It must be quite a thrill, making out your death list every night.
The Black Book (AKA: Reign of Terror) is directed by Anthony Mann and written by Aeneas MacKenzie and Phillip Yordan. It stars Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart, Richard Hart, Arlene Dahl, Charles McGraw and Arnold Moss. Sol Kaplan scores the music and John Alton is the cinematographer.
Late 18th century France and the republic is in chaos as the French Revolution continues to rage. Scheming bad boy Maximillian Robespierre (Basehart) spies an opportunity for a dictatorship, within 48 hours he will seize control and rule France with a rod of iron. But there is hope in the form of a resistance freedom fighter named Charles D'Aubigny (Cummings), if only he can locate the secret Black Book belonging to Robespire then he can curtail the tyrant's plan.
Before he would make his name in Adult Westerns and Period Epics, Anthony Mann made a considerable mark on film noir. From the mid 1940's to the beginning of the 50's, he made a number of film noir movies that marked him out as a considerable talent. Of that cluster the most odd one is The Black Book, an historical period thriller done out in film noir clobber. Forget history and approach the film as a piece of entertainment only, a film rich in film noir visuals and no small amount of quality drama. It has problems, namely it has a fakeness about it that's hard to shake off, while Cummings is weak and Dahl serves only to be a plot point in the final reel. But Alton and Mann's stunning sense of mood and visual atmospherics save the day, while there's value to be had in the performances of Basehart (dastardly), McGraw (menacing) and Moss (slimey). 7/10
Footnote: Sadly the only DVD available for the film is an appalling transfer, both in picture and sound. It's advised to watch it during day light hours and with the headphones on.