Cast & Crew
In 1861, as the country seethes with unrest in the wake of the Presidential election, John Kennedy, a New York police officer who briefly served as Abraham Lincoln's bodyguard, becomes convinced that there will be an attempt on the newly elected President's life as Lincoln's train passes through Baltimore on his way to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. When Kennedy's report is rebuffed by Simon G. Stroud, his supervisor at the police department, he angrily resigns his post, sends his report to the War Department and then boards the Night Flyer Express bound for Baltimore and Washington. Kennedy's friend, Inspector Tim Reilly, was to meet him onboard with his ticket and suitcase, but when Kennedy arrives, Reilly is nowhere to be found, although Kennedy's suitcase has been delivered. Scrambling to buy a ticket at the ticket office, Kennedy discovers that there are none left. As the train pulls out of the station, Kennedy makes a mad dash and jumps onboard. While scouring the train for Reilly, Kennedy finds his friend's body dangling from an observation platform. After Reilly's body slips from the onrushing train, Kennedy stalks the train corridors and encounters Col. Caleb Jeffers, a Northern militia officer who is traveling to Baltimore to lead his troops in a procession. Upon returning to his seat, Kennedy sees a stranger wearing his coat and holding his ticket and gun. When the stranger tells conductor Homer Crowley that he is Kennedy, Kennedy takes Crowley to Caleb's compartment, where Caleb identifies him as the real Kennedy and offers to share his compartment. As Kennedy prowls the corridors in search of a gun, he feels a pistol pressed against his back. The stranger then escorts Kennedy to the rear of the train, and when the train stops, ushers him off. Kennedy overpowers the stranger and wrests the gun from him. As the train powers up to depart, Caleb hears the sounds of the scuffle and shoots the stranger. After Kennedy rejoins Caleb onboard, Caleb hands him a pistol and Kennedy then tells him that before dying, the stranger divulged that he was to meet his contact in car 27. Proceeding to car 27, a club car, Kennedy and Caleb find Mrs. Charlotte Alsop, an abolitionist novelist, interviewing Rachel, the slave of Lance and Ginny Beaufort. Resentful of Mrs. Alsop's intrusive questions, Lance, an officer in the Confederate Army, voices his hatred for Lincoln and storms out of the car. After he leaves, Lance's sister Ginny explains that the family plans to detrain in Atlanta so that Lance can resign his commission. When the train stops in Philadelphia, Caleb and Kennedy return to their compartment. After Kennedy stretches out on his berth, his head shrouded in a newspaper, Caleb tries to shoot him, but Kennedy has emptied his pistol. Now realizing that the stranger was Caleb's accomplice, and that Caleb was aiming at Kennedy but hit his own man by mistake, Kennedy takes Caleb into custody and turns him over to a Philadelphia police officer. When Caleb shows the officer his military credentials, Kennedy asserts that Lt. Coutler at police headquarters can vouch for his authority. As Coulter is summoned, orders come to delay the train until a package can be delivered. While the train is waiting, Mrs. Gibbons, a mysterious passenger who has been closeted in her compartment with her invalid husband, steps out for air. Soon after, Lt. Coulter arrives with a message from Stroud denying that Kennedy is a member of the police force. Overpowering Coulter, Kennedy flees and hides on the roof of the train. Once the package is delivered, the train starts moving and Kennedy slips back inside. As the train speeds into the night. Rachel motions for Kennedy to come to her cabin and confides to him that Lance is carrying a rifle with a scope. As Rachel hands Lance's gun to Kennedy, Ginny overhears them whispering, slaps Rachel and then grabs the gun from Kennedy. Ginny then summons Lance, and after striking Kennedy unconscious, he admits that he is one of the assassins plotting to kill Lincoln as his train passes through Baltimore. Lance drags Kennedy to Caleb's compartment, where the conspirators bind and gag him. When the train stops at Wilmington so that a team of horses can pull it into Baltimore, a barber boards to shave Caleb. The barber, an accomplice, explains the details of the assassination plot. As the train pulls into Baltimore, word comes that Lincoln's train has been diverted. Leaving Kennedy in Lance's custody, Caleb detrains, and soon after, realizes that the delayed package was only a ruse to hide Lincoln in Mrs. Gibbons' compartment. As the train slowly pulls out, Caleb scrawls "the man is on the train" on the dust of Lance's car window. Noticing the message, Lance places Kennedy in Crowley's custody and leaves to retrieve his rifle. After reading the message, Kennedy overpowers his guard and runs after Lance. As they struggle, Kennedy pushes Lance off the train and onto the tracks. Soon after, Mrs. Gibbons appears and identifies herself as an undercover agent with the War Department. After congratulating Kennedy on saving Lincoln's life, she states that Kennedy's report spurred the War Department to undertake measures to secure Lincoln's safety.
Frank Billy Mitchell
A. Arnold Gillespie
Ralph S. Hurst
Newell P. Kimlin
Harry Stradling Jr.
