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Like the musical movement that appropriated its name almost 30 years later, France’s nouvelle vague was committed to the new but reverent toward certain particularly cool aspects of the old. The latter included American B-pictures and the puckish thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, a major influence on Louis Malle’s prescient 1957 debut, Elevator to the Gallows. Adapted by Malle and co-scripter Roger Nimier from Noël Calef’s pulpy fiction, the movie shows a traditional deference to its elaborately contrived plot. Charismatically alienated Indochina War veteran Julien (Maurice Ronet) has the perfect plan for killing the husband of his sultry lover, Florence (Jeanne Moreau). His victim (Jean Wall) is also his boss at his arms-dealing employer (whose trade shadows the story with moral and political concerns). But Julien commits a crucial blunder, and he finds himself trapped in the company’s elevator after the power is turned off for the night. Meanwhile, his girlfriend and an adolescent delinquent steal Julien’s convertible and commit a crime, thus calling the police’s attention to the car’s owner. As Florence wanders the streets of late-night Paris looking for Julien, the cops begin to assemble the puzzle, whose pieces snap together all too neatly. Indeed, the editing works harder than the story, which includes some small gaps, dubious leaps, and an ironic final shot that seems chemically impossible. Malle strayed between art and commerce throughout his career, so it’s no surprise that this movie—made when the director was just 24—is part popular entertainment, part abstract meditation. Malle had worked as an assistant to Robert Bresson, whose influence is as conspicuous as Hitchcock’s, notably in the stifling sequences of Julien in the inoperable elevator. Other largely unprecedented aspects of the film include the use of everyday locations, a score that alternates near-silence with honks of Miles Davis improvisation, and the screen-filling Moreau closeup that begins the story. Malle contemplates his female lead (and then-lover) as ardently as Godard would later study Anna Karina. Elevator to the Gallows may employ an old style of storytelling, but it introduces a new way of seeing. —Mark Jenkins