There is such a heady mixture of strength and vulnerability in how Florence Carala (Moreau) looks at the camera. Even when her face is absolutely still, her eyes convey the churning that is going on inside of her. She is in love with Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), and they have come up with a clever plan to kill her husband and, therefore, clear the way to be together. Like all plans, clever or otherwise, things go wrong. Something takes too long or in the case of Tavernier a ringing phone distracts him just enough that he leaves a rope dangling where no rope should be.
Miles Davis provided the musical cues for the movie. These became the basis for his album Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, which was the precursor to his masterpieces Milestones and Kind of Blue. Working on the movie was a breakthrough creatively for Davis. He was in the midst of a love affair with Jeanne Moreau during the film, and I do wonder if she was the muse at the right time who encouraged him to new levels of innovation and originality.
I wasn’t surprised to discover that the director Louis Malle was also infatuated with Moreau. Throughout the whole movie, he is making love to her with the camera. In fact, they had a torrid affair during the next film that they made together called The Lovers . Elevator to the Gallows was the beginning of stardom for Moreau, but The Lovers, with the censorship issues which boosted box office attendance, was the movie that confirmed her as a star. The stress and strain revolving around the movie also lead to the demise of her affair with Malle.
Tavernier is already outside in his car when he notices the rope still dangling from the side of the building. He rushes inside leaving his car running, unattended, which compounds the original mistake, and will lead to many more twists and turns to the plot as a young hoodlum with a head full of half baked philosophical ideas and his girlfriend steal the car.
This movie was the beginning of a new kind of French film. It was a mixture of realism and Old Hollywood noir that combined together beautifully to make for a very elegant, compelling cinematic experience. This movie also launched the career of an actress who would go on to be regarded as one of the finest French actresses in the history of cinema. Highly recommended!!