Paul C. Vogel
Edwin B. Willis
George Worthing Yates
George Worthing Yates
The Tall Target
Mann had recently taken a career turn from such taut B-movies of the 1940s as The Bamboo Blonde (1946), Railroaded! (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and T-Men (1947), to the first of his classic series of reinvented Westerns starring James Stewart, Winchester '73 (1950). Along the way Mann had directed Reign of Terror (1949), set during the French Revolution. This film proved to be a historic piece which carried over several of the noir elements of his earlier B pictures. In the same vein, The Tall Target takes a historic footnote and fashions a modern-flavored narrative with twists and a tense pacing and editing style. Unfortunately, critics in 1951 had no idea what to make of it.
Instead of detective Pinkerton, the fictionalized film focuses on New York police officer John Kennedy (Dick Powell), who becomes aware of the plot against President-elect Lincoln, whom Kennedy had previously guarded while he campaigned in New York. Kennedy is ignored by his supervisor, but he is still so convinced of the potential danger that he resigns his post and, unable to purchase a ticket, jumps aboard the Night Flyer Express to Baltimore. On the train all manner of skullduggery and deceit is afoot. Kennedy finds the dead body of the friend holding his ticket, and encounters a number of fellow passengers: Col. Caleb Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou), a Northern officer; a stranger with a gun (Leif Erickson); Mrs. Charlotte Alsop (Florence Bates), an abolitionist; Lance Beaufort (Marshall Thompson), a Confederate officer with a decided grudge against the new President; Lance's sister Ginny (Paula Raymond); and Rachel (Ruby Dee), the Beaufort's slave, who is being interviewed by Alsop about her slavery status. Train conductor Homer Crowley (Will Geer) provides a link to the characters as he roams the train taking tickets and lamenting the delays that ensue as outside forces create havoc with his timetable.
Reviews at the time of release were negative and even dismissive. Bosley Crowther in The New York Times said that, according to the film, "Lincoln would never have been President if it hadn't been for Dick Powell." He said the movie had a "silly murder plot" and that "after clattering through the night in tedious fashion, with occasional characters dropping by the way, 'The Tall Target' finally gets to Washington and Mr. Lincoln in case you were wondering does not get shot. We wouldn't be able to tell you about the people who made this film."
Art Cohn, screenwriter of The Tall Target, had previously written for such diverse films as The Set-Up (1949), the noirish boxing picture directed by Robert Wise, and Roberto Rossellini's neorealist film Stromboli (1950). Cohn died in 1958, in the same plane crash that took the life of film and theatrical producer Mike Todd; Cohn was writing a biography of Todd at the time.
. Story credit goes to George Worthing Yates and Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes). Mainwaring had previously contributed to the screenplay for the quintessential noir film, Out of the Past (1947), based on his own novel. Following The Tall Target, both writers contributed to the science fiction cycle of the 1950s; Mainwaring wrote the screenplay for Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), while Yates worked almost exclusively in the genre, on such films as Them! (1954), Conquest of Space (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), War of the Colossal Beast (1958) and, with Mainwaring, Space Master X-7 (1958).
Character actor Will Geer had just appeared in Mann's Winchester '73 in a memorable supporting role as Wyatt Earp. The Tall Target and The Barefoot Mailman (1951) would be his last Hollywood films for more than a decade. Geer was blacklisted soon after, not appearing on film again until Otto Preminger broke the blacklist and hired Geer for Advise & Consent (1962). The only film in which Geer appeared in-between was the famous independent production Salt of the Earth (1954), financed in defiance of the blacklist by the Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers.
Echoes of the train intrigue of The Tall Target were evident in an RKO thriller from the following year, The Narrow Margin (1952), directed by Richard Fleischer.
Producer: Richard Goldstone
Director: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: Art Cohn, Story by Daniel Mainwaring and George Worthing Yates
Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel
Film Editing: Newell P. Kimlin
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Makeup: William Tuttle
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie, Warren Newcombe
Cast: Dick Powell (John Kennedy), Paula Raymond (Ginny Beaufort), Adolphe Menjou (Caleb Jeffers), Marshall Thompson (Lance Beaufort), Ruby Dee (Rachel), Richard Rober (Lt. Coulter), Will Geer (Homer Crowley), Leif Erickson (Stranger), Florence Bates (Mrs. Charlotte Alsop).
by John M. Miller
The Tall Target
The working title of this film was Man on the Train. The picture opens with the following written prologue: "Ninety years ago a lonely traveler 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 dramatization of that disputed journey." John Kennedy was a real New York police officer who had for a time guarded newly elected President Abraham Lincoln.
According to a January 30, 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, King Baggot, Jr. and Fred Gabourie, Jr. were to be on the film's crew, but their contribution to the film has not been verified. The Tall Target was the last Hollywood film made by actor Will Geer until Advise and Consent in 1962. Geer, who was blacklisted, made one independent film, Salt of the Earth in 1954.