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Archive for the ‘Arlene Dahl: MOVIE QUEEN’ Category

The Reign Of Terror [The Black Book]

31 Aug

The Reign Of Terror  [AKA The Black Book] – Directed By Anthony Mann. Costume Thriller. A resistance member infiltrates Robespierre’s inner circle with a mind to save France. 88 minutes Black and White 1949.

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Should be called The Reign Of Error. I saw it when it came out, the bottom half of a bill that played Wednesday only, and I thought it was a lousy movie. I thought Robert Cummings a consummate silly and completely miscast as a swashbuckling hero. His big worried eyes – no. What got me in ’49 was Arlene Dahl, and she does so still, 21 years old and astounding. She had a beauty spot and she was a beauty spot. Anthony Mann, for once, gives the female a strong leading role, at times more proactive and more in charge than the males, and Arlene Dahl meets the acting challenge like the movie queen she is. (In profile, her face has, like Garbo, a recessed brow. Check it out; see what it does for her face.) Certain of Mann’s crew such as Charles McGraw and Arnold Moss turn up here and do darn fine work. The story lacks focus, or rather it has the wrong focus, or rather it has a mixed focus. Are we focusing on Freedom, on France, on deposing Robespierre, or on his little black book? The black book looks like a McGuffin with too much screen time. But we have Beulah Bondi to rivet us to any scene she’s in, and Richard Basehart, another Mann actor, as Maximilien Robespierre, and he always looked crazy, so why not? He is never out of his pasty white wig.  The picture lacks Mann’s big final chase scene down a narrow passage, and that wouldn’t have worked anyhow because the costumes are so capacious. Actually Robert Cummings now does not look as silly as he seemed then and plays his scenes with considerable interest and skill. The whole piece is Costume Pulp, but John Alton who filmed it makes every scene striking with camera angles that skew the point of view, just for the sake of it, and you feel Alton having a better time with the material than anyone else. Though Alton filmed it, it is not noir. At the heart of it, I guess it is still a lousy movie. I wonder what I expected in 1949. I know. A swashbuckling costume French Revolution picture filmed by anyone but the confining John Alton. That is to say, an Action Adventure quite the opposite, with the big open spaces of an Errol Flynn show. But to do that, you also actually had to have Errol Flynn.

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