Starring: Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart, Arlene Dahl, Richard Hart, Arnold Moss, and Jess Barker
Director: Anthony Mann
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars
As the power-hungry Maximillian Robespierre (Basehart) uses a series of rigged show-trials and executions of his rivals to usurp the French Revolution and make himself dictator of the emerging republic, Charles D'Aubigny (Cummings) infiltrates Robespierre's inner circle to secure evidence of his corruption and evil. When he discovers that the most damning piece of evidence--a list drawn up by Robespierre of those marked for death--has already gone missing, he begins a desperate search for this other mystery operative and gain control of the list, before he himself is revealed as a traitor. The only person he can rely on in his mission is his ex-lover Madelon (Dahl)... but is even she trustworthy in a moment when the fate of a nation turns on who has possession of a single black book?
"The Black Book" is the sort of film that usually takes place on the mean streets and seedy dives of the Big City of the 1940s. Here, however, the look and tone of film noir and the frenetic pace of a spy thriller is applied to a story that unfolds in the back alleys and dungeons of 17th century Paris. It's a film noir historical costume drama spy thriller... and it's a heck of a ride.
Three film genres are intertwined in this movie and the result is a fast-paced, visually interesting drama with so many twists and turns to its plot that, even though the Good Guys and the Bad Guys are clearly defined, by the end of the movie, you'll be wondering if good really has won out in the end... especially given one ominous note that is struck when a young soldier introduces himself as Bonaparte.
One weak spot of the film is it's dialogue. To describe it as trite and uninspired is generous, but the rapid pace and gorgeously moody visuals of the film more than make up for this weakness. I suppose one could also complain that it's not historically accurate in many ways, but that should earn the response, "it's just a movie; you should really just relax."
If you enjoy spy movies, film noir, or costume dramas, I think you'll enjoy "The Black Book". It's one of many entertaining movies in "The Fabulous Forties" boxed set.