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4.0 out of 5 stars A decent Twilight Zone Episode in proto-New Wave style, 25 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Criterion Coll: Elevator to the Gallows [DVD] [1957] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
(NOTE: "Elevator to the Gallows" is the North American translation of the original French title of this film which is usually rendered into Brit-speak as "Lift to the Scafflold." Buyer beware.)

I refer to the Twilight Zone in the title of the this review, not because there are any fantastical elements in "Elevator to the Gallows," but because every shot, indeed every word of dialogue is for the specific purpose of tying all the loose strings of a mean-spirited little fable into a neatly knotted bow in the final scene. Not one of the major roles as written displays any slightest hint of character beyond that demanded by the plot.

If you question that assertion, then explain why the two German characters behave as they do. And what rationale does the self-destructive young street lout, car thief, lunatic driver, incompetent liar and homicidal jerk have for any of his decisions during the whole length of the film, if it is not simply a means to allow the plot to progress?

Returning to The Twilight Zone connection, "Elevator to the Gallows" attains feature length, running about an hour and a half, but there are long sequences that could be greatly shortened, recast into just a couple of shots while still hitting every plot point. This would reduce the whole to something that could easily be accommodated in a network time slot.

The whole sequence with the Germans is one of them. Hollywood directors of the 1940s would have encompassed it all in just a few moments by using a couple of wipe cuts. The single most famous scene in the movie, Jeanne Moreau fruitlessly seeking her lover throughout Paris for the length of a night, is at bottom no more than simple padding. The scene does not even exist, we are informed, in the novel on which the film is based.

And as long as we are dealing with that sequence, exactly what crime has Moreau committed that led to her arrest at the end of it? Could it really have been illegal for a well-dressed, affluent-looking, stone-sober woman to be a pedestrian in Paris at 5:00 am?

On the positive side, Moreau does occasionally manage to create the illusion of independent life, in spite of the incessant ticking of the plot and some of the flattest dialogue imaginable. That illusion, of course, is dissolved late in the film by her one ringing declaration, "I'll save you!" That's a thing, alas, more appropriate for Jeanne d'Arc than for Jeanne Moreau.

Some nice, crisp, contrasty visuals appear regularly, although they are woefully self-conscious when compared with their obvious American models.

The film has an impressive jazz score contributed by Miles Davis. Since everyone involved states this was fortuitous, it can only be regarded as a lucky break, not a basic building block of the movie or an example of the director's foresight.

This is an occasionally handsome-looking, entirely plot-driven little fable for which I would normally assign three stars. It's lucky enough, however, to have an excellent musical score, so ... four stars.
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Location: Vancouver, British Columbia Canada

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