Category Archives: Crime Drama

Elevator to the Gallows “Ascenseur pour l’échafaud“ (1957)

Elevator to the Gallows 4Elevator to the Gallows 1

The only exposure I had with Mr. Louis Malle was his last film in 1994, the experimental Vanya at 42nd street. A stark contrast to his first full feature noir film in 1957, Elevator to the Gallows (Original title:  Ascenseur pour l’échafaud ) “I was split between my tremendous admiration for Robert Bresson and the temptation to make a Hitchcock-like film,” was how director Louis Malle described his debut feature, made when he was just 24. In fact the film stands at a stylistic crossroads between the French cinema of the classic period and the new wave films that were about to usher in a new mode of expression a year later.

Louis Marie Malle (French last name pronounced  “mal”; 30 October 1932 – 23 November 1995) was a French  director, screenwriter and producer. He worked as the co-director and cameraman to Jacques Cousteau on the Oscar and Palme d’Or- winning (at the 1956 Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival respectively) documentary The Silent World (1956) and assisted Robert Bresson on A Man Escaped (French title: Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut, 1956) before making his first feature, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (released in the U.K. as Lift to the Scaffold and in the U.S. originally as Frantic, later as Elevator to the Gallows) in 1957.

Having had participated this past summer in the Turner Classic Movies sponsored Canvas Network  On-line course from Ball State University,  “Into The Darkness: Investigating Film Noir” , I gained more appreciation and deeper understanding for the genre and  for this particular film the relationship between film noir and jazz.  It was amazing to know that the great Miles Davis improvised the musical score of the film after watching scenes from the film and provided more layers to Malle’s visual design. To quote Professor Richard Edwards from one of his Daily Dose of Darkness lectures, “Although Davis’ music was for a French film that was not strictly a film noir, in that it did not exist within the established American series of films, this score has often been cited as an example of the relationship between the idioms of jazz and film noir.”

The excellent score by Miles Davis (a soundtrack worth picking up, jazz aficionado or not) heightens the unpredictability of the plot with freeform jazz and grooves while, at its core, provides one of cinema’s most pensive musical themes: a majestically remote trumpet.

Elevator to the Gallows 9Elevator to the Gallows 10

CLASSIC OPENING SCENE

The classic opening scene engages the viewer right away with close-ups of a couple obviously in love and professing their devotion to each other. Within the first minute of the film, we already have an idea about the plan of our femme fatale Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and her flawed lover former French Foreign Legion paratrooper Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) to kill her husband Simon Carala (Jean Wall), a wealthy middle-aged industrialist and arms dealer who also happens to be Julien’s boss. After their conversation ended, the classic haunting music of Davis and his quintet then permeates and sets the mood for the film creating a sense of separation and longing between the two lovers.  Davis’ lonely mournful tones on his trumpet echo the heartbreak of Julien in his work tower and Florence’s isolation in the phone booth.  The panning of Julien from his office window out into the business world of tall buildings emphasizes the physical distance between Florence and him.  The whispered voice of Florence shows her anguish in longing to be with Julien.  Davis’s quintet captures the desperation of these lovers across the distance. So close yet so far.

Elevator to the Gallows 12

After Julien seemed to have committed the perfect crime and a step closer to the lovers’ dream escape, he uncharacteristically realized that he left evidence behind. He hurriedly gets back in the building leaving his coat and belongings including the murder weapon in his car. As it was getting dark and close to closing time he gets trapped in the elevator after power was shut down for the day. This left Florence hanging and waiting in vain for him to show up and eventually convinced herself that her lover deserted her.

Elevator to the Gallows 8

Meanwhile, as Julien struggles to free himself from the elevator. His parked car is stolen by a teenage couple — the braggart Louis (George Poujouly) and his girlfriend Veronique (Yori Bertin). They get into a fender-bender with a German tourist and his wife, and the tourists rather improbably invite them to party with them at a motel.

What occurs next  are chain of events that led to several parallel crimes, mistaken identities involving the young reckless couple, a tightly wound double murder investigation, and some classic noir night shots with the mesmerizing jazz music during those scenes. These crimes were not committed in a vacuum. In this case, murder has a ripple effect, and the fates of the characters were inescapable and unfolding over one seemingly endless Parisian night.

Will the lovers find a way out of their predicament and consummate their rendezvous or face the consequence of their actions.

“Together forever somewhere!”

Elevator to the Gallows 7

MILES DAVIS IMPROVISING THE MUSICAL SCORE OF THE FILM

Mr.Miles Davis and Ms. Jeanne Moreau

Elevator to the Gallows 11

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK LP Cover

Elevator to the Gallows 5

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS TRAILER

MOVIE POSTERS for Elevator to the Gallows

Elevator to the Gallows 6

Elevator to the Gallows 5

Elevator to the Gallows 3

This post is part of the Criterion Blogathon, hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings

Criterion Banner FINAL

Meeting the Gritty Friends of Mister Coyle

The Friends of Eddie Coyle 1

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was the debut novel of George V. Higgins, then an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston, published in 1972 which was later adapted into a movie in 1973.  The novel is a realistic depiction of the Irish-American underworld in Boston. Its central character is the title character Eddie “ Fingers” Coyle, a small-time criminal and informant who because of the possibility of facing prison for a second time was forced to weigh his loyalty to his criminal colleagues or snitch against them to maintain his freedom and stay with his family.

There are 3 Main Reasons  why I would recommend watching or re-discovering one of the true treasures of 1970s Hollywood filmmaking—showcasing a relentless realism and unceremonious nature of it characters in comparison to some other gangster novels of the era, particularly Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, a more romanticized look at organized crime which was also adapted to film in 1972.

The Direction of Peter Yates

Peter Yates’ film adaptation of The Friends of Eddie Coyle has been underappreciated compared to his well-known films Robbery (1967) and Bullitt (1968). His masterful direction of the gritty locales in the  underworld of Boston gives as a realistic feel of that time era and an open heart for its non-heroic characters.

Eddie Coyle and his Friends

Watching the film for the first time, I  was pleasantly surprised to witness a star-studded true ensemble piece perfectly blended in this  crime drama.

The great Robert Mitchum known for his more popular roles in Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear and Out of the Past was originally offered the role of the bartender and  gave one of his greatest performance during the twilight of his career as Eddie “Fingers” Coyle.

Of course, he was surrounded by a beautiful array of character actors, many of whom have faded from memory over the years. Richard Jordan (Hunt for Red October,  Logan’s Run, Dune) as Agent Dave Foley ,  Peter Boyle (Taxi Driver, Young Frankenstein, Everybody Loves Raymond)  as the bartender, the sick-looking Steven Keats as Jackie, Jack Kehoe as his connection, the smooth-skinned and bullet-headed James Tolkan (a Sidney Lumet favorite and more popularly known as the Principal in the Back to Future Films ) as the messenger boy for the Man, Joe Santos (who later made a name for himself on The Rockford Files) as a member of the bank heist crew, and his partner played by Alex Rocco (The Godfather). These actors, then in their prime, now signify a lost era. With the notable exception of Boyle, few ever again found roles as good as the ones they play here.

Dave Grusin score

Grusin is an Oscar and Grammy nominated and award winning Composer known  for numerous film scores. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s , my only recollection of his music is the Mountain Dance vynil album. The score of this film reminded me of the 70’s vibe and freedom perfectly blended with the gritty streets of Boston.

TRUE GRIT! 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle 2