Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #28: Pure Score (Opening Scene of Elevators to the Gallows)

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We conclude our Daily Dose theme this of "Final Clues and Last Words," with an investigation into Miles Davis' haunting jazz score for Elevators to the Gallows. 

 

This Daily Dose will be delivered by TCM by email on Thursday, July 23, 2015.

 

This Daily Dose is available in Canvas, along with all other Daily Doses, at: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-doses-of-darkness-main-page

 

Let the discussions begin!

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 In what ways does Miles Davis' score (improvised while watching scenes from the movie) work with and contribute additional layers of meaning to Louis Malle's visual design?


 


I have never seen this film before, and I have never heard this particular Miles Davis score; however, the music sweeps across the man and woman as they are talking on the phone and in and thru the visual  of the entire scene, as if the man and woman were in the same room....and not only in the same room, but making love.  As the camera takes us to the inside and outside of the office building to the call box in which the woman is leaning across the phone itself, as if it were a bed pillow, further indicates that she is seducing the man to do something, then to come to her (as were her instructions, within 30 minutes, it would be all over and she would get into his car, just the two of them alone.)


This music contradicts what is being seen on the screen, as far as buildings and credits rolling and the bigger fact that this man and woman are not in the same room together.....yet the music says that they are....


I am really big on music in movies....amazing how the right music can treat a scene, add to it or take away from it.  I am an artist and I love music.  I always notice if the music was done by the same person in certain films or if the similar things in 2 films that I like are linked and why....and often the music is the common thread.


 


I look forward to trying to view this film.  I can't promise I will watch it all.  I have a feeling it is subtitles and I am not fond of that.  I am intrigued by this dose; however, and I will do my best to watch, with fresh eyes all that I can to learn something new.


#NOIRSUMMER

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In the French film Elevator to the Gallows we see a couple talking on the phone. Florence (femme fatale) is in a phone booth talking to Julien about their love for one another, and a murder that will allow them to be together. Julien's office is stark, desk clean with a strange clock (calendar?), and in half an hour it will be over and they will be in his “big car” together, forever.

 

The music by Miles Davis and his Quintet is haunting, like the feeling in post war America. So much has changed, and it seems for the worse. The veterans did not accomplish the great goal they set out to do. America is now a land of big business, bigger than before, with women's roles changing. The idea that “things” can make one happy. How do you get things, with money. The war, that servicemen can not and will not talk about. The fear of “others”

 

It was not a time of frantic and frenetic anxiety shown in many noirs, exaggerating the feeling, but more haunting, far calmer than it seems as we look back on it. That is why “boomers” tend to remember happy childhoods. Not seeing the anxiety. It reminds me of the Writer's Project during the Depression. They interviewed former slaves, yet if you read the majority, the former slaves speak of happy times and happy childhoods, of a good life (which Hollywood made good use of in it's films).

 

Most slaves interviewed were in their 70's or older. So as slaves they were young children, most well under the age of 10. It shows the problem of mostly remembering what was good. And that children were well treated, as future property.

 

As we look back at noir, we remember what was good. Rushing home to catch the 3 O'Clock movie, before doing homework. Remembering a happy childhood. But the mood of the times is still there, haunting us, just as Miles Davis's music showed the haunting of the times.

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When words reach their limit, the music takes over. Florence and Julien are madly, passionately in love, but separated by space and some unknown circumstance (which they must be plotting to overcome). The scene starts with the closest-possible closeup on Florence (Jeanne Moreau). Her voice tells someone unseen, it may as well be us, that she's in love; I thought at first her lover was there with her, just outside the frame. But the camera pulls back, we see she's on the phone, apart from her lover. A few seconds later we meet him, at the same camera distance, and just as madly in love.

 

At this point the words stop and Miles Davis's music sets in, continuing to speak of their love wordlessly as the camera pulls further and further back, increasing the distance between them til Julien (Maurice Ronet) is lost in a huge, boxy building and Florence is boxed in in a phone booth. Each seems caught in a glass cage. But the music speaks of the bond between them that bridges any distance.

