(director: Anthony Mann; screenwriters: George Worthing Yates/Art Cohn/from a story by Mr. Yates and Geoffrey Homes; cinematographer: Paul C. Vogel; editor: Newell P. Kimlin; cast: Dick Powell (John Kennedy), Paula Raymond (Ginny Beaufort), Adolphe Menjou (Caleb Jeffers), Marshall Thompson (Lance Beaufort), Ruby Dee (Rachel), Will Geer (Homer Crowley), Richard Rober (Lieut. Coulter), Florence Bates (Mrs. Charlotte Alsop), Victor Kilian (John K. Gannon), Katharine Warren (Mrs. Gibbons), Leif Erickson (Assassin Stranger), Peter Brocco (Fernandina), Barbara Billingsley (Young Mother), Percy Helton (Passenger in Club Car), Tom Powers (Simon G. Stroud); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Richard Goldstone; MGM; 1951)

“Mann’s strong direction keeps things taut, fast-paced, very well-detailed and nail-biting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Anthony Mann (“Winchester ’73″/”Reign of Terror”) brilliantly directs this first-class low-budget black-and-white noirish thriller that’s based on a true story: the attempted assassination of President-elect Abraham Lincoln. It’s taken from a story by George Worthing Yates and Geoffrey Homes; Mr. Yates and Art Cohn turn in the intelligent and action-packed screenplay.

It’s set in 1861 during a time of unrest over the issue of slavery and the expected Southern secession from the Union. There are more than one assassins aboard a train from New York to Washington D.C. that will stopover in Baltimore, where Abe Lincoln will make a pre-inauguration speech. John Kennedy (Dick Powell) is a New York City sergeant who guarded Lincoln briefly once when he campaigned in New York and has grown fond of the man and when he had gotten wind of a plot to assassinate Lincoln during the Baltimore speech, writes the War Department and reports it to the Superintendent of the NYC Police, Straub (Tom Powers). But his superiors not only ignore him but discredit him. In anger Kennedy quits and boards the Night Flyer Express bound for Baltimore and Washington as a private citizen, without official backing, to thwart the plot. Once on board, the expected trouble comes as Kennedy’s best-friend colleague, Inspector Tim Reilly, is mistaken for him and murdered on the train before he could deliver Kennedy’s train ticket. Also aboard are a suspicious pompous Col. Caleb Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou), a Northern militia officer who is traveling to Baltimore to lead his troops in a procession, who lied about not having a gun; a threatening stranger (Leif Erickson) who steals Kennedy’s identity, train ticket, overcoat and gun; Mrs. Charlotte Alsop (Florence Bates), a chatty abolitionist novelist; a West Point graduate named Lance Beaufort (Marshall Thompson) who is returning to his home state of Georgia to resign his commission and join the Confederate army and is traveling with his Southern sympathizer unmarried sister Ginny (Paula Raymond) and their black slave-maid Rachel (Ruby Dee); and there are also a number of passengers who talk openly about their hatred for Lincoln. There are a number of incidents between the beleaguered conductor Homer Crowley (Will Geer) and Kennedy, as the earnest ex-policeman on his own tries his best to keep out of trouble and avert the tragedy.

The understated performances by the ensemble cast is nicely achieved; Mann’s strong direction keeps things taut, fast-paced, very well-detailed and nail-biting; and one also gets a good feel for that unstable time period in American history.

REVIEWED ON 7/8/2006    GRADE: A   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/