Reign of Terror (1949)

“No one goes to bed in Paris — it isn’t safe to go to bed!”

Synopsis:
A French patriot (Robert Cummings) kills and impersonates a notorious prosecutor (Charles Gordon) summoned by bloodthirsty Maximilian Robespierre (Richard Basehart), who informs Cummings that his “black book” of traitors-to-be-executed has been lost. With the help of his former lover (Arlene Dahl), Cummings attempts to locate the vitally important book — but will his true identity be revealed?

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Review:
Anthony Mann and DP John Alton collaborated on three low-budget films — T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and this title — before Mann embarked on the bigger-budget films he’s best known for, including Peary-listed titles such as Winchester ’73 (1950), The Tall Target (1951), Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Glenn Miller Story (1954) The Man From Laramie (1955), The Far Country (1954), The Tin Star (1957), El Cid (1961), and more. This “cloak and dagger” historical adventure — taking place during France’s post-revolutionary Reign of Terror — is a highly atmospheric affair, with every frame and set maximized to craft a claustrophobic sense of perpetual danger and betrayal. Unfortunately, the screenplay (co-written by Philip Yordan) is mostly uninspired, with plenty of lines such as the following: “It’s either Madelon or the book — you can’t have both!” However, the details of the fast-moving script don’t matter as much as the excitement generated, and it’s easy enough to follow who the ultimate “bad guy” and “good guy” are. With that said, Reign of Terror is only must-see for fans of this type of flick, and/or Mann completists.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography (by John Alton)




  • Fine period sets and art design


Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look for its visuals alone. Available as a public domain title on Archive.org.

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