 

I love the jazz-inflected scores that were coming up in the 50s by Elmer Bernstein, Andre Previn et al. But this one, played by a quintet, has an intimacy, an immediacy that's unique to small ensembles. It feels as up-close-and-personal as Florence and Julien's love for each other.

 

 

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Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows is one of my favourite pre-Nouvelle Vague French films. 

The film begins already plunged into drama: Jeanne Moreau's extreme close-up, the tears in her eyes, her voice whispered against the phone, talking to her lover, saying all those things that we don't usually say "in the real life". In fact, we understand they're talking about the plan to murder her husband without them even have to say it. In a noir inspired film, we know that that's the kind of action that will lead characters to damnation, and yet they keep saying that they will be more miserable and domned if they don't commit the crime than if they do it. 
This sequence has two tracking shots that accompany the soundtrack: the first moving away from Moreau's face (making her seem more real), the other getting even further away the lover seen through the window (making him seem almost insignificant). Concerning the window framing device, I've to say that, as I believe in the genuineness of Jeanne's character's feelings, I wouldn't interprete it as the male character being "framed" by a femme fatale only to deliberately lead him to his perdition, but rather as a visual motif to foreshadow the feeling of claustrophobia and fatalism that will dominate the film.
Of course the jazz soundtrack by Miles Davis underscores this typical noir atmosphere. Even though it is an improvisation, instead of feeling the freedom and the experimentation within the music, it's another kind of downbeat energy that resonates from it. While accompanying title sequence, the music emancipates itself from the credits on the screen as the voices fade out and take over the whole scene, as if it was talking in the same madly-in-love-doomned-and-fatalistic language the characters were talking on the phone: sometimes one musical phrase lingers as a declaration of love, other times it rushes as if it had a deadline, a scheduled time to be done.
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Louis Malle's opening of Elevator to the Gallows, is achieved by sheer brilliance. Malle effortlessly commands our attention by allowing his camera to linger on a tight close-up of a woman's face wearing a mask due to the skillfully casting of a detailed shadow. This image alone sent my mind into a whirlwind spin. Thinking this woman is the classic Femme Fatale, Malle might have just committed an act of deceit. Upon the reveal of her painfully sad eyes, my mind teetered on changing. Malle, maintaining his creation of providing a very personal feel, holds on the woman's face, pulling the camera back slowly as she talks to her beloved Julien.

 

After about forty five seconds of dialogue, our ears are graced by the sweet, intoxicating music of the Jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis. The blaring cries of the trumpet sound achingly lonely. Here, Malle pulls the camera back further and further away from both Florence and Julien. We are now removed from their personal situation, and are standing on the outside looking in.

 

Malle makes another brilliant decision and uses Davis's solo as the dialogue of Florence and Julien professing their love and devotion to one another. Jazz adds a sensual and romantic feel to this scene. Davis effectively captures through sound the pain being experienced by the forbidden lovers. His highlighted solo is so immersing, it could have easily served as every single word spoken. Ah, the joys and pains of love.

 

Jazz blends well with film noir because they both sweep us away. Film and music undeniably go hand and hand, and film noir coupled with Jazz is the quintessential marriage. The addition of this particular type of music romanticizes a film, capturing the mood so effectively, dialogue could sometimes even be spared entirely (as evidenced by this opening scene.) In thinking of Jazz and a film noir, images of looming shadows, thick smoke, lighted cigarettes, plays of light all come to mind. The stylistic attributes provided by Jazz help create a sort of glamorous feel on a genre that reflected society's negative, untrusting attitudes of a particular time. Much respect to Miles Davis, Malle, and the film crew for this incredible opening scene.

 

Elevator to the Gallows is now atop my watchlist.

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-- In what ways does Miles Davis' score (improvised while watching scenes from the movie) work with and contribute additional layers of meaning to Louis Malle's visual design?

 

It's the blues, no better marriage than the blues and film noir, or jazz and noir for that matter. Knowing what we know about the studio system it's a no brainer as to why it wasn't included synched into the cycle earlier. The studios had their own music departments that covered all genres in production and were somewhat formulaic, they were a bit isolated from the streets on the dark side of town. ;) 

 

 

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I thought the score added a lonely feel to the scene.  These two lovers isolated from each other reaching out over the phone lines.  Because this is noir and the title indicates this is not going to end well, I suspect they are planning to kill off his or her spouse. 

