Director Anthony Mann (1906 - 1967) left movie fans many quality motion pictures to enjoy and discover. Among his titles are the best of film noir (Raw Deal, He Walked by Night), groundbreaking adult westerns (Winchester '73, Devil's Doorway) and epics (El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire). 1951 saw the release of The Tall Target, as dandy a thriller as ever to come out of Hollywood. To paraphrase Colonel (M*A*S*H) Potter's thoughts on My Darling Clementine, it has the three things that make a movie great - trains, murder and trains.
The story & screenplay by George Worthington Yates and Art Cohn is based on The Baltimore Plot, the threat of assassination of Abraham Lincoln prior to his inauguration as President of the United States.
In our film Dick Powell stars as John Kennedy, a police officer man who believes he has stumbled upon a plot to kill President elect Lincoln, but cannot convince the authorities of the imminent danger. Stripped of his credentials, he faces a lonely and danger-filled night battling the conspirators.
Is there anyone Sgt. Kennedy can trust? The newly-minted Union officer (Adolphe Menjou)? A newly-minted Confederate West Pointer (Marshall Thompson), his sister (Paula Raymond) or their slave (Ruby Dee)? The all-knowing conductor (Will Geer)? The over-bearing authoress (Florence Bates)? The rambunctious and larcenous youngster (Brad Morrow) traveling with his mother (Barbara Billingsley)? Certainly not the menacing thug (Leif Ericson). I grew up watching Ericson on his series The High Chaparral and he is an actor who intrigues me. He was one of those Group Theatre lads, but I haven't been able to catch him at it.
It is not only danger that is faced throughout the long night. The characters played by Misses Raymond and Dee are forced to face their emotional loyalties and political realities. Revelations and acknowledgments are made clear through well-written dialogue and well-acted lines as befits the energetic, crisp 78 minute film.
A thoughtful and exciting edge-of-your-seat thriller, The Tall Target deserves much acclaim and with the recent DVD release through the Warner Home Archives will surely garner more fans and a reputation for, as mentioned above, as dandy a thriller as ever came out of Hollywood.