The Tall Target's Ticket To Ride
I’m being really obscure here, but couldn’t resist posting these just found ads for key city first-runs of The Tall Target. Having shown Warner Archive’s DVD for some friends last week, I was pleased by their good impression of Anthony Mann’s set-on-a-train thriller and comments as to the film’s solid production and period authenticity. You’d like to think a show so fine as The Tall Target was seen by wide audiences in showcase runs, but there was lots of product going through the mill in 1951, and only the strongest survived beyond week or so engagements in populace areas. MGM had bigger fish to fry than 78 minutes of modest black-and-white with Dick Powell. Their sales force handling An American In Paris, Quo Vadis, and The Great Caruso put greater push behind such blockbusters they knew would draw. Smaller pictures necessary to fill pipelines and absorb overhead had little chance to qualify for special handling. A single poor engagement could put the Indian sign on what bookers considered but average merchandise to start with. Those perceived weakest got sliced off at the knees. John Huston’s The Red Badge Of Courage was buried without ceremony after marketers wrote it off. That was but months before The Tall Target plunged to its own negative loss ($594,000). Ads shown here are from Cincinnati (RKO Grand) and Chicago (Roosevelt). The Tall Target led the bill in one and supported in the other. How many patrons watched entire double features in those days? I remember walking out after shows I’d come primarily to see, despite tickets entitling me to remain for a second movie (ditching The Hustler at Tarantula’s conclusion, for instance). Would Chicago customers get their fifty-four cents worth looking at The Secret Of Convict Lake and give The Tall Target a pass? Television and competing recreations were grinding Hollywood to powder during those years. Humble fare like The Tall Target was not long for a marketplace soon to be engulfed by screen processes the antithesis of claustrophobic noir (imagine Cinemascope confining itself to a B/W train). Anthony Mann left MGM after The Tall Target to direct upper-drawer westerns and biopics at Universal and elsewhere, most to be in color. His very next, Bend Of The River, indisputably topped bills in 1952 after a star junket to its Oregon premiere. The Tall Target meanwhile limped off to invisibility and remained there (no reissue) until TV gobbled it up in 1963. The WB Archive DVD, despite being "unrestored," still represents the best this picture has looked since its brief ride through 1951 theatres.
More on The Tall Target here.