclaimed.

The film is largely recalled for two things: offering Moreau her first lead role, and giving jazz musician Miles Davis his opportunity to score the movie, something he did, according to legend, in an all-night session with a small collection of other jazz men, improvising over the images as the story unfolded before his eyes. Although there are many sections where Davis does not play, the most iconic scenes involved Moreau wandering the Paris streets in her character's long dark night of the soul as Florence comes to fear Julien has not only failed to carry out the deed, but may have left her for good as well.

This is where the lift enters into it, as Julien has carried out the murder, that bit went all to plan, but the grappling hook and rope he used he has accidentally left behind in the process of rushing to answer his office phone to make it sound as if he was there all along. Noticing the rope as he exits the building, he hastily goes back and manages to get himself trapped in the lift, a pleasing step in a chapter of accidents that has something to say about fickle fate, and something to say about cruel irony being more prevalent in this world than just rewards. Should Julien and Florence find happiness, they being murderers, after all? It's debatable, but their victim is portrayed in a very mercenary, death-dealing light.

Indochina is mentioned, as is Algiers, reminding you this was from around the era that The Battle of Algiers was released and became every revolutionary's favourite movie, so this was by no means clear cut, the world may be better off without Mr Carala. On the other hand, the lovers may be operating through strictly selfish motives, which could explain the run of bad luck this visits upon them with some enthusiasm. Although Moreau was more a handsome woman than a beautiful one, Malle captured within her a real soulful quality that Davis' music only enhances: when she sees Julien's car being driven away with the flighty florist assistant Veronique (Yori Bertin) in the passenger seat, Florence mistakenly believes the worst, not realising the girl's crooked boyfriend Louis (Georges Poujouly) is the driver, and they have a nightmare evening of their own to endure. If there was a flaw, it was Malle came across as incredibly pedantic, explaining and resolving every detail in the last act, which tended to defuse the tension. But a confident debut, nonetheless.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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