Reign of Terror (film)

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Reign of Terror
The Black Book Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnthony Mann
Produced byWilliam Cameron Menzies
Walter Wanger
Screenplay byAeneas MacKenzie
Philip Yordan
Story byAeneas MacKenzie
Philip Yordan
StarringRobert Cummings
Richard Basehart
Music bySol Kaplan
CinematographyJohn Alton
Edited byFred Allen
Color processBlack and white
Walter Wanger Productions
Distributed byEagle-Lion Films
Release date
  • October 15, 1949 (1949-10-15) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$692,671[1]

Reign of Terror (reissued as The Black Book) is a 1949 American film noir directed by Anthony Mann and starring Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart and Arlene Dahl. The film is set during the French Revolution. Plotters seek to bring down Maximilien Robespierre and end his bloodthirsty Reign of Terror.[2][3]


Already the most powerful man in France, Maximilien Robespierre (Richard Basehart) wants to become the nation's Dictator. He summons François Barras (Richard Hart), the only man who can nominate him before the National Convention. Barras refuses to do so and goes into hiding.

Meanwhile, patriot Charles D'Aubigny (Robert Cummings) secretly kills and impersonates Duval (Charles Gordon), the bloodstained prosecutor of Strasbourg, who had been summoned to Paris by Robespierre for some unknown purpose (which Robespierre's enemies want very much to ascertain). Neither Robespierre nor Fouché (Arnold Moss), the chief of his secret police, have met Duval before, so the substitution goes undetected. Robespierre informs D'Aubigny that his black book, containing the names of those he intends to denounce and have executed, has been stolen. Robespierre's numerous foes are kept in check by not knowing whether their names are on the list or not. If they were to learn for certain that they are on the list, they would band together against him. He gives D'Aubigny authority over everyone in France, save himself, and 24 hours to retrieve the book.

D'Aubigny meets Barras (Richard Hart) through his sole contact, Madelon (Arlene Dahl), whom D'Aubigny once loved. However, he was followed, and Barras is arrested by the police, led by Saint-Just. D'Aubigny finds himself in an uncomfortable position, but manages to allay both sides' suspicions that he has betrayed them.

He goes to visit Barras in prison, and informs him that three of his best men have been murdered. Strangely, their rooms have not been ransacked in search of the book, leading D'Aubigny to surmise that it was never stolen in the first place, and that Robespierre is using the alleged theft to distract his foes. Saint-Just, still suspicious, sends for Duval's wife to identify her husband. Madelon pretends to be Madame Duval and extricates her former lover while the real Madame Duval is waiting at the gate.

Before news of his impersonation spreads, D'Aubigny returns to Robespierre's private office—located in the back rooms of a bakery—to look for the book. There he encounters the opportunistic Fouché, who seems willing to sell out his master. When D'Aubigny finds the book, however, Fouché tries to stab him. D'Aubigny strangles him into unconsciousness and escapes. He and Madelon hide out at the farmhouse of fellow conspirators, Pierre and Marie Blanchard. (The Blanchards are either under arrest in Paris or already dead at the hands of St. Just's Sergeant (Charles McGraw). St. Just goes to the Blanchard's farm and gets no help from Grandma (Beulah Bondi). He tries to charm one of their three young children, but loses his audience when he impatiently kicks a kitten. Meanwhile, D'Aubigny and Madelon are hiding on the property because they must retrieve the book, which is on the cot where St. Just is sleeping. With help from the children, they get the book and flee on horseback. A nighttime chase ensues. D'Aubigny gets away, but Madelon is caught, taken back to Paris, and tortured by the Sergeant. She refuses to talk. An hour before the Convention meets, Fouché appears and tells Robespierre he knows a better way. He takes an earring from Madelon.

The Convention is assembled and about to convene. Fouché shows up and shows the earring to D'Aubigny. Without the book, many more will die, Dissolve to the Convention. Fouché tips his hat to Robespierre, but Barras sees book being passed from hand to hand among the delegates while Robespierre denounces Barras in an eloquent speech. Meanwhile, D'Aubigny searches Robespierre's office and the Sergeant takes her to a hidden room. Robespierre concludes his speech and is shocked to find himself denounced and pursued by the mob. He is followed to his office and nearly brings them to heel with his golden words, but Fouché tells a man “Shut his mouth,” and he shoots Robespierre through the jaw, silencing him forever—making it impossible for a desperate D'Aubigny to learn where Madelon is. Robespierre is taken to meet Madame Guillotine.

D'Aubigny returns to Robespierre's office and tears it apart. In despair, he tosses his torch to the floor in front of a bookcase, planning to burn everything. The torch reveals a stain on the floor that leads him to the secret room. He kills the Sergeant and rescues Madelon.

Outside the bakery, Fouché falls into conversation with an army officer as the crowd celebrates the death of Robespierre. Fouché, about to take leave of the officer, asks his name. The man replies, "Bonaparte. Napoleon Bonaparte." Fouché, unimpressed, still promises to remember the name.


The cast list includes:[4]


In August 1948, Wanger signed a deal with Cummings to star in the film. In order to get him, the movie became a co-production with Cummings' own company, United Californian.[5][6] Arlene Dahl was borrowed from MGM.[7]

Producer Walter Wanger, director Anthony Mann, cinematographer John Alton, and production designer William Cameron Menzies used their combined talents to make a low budget "epic" using Broadway stars and shooting on sets only costing $40,000.[8]

It was the first collaboration between Mann and Philip Yordan. Yordan says the original script by Aeneas MacKenzie which was"nothing but speeches, Robespierre and all this." Yordan says he told Mann "you can't follow the script unless you're a student of the French Revolution" so he suggested the story be simplified to be about Cummings tracking down a book containing the names of anti-Revolutionaries before Robespierre could get it.[9]

Filming started August 23, 1948 and ended in early October 1948 .[10][11] The picture premiered in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 16, 1949.[11]

The film's original working title was The Black Book. It was released as Reign of Terror, but when it played New York later that year it was renamed The Black Book .[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p445.
  2. ^ Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 129. ISBN 0-302-00477-7.
  3. ^ REIGN OF TERROR Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 16, Iss. 181, (Jan 1, 1949): 120.
  4. ^ "Reign of Terror (1949) Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  5. ^ By A.H. WEILER. (1948, Oct 17). BY WAY OF REPORT. New York Times
  6. ^ NEWS OF THE SCREEN New York Times 3 Aug 1948: 16.
  7. ^ Wrather Aims at Deal Starring Mel Patton; Hart Signed by Wanger Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 12 Aug 1948: 15.
  8. ^ p.276 Balio, Tino United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1987.
  9. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (1991). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. University of California Press. p. 357.
  10. ^ Of Local Origin New York Times12 Aug 1948: 17.
  11. ^ a b "Reign of Terror: Details". Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  12. ^ "Reign of Terror: History". Retrieved 2020-01-05.

External links[edit]