Ascenseur pour l'échafaud
(aka Lift to the Scaffold, Elevator to the Gallows, Frantic)
Le Poste Parisien Studio, December 4-5, 1957
Here's what Boris Vian wrote about this session, and the film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud:
This recording was made at night in the studios of the Paris broadcasting station,
in a most informal atmosphere.
Among those present was Miss Jeanne Moreau, the principal star of the film. She
proved a very charming hostess, serving refreshments to musicians and technicians
in an improvised bar. There were those responsible for the production and the technical
staff, but also Louis Malle (with his braces dangling loosely!). He tried to get
Miles to do his utmost in the way of the musical accompaniment of the film. The
orchestra members who enjoyed this informal atmosphere very much, looked at the
images of the principal scenes of the film, and being thus in the right mood for
their work, improvised various musical paraphrases as the reel was projected. In
the melody Dinner at the Motel you will notice a curious sonority of Miles'
trumpet. The explanation for this is a strange one: while he was playing, a tiny
piece of skin from his lip got loose and stuck in the mouthpiece of his instrument.
Miles gladly accepted this strange new element, in the literary sense of the word
an 'unheard heard-of' musical effect, in quite the same way as those painters who
often owe the plastic quality of their coat of paint to mere chance or coincidence.
There is hardly any doubt that music lovers will be thankful to the great negro
musician, who is admirable assisted by his colleagues, for the spellbinding, tragic
atmosphere he has created, even though they might miss the magic of the film itself.
The story commences with a love scene between Florence -- Simon Carala's wife --
and her lover Julien Tavernier. They feel imminent danger over their heads which
they are anxious to shake off (Générique).
In the office building of the Société Carala we witness how Julien Tavernier commits
a perfect crime (L'assassinat de Carala). Following a well-devised plan
Julien succeeds in making his murder look like a suicide, then he goes back to his
car. So everything works like clockwork.
As it happens, however, he must go back to his office, but while doing so, he has
to hide from the porter who, unfortunately, switches off the current: it's Saturday
night. Thus is Julien kept a prisoner in the elevator, at a height of fifty feet
from the ground floor, a prisoner of his perfect murder, until Monday morning.
Meanwhile Florence, who has been waiting for him on a café terrace, sees his car
pass by. It is an old Chevrolet convertible, and she observes a young girl whom
she thinks she recognizes, sitting next to the driver: it is Véronique, assistant
of the florist whose big shop faces the Carala building.
She is only partially wrong. Véronique, though still a young girl, is head over
heels in love. The name of her lover is Louis, a bookseller's assistant. The young
man, annoyed by the admiration Véronique is showing for Captain Tavernier, and attracted
by the Chevrolet car which gives him an impression of wealth, decides to steal it
just for the night. This was an easy thing to do, for the engine was still running
while Julien had entered the building once again on his way to the office. Young
Louis thinks the use of the car will be a unique source of pleasure for his girl,
as indeed it proves to be (Sur l'autoroute).
Out of town a really beautiful car, a big white Mercedes, tries to pass Louis. A
race ensues and Louis has a hairbreadth escape just saving him from a serious accident.
Incidentally, the place where this happens, near a motel in Paris, turns out to
be the spot the Mercedes was heading for. Thanks to this incident, the passengers
of the Mercedes are soon on friendly terms with Louis and Véronique.
During the night the plot develops in three different places: Julien still remains
a prisoner in his elevator (Julien dans l'ascenseur). Florence is looking
for him all over Paris, and finally Louis and Véronique are becoming entangled in
a confusing adventure. Julien tries to get out of his prison (Évasion de Julien).
After unscrewing a trap door, he lets himself down by the elevator cable, but his
descent becomes a breathtaking fall because a night watchman has switched on the
current (Visite du vigile). Julien has a narrow escape and struggles back
to his cage, utterly exhausted. Florence walks back to the Champs-Élysées (Florence
sur les Champs-Élysées), a prey to the feelings that keep turning in her
head. Alternately, her mood is murderous, loving, sympathetic, and hurt; every time
she meets one of Julien's friends she asks about his whereabouts. And all the time
she keeps asking herself where he may be, whether he has committed the crime and
whether he loves her. With a haggard look on her face she walks endlessly until
finally she comes to a bar in the rue du Bac (Au bar du Petit Bac). As
for Louis, he has taken a violent dislike to the owner of the Mercedes, a German,
altogether too rich and too cynical for him, who has talked him and his girl into
having dinner with him (Dîner au motel). The night ends in a flash. At
daybreak Louis leaves the motel and, for spite, steals the Mercedes. He is soon
caught red-handed by Horst himself and because he thinks the German threatens him,
shoots him with Tavernier's gun. Véronique persuades him to return to Paris. They
hide in her room and in the firm belief that they are lost, the two young people
swallow an overdose of sleeping tablets.
Early next morning Julien is freed from his hiding place and arrested soon afterwards.
He cannot offer any defense as his first crime has been perfect, but he has no watertight
alibi for the second crime: his car has been identified, his gun has been found,
etc.... Florence now plays her last card: she rushes over to Louis and succeeds
in convincing Louis that Tavernier is the only one who is suspected. To remove all
guilt from himself he needs only to destroy the photographs that show him side by
side with the Germans. Heavy with sleep he hastens to the motel with Florence following
him. There, the two of them meet Monsieur Chérier, Police Commissioner (Chez le
photographe du motel). By means of a double "coup de théatre" he shows them
where they are wrong: the photographer has already developed the whole film. Several
snaps show Louis together with the car. Chérier understands that Florence has had
her husband killed by her lover. Louis soon finds himself handcuffed: Florence looks
dreamily at the snapshots taken from her lover. This is the first time we see them
together. Florence's game is up...