A New York City detective, traveling by train between New York and Baltimore, tries to foil an on-board plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln before he reaches Baltimore to give a major pre-Inauguration speech in 1861.
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The historical fact of a possible assassination attempt on the President-Elect Abraham Lincoln makes the movie very interesting. The drama comes from a fictitious New York police sergeant discovering the plot and boarding the last train to Washington, DC, to protect the new president to be. Dick Powell does a very good job using deduction and logic to find who on the train could be conspirators. He is foiled at different times but manages to succeed even when the conspirators have caught him. The movie's action takes place mostly on the train and the effects of travelling are well done. Historically, several states have already seceded from the union and that included Virginia. That's why Lincoln had to travel to Washington, DC, through Maryland, also a slave state. When he was taking his own "Inaugural Train" the plan was to kill Lincoln in Baltimore during a long stop but Lincoln's supporters did some slight of hand to sneak him on board the last train to the capital. Maybe not ... Written by
In 1861 the train would have traveled on a number of different short line railroads to get from New York to Washington (the Philadelphia & Trenton; the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore; the Baltimore and Washington, etc.); the Philadelphia, Washington & Baltimore Railroad was not formed until 1902 and it was still in existence (on paper) until 1976. Obviously the filmmakers kept the name consistent to provide continuity and to avoid having to repaint the engine and cars after every few shots. See more »
The various Presidential assassinations have generated few first rate films. The best of the lot is Oliver Stone's JFK, but it is also quite controvertial as Stone takes for granted the conspiracy theory of A.D.A. Garrison of New Orleans (which was generally discredited). But Stone's movie does resurrect the real atmosphere of confusion and doubt that political murder retains to this date. So, for all it's defects, it does make its point.
There is no film about Garfield's assassination, and only one old film (THIS IS MY AFFAIR with Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, and Victor MacLaughlin) touched on McKinley's murder. With Lincoln you have no definitive film, a la JFK, but several movies that show the killing or deal with the events or personalitie around it. These include the two sequences in Griffith's BIRTH OF A NATION and ABRAHAM LINCOLN, the film biography of Edwin Booth (PRINCE OF PLAYERS - with Richard Burton as Edwin, Raymond Massey as Junius Brutus Booth Sr., and John Derek as John Wilkes Booth), and the story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (directed by John Ford, and starring Warner Baxter as the unfortunate Doctor - this may be the best of the Lincoln Assassination films due to Ford's excellent directing). And there is this nice little film directed by Anthony Mann, and starring Dick Powell and Adolphe Menjou. Historically, it is more accurate than some of the reviewers here would believe. An Italian barber named Fernandina was behind the plot (originated in Baltimore) in which a Pinkerton operative infiltrated the scheme to cause a disturbance while Lincoln was delivering a speech in Baltimore, and in the confusion give one of a dozen selected plotters a chance to kill the President-elect. Pinkerton tipped off Old Abe, and his stop in Baltimore was cancelled. Also, he boarded the train in Philadelphia in a disguise (a tam-a shanter and cape were suggested in the press). Lincoln was lampooned for being a silly coward by his opponents, but it was probably true - during the initial weeks of the Civil War Baltimore got more military treatment (including a massacre of a mob of citizens by Massachusetts soldiers) than any other Northern trouble-spot. Fernandina disappeared in the next few months (his eventual fate remains unknown). Pinkerton (who had worked with Lincoln in Illinois, dealing with the Illinois Central Railroad - which also brought him into contact with General McClellan) went on to create the Secret Service. If he overestimated Southern strength, it was unfortunate - but he was a great detective. For all the fictional aspects of the film's script, the movie does capture the urgency of the situation, and the uncertainty of the early days of the Civil War.
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