The Tall Target (1951, Anthony Mann)

I don’t know much about Anthony Mann, but this and The Furies both kicked some ass. Thought it’d be a Western, since I never look up even the most basic information about movies I’m about to watch, but it’s a high-quality period piece set on a train (I love movies set on trains) about a frustrated New York cop (technically ex-cop; he turns in his badge at the start of the film) trying to uncover an assassination plot on Abraham Lincoln on his way through Baltimore to inauguration on the eve of civil war.


Dick Powell (star of Susan Slept Here, Christmas In July) is “John Kennedy” (unwittingly aiding future nerds with their Lincoln/JFK parallel theories), the ex-cop, whose intended contact on the train is murdered off-screen. So Powell hooks up with sideburned Colonel Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou, noted commie-hater who named names in 1947) to solve the mystery of his dead friend and his hunch about an assassination attempt. I lost track of the colonel for a while though, soon found out that it’s unwise to track actors in this movie by their sideburns, kinda like trying to remember someone in a 1930’s movie as the guy with the hat.

The Colonel:

Kennedy isn’t the best cop, allows an interloper (Leif Erickson) to make off with his coat and gun. This guy also has Kennedy’s ticket, and grinningly claims to be Kennedy when the ticket-taker comes around. At the next stop, Kennedy fights the man for his identity, and the colonel, seeing a struggle, shoots at them, happening to kill the faker. This was really my only problem with the movie, dude just firing wildly in the darkness when he didn’t seem to have a clear shot or any understanding of the situation, irresponsible – until it’s revealed that the colonel is the main anti-Lincoln conspirator and that this was a clue to his identity. Because the colonel wouldn’t mind shooting Erickson, who could identify him, or Kennedy, who aims to stop him.


Kennedy’s main suspect is outspoken pro-slavery Georgian and sniper-rifle bearer Lance (Fiend Without a Face lead Marshall Thompson), travelling with his loyal sister Jenny (Paula Raymond of Crisis) and their slave maid Rachel (Ruby Dee! of Do The Right Thing!). But Kennedy suspects the colonel enough to leave his pistol loaded with powder but no bullet, so when the colonel shoots Kennedy while he naps, he is unharmed – the second harmless pistol head-shot I’ve seen in a movie this month. But at a stop in Philly Kennedy finds himself on the run instead of boldly turning in his evidence, an arrest warrant out for his “impersonating an officer.”


Back on board, Ruby Dee tells him that Lance has been lying about his intentions. Jenny the sister helps, then interferes, then helps. The colonel gets off in Baltimore but sends word to Lance that the future president is on the train. Kennedy awakes, fight ensues, Lance is knocked off the train, and Kennedy gets covertly thanked by the president’s people, as Lincoln looks out at the under-construction Capitol building. A fine-looking and tightly-plotted movie.