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The married Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) and her secret lover Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), an ex - paratrooper now employed by arms dealer Simon Carala, decide to murder Carala (Jean Wall) by faking his suicide, in his own office at the end of the business day. After the deed is done, Julien is to meet Florence, but he has to return to the building to collect the rope he used to access Simon's office, as part of the plan to give him an alibi. But the security guard on his final rounds turns off the power, while Julien is still in the lift on the way to the 10th floor. When Florence sees Julien's car pass her at their rendezvous café with the young woman, Veronique (Yori Bertin), from the florist opposite the Carala building, she assumes he's got cold feet and run off with her. The chain of events thus started leads to confusion, death, tragedy and despair.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I first tasted the mood of Louise Malle's debut feature as a teenager in London, on the soundtrack LP, with the legendary Miles Davis pouring his soul through his trumpet in a melancholy wail. That recording was replayed so many times it began to crumble, but its music was etched into my mental musical library. Seeing the film some years later brings back the mood instantly and it's striking how exactly that mood matches the film. But then it shouldn't be surprising. Davis improvised the score to the film playing in front of him.

It's a thriller with enough noir to make it a strong black, with no milk and no sugar. Sparse, the story honed to its essentials, it is at once glamorously worldly and grandly moral, with wrongdoers punished and evil intentions derailed.

The title translates as Lift to the Scaffold, referring to the central instrument by which the murder plan comes undone: the office lift, which incarcerates Julien (Maurice Ronet) on his way to retrieve a crucial clue from the murder scene. You can pick a couple of little holes in the plot (like the potential visibility from the street of Julien's supposedly invisible entrance to Carala's office via the outside terrace), but you can't argue with the filmmaking. And the story is a beautifully constructed morality tale, unravelling the characters by events that follow each other in a fatalistic sequence triggered by human frailties.

Jeanne Moreau is luminous as Florence, and Malle can be credited for directing and shooting her to best advantage. Her fallen femme fatale is unforgettable, especially in the final frame.

Published May 25, 2006

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(France, 1958)

CAST: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Geroges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Jean Wall, Elga Andersen,

PRODUCER: Jean Thuillier

DIRECTOR: Louis Malle

SCRIPT: Louise Malle, Roger Nimier (novel by Noel Calef)


EDITOR: Leonid Azar

MUSIC: Miles Davis

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen; DD 2.1


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Aztec International

DVD RELEASE: May 25, 2006

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