AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Reign of Terror
Alternate Title: The Black Book
Director: Anthony Mann (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1949
Premiere Information:   World Premiere in New Orleans (LA): 16 Jun 1949.
Production Date:   mid-Aug--early Oct 1948
Duration (in mins):   89
Duration (in feet):   8,029
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Robert Cummings (Charles D'Aubigny)  
    Richard Basehart (Maximilien Robespierre)  
    Richard Hart (François Barras)  
    Arlene Dahl (Madelon)  
    Arnold Moss (Police chief Fouché)  
    Norman Lloyd (Tallien)  
    Charles McGraw (Sergeant)  
    Beulah Bondi (Grandma)  
    Jess Barker (Saint-Just)  
    Wade Crosby (Danton)  
    William Challee (Bourdon)  
    Georgette Windsor (Cecile)  
    Ellen Lowe (Farmer's wife)  
    John Doucette (Farmer)  
    Frank Conlan (Gatekeeper)  
    Wilton Graff (Marquis de Lafayette)  
    Charles Gordon (Duval)  
    Dan Seymour (Innkeeper)  
    Victor Kilian (Barras' jailer)  
    Mary Currier (Madame Duval)  
    Dabbs Greer (Soldier at the bridge)  
    John Doucette (Pierre Blanchard, farmer at market)  
    Russ Tamblyn (Blanchard's son)  
    Shepherd Strudwick (Voice of Napoléon Bonaparte)  

Summary: In Austria in 1794, the exiled French general, the Marquis de Lafayette, sends his loyal emissary, Charles D'Aubigny, to Paris to stop the ruthless deputy of the National Convention, Maximilien Robespierre, from assuming dictatorial powers. D'Aubigny is to murder Duval, Robespierre's corrupt new public prosecutor from Strasbourg, whom Robespierre has never met, and take his place. Meanwhile, Robespierre tells François Barras, a leader of the opposition party, to present a motion to the Convention that would grant him absolute power, but Barras refuses. D'Aubigny finds Duval, stabs him to death and changes into his clothes. A few minutes pass and a lovely woman named Madelon, who is working for Barras, arrives and, in the dark, makes contact with D'Aubigny, who she knows has replaced Duval. She is to be D'Aubigny's contact with Barras, who wants to ensure that Robespierre never becomes a dictator. When D'Aubigny lights a candle, he discovers that Madelon is a former lover. After she leaves, police chief Fouché greets D'Aubigny, whom he believes to be Duval, and takes him to a bakery, which conceals Robespierre's secret headquarters and arsenal. Robespierre tells "Duval" that he has written a death list, the names of the enemies of France, in a small black book, but has misplaced it. Robespierre reveals that several members of his own committee are included on the list. He gives D'Aubigny power over all police personnel and threatens him with death if he does not recover the book within twenty-four hours. Later, D'Aubigny goes to a local café and meets Robespierre's confidante, Saint-Just, who tells D'Aubigny that he does not believe that he is Duval. Two men try to detain D'Aubigny, but Madelon appears suddenly and takes him to Barras, who says that he does not have the black book. Suddenly, Fouché's agents arrive and attempt to arrest Barras, but D'Aubigny claims that Barras is his prisoner and shows them his authority from Robespierre. However, Saint-Just is waiting nearby and takes Barras prisoner. Madelon thinks that D'Aubigny has betrayed Barras and orders him shot, but relents when he promises to free Barras. Later, Saint-Just tells Robespierre that Duval's wife will be visiting that day from Strasbourg. Meanwhile, D'Aubigny visits Barras in prison and tells him that three members of his party have been killed and that the party is being divided. D'Aubigny suddenly realizes that Robespierre has had the book all along and will use it to reinforce his position at the Convention. When Madelon impersonates Madam Duval and warmly greets D'Aubigny as her husband, Robespierre and Saint-Just are convinced by her performance until the real Madam Duval arrives. D'Aubigny and Madelon manage to escape and D'Aubigny rushes to the bakery's back room, where he finds Fouché searching for the book. When D'Aubigny finds it and reads Fouché's name inside, Fouché attacks him, but D'Aubigny chokes him. D'Aubigny and Madelon then escape with the book and are pursued into the countryside by Saint-Just and his men, but find refuge on a farm. Although D'Aubigny flees to safety, Madelon is captured and tortured by Robespierre and Saint-Just. At the Convention, as Barras is brought to trial, Tallien, one of his supporters, passes the book among the members of the Convention, who see their names inside it. While D'Aubigny attempts to rescue Madelon, Robespierre demands that the Convention declare him sole and absolute dictator of France. Although Robespierre claims that he has fought to give France back to the people, the Convention members turn against him and Barras denounces him. After Robespierre challenges them to find another leader, he is shot in the mouth and taken to the guillotine. D'Aubigny goes to Robespierre's secret torture chamber and rescues Madelon. Later, a soldier remarks to Fouché that the art of being a Frenchman is knowing what comes next, but adds that he is neither a Frenchman nor a politician. When Fouché asks his name, he replies, "Napoléon Bonaparte." 

