Reign of Terror (1949)

With shadowy corners, unsettling camera angles, rampant corruption and an icy femme fatale this neglected classic belies its historical setting to emerge as a kind of French Revolution noir. The source of its visual interest is the teamwork of two film noir masters, director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton, in the third of their five films together. They had previously collaborated on the classic suspense films T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), so turning 18th-century Paris into a collection of mean streets came naturally to them. Some of the dark shadows were a matter of necessity. Producer Walter Wanger (uncredited on the film) only allocated a small budget to this fictionalized tale of a heroic Frenchman, Charles D’Aubigny (Robert Cummings), working with former love Arlene Dahl to end Robespierre’s (Richard Basehart) dreams of dictatorship. Wanger didn’t stint on the cast—including great character actors like Arnold Moss, Norman Lloyd (who also narrates) and Beulah Bondi—or the writing team of Philip Yordan and Aeneas MacKenzie. But he forced Mann to shoot on sets leftover
from Joan of Arc (1948) and then kept the film on the shelf until headlines about a Communist “reign of terror” struck him as free advertising. The film made a big impression on MGM head of production Dore Schary, who hired Mann and Alton, marking their move from B-movies to top product.

(d. Anthony Mann, 89m, 35mm) 

In attendance: Norman Lloyd