 

This scene had a '60s feel to me, maybe because it's Jeanne Moreau.  That was the era when I first watched French films. ("The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "Breathless")

 

I thought it was funny when she told him to come to get her in his "big" car.  Does that mean he's rich, he's over compensating or just a weird translation?

 

From the way the scene played out, she seemed to be pushing him into going ahead with the plan.  He seems reluctant and I'm not sure he'll show up.

 

(On a side note, I liked the clock/calendar? on his desk.  I want one.)

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Music brings a surreal feel to any movie.  It makes the scene change time and place for the audience.  We cannot just hear words for their meaning and know what is going on,or see, we must hear the tones and notes in the background to  be informed.  The total effect is to move us in many ways, the movie is emotional and more than a visual.  It contains the essence of subversive storytelling that is what Noir films brings with each tale.  I believe this is why jazz is associated so much with Noir.  It is not just what a lyric is, as most scores are, but just notes for us to find out the meaning, just like Noir visuals of lighting and shadows, don't tell the whole story the jazz music is up to the audience to feel the effect, not lyrics to define the notes.  

 

Good jazz is to music what Noir is to film.  Together they are the best of both worlds.  "THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY" just one example of this.   

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The music in this clip seem to enhance the dialogue unlike movies such as "Gilda" where it was the dialogue are other films such as "Kiss Me Deadly" where the jazz was largely mood setting background. The Miles Davis score reverberates with the love, the angst, and the anticipation of the two characters. It touches a chord within us so we are able to relate to their feelings as they speak their words.

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A couple having a phone conversation in whispers.  There is unhappiness in their voices but they are  also conspiratorial.  When Miles Davis' trumpet enters the scene it not only reinforces what we have already heard but gives the scene a sensuality and an ominous feeling.   A musical score should always support, not overwhelm, a scene. Add to, not detract from.  This is done beautifully here. 

 

The combination of film noir and jazz is the perfect partnership between two art forms.  Although, "Elevator to the Gallows" is not considered to be film noir, being a fan of jazz and Moreau, I can't wait to see this film.  I have just seen one of Malle's, "Au Revoir Les Enfants", but it was terrific.  What a way to end the Summer of Darkness!

 

In this last Daily Dose I would like to thank Professor Richard Edwards and TCM for working in tandem to present such a thorough course in film noir.  I found it to be both educational and rewarding.  Oh yes, and fun!

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I'm sorry...so far I'm not intrigued.

 

The trumpet sounds so sad and mournful.

 

Jazz music, for me anyway, can go either way...extreme sadness or extreme euphoria.

 

I did get the feeling I was watching the French version of "Double Indemnity".

 

I don't think I'd pursue this movie if I only had the beginning to see.

 

Sorry.

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The jazz played by Miles Davis effectively creates the proper melancholic, poignant, and doomed mood to accompany the opening of this film. Jazz music is inherently improvisational, and as such yields unexpected twists and turns, so it is a perfect companion for a film noir plot. Miles Davis was known for never playing two (or more) notes when one note could suffice. His wonderfully spare style of jazz is a perfect parallel to the clipped, snappy dialogue we often hear in film noir. 

I am disappointed to see that TCM has scheduled this film to start at 3:30 am. I love film noir, but not enough to get up in the middle of the night to watch it. I will see if I can find it online somewhere, as it looks really interesting.

Pardon my digression here, but I thought the desk clock was really interesting too. I have never seen a clock quite like that and did not realize it was a clock until it flipped from 7:04 to 7:05. I used to have a clock radio with that sort of technology, but it was not shaped like an old-fashioned hour glass, with the numbers in vertical alignment. I suppose I am spending more time discussing the clock than it merits, but I love it when I see something that is new to me.

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I found a low priced copy of the Criterion DVD and it's in my queue, so hopefully there are some great extras to illuminate the choice of Miles Davis.

 

Interesting combination of camerawork and music - we are on tight shots and do not realize these people are as separated, as we slowly pan out the distance between them grows. Once out of earshot, the music takes over reflecting the same lonely emotions. Miles is blues and jazz, and focusing on a slow solo instead of a full orchestra of strings only amplifies their isolation and longing. But that music stops on a dime when the mood shifts and Florence snaps into command mode, telling her man what to do, and when, and where.

