Friday, July 22, 2011

The Tall Target

A month or so ago, TCM showed The Tall Target, which I hadn't seen before, although it happens to have been released to the Warner Archive collection. It's showing up again tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, and is worth a viewing

Dick Powell, long since past his days as a star of light musicals, plays John Kennedy, a detective with the New York police in early 1861. This is the time just before Abraham Lincoln was to be inaugurated President (remember, back then, inauguration day wasn't until March), and for obvious reasons, there were a lot of Southerners who would have been more than happy to see Lincoln never become President. Kennedy believes he has good intelligence that there's a specific plot afoot to assassinate the President-elect when he changes trains in Baltimore, but unfortunately, he can't get the right people to believe him. The wrong people, on the other hand, certaingly believe it, because they're part of the apparent plot: Kennedy is supposed to have a ticket for the train from New York to Washington, but when he gets to the station, he finds there are people who don't want him on the train. Eventually, he's taken in by his old friend Col. Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou), who has an extra berth in his compartment. The only problem is, Jeffers turns out not to be much of a friend, as he's in on the plot, and even tries to shoot Kennedy. Jeffersthen uses his power to get Kennedy turned over to the police, and from there The Tall Target becomes a movie along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, where the hero has not only to foil the bad guys, but stay one step ahead of the police in doing so.

Fortunately, he's able to pick up an ally in the form of Rachel, a slave played by a young Ruby Dee. Her owner's brother (Marshall Thompson) is a southerner claiming he's going to South Carolina, but Rachel knows he's actually planning to get off in Baltimore. There are other people, too, how may or may not have something to do with the assassination plot, which suddenly has to be called off when it's revealed that Lincoln has cancelled his previously scheduled stop in Baltimore. Or is the plot over? There wouldn't be much of a movie if that's how the conflict was resolved, so we know that there is still one more trick up the sleeve of the scriptwriters.

I don't think that The Tall Target is near the level of Saboteur; nor is it as good as the train-based thriller The Narrow Margin But it's entertaining and well-made in its own right. Adolphe Menjou is always worth watching, and Dick Powell is rather an underrated actor. Also, the movie does a fairly good job of maintaining the suspense up until the final denouement.

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