François Truffaut once wrote, “All of Louis Malle, all his good qualities and faults, was in Elevator to the Gallows”—a statement that, even given French film criticism’s traditionally high tolerance for the counterintuitive, pretty unambiguously qualifies as, well, false.
What’s most striking about Elevator to the Gallows, in fact, is that Malle, having made this almost insolently proficient Série noire thriller, never went anywhere near the genre again, and for the rest of his career rarely displayed much interest in the sort of tightly controlled visual and narrative style he uses with such mastery here. It would be more accurate, I think, to say that “all of Louis Malle” is all that is not in Elevator to the Gallows—or, for that matter, in any individual Malle movie—but is, rather, what lies in the spaces between his films, in the habit of renunciation that required him, it seems, to turn his back immediately on whatever he had just accomplished.
To put it another way: Malle spent the four decades of his filmmaking life saying, “Been there, done that,” over and over again, searching constantly for somewhere he hadn’t been and something he hadn’t done.
-Terrence Rafferty, Elevator to the Gallows: Louis Malle on the Ground Floor, Criterion