 

Jazz is unpredictable music - we're not certain what comes next and the tangents are often obtuse. Well, does that not reflect what happens in life, especially with dubious choices and dangerous circumstances?

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In what ways does Miles Davis' score (improvised while watching scenes from the movie) work with and contribute additional layers of meaning to Louis Malle's visual design?

- The noir visual motifs are actually minimal:
The haunting opening shot, the office bldg. windows (bars?) that are not shot at an angle.
The major noir motif is audio:  
The whispering at the beginning is full of tension.
The woman’s tone of voice changes from stressed to happy as the music begins, indicating a flashback.
When the credits roll and we see the woman on the phone, the long sliding notes of the horn tell me she is the femme fatale.        [NOTE: I have not seen this film, yet]
The notes are shorter, more resigned, and lower on the scale when we cut to the man in the office bldg window.
As the camera pulls back, the music seems to tell the entire story and pace of film we are about to see.  The bank of windows looks like 3 levels of prison cells at one point, then the music fades out—that dude will end up in jail!
When the music stops, everyday sounds are prominent; the creaking floor in the phone booth, the ticking clock, footsteps, the closing of the file drawer in the office.

 

Going back to our original discussions of jazz on the film noir style, what is it about the "idioms of jazz" that resonate so well with the style and substance of film noir?

- The long sliding notes of singular instruments seem to reveal the substance of noir and support the visuals of noir.  A single instrument tells of the single person versus the world/cruel fate.  The sliding notes denote sadness, cynicism, or hopelessness -- or in the case of so many clarinet solos, the stripper, the cheap woman (‘60 cent special’), or the first step down that slippery slope to doom.

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This film is typical of Louis Malle, which is odd because Louis Malle is often thought of as a brilliant misfit. He worked in many different styles and genres and did as much work in the United States as he did in France. He was sort of a French New Wave filmmaker but not really. Some people want to call him an auteur because he had a number of brilliant films, but he didn’t really have a signature style. So how could this be a typical film for him if he doesn’t have a signature style?

I think it’s typical because it defies categorization. I suppose it’s like a noir film given the jazz music, the desperate characters, the voyeuristic nature, etc. but this may actually be the first neo-noir.

This is a very pedantic argument but many people say that “Touch of Evil,” released in 1958, was the last noir film. So then there would also likely be a first neo noir around the same time.

So in typical Malle fashion, it’s not exactly noir, it’s not exactly neo noir, it’s not really even French New Wave and it’s not an auteur film because Malle didn’t have a signature style. It’s somewhere in between, which makes it a wonderfully unique transition film.

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I have listened to Miles Davis from a way back.  In my opinion, this opening score is the quintessential definition of jazz in noir;  sultry, sexy and, at the same time, sad. It draws you in. If I close my eyes, I can visualize a noir nightclub where it's dark and smoky; the audience is slowly swaying to the music and, of course, there are plenty of drinks going around.

 

Ronet's comment to Moreau, "without your voice, I'd be lost in a land of silence", is very powerful. It represents the intensity of his passion.  His whole existence revolves around her. Together, they seem to be so close as to be almost stifling. I sense a sadness and foreboding; that all will not turn out well.

 

I love the initial choker shot of Jeanne Moreau. We are given permission to experience her emotions on a personal level, while at the same time, being that it is such a closed shot, it's almost suffocating. Then, as the camera moves away from her,  we see that she is in a phone booth. Phone booths are cramped and claustrophobic as are elevators!  The gallows (in the film title), of course, suggest a hanging; what could be more suffocating than having a rope tightening around the neck? Could this choker shot be giving us a glimpse into her future? And the future of her paramour/accomplice?

 

This movie is one I am looking forward to watching.

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Our vision of jazz in film noir comes from the 1970s, where we have a couple of great scores for neo-noir featuring solo instruments--sax in Taxi Driver and trumpet in Chinatown. The sound of a cutting melody played by one of these instruments doesn't begin to appear in earlier noir until 1950, and even then it is modified.

