The Tall Target (1951)

28 06 2009

This is the sort of movie that modern day Hollywood is suppose to be so great at making, but actually isn’t. It is pretty much the most perfectly executed piece of “genre cinema” that I’ve ever seen and it comes as no surprise that it is the work of the great Anthony Mann. Like every other Mann film I’ve seen, not a single moment is wasted within this tight 77 minute long picture. While I won’t argue against the fact that it has a watchability as “escapist entertainment” I will say that it is the best example of commerce and art merging. Although it may not have been successful for Mann, it had all the pieces in place to wow a mainstream audience, but still showcase Mann’s personality.

Technically, this is a period piece, which may or may not have thrown off audiences in 1951. It takes play in 1861 on the eve of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration. This is made glaringly obvious by being the main topic of conversation between background characters. The protagonist, John Kennedy, is aboard a train to Baltimore in order to foil multiple plots to assassinate the president while on his way to D.C.

Mann, of course, never actually shows Lincoln, which only adds to suspense of the situation. Kennedy is weaving his way through numerous obstacles for the sole purpose of protecting Lincoln’s life, but it is his own life that is most often seen in danger. His dedication to his job presents the only real flaw in the film. It seems unlikely that someone would risk so much just to have an opportunity to save someone else, even if that someone else is to be the president. It’s not hard to believe exactly, but I guess it comes dangerously close to being either a) extremely patriotic or b) not logical. The more cynical viewer would see these two possibilities as being the same.

According to IMDB, this is one of two MGM films to not have a soundtrack. The other is Ford’s Mogambo, which I recall actually having some tribal music. Mann’s tension is real and palpable because it isn’t developed from any sharp music cues, or “jumps” in sound. The music of The Tall Target is the industrial soundscapes of the train that a majority of the film takes place on and it enhances the drama in a way that a conventional orchestral score never could. The lack of music is just another example of Mann’s technical simplicty, which makes his pictures more engaging, not less. Simply stated, this is how its done.

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2 responses

1 05 2010
Princecranoir

Very good movie indeed in Mann’s traditionals of Film Noir. Maybe a little static because of the train. I prefer the Fleischer “narrow margin”.

2 06 2017
William overly

IRONY OF IRONIES! THE MOVIE IS BASED
ON PARTIAL FACT AND, YES LINCOLN
DID HAVE AN ASSISTANT NAMED–
JOHN KENNEDY!

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