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Film / Elevator to the Gallows

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Elevator to the Gallows (French: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud), also known as Lift to the Scaffold in the UK, is a 1958 crime thriller by Louis Malle.

The movie revolves around the plan of a wife (Jeanne Moreau) and her lover to kill her husband. It is at first executed to a tee considering the murder itself. However in the aftermath the plan is thwarted when the lover gets stuck in the titular lift while trying to remove evidence from the scene. Later his car is hijacked by a younger couple who, while on the ride, also kill a couple of German tourists, the Benckers. The case becomes convoluted. Then police commissioner Cherier, played by Lino Ventura, enters the film.

The famous soundtrack for this film was contributed by Miles Davis.


  • Bluff the Impostor: Already suspicious of Louis afterVéronique accidentally blurts out his real name instead of "Julien", Horst Bencker asks "Monsieur Tavernier" if he knew many Germans when he was fighting in Indochina, as many of them join the Foreign Legion. Louis falls for the trap, although Horst doesn't initially have any plans for his knowledge that Louis isn't really Julien Tavernier.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Horst Bencker tries to get Louis to stop stealing his car by brandishing a cigar tube as if it were a gun. The jumpy Louis falls for it and returns fire, killing Horst and Frieda.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Julien is arrested for the Benckers' murder and told that the police found his car, his raincoat, and his gun, and that several witnesses place him in the car with Véronique before and after leaving Paris, he eventually tries telling them that he's been stuck in a lift for most of the preceding 24 hours. The police laugh off the idea and ask him to try again.
  • Closeup on Head: The opening scene starts with a close up on Florence's head and then zooming out to show her talking on the telephone.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Florence Carala, through a combination of sleep deprivation after spending an entire night fruitlessly searching for Julien and shock at his being caught, begins mumbling non sequitur answers to Commissioner Cherier's questioning.
  • Cool Car:
    • Louis and Véronique are awed by Julien's Chevrolet convertible, especially the way the roof retracts at the push of a button. When Julien leaves his car unattended with the engine running, Louis decides to go for a joyride and drags Véronique along.
    • Disappointed that the Chevrolet only has a top speed of 145 kph and can be outpaced by the Benckers' sleek, gullwing-doored Mercedes 305, Louis shifts his awe to the German car instead.
  • A Deadly Affair: Florence is married to Simon and having an affair with Julien. She conspires with Julien to kill off Simon.
  • Determinator: Florence Carala regularly repeats that she will save Julien, her lover, by whatever means. Her determination is of a somnambulic kind, but she will indeed go to great lengths to help Julien.
  • Elevator Failure: For most of the film, Julien is trapped inside an elevator due to the electricity shutting off for the weekend.
  • Inner Monologue: There's a lot of this from Florence as she walks around in the rain, wondering why Julien hasn't shown up after supposedly killing her husband.
  • Ms. Exposition: Véronique tells her boyfriend about Julien's achievements as a soldier in Indochina, Algeria, and the French Foreign Legion, through which we learn what a badass he is.
  • Never Suicide: Julien stages the murder to make it look like Simon killed himself.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Julien's boss is praising him as a friend and hero while the latter is one step away from murdering him.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Simon has a dime-sized hole in his temple and that's it. There isn't even any blood.
  • Rule of Cool: Malle is guided by this rule quite frequently. No wonder as this is 1958 and the film is one of the very first entries in the genre of French New Wave.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The reason Julien goes back and gets himself stuck in the lift is because he wanted to retrieve the rope dangling from Carala's window that he'd forgotten about. A later scene shows that it eventually fell by itself and got picked up by a child.
  • Smithical Marriage: Louis and his girlfriend sign the register as Mr. and Mrs. Julien Tavernier, which proves relevant late when the police focus on Julien for the murder of the Germans.
  • Spanner in the Works: Julien would probably have gotten away with his murder if it wasn't for Véronique and her boyfriend who steal his car, commit murder and get the compromising photos developed.
  • Spy Cam: Julien's mini camera.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Julien's boss tries this at gunpoint. It doesn't intimidate Julien in the least.

Alternative Title(s): Ascenseur Pour L Echafaud