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Made in 1958 when he was only 24 years old, director/co-writer Louis Malle's first feature—arguably the first New Wave film—is an archetypal Hitchcockian film noir set to new rhythms and richly laced with irony. An industrialist's wife (Jeanne Moreau) and an ex-paratrooper (Maurice Ronet), in the throes of an affair, conspire to murder her inconvenient husband (Jean Wall), but the turn of events beckons a potentially disastrous end for all involved. Original music score by the legendary Miles Davis.
 

 Elevator to the Gallows

I was still in elementary shool when my brother Louis made Elevator to the Gallows. After all he was barely 24 years old himself. But I remember the buzz in the family and my new status at school when the first reviews came out. Suddenly everybody—including the parents of schoolmates—were my best friends and wanted cinema passes and autographed photos. That was my first brush with fame and it confirmed an already well established love for the cinema.

Over the years, many things have been written about the film, lots of anecdotes about the shoot, about Louis. For example the famous night when Miles Davis recorded the music with a quintet of French musicians in a few hours, improvising each number and sipping champagne with Jeanne Moreau and their jazz-crazy director. By the way, the particular sound he made on the freeway scene was not premeditated. It turns out he lost a bit of his lower lip into the mouthpiece and therefore “blew” differently.

Also the much talked-about scene of Jeanne walking down the Champs Elysées at night, with Henri Decae (the Director of Photography) in a wheelchair and electricians holding battery-activated lamps. Since it was Louis’s first film, the laboratory called the producer the next day saying it was completely black and had to be entirely reshot. Thank God they didn’t, and it remains one of the more significant minimalist night scenes ever. And other directors took notice: So you can shoot at night almost without lights!

This brings me to a question a lot of people ask me, especially in America: Was Louis part of the “nouvelle vague” or not? Well, yes and no.

No, because he never belonged to (and was very against) any “movement” or “school” and he certainly was not part of the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd like Truffaut, Godard, Rivette or Chabrol.

But yes, because he shared the same admiration for American cinema that he saw with them at the French Cinématheque of Henri Langlois (John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk) and also because he was out of the gate before any of them (Truffaut made his first feature nine months after Louis).

So to try to settle it, I would say he was the closest and the most obvious precursor of the New Wave.

Elevator was an enormous success both critically and commercially, won the Prix Louis Delluc (one of France’s most prestigious awards) and definitely launched Jeanne Moreau’s career as a star.

And the music…!