Elevator to the Gallows  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud is a 1958 French crime film directed by Louis Malle. It was released as Elevator to the Gallows in the United States (aka Frantic) and as Lift to the Scaffold in the United Kingdom. It stars Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as criminal lovers whose perfect crime begins to unravel when Ronet is trapped in an elevator. The film is often associated by critics with the film noir style. At the time of the film's release, it introduced new narrative and editing techniques. The film is considered an important work of cinema at the base of the Nouvelle Vague and the New Modern Cinema.

The film additionally presents unique and completely new solutions in the history of cinema in the relationship between music and image. The film's score is considered by many as groundbreaking. The score by Miles Davis has been described by jazz critic Phil Johnson as, "The loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep."

Plot

Florence Carala (Moreau) and Julien Tavernier (Ronet) are illicit lovers who plan to kill Florence's husband, Simon Carala (Wall), a wealthy industrialist who is also Julien's boss. Julien, an ex-Foreign Legion parachutist officer veteran of Indochina and Algeria, climbs up the office block on a rope, shoots Carala in his office without being seen, and arranges the room to make it look like a suicide.

Now past business closing hours, seated at the curb in his convertible—as its top is slowly retracting—just before pulling away from the office building he glances up to its high floors, and he sees a rope hanging over the balcony edge, which is evidence of his crime. He must retrace his steps, and leaving the car running, he rushes back into the building. But while he is ascending in an elevator, the building custodian, or security man, switches off the power to the elevators, and Julien is now trapped—as the building is shut down for the weekend.

Julien's car is stolen by a young couple, small-time crook Louis (Poujouly) and flower-seller Veronique (Bertin). Florence, who is waiting for Julien at a cafe, sees the car go by and Veronique leaning out of the window. She assumes that Julien has run off with Veronique, and wanders the Paris streets despondently all night. Louis and Veronique spend the night in a motel, checking in under the name "Mr. and Mrs. Julien Tavernier," and make the acquaintance of Horst Bencker (Petrovich) and his wife Frieda (Andersen), a German tourist couple. Frieda takes pictures of Louis and her husband with Julien's miniature camera.

After the Benckers go to bed, Louis attempts to steal their Mercedes-Benz 300 SL gullwing. Bencker catches Louis and threatens him with a "gun" (really a cigar tube). Louis shoots and kills the couple with Julien's handgun. Louis and Veronique return to Paris and hide out in Veronique's flat. Convinced that their crime will be discovered and they will go to jail, Veronique persuades Louis to join her in a suicide pact. They take an overdose of pills and pass out. The Benckers' bodies are discovered, along with Julien's car, handgun, and raincoat; Julien therefore becomes the prime suspect in their deaths, and his picture is printed in the morning newspapers. The police, seeking Julien, arrive at the office building. Julien is finally able to escape from the elevator without being seen, but, in a cafe, is quickly recognized and arrested.

Meanwhile, the police discover Carala's body in his office, but do not suspect foul play - they believe that it was a suicide. Julien is charged with killing the Benckers, and the police refuse to believe his alibi of being stuck in an elevator. Florence believes Julien's story, and goes to seek out Veronique. Her suicide attempt failed; she and Louis are both alive, but drowsy. Florence confronts the young couple and accuses them of killing the Benckers. Louis still believes that there is no evidence connecting him with the crime, then remembers Julien's camera which contains photographs of him and Bencker. He left the camera at the motel, and drives back there in the hope of recovering the camera before anyone can develop the pictures. Florence pursues him, determined not to let him get away. At the motel, the photographs have been developed. Because of the picture of Louis and Bencker, Louis will indeed be charged with murdering the German tourists. However, the camera also contained photographs of Julien and Florence, embracing and smiling. The police realize that Julien and Florence were lovers, and that they plotted to kill Florence's husband. Both will go on trial for Carala's death.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Elevator to the Gallows" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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