Elevator to the Gallows and jazz in movies: What a little soundtrack can do
|"Elevator to the Gallows" poster, photo by Peter|
Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders
In the realm of style, there are night scenes, rain, Jeanne Moreau walking the streets of Paris on a fruitless quest, and a roadside motel (charmingly explained and defined by one character for another, presumably for the benefit of mid-century French audiences unfamiliar with the phenomenon of motels), and a score by Miles Davis.
In the realm of gut-clenching noir substance, there are misunderstandings that push people over the edge, doomed runaway lovers, low-life thieves, and characters whose alibis for crimes of which they are falsely accused put them squarely in the fame for crimes they committed. (Bits of the movie may remind Dashiell Hammett fans of "The Golden Horseshoe.") Elevator to the Gallows is one of the rare films noirs I have seen that I thought would make a good book. (It is in fact based on a novel by Noël Calef, otherwise unknown to me.)
In re stylish noir trappings, the score and Malle's use of it especially impressive. Miles Davis wrote the music, played by a five-piece band that included Davis and drummer Kenny Clarke, so you know the soundtrack was bound to be good. Cool jazz, just because it is cool and understated, makes a nice, ironic counterpoint to moments of high tension on the screen. The long stretches without music, in which the only sounds are dialogue and ambient noise, compel attention to the action. And when the music comes in, it trusts the viewer to experience the story without any sonic nonsense such as furious pounding on the cymbals to let the viewer know he or she is supposed to feel tension.
(Hear Miles Davis play and Louis Malle discuss (in French) the soundtrack to Elevator to the Gallows. And here's a list of the twenty best jazz soundtracks in movie history. The list ranks Elevator to the Gallows fourth.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2016