Dorchester Film Society
Showing The Best Of World Cinema Since 1958

Lift to the Scaffold

Dec 14, 2017 - 19:30 - Corn Exchange.

  • Director: Louis Malle
  • Year: 1958
  • Country: France
  • Run Time: 88 mins
  • Ratings
  • A: 45
  • B: 42
  • C: 19
  • D: 2
  • E: 1
  • Overall: 79
Lift to the Scaffold

Few debuts come punchier, cooler, and more influential than Louis Malle’s 1958 thriller about a Parisian murder plan unravelling, scene by fateful scene. Claude Chabrol’s Le beau serge, released later that year, is generally considered the first film of the French New Wave - why not this? Malle wasn’t in with the Cahiers du cinéma club, and tended to distance himself from their auteurist tenets. But his tight, resourceful, location-shot film, composed superbly with natural light by Henri Decaë, and achieving plenty of contemporary zing with its famous Miles Davis score, is a very clear precursor of the work of Godard and Truffaut. The ingenuity of the plot obviously evokes Hitchcock, and also resembles a superior episode of Columbo, though one with the malefactor mainly hoist by his own petard. He is Julien (Maurice Ronet), a war veteran planning to run off with the boss’s wife (Jeanne Moreau). First, the boss must be eliminated, and Julien concocts a devious scheme, using a rope and grappling hook, to shoot him, make it look like suicide, and return to his desk before anyone clocks his absence. He makes a single error while distracted, and then suffers a calamitous twist of fate in the building’s lift. Meanwhile, Moreau’s character wanders the streets in a tizzy, having formed a disastrously wrong idea of why Julien has failed to make their rendezvous. The construction has a mocking fatalism that might have felt oppressive, but Malle and his actors keep you constantly on the edge of your seat, wondering what curse will befall the desperate lovebirds next. Tim Robey