Also titled Reign of Terror, The Black Book is a suspense film that is as film noir as you can possibly get. Yet instead of being set in a large American city during the 1930s, 40s, or 50s, it is set in 1794 Paris during the reign of terror. Charles D’Aubigny (Robert Cummings), is a French patriot looking to overthrow Maximilian Robespierre (Richard Basehart).
Robespierre is planning to become dictator of France, so that he can more easily continue his reign of terror wherein he sends anyone opposed to him to the guillotine without trial or hearing. One of D’Aubigny’s coconspirators is Madelon (Arlene Dahl). D’Aubigny and Madelon have a past and D’Aubigny is bitter about it; neither is sure they can trust the other.
In fact, almost none of the characters in this film trust each other and with good reason. And the man most in the middle the man who no one should trust and who trusts no one is Fouche (Arnold Moss), the chief of police. He would like to destroy Robespierre but he will happily kill a friend or foe of Robespierre if it will advance his career. Moss does a great job with this character.
I will borrow a sentence from a review on IMDB to describe this film: “The atmosphere is particularly effective, with the dark photography and claustrophobic settings helping to establish the rampant fear, uncertainty, and paranoia that characterized the era.”
This film is nonstop suspense. About the only criticism I could make is this is a film badly in need of restoration. The current DVD was supposedly restored but it’s far from what I usually experience in a restored film; I have seen worse copies of this film so it is an improvement, but even in its not-so-restored state, it is wonderful film.