Production Company: Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Eagle-Lion Films, Inc. (Pathé Industries, Inc.)
Director: Anthony Mann (Dir)
  Ridgeway Callow (Asst dir)
  Burk Symon (Dial dir)
Producer: Walter Wanger (Exec prod)
  William Cameron Menzies (Prod)
  Edward Lasker (Assoc prod)
Writer: Philip Yordan (Story and scr)
  Aeneas MacKenzie (Story and scr)
Photography: John Alton (Dir of photog)
  Lester Shorr (Cam op)
  Wilton Wooten (Gaffer)
  Ted Weisbarth (Stills)
Art Direction: Edward Ilou (Art dir)
  William Cameron Menzies (Art dir)
Film Editor: Fred Allen (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Armor Marlowe (Dec)
  Al Orenbach (Dec)
Costumes: Jay Morley [Jr.] (Miss Dahl's cost by)
Music: Sol Kaplan (Mus)
  Charles Previn (Mus cond)
  George Parrish (Orch)
  Irving Friedman (Mus dir)
Sound: John Carter (Sd)
Special Effects: Roy W. Seawright (Spec photog eff)
  Jack R. Rabin (Spec art eff)
Make Up: Ern Westmore (Makeup)
  Jack Pierce (Makeup)
  Joan St. Oegger (Hair styling)
  Gwen Van Upp (Hair styling)
Production Misc: James T. Vaughn (Prod supv)
  Arnold Laven (Scr supv)
  Truman Joiner (Grip)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Pathé Industries, Inc. 10/6/1949 dd/mm/yyyy LP2374

PCA NO: 13481
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Conventions (Gatherings)
  France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799
  Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre
  Political corruption
Subjects (Minor): Arrests
  Bakers and bakeries
  Impersonation and imposture
  Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821
  Paris (France)
  Secret police

Note: The film was released in the summer of 1949 as Reign of Terror , but when it played New York in the fall of that year it was retitled The Black Book , which was its original working title. The film opens with a brief prologue, narrated by actor Norman Lloyd, which introduces several of the main characters while describing the situation in France. In the final scene, in which "Fouché" speaks with Napoléon Bonaparte, the character of Napoléon is only seen from behind. Napoléon's voice was supplied by actor Shepherd Strudwick, but Strudwick himself does not appear in the film. At the conclusion of the film, the words "The End" appear on screen, after which the words "Of the Reign of Terror," appear directly below.
       The story is loosely based upon events and historical figures of the French Revolution of 1789. The main part of the story takes place in 1794. While many of the film's characters correspond to actual people, the central character, Charles D'Aubigny, appears to be wholly fictional. A 25 Aug 1948 HR news item includes Isabella Ward in the cast, but her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The film, which was shot on location at Sherwood Forest and Chatsworth, CA, marked the feature film debut of character actor Dabbs Greer (1917--2007). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   21 May 1949.   
Daily Variety   14 Jul 49   p. 3.
Film Daily   23 May 49   p. 6.
Film Daily   6 Jun 49   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 48   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 48   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Sep 48   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 48   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jul 49   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   21 May 49   p. 4617.
New York Times   17 Oct 49   p. 18.
Variety   18 May 49   p. 8.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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