On the recommendation of the Czar or Noir, Eddie Muller, I watched Anthony Mann’s Reign of Terror (a.k.a. The Black Book, Eagle-Lion, 1949), with Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart and Arlene Dahl.
Don’t be misled by the plot description: it was noir to the max! And I’d definitely recommend it to any aficionado of film noir.
It’s set in France in 1793, the year of the Terror, but this is no prissy costume drama. In fact, in some ways the historical setting frees up the filmmakers to show a level of corruption and depravity in the highest positions of political power that they wouldn’t have been able to get away with if they had set the story in the U.S. in 1949.
Plus it’s got style out the wazoo. Outrageous camera angles, dark shadows and distorted close-ups, all in glorious black and white. It’s a bit dated, of course, especially the characterization of the femme fatale, but it is definitely still relevant as hell in terms of the seductive and destructive nature of absolute political power. And boy, is the ending cynical.
The version I watched is from VCI Entertainment, who have done a decent job of restoring the film, but there are still several short gaps and glitches, and maybe someday someone will fully restore it. But take my word, it’s worth checking out in any form. And thanks for the recommendation, Eddie.
Vive la France! Vive le film noir! (though not necessarily in that order….)