 

The description of the music for Elevator to the Gallows is good, but this is NOT an example of bop. That was an earlier style for Davis. This blends qualities of Modal jazz and Cool jazz, and it is perfectly suited to the European preference for mood rather than action music. 

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Jazz in Film Noir is always to me like the last piece of the puzzle that really makes the film.  It creates a very personal atmosphere that goes right with the shadows, the faces, and the actions.  Miles Davis is one of the best.  This introductory music is fits like a glove, like it was always supposed to be there. 

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Before reading this, I want to say it's not a direct commentary on this film, rather more an observation of how far we have come. Over a month and a half into the study, (and after viewing the last 2 clips), I wonder are we now beginning to see all things NOIR? Not to say I feel I'm being force fed. It's simply a shift in the dynamic. And I love the fact that TCM has offered us these wonderful films and this course.

 

Studio production lines were in full operation, per usual, but as we moved into the 50's, there was a major shift underway in the industry. I may be in quite a minority by saying I am unable to see nearly as much of the influential elements that defined the genre at this point. And this has been clearly noted and discussed in previous lessons and posts.

 

Having grown up in the 50's, I'm familiar with changes that were taking place in both the public and private sectors. Movies directly reflected this. But those Golden Years of Hollywood seemed far, far away. At least from the perspective of the dark side. Entering a simpler time, we were less likely to lock our doors or our bicycles.

 

But it would hardly be fair to say we no longer had a fear of the unknown. In fact, that fear had risen to new heights. And adding to the social and political pressure, crime, though we may have been more shielded, did not simply vanish.

 

I think these last 2 clips (and films), show a great deal of that undercurrent of fear and uncertainty. These were Noir-ish films, but by now Bogart and Bacall, Fred and Barbara, and John and Lana seemed pretty tame: predictable, more fictional, and far less threatening.

 

Film characters seem to have shifted from impulsive to irrational. And for a rational thinker like me, I just have to swallow harder, and think more outside the box. I have learned much from my colleagues here, and appreciate my films noir enthusiasts. Keep on posting!

 

Just want to add that the brilliance of Robert Ryan's roles as a tortured soul (I did not post yesterday) could ascend to such levels of fear, that to this day, even given the current climate of talent, he brings to the screen an an incredibly authentic shudder.

 

That's just my 2 cents.  

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Daily Dose #28 Elevator to the Gallows response  (7/23/15)

      The central focus at the start of the clip is the extreme close up view of Florence, intercut with the close ups of Julien.  The conversation about love is the main point and we viewers come to think that ”love” is so personal, and so important to the characters, that it extends then to each of us as a global, all encompassing, all important issue.  The shot pulls back through the conversation and we come to see how small the characters are and how insignificant their love may be as we see Julien placed in the room on the upper floor of a tall building, surrounded by other taller buildings, on an even bigger planet; and Florence is shown to be in a typical 50's French phone booth, each character separate but connected by that thin phone line, the cord a tenuous link that could be severed at any moment, by any chance event:  a storm, an inadvertent hang up, some random thing we don't even know about.  As the shot pulls back, we begin to think more of the lone, piercingly insistent voice of the Miles Davis trumpet which may possibly represent the characters’ plight, and there is a “plight” here from the couple’s words and Florence's initial tears.  The auteur’s visual point is reinforced by the music, ever present, singular, haunting in a way that comes to mark the human condition… we are here, we are unique, and we each somehow need love to sustain us and bring us forward through this ever curious world. A world that is at once distant and separate, yet always in the background, just like the beautiful music that runs through the scene.

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"Without you I'd be lost in a land of silence."  Cue music, sexy and haunting and moody.  I thought it fit the scene perfectly as the camera pulls away, they continue to carry on this sensual conversation as the credits roll.  That is the genius of jazz.

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Yes, I love the films of Louis Malle and recorded his films when they were featured on TCM a few months ago. I have this movie in my DVR but haven't gotten around to watching it yet. I may do so after submitting this post. 

 

Miles Davis's score perfectly captures the sexual passion between these two lovers and captures their inner lives in ways that their amorous talk can't. When the camera pulled back from the office building, I was reminded of a jailhouse (and possibly the character's fates).

