Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Tall Target (1951)

I've seen quite a number of Dick Powell movies this year -- links are provided at the end of this post -- and I think my favorite thus far was tonight's movie, THE TALL TARGET, directed by Anthony Mann.

THE TALL TARGET is set in 1861 and tells the story of John Kennedy (Powell), a New York Police detective who desperately attempts to unravel a plot to assassinate President-Elect Lincoln. The story unfolds as Kennedy's night train speeds toward Baltimore, the site of the planned pre-Inaugural murder. The film is very loosely based on historical facts.

The movie, set entirely on the train and in train stations, has tremendous atmosphere, beginning with the faint sounds of trains in the background as MGM's Leo the Lion roars at the start of the film. The eye-catching opening credits, which roll up from the bottom of the screen, are superimposed over the train engine ready to begin its journey, and the viewer is then immediately plunged into the exciting story. Lanterns swinging in the fog as the train pulls in for its stops, telegrams sent and received at train stations, and the engine speeding through the night, as seen from the engineer's perspective, all contribute enormously to the presentation of a rather unique film.

The outstanding cast includes Paula Raymond (you can read a bit more on Raymond here), Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson, Ruby Dee, Florence Bates, and Leif Erickson. Will Geer is memorable as the train conductor, who perpetually walks around with a shawl over his shoulders. Further down in the supporting cast are familiar faces such as Barbara Billingsley (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) as the hapless mother of a wild little boy and Jeff Richards (SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS) as a Philadelphia police officer.

Bit parts are played by many recognizable faces such as Jonathan Hale, Ken Christy, Victor Kilian, Percy Helton, Frank Sully, Will Wright, and Roger Moore (not 007, but the older brother of Robert Young, who had a long career as a bit player). Dick Powell's close friend Regis Toomey, who was godfather to one of Powell and June Allyson's children, played a small but critical unbilled role as Inspector Reilly; Toomey was somewhat disguised by muttonchop sideburns and glasses.

THE TALL TARGET was shot in black and white and runs 78 minutes.

THE TALL TARGET can be seen on cable on TCM. The film has not yet been released on video or DVD. Click here to indicate interest in a DVD release.

This year's previous reviews of Dick Powell movies: FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), 42ND STREET (1933), GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), DAMES (1934), FLIRTATION WALK (1934), HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937), NAUGHTY BUT NICE (1939), and CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940).

Fall 2009 Update: THE TALL TARGET is now available on DVD-R via the Warner Archive.

March 2014 Update: I had the great pleasure of seeing a 35mm print of THE TALL TARGET at UCLA along with Anthony Mann's THE FAR COUNTRY (1954).


Blogger Ms.Daisy said...

Hi Laura, I just cast my vote to have "The Tall Target" released on home DVD. As someone who regularly rides trains I would be interested is seeing this film. (I only have basic cable right now, so I don't get TMC).
I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving!


4:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for voting for it, Jean! It really deserves a DVD release so more folks like you can see it. If you like trains you should find it very interesting.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving -- hope you enjoyed one with your family as well.

Best wishes,

4:37 PM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

I'm a wee bit confused- is the film based on the Abraham Lincoln assasination plot prior to his first inaugaration- or is it set during that time. It sounds like it is set during the 20thcentury-
Either way it sounds great! I'm a Dick Powell fan and this sounds like it's right up my alley so I made sure to vote too!
Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi J.C.,

The movie is set in 1861 and is about the plot to assassinate Lincoln on the way to his Inauguration. I just added a few words to the post to hopefully make the plot a little more clear. Thanks!

Best wishes,

5:23 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. It's a really good movie, J.C. -- thanks for voting for it. :)

Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving too!

Best wishes,

5:35 PM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

OK- now I get it. Thanks!
(I have to admit - his suit and tie on the poster look fairly modern)
I have hoped for a while that there would be a Dick Powell set- Natalie Wood set finally comes out next year, so maybe there is hope yet!

6:16 PM  

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