Elevator “Music” Ain’t What It Used to Be

At roughly the same time that skyscrapers were springing up all over New York, an army general was developing an idea to transmit music over wires. Radio was in its infancy, so the idea had some merit. By the time the kinks in the wire were worked out, so to speak, radio had begun to dominate. General Squier didn’t lament his fate, however. He changed gears and sold the idea to anyone who wanted piped in music. Originally, it was tinny and hollow sounding. In the 21st century, however, it’s changed to the point that it sounds like any commercially available CD. The best part is: Muzak comes with all applicable licensing already settled. Businesses don’t need to pay twice.

Let’s Go to the Movies: Two Great Elevator Scenes

When Bud Fox got on the elevator with his father in “Wall Street,” the resulting scene ramps up the tension until Carl Fox shouts that he never judged a man’s success by the size of his wallet. Bud is unimpressed and calls his father gutless, whereupon Carl says he must have been a lousy father.

At the other end of the spectrum, former fibbing lawyer Fletcher Reede had an amusing chat in an elevator with a well-endowed hot babe in “Liar Liar.” After several extremely truthful comments about her accouterments, he gets his face slapped by the appalled young lady.

Why Do Moviemakers Love Elevators?

Building on the anxiety that’s inherent with riding in an elevator, Hollywood has given us some unforgettable moments that take place going up and down. Different moviemakers use the elevator differently, as with most things in Hollywood. Three of these scenes are dramatic, and two are comedic.

Let’s count backward:

5. “The Untouchables”: While transporting a bookkeeper who is to be a witness against Al Capone, Agent Oscar Wallace, as played by Charles Martin Smith, must ride an elevator in the police station. A Capone torpedo named Nitti gets on, too, dressed as a cop. He pulls his gun and coldly executes the bookkeeper and Agent Wallace. Then, he uses their blood to write the word “touchable” on the wall of the elevator.

4. “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: At the end of the film, Charlie and Joe steal two Fizzy Lifting Drinks, which was against Willie Wonka’s rules. Charlie, therefore, is disqualified from the contest of winning all the chocolate. Charlie is disconsolate, and gives Gobstopper to Slugworth. Lo and behold, it was a test. Charlie passed! Willie Wonka, as played spectacularly by Gene Wilder, take Charlie and Joe on the ride of their lives on the Great Glass Wonkavator, which can go any direction the riders want. He then wills the factory to Charlie for passing the test and retires.

3. “The Shining”: Although this scene doesn’t technically take place in an elevator, the the sight of a giant mechanical arm forcing the elevator doors to go in the wrong direction while hidden in tons of blood is enough to curdle fresh milk.

2. “The Silence of the Lambs”: Hannibal Lecter has killed almost all of the guards who were watching him in his makeshift cell and is roaming free in the building. One of the guards is still barely alive even though he’s been horribly disfigured by Lecter’s teeth. The police surround the man and take him down the elevator to a waiting ambulance as other officers frantically search for Lecter. They discover what they think is Lecter lying on top of the elevator. Suddenly, the grievously injured guard sits up inside the ambulance and lays waste to the personnel inside. It’s Lecter himself, and he’s wearing the bitten-off face of the guard as a disguise.

1. “The Blues Brothers”: When the police corner them in the Cook County office building, where they went to pay off the tax bill for the orphanage, the Blues Brothers blithely enter the elevator to the soothing strains of “The Girl from Ipanema.” When they get to their floor, one of them calmly produces a lighter and an aerosol can from his pocket to form a makeshift flamethrower to fry the elevator circuits in an effort to buy time.