Reign of Terror and The Tall Target: Theses on the Philosophy of History

  • Nathaniel DeyoEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Close Readings in Film and Television book series (CRFT)


This final chapter analyzes Anthony Mann’s Reign of Terror and The Tall Target, two films that blend noir aesthetics and action/thriller narrative structures with historical fiction, telling the stories of Maximilien Robespierre’s overthrow and a foiled assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln, respectively. The analysis primarily focuses on the question of how the films manage to build and maintain suspense (the key element of the action/thriller genre) despite the fact that their historical settings mean their story’s outcomes are mostly never in doubt. I show that the films principally accomplish this by directing audience attention away from overarching questions about large-scale narrative events and toward isolated spectacle. I conclude by considering the films’ endings, each of which returns suddenly and unexpectedly to a grander historical perspective. These sudden shifts, I argue, work to stage a dialectical confrontation between past and present.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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