The Black BookReign of Terror - 1949

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The Black Book - 1949

The Black Book - Released October 15, 1949. Directed by Anthony Mann

Also known as The Reign of Terror, this 89 minute film is a taunt action-historical drama about the intrigue around French Revolution leader Robespierre, and especially about a 'black book' in which he keeps lists of the names of people who he counts as "for" the revolution and "against" the revolution, and being 'against' is a one way ticket to the guillotine. Incidentally, Robespierre seems confused about whether he himself is the personification of the Revolution or an actual human being, as anyone with the slightest opposition to him is immediately branded a traitor "to the revolution."

Director Anthony Mann populates Paris with shadows and boxed-in rooms where people move in the darkness trying to survive the collapse of political and popular sanity, or to just come out on top amid the political maneuvering. Clever camera work and a tight script make this film a demi-noir/historical film of the first calibre.

The cast is very good. Robert Cummings plays indignation well (and has plenty of opportunities to show it as events unfold). Arlene Dahl as a seemingly two-faced woman playing both sides against the middle is actually about as pure a hero as we can get in this tale. Richard Basehart presents Robespierre as nuts, though it is presented as cooly and seriously as possible (in a scene where a woman is pleading for the life of her husband and appeals to God, Robespierre jealously responds "the Revolution abolished God, now there is only the will of the people!" And based on how Mann presents the Comintern of France, the will of the people is to murder as many people as possible).

The best thing of all in the cast of The Black Book is probably Arnold Moss as the frequently-smiling, humor-tinged, but deadly-as-a-snake chief of secret police, Fouche, who, besides carrying out his duties as co-executioner with Robespierre, is seriously concerned his name might be the in the "Black Book" too.

Unfortunately, it appears at present only beaten-up copies of the film print are in circulation, including an edited and chopped up version which circulates as a free download around the internet.

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