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Dick Powell is excellent as John Kennedy, a policeman who stumbles onto a
plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln en route to his inauguration. The
history is not as muddled as others seem to indicate.
1. Lincoln did travel by train to his inauguration. 2. There were at least two confirmed plots by people who wished to have him assassinated. 3. Abraham Lincoln did have an aide throughout his administrations who was an ex-police officer named John Kennedy (Dick Powell's character in the film).
That is truth enough for backdrop to this impressive thriller. Ruby Dee is very impressive as a slave traveling on the train, and Marshal Thompson is quite good as a Southerner. Adolphe Menjou is terrific as the main bad guy, and Powell gives an earnest portrayal in the lead.
Anthony Mann directs the action very suspensefully, and the movie builds to its climax in interesting fashion.
Finally, the last line is a classic.
I've seen this movie 4 times and would gladly watch it again.
Although the film is a work of fiction, The Tall Target is based in
part on an actual incident that involved an attempt to assassinate
President- elect Abraham Lincoln on his way to Washington to assume the
presidency in early 1861. A planned stop in Baltimore was canceled and
Lincoln was spirited into Washington in the wee small hours of the
morning with no kind of fanfare or publicity, as he put it, 'like a
thief in the night'.
Anthony Mann directed this 19th century noir type film starring Dick Powell as a New York police sergeant who gets wind of a plot to murder Lincoln in Baltimore. After he confides his suspicions to colleague Regis Toomey, Toomey winds up dead and Powell's more convinced than ever of the rightness of his belief. He boards the train that Lincoln is scheduled to board in Baltimore on to warn him, but Powell's got a lot of people on that train ready to do him in and he doesn't know who to trust.
The Tall Target is very similar to Mann's other classic Winchester 73 in the tautness of the direction and script. There isn't one wasted frame of film in The Tall Target and the suspense is kept throughout, even though history tells us Lincoln dodged a bullet that day. Mann assembled a very strong supporting cast for Powell that includes Adolphe Menjou as a militia colonel called to the colors, Leif Erickson as a Bowery tough, Will Geer as an officious conductor, Marshall Thompson as a southern hothead and resigned West Point cadet and his sister Paula Raymond.
Best performance in the film though is that of young Ruby Dee who plays a slave to Thompson and Raymond traveling with them. She proves to be the only real friend Powell has on the train. It's a quiet understated performance of dignity and strength.
By the way in case any of you are wondering why she doesn't just run away and claim her freedom, a couple of things stops her. The Dred Scott decision for one which obliterated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 with the northern free and southerns slave states and the new Fugitive Slave Law from the 1850 Compromise. However Dee knows that freedom is coming her way and soon.
The Tall Target is one excellent film, one of the best from Dick Powell when he decided to stop making musicals. Catch it absolutely.
"The Tall Target," about a plot to kill Lincoln before his
inauguration, is a compact little film directed by Anthony Mann and
starring Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson, and Ruby Dee.
Powell plays John Kennedy, a detective and admirer of the future
President who finds out about an assassination plot and hopes to stop
it, although his written report seems to fall on blind eyes. On board a
train, Kennedy finds the person he was to meet is dead, someone is
impersonating him, and, from all the political talk, there are lots of
suspects who hate Lincoln as the country gets ready for war.
Most of the action takes place on the train and the atmosphere and black and white cinematography neatly capture the period. The performances are all excellent, including that of Will Geer as the train conductor and Ruby Dee as a young slave whose mistress' brother (Thompson) is a prime suspect in the assassination plot. Twenty years earlier, Dick Powell was a boy tenor playing male ingénues opposite Ruby Keeler; in the '40s, he turned to tough detective type roles, and ultimately became a highly successful producer. He's very good in "The Tall Target" but a little too modern in manner and dialogue delivery. It's somewhat noticeable because the period is captured very well by the other actors.
This is a very good movie with a neat ending and based on a true incident. There was, by the way, a John Kennedy who was a former law enforcement officer who served in the Lincoln administration. Whether he was involved in this situation, I don't know. It's a wonderful story nonetheless.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After reading the comment from Mr Mike Furlong of Roy Utah, I feel
I must reply.
The Tall Target is a very interesting film. I thoroughly enjoyed
watching the story of the famous journey, that Lincoln made from
New York to Washington, for his inauguration.
Dick Powell plays a detective (John Kennedy) that gets wind of an
assassination plot to kill Lincoln, but as no one will believe him, it
is left up to him to try and foil the attempt.
