The Black Book [DVD] [1949]

Anthony Mann's The Black Book (1949), also known as Reign Of Terror, has arrived on DVD from Alpha Video in a decent edition made from a somewhat worn but surprisingly viewable print, marred by occasional missing frames, that gets better as the movie advances. The movie doesn't look as good here as it did in its last showing at New York's Film Forum in 1998, but considering how unlikely it is that there will be an authorized version anytime soon (MGM/UA would have first claim on it, but they've shown no willingness to exploit the Eagle-Lion catalog), one shouldn't hesitate to grab this treasure. The picture is good enough to capture the exquisite use of shadows by Mann and his cinematographer, John Alton, and the sound is very slightly boomy, but not so bad as to render anything unintelligible, and is all consistent. It's a very watchable disc given the budget pricing, and good enough to be attractive despite the absence of any frills -- indeed, along with Fear In The Night and Open Secret, this could easily be the best movie in the whole Alpha catalog. The usual six chapters on an Alpha disc must suffice; the disc opens automatically to a simple menu with the "play" option in the default position.
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The Black Book
Also known as Reign of Terror, The Black Book is a bold effort by director Anthony Mann to film a French Revolution epic on a "B" detective picture budget. Robert Cummings stars as Charles D'Aubigny, who has been engaged by a group of political moderates to retrieve a little black book from Revolutionary leader Robespierre (Richard Basehart). The book allegedly contains evidence that Robespierre has been acting in his own interest rather than on behalf of the new government. D'Aubigny is compelled to deal with the tangible threat of Robespierre's chief henchman (Charles McGraw) as well as his uncertainty concerning the loyalties of those working with him. The Black Book is retrieved, but not before Robespierre has self-destructed on his own. The cheapness of The Black Book works in its favor, especially its overuse of shadows; while this photographic device was intended to disguise the seediness of the sets, it accurately conveys a "dark" period in French history that here is literally as well as figuratively dark. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Robert Cummings
    Robert Cummings - Charles D'Aubigny
  • Arlene Dahl
    Arlene Dahl - Madelon
  • Richard Hart
    Richard Hart - Francois Barras
  • Arnold Moss
    Arnold Moss - Fouche
  • Richard Basehart
    Richard Basehart - Maximilien Robespierre
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