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Reign of Terror (1949)

Approved | | History, Romance, War | 24 February 1950 (Finland)
Robespierrre, a powerful figure in the French revolution, is desperately looking for his black book, a death list of those marked for the guillotine.



(story and screenplay), (story and screenplay) (as Aeneas MacKenzie)

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Complete credited cast:
Richard Hart ...
François Barras
Grandma Blanchard


Robespierre, a powerful figure in the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror, is desperately looking for his black book, a death list of those marked by him for the guillotine and a key to help him eventually emerge as the country's dictator. He hopes his agents will recover it, but, if it falls in to the wrong hands, it would mean his political ruin and death. Written by duke1029

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


History | Romance | War


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

24 February 1950 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

The Black Book  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The title was changed to "The Black Book." Which is how it was listed when shown on TCM. See more »


Fouché: One thing about Paris... never dull
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Referenced in Bowser Makes a Movie (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

A whole lotta French Revolution and Arlene Dahl, too
25 August 2004 | by (New York) – See all my reviews

This early effort from Anthony Mann (who went on to direct such

classics as Winchester '73 and The Man from Laramie) contains

his typical fast-pacing as well as an alternation between

extraordinarily wide landscape shots and extreme closeups, plus

his trademark fight and horse scenes, but played against the

unlikely backdrop of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror

period. In addition to the stylistic tricks that Mann would later use in

his Westerns, one sees here as well a strong importation of the

noir aesthetic, with its extreme chiaroscuro, complex plotting and

otherwise amoral atmosphere, interestingly grafted onto an

18th-century period picture. A great example of the way style can

often transcend genre expectations.

Apart from these and other notable aesthetic techniques (the use

of extreme, menacing close-up being among the most pronounced), the picture is a great deal of fun, largely owing to the

conventions and limitations of B-level studio pictures that were

standard in its day. Specifically, much of the delight emerges from

the way that Mann fashions a worthwhile cinematic expression

(camp value and all) from resources that many critics might

adjudge second-rate. Rather than drown actors such as Bob

Cummings and Arlene Dahl in period accuracy that would

overwhelm their expressive range, the performers--the entire

picture, in fact--seems to be winking at the fact that it is cramming

the entire Terror into 87 action- and intrigue-packed minutes.

(Dahl-watchers will be especially delighted by her campy, vampy

hijinks as a potential double agent who can impersonate everyone

from the most elegant marquise to a chicken farmer's wife with

just a rearrangement of a few fashion accessories.)

Indeed, RoT packs all the familiar faces of the Revolution into the

action for their respective fifteen seconds of fame: the Marquis de

Lafayette, Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just and even good-old

Napoleon, who shows up at the end for one of the picture's silliest,

most sublime moments.

To that end, pay special attention to Richard Basehart's portrayal of

the infamous tyrant Robespierre. Forget what you learned in

history class: Hollywood's version is a delightfully malevolent and

distinctly epicene figure, who struts about in a tight-fitting black silk

outfit, is said by other characters not to like women, and who has

placed his elegantly appointed, not-quite-Empire-style

headquarters in the same space as a torture chamber. You will

not be surprised that he's the sort of character who can undermine

the Revolution's hard-won ideals while having his wig powdered

or making a citron pressé into an exquisite goblet. Truth be told, he

seems more interested in the wig-powdering.

All in all, this is an entertaining--and sometimes delightfully

campy--picture whose lightweight aspects are counterpoised by a

strong and accomplished mise-en-scene and a delightful sense

of perversion. Check it out and lock it in!

18 of 24 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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