As to the scene,where Adolphe Menjou uses a small pistol to
shoot Powell, through the newspaper, I suggest that if Mr Furlong
watches the film again, he will hear Powell explain, that he
removed the lead from the cartridge, but left the remainder of the
bullet in the chamber. Thus allowing Menjou to give himself away.
Good support from all the cast, but Will Geer, as the train conductor deserves special praise. Looking at this film from an history point of view, there is a number of wonderful scenes, including, one that when the train gets to Baltimore, the engine has to be uncoupled from the train, and horses are used to drag the train through the city centre, much to the annoyance of the engineer. Well worth seeing. 9 out of 10.
Superbly directed and photographed, and very well acted by Dick Powell, Will Geer, and Adolph Menjou, this movie ranks as one of director Anthony Mann's best achievements. Not one of his trademark noirs, it still has the characteristic tense look and feel, while staking out its own claim to originality, capturing the mood of the country as it is about to explode into a bloodbath. Set on the eve of the Civil War, a New York police detective (Dick Powell) boards a southbound train in New York to foil a conspiracy to assassinate President elect Lincoln. The train setting provides an apt stage in which the passions of the day are played out, with Unionists and Secessionists armed to the teeth. Factually, the details are probably off, but the mood of the time seems to be fairly accurately portrayed.
Okay this film the Tall Target may not be historically accurate but it is based on a situation that occurred on the Abraham Lincoln Inaugural Train.. It is an excellent movie brilliantly directed by Anthony Mann It is a film that was way ahead of its time.. Dick Powell stars and gives an outstanding performance Differrent than most of his film noir films of that era.. I was watching TCM @1am this morning (insomnia was setting in) when their brilliant host Robert Osborne announced and described this unusual film that most people had never seen or heard of! But he recommended & once again Osborne was correct. Wonderful powerful film made years before Suddenly and a decade or so before The Manchurian Candidate (other films dealing with presidential assassinations)The writers & director took an incident from history and created a fictionalized yet believable and riveting film .Is great definitely worth seeing & seeing a very young Ruby Dee in a small but important role as a loyal but concerned 'slave" also Leif Ericson and Barbara Billingsly (Beavers mom) have minor but important roles..& Adolphe Menjou is outstanding and quite believable a corrupt military official Powell is really good in this film A great surprise Don't Miss, another hidden gem revealed from the TCM film library.Thank you Ted Turner and Robert Osborne
"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
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
I enjoyed this film a great deal, and what a strange coincidence that the policeman investigating a plot to kill Lincoln is named John Kennedy. Well photographed and directed. Definately not Mann's best film noir, but probably his most unusual. Exciting and recommended.
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
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.
Train movies are usually kind of fun. Everything is tick-tocking back
and forth while the train is underway, so there is a sense of constant
motion, of imminence in each scene. Also, you get to see the scenery
flashing by, which you don't see in an airplane or aboard a ship. And
the train can make multiple stops, with something new cropping up each
time, opportunities and missed opportunities, which is likewise
difficult with airplanes and ships. The train, further, encloses spaces
with varied characteristics -- there are seats, compartments, sleeping
berths with curtains drawn across them, dining cars, an observation
platform on the caboose, a baggage car, a locomotive with a greasy
engineer. Put these all together, along with the limited expense
involved in a mockup of a train, and it's all pretty appealing. This
one is a rather typical noir set aboard such a vehicle in 1861. It has
political undertones too. Nobody believes the hero. As is so often the
case he finds himself pursued by both the police and the would-be
The villainy shifts shape. There are lots of shadows. Too many shadows in fact, except for the one or two brief outdoor daytime scenes. It always seems to be nightime aboard the train, whatever time it may be outside. The acting is competent, with Will Geer doing quite well in the part of the conductor, and Ruby Dee a beautiful young woman. It ends happily.
Well, it had to end happily, really. How can you make a movie that ends up with Lincoln being assassinated in 1861? Actually, Pinkerton did smuggle Abe into Washington, with a set of whiskers newly grown for the occasion, which he kept for the rest of his life. But Pinkerton also went on to serve as head honcho of intelligence during Lincoln's administration and lord only knows how many lives were lost through his consistent overestimations of Confederate strength. He gave McLellan all the reason he needed to develop a case of "the slows." Abe should have thanked Pinkerton, shaken his hand at Union Station, and wished him well. Then maybe appointed John Kennedy in his place. One wonders, where are today's Lincolns? Some of our modern presidents give the impression that they could barely read the Gettysburg address, never mind write it. What a calculated and beautifully framed set of ideas in those two hundred and forty-some words. Gary Wills has a neat book on the subject.
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