The story of a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as he travels on the Ohio & Baltimore Railway to his inauguration in 1861. A discredited detective tries in the face of disbelief to foil the plotters, who hate the President's policies.
The plot to kill Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore on his way to Washington D.C. to be inaugurated in 1861 is in no way historically doubtful. This incident, called "The Baltimore Plot" by such well-known Lincoln scholars as Mark Neely Jr. ("The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia") is an historical fact. Certainly, the details presented in the movie may themselves be historically doubtful -- but not the plot itself. Written by
Mann delivers the perfect companion piece to Reign of Terror.
"Ninety years ago a lonely traveller boarded the night train from New York to Washington D.C., and when he reached his destination his passage had become a forgotten chapter in the history of the United States. This motion picture is a dramatisation of that disputed journey."
The Tall Target is directed by Anthony Mann and written by George Worthing Yates, Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Holmes) and Art Cohn. It stars Dick Powell, Paula Raymond, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson and Will Geer. As the above opening salvo suggests, story is disputed, it's based around the so called Baltimore Plot, a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln; the tall man of the title who is on the train heading for his inauguration.
Set mostly aboard a train, Mann's The Tall Target is a very tight noirish type period thriller that sees Powell's gruff detective try and protect Abe Lincoln from assassins lurking within the confines of the locomotive hauled express. Although a low budget production, there is some smart period detail to enjoy and the cramped setting of the train interiors allows Mann to infuse the story with paranoia and claustrophobic tints. Major bonus is that the makers excellently capture what must have been a powder keg of political uncertainty in 1861, this is born out by the number of interesting characters with a voice aboard this train. Thus the suspense and mystery elements are not confined to being of the obvious variety.
With Paul Vogel's black and white photography adding some period bite, and putting the noirish sheen to scenes such as the ones involving smoke, it's a shame that the cast are mostly hit and miss. Powell just about carries off the tough-guy persona, with the scenes shared with Menjou good value, and Geer is the stand out as the jobs worth conductor. Raymond is lovely, but hardly puts a stamp on proceedings, while Thompson is badly inadequate when it comes to putting the threat into threatening situations. But they are only minor itches that fail to derail the film from the tracks, because ultimately it's the story that is the star, a story boosted no end by Mann's taut direction. 7.5/10
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