Malle & Miles 

Aimez-vous jazz?

The trumpet comes in with a low howl just as the beautiful blonde droops her head in despair and lets the shadows engulf her face. It's one of several magic moments in Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows, a moody film noir featuring a legendary soundtrack by Miles Davis. The 1957 French film, rereleased on the big screen this week, plays Landmark's Act 1 & 2 Theater in Berkeley from August 19 to 25.

Malle, who wrote in his autobiography that he was "crazy about jazz" at the time of the film, jumped at the chance to work with Davis, nabbing him on his one night off from a string of club dates in Paris. When Malle ushered Davis and a handful of French musicians into a recording studio at 10 p.m., they had neither a music score nor a clear plan. However, they did have several bottles of champagne and the inspiring presence of a muse: the beautiful blonde Jeanne Moreau, who starred in the film. By dawn, they had recorded the entire improvisatory score.

Malle was ecstatic about the results. "It transformed the film," he wrote. "It was a counterpoint, it was elegiac." In fact, the film's undeniably thin plot needed a little something extra -- a man ruins his perfect crime by getting trapped in an elevator, and is therefore unable to meet his loving accomplice, Moreau, who spends most of the movie looking for him on the streets of Paris. But the suspense is a secondary attraction compared to the atmosphere created by dark streets, flashing neon, and spare, plaintive trumpet lines.

The film is being presented as part of the Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday. While neither the film nor the soundtrack relates directly to the festival's theme -- this year it's "A Celebration of Latin Jazz" -- festival director Susan Muscarella says it's a welcome addition to the lineup. "It adds to the overall artistic diversity of the festival, and promotes one of Berkeley's treasured theaters," she says. For showtimes, call 510-464-5980.

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