Saturday, November 9, 2013


Anthony Mann has definitely done some terrific films. Winchester 73, T-Men, Side Street, Men In War, The Furies and Border Incident are just some of the great films on his resume. Most are familiar with his film noir and westerns. But one film that I rarely hear mentioned when people discuss the films of Anthony Mann is the 1951 suspense thriller The Tall Target. I happened upon this movie about a year ago and from beginning to end I was on the edge of my seat.

The opening credits drew me in immediately, much the same way as I enjoyed the opening credits for Aldrich‘s Kiss Me Deadly. We get that same upward scrolling credit shot. There is no musical score and that works very much to the films advantage as the constant sounds of the train heightens the level of suspense. Especially in the credits sequence when all we see is the train station and it's various sounds. The clanging bell, the steam, people milling about, it all feels like a metronome of impending doom.

William Powell desperately tries to prevent an assassination on board the Night Flyer
Powell is a police detective who once worked briefly with Abe Lincoln and realized immediately what a great man he was. So he is extremely worried about and motivated to prevent a plot that he’s uncovered to assassinate Lincoln. Powell boards the Night Flyer departing from Jersey and arriving in Baltimore where Abe is to give his inaugural address. The movie has a great cast of suspects. There’s the good natured officer, the young hot tempered Annapolis grad, his haughty southern bell sister and the servant girl with whom she has a very complex relationship, the boorish loudmouth who thinks Lincoln is a war monger that should be shot and the nosey novelist. Then there is the mysterious woman who demands that she and her party not be disturbed under any circumstances.

William Powell and Adolphe Menjou try to find an assassin on a train full of suspects in The Tall Target
The brains behind the conspiracy is revealed about halfway into the movie. I thought this might be a mistake at first, thinking that the suspense would start to wane with the enemy's reveal but I was wrong. The enemy, like their plot, is layered and complex and their exposure is just the beginning of the real meat of the films suspense. The enemy proves to be a difficult one for Powell to beat. Powell’s job is made harder by the fact that his own credentials have been stolen(sort of) and his vocal concern about a possible assassination plots make him out to sound crazy to some, including his own superiors, all of which makes the game of cat and mouse all the more entertaining.

There's a nail biting scene with Powell in a fight underneath a train that is about to depart, surrounded by the engines steam. The climax is also great as we get a terrific twist near the end. Just a very, very enjoyable movie. There's also a neat scene with a shot through the train window of the capital dome being built. There’s also some great camera work and beautifully photographed scenes rich with texture, a trademark of many Anthony Mann films.

Just about the entire movie takes place on the train. I’ve always been partial to films that take place on trains. Murder On The Orient Express, North By Northwest, Silver Streak, Strangers On A Train, Terror By Night and The Great Train Robbery are among some of my favorites. The Tall Target belongs near the top of the list of fun train films and great movies in general and is definitely one of Mann’s more lesser known and underrated films.  Perhaps The Tall Target falls into a category all it's own.  Period Train Noir, perhaps?  Turner Classic Movies will be showing The Tall Target on November 15 at 1:00 AM Eastern. Don’t miss it!