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The distance between Florence (the wonderful Jeanne Moreau) and Julien (Maurice Ronet) disappears as they talk over the phone.   The extreme closeup of Florence in conjunction with her saying "I love you" seductively pulls you in.   There's an intimacy in her exchange with Julien.  

 

It's obvious they are lovers and obvious, too, that they seem to be reassuring one another for something they're about to do.    Some of the dialogue is vague and foreshadowing,  but it's the intimacy between them that's the real tease.

 

Malle also does a very nice job shooting Florence with a softer, more diffuse lens than is the case with Julien.  I'm reminded of the soft focus Jean Cocteau used in La belle et la bete, and there's one particular shot of Florence at 2:25, her head tilted against the pay phone as she holds the receiver, her blonde hair almost melting into the light background, that's posed very much like Cocteau did Josette Day (sans the telephone).  

 

And behind it all looms Miles' Generique haunting the opening titles as the camera slowly begins to pulls away from Julien and Florence.   Pierre Michelot's bass eases our way just as Julien tells Florence without her voice he'd be lost in a land of silence.

 

Miles & Co. become both accent to and substitute for their voices.   The bass, piano and drums ground Generique and allows Miles' trumpet to soar above it.   There's a lazy tension, a sad and lonely desperation to the score as Malle cuts between Florence in a phone booth and Julien in his office, and its brass tones seem to echo off the facade of the office building as the camera continues to pull back in what amounts to visual foreshadowing of what's to follow once Julien hangs up the phone.  

 

Like Gilda and Johnny in Gilda, like Kathie and Jeff in Out of the Past, and so many other instances in noir, Florence and Julien are wriggling on the hook of their love for one another, and Miles' captures this anguish in his score.  

 

Jazz is a perfect vehicle for noir.   It's brash, bold, audacious.   It screams freedom, rebellion to convention and accepted norms, and is the ideal complement to the shadowy appetites and schemes that routinely animate noir.   Jazz also requires a certain expertise, because so much of it is improvisation and musicians going solo and, by extension, their ability, as individuals, to go places inside themselves and their music never visited before.  

 

In ways, Elevator to the Gallows is plotted-out and plays like a heist film, and like many heist noirs, the lure of beating the system, which becomes a metaphor for life no less than trains in noir, is often coupled with the compulsion for perfection...if only for a split moment in time.  

 

This driving pursuit of perfection --- in crime, in one's own expertise, in love --- seems to resonate again and again throughout the noir universe...as does the sense of fatalistic doom in our inevitably falling short of that goal.      

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The opening scene of Elevator To The Gallows (1957) cuts back and forth in close-up shots of Florence (Jeanne Moreau) and Julien (Maruice Ronet) involved in a serious phone conversation.  The mood seems to be tense as the couple proclaim their love for one another and for the first 43 seconds the only sound we hear is the desperation in their voices until the lone shrill sound of Miles Davis' trumpet begins to underscore their solitary existence and longing to be together.  Davis' haunting score continues as the camera moves from a medium shot of Julien on the phone and as film credits roll, the camera zooms back until the frame is a long shot revealing an office building dwarfing Julien in a maze of windows and intersecting vertical and horizontal lines.  It appears clear that Florence is the one in control as she pushes Julien's emotional buttons and pulls the strings to get whatever it is she wants.  Even though the couple is exchanging words of love, the music score is telling us something different.  It's sad, it's lonely and empty, lacking the more emotional, upbeat tempo you would expect to accompany a pair of lovers exchanging affections and words of devotion.  Miles Davis' score definitely enhances Louis Malle's visuals and we know something is very wrong, very dark and something very noir is about to unfold on the screen. 

 

Side notes: I have not seen this film but from the clip I'm seeing Jeanne Moreau as a French version of Lizabeth Scott, meaning I can see her acting range go from sweet and vulnerable to wicked and hardcore in a New York second (whatever that is).  And is it just a coincidence the title is so similar to Build My Gallows High which Out of  the Past (1947) was based on?  One more note.  France used the guillotine for capital punishment right up to 1977.  So shouldn't the title have been "Elevator To The Guillotine"?        

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