Volume 78 / Number 15, September 10 - 16, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Elevator to the Gallows” (+)

This French film noir made in 1958 is absolutely terrific. I saw it at Film Forum, which is running a collection of French movies devoted to crime. If it leaves before you have a chance to see it, make an effort to watch it on video.

I won’t set forth too much of the plot so as not to spoil the many surprises for you. It opens with Florence (Jeanne Moreau) talking on the phone with her lover, Julien (Maurice Ronet), imploring him to meet her at 7:00 p.m. after he takes care of certain business. He agrees to come by after he murders Florence’s husband, Simon (Jean Wall), an arms merchant, who is also his boss. He follows through on his plan and thus begins an adventurous ride for all.

That ride and its consequences include Florence and Julien along with a young couple, Louis (Georges Poujouly) and Veronique (Yori Bertin). Louis steals Julien’s identity and car and the couple ends up in a car race with a German tourist couple visiting France. The German is part buffoon and part Nazi.

“Elevator to the Gallows” is filled with marvelous excitement worthy of a Tom Cruise picture today. The failure of an elevator causes Julien to be late for his appointment with Florence which results in the theft of his car and much of everything else that occurs during the movie.

Bless the Film Forum for making it possible to see these old films made by geniuses. The brilliant director in this case is Louis Malle who, in addition to numerous other films, also directed “Au Revoir Les Enfants” and “My Dinner with Andre.”

They don’t often make films like they used to. (In French, with English subtitles.)

HS said: “When I heard the title of this movie, ‘Elevator to the Gallows,’ I wondered how those two nouns could be combined. As a kid, I learned that one reached the gallows by climbing thirteen steps, and that the noose had thirteen coils of rope. Where did ascenseur come in, to transport persons with disabilities to the scaffold?

“The film explains it all, and I am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed it. It was shot in a cool black and white, it reinforced my smattering of college French, and Jeanne Moreau looked terrific, until all those bad things (some of her own making) started happening around her.

“There are plots and sub-plots for two generations; you see young love and middle-aged love. The plot is preposterous and the characters are villainous, but who cares? How else can you see France and be entertained in a cool place for eleven dollars?”

“Band of Outsiders” (+)

Another older French crime picture being shown at the Film Forum. This 1964 movie was given four stars by a New York Post reviewer. It is good, but I would not rate it that highly.

The story line centers on two young men, Artur (Claude Brasseur) and Franz (Sami Frey), who are planning a robbery when we meet them. They were told by a young woman, Odile (Anna Karina), that a tenant living in the home of her aunt (Louisa Colpeyn) has stashed away a huge amount of money. What happens during the course of that robbery makes up the balance of the story.

Odile is presented as a naïve young woman desperate for love. Both young men, intent on locating the money, also appear to be attracted to her. In addition to a few surprises, the picture contains some touching moments, e.g., a dance number performed by the trio in a bar, a smaller version of the spectacular Hollywood numbers performed in the 60s.
The director of the film is the renowned Jean-Luc Godard, responsible for a number of excellent movies including “Breathless” and “Contempt.” Notwithstanding the interesting story and excellent acting on the part of the three principals, I found the movie to be devoid of emotion, and some of the subtitles fade out and cannot be seen. It is definitely worth seeing, however, and if you aren’t able to see it at the theater, be sure to rent the video. (In French, with English subtitles.)

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