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Reign of Terror (reissued as The Black Book) is a 1949 American film noir drama film 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]

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
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]



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 the uncertainty of whether their names are on the list. If they were to learn for certain that they are, 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 the suspicions of both sides 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 had not been ransacked to search for 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. Through quick thinking, Madelon pretends to be Madame Duval and extricates her former lover just before the real Madame Duval arrives.

Before news of his impersonation gets out, D'Aubigny returns to Robespierre's private office to look for the book. There he encounters the opportunistic Fouché, who is seemingly 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 a fellow conspirator, but their location is extracted through torture. A nighttime chase ensues. D'Aubigny gets away, but Madelon is caught, taken back to Paris, and tortured. She refuses to talk.

As the Convention is about to convene the next day, Fouché shows up and offers to trade Madelon for the book. D'Aubigny turns him down. The book is passed from hand to hand among the delegates. Thus, when Robespierre arrives to denounce Barras, the crowd turns on him instead. He nearly brings the mob to heel with his golden words, but Fouché has his henchman shoot Robespierre through the jaw, silencing him. Robespierre is taken to meet Madame Guillotine.

D'Aubigny searches Robespierre's office, finds a secret room, and rescues Madelon. 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:[3]


The film was co produced by Robert Cummings' own company, United Californian.[4]

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.[5]


  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 (1949)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  4. ^ By A.H. WEILER. (1948, Oct 17). BY WAY OF REPORT. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. ^ p.276 Balio, Tino United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1987.

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