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The Black Book

The Black Book(1949)


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In Austria in 1794, the exiled French general, the Marquis de Lafayette, sends his loyal emissary, Charles D'Aubigny, to Paris to stop the ruthless deputy of the National Convention, Maximilien Robespierre, from assuming dictatorial powers. D'Aubigny is to murder Duval, Robespierre's corrupt new public prosecutor from Strasbourg, whom Robespierre has never met, and take his place. Meanwhile, Robespierre tells François Barras, a leader of the opposition party, to present a motion to the Convention that would grant him absolute power, but Barras refuses. D'Aubigny finds Duval, stabs him to death and changes into his clothes. A few minutes pass and a lovely woman named Madelon, who is working for Barras, arrives and, in the dark, makes contact with D'Aubigny, who she knows has replaced Duval. She is to be D'Aubigny's contact with Barras, who wants to ensure that Robespierre never becomes a dictator. When D'Aubigny lights a candle, he discovers that Madelon is a former lover. After she leaves, police chief Fouché greets D'Aubigny, whom he believes to be Duval, and takes him to a bakery, which conceals Robespierre's secret headquarters and arsenal. Robespierre tells "Duval" that he has written a death list, the names of the enemies of France, in a small black book, but has misplaced it. Robespierre reveals that several members of his own committee are included on the list. He gives D'Aubigny power over all police personnel and threatens him with death if he does not recover the book within twenty-four hours. Later, D'Aubigny goes to a local café and meets Robespierre's confidante, Saint-Just, who tells D'Aubigny that he does not believe that he is Duval. Two men try to detain D'Aubigny, but Madelon appears suddenly and takes him to Barras, who says that he does not have the black book. Suddenly, Fouché's agents arrive and attempt to arrest Barras, but D'Aubigny claims that Barras is his prisoner and shows them his authority from Robespierre. However, Saint-Just is waiting nearby and takes Barras prisoner. Madelon thinks that D'Aubigny has betrayed Barras and orders him shot, but relents when he promises to free Barras. Later, Saint-Just tells Robespierre that Duval's wife will be visiting that day from Strasbourg. Meanwhile, D'Aubigny visits Barras in prison and tells him that three members of his party have been killed and that the party is being divided. D'Aubigny suddenly realizes that Robespierre has had the book all along and will use it to reinforce his position at the Convention. When Madelon impersonates Madam Duval and warmly greets D'Aubigny as her husband, Robespierre and Saint-Just are convinced by her performance until the real Madam Duval arrives. D'Aubigny and Madelon manage to escape and D'Aubigny rushes to the bakery's back room, where he finds Fouché searching for the book. When D'Aubigny finds it and reads Fouché's name inside, Fouché attacks him, but D'Aubigny chokes him. D'Aubigny and Madelon then escape with the book and are pursued into the countryside by Saint-Just and his men, but find refuge on a farm. Although D'Aubigny flees to safety, Madelon is captured and tortured by Robespierre and Saint-Just. At the Convention, as Barras is brought to trial, Tallien, one of his supporters, passes the book among the members of the Convention, who see their names inside it. While D'Aubigny attempts to rescue Madelon, Robespierre demands that the Convention declare him sole and absolute dictator of France. Although Robespierre claims that he has fought to give France back to the people, the Convention members turn against him and Barras denounces him. After Robespierre challenges them to find another leader, he is shot in the mouth and taken to the guillotine. D'Aubigny goes to Robespierre's secret torture chamber and rescues Madelon. Later, a soldier remarks to Fouché that the art of being a Frenchman is knowing what comes next, but adds that he is neither a Frenchman nor a politician. When Fouché asks his name, he replies, "Napoléon Bonaparte."