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.
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 »
In the opening scene as the train backs into the station, the bell on the engine is ringing. The train stops and the bell stops as well, but the soundtrack still has the bell ringing. The next scene shows a close up of the bell ringing which had stopped in the first scene. See more »
Opening credits S l o w l y roll up from the bottom of the screen, over a background of a train station. The word "TALL" is extra tall.. and the credits are followed by: Ninety years ago, a lonely traveler boarded the night train from New York to Washington DC 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 dramatization of that disputed journey. See more »
This story takes place in February, 1861. It is a story built around a plot to assassinate president-elect Lincoln during his twelve-day inaugural train trip from Springfield, Missouri to Washington, D.C. Dick Powell plays police detective John Kennedy who is aware of the plot and meets indifference from his superiors when he tries to take action. Kennedy takes it on himself to try to foil the plot single-handedly and most of the story takes place on trains where Kennedy gets in tight situations in trying to unravel the conspiracy. That part of the movie plays out as a classic crime drama, but there is much more here than a crime drama.
Many scenes establish the mood of the country at the time. With the beginning of the Civil War only a couple of months away, the tensions leading to that war were in strong evidence on the train. In an early conversation between two women one of them says, "We must take a firm stand against slavery once and for all, don't you agree?" to which the other responds, "As far as I am concerned madame, the new president is Jefferson Davis of Mississippi." Another passenger remarks, "If someone puts a bullet into Abe Lincoln, I'll be the first to shake his hand. That man is heading us straight into war." From the distance of a hundred and fifty years it is interesting to understand that Lincoln, who has become the most admired U.S. president, was so detested at the time by so many.
Another topic broached is the relation between Rachel, a young slave (Ruby Dee) and her owners, the Beauforts. When challenged by Kennedy about her slave ownership, Ginny Beaufort turns to Rachel and says, "I never thought to ask for your freedom and I never thought of giving it to you," to which Rachel responds, "It's not a thing you should have been able to give me. Freedom is something I should have been born with." Certainly this comment resonated with the nascent Civil Rights Movement in the early 1950s.
The black and white photography is well done; the portrayal of the inaugural train seems to be historically accurate.
After seeing this I was left wondering just what the truth was and I was provoked to do a little research. From "Life of Lincoln" by John Caroll Power, H.W. Rokker publisher, 1889, p.51, in referring to a detective who had been hired (behind Lincoln's back) to ferret out the possibility of an assassination attempt planned for when Lincoln passed through Baltimore, the author says, "He (the detective) found out beyond a doubt that a plot was formed for a party of conspirators to crowd around him (Lincoln) in the guise of friends , and at a given signal Mr. Lincoln was to be shot and stabbed." From "The Time Life History of the United States," vol. 5, p.97, 1963, referring to president Lincoln, "Leaving Harrisburg secretly by train on February 22, he transferred at Philadelphia to a sleeper, taking a berth reserved by a female Pinkerton operator for her invalid brother. The party passed safely through Baltimore at 3:30 in the morning and reached Washington at 6 a.m. on the 23rd. The elated Pinkerton sent a code to Harrisburg: Plums Delivered Nuts Safely." Obviously a lot of liberties were taken with history in coming up with this film to turn it into a noir thriller, but there is at least enough of a kernel of truth behind it so it can be enjoyed for the fictionalized version it is without thinking that history has been totally savaged. I thought it was a particularly nice touch to reference a three-cent piece, in circulation at the time.
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