Sheltered in their sister Laura's farmhouse, the notorious band of outlaws, the Reno Brothers, terrorise the Indiana countryside, in 1866. By bribing the local officials and the corrupt judge, the brothers have the nearby town of Seymour under their thumb, however, it is not before long when someone kills a secret operative. As a result, James Barlow, a former Southern spy, agrees to infiltrate the gang by posing as a hardened train robber to bring the Renos to justice, but what Barlow couldn't foresee is that his feelings for the feisty Laura will threaten his plans for a setup at dawn. In the end, can a single man end the Reno Brothers' reign?
Terrorizing 1866 Indiana, the Reno brothers gang uses the town of Seymour as a safe haven, paying off three crooked town officials. Sent in to clean up the gang is Peterson Detective Agency operative James Barlow, who poses as an outlaw to gain the confidence of the officials and the thick-headed brothers. Complicating matters are Barlow's feelings for the Reno sister, Laura, who reluctantly keeps house for the boys out of family loyalty. Events heat up and rage surfaces as Barlow sets up the gang in a dawn train robbery.
Though Randolph Scott is the nominal star, Rage At Dawn really isn't about him. It's about the gang he's sent to capture, the infamous Reno brothers who operated out of Indiana right after the Civil War. Scott in fact does not make an appearance until a quarter of the film is over.
After one Reno brother is killed in a failed bank robbery, the three remaining outlaw Renos, Forrest Tucker, J. Carrol Naish, and Myron Healey, are still very much in business. They kill an informant who was working for the Peterson(Pinkerton) Detective Agency and plan future robberies at the home of their sister Laura who is played by Mala Powers.
William Peterson assigns two new men to the job, Kenneth Tobey and a former Confederate spy Randolph Scott. The rest of the story is about their capture and the aftermath.
With a little research I found the story hardly sticks to the facts. Scott for instance is a totally fictional character though the Pinkertons were very much involved in the apprehension. Mala Powers is portrayed as deploring their crimes, but still loyal to her brothers, in fact she was quite the wild child in her day and aided and abetted the male Renos in every way. Only two of the Renos were in fact lynched in the end by a mob, the character of John Reno who Myron Healey plays died in prison.
One thing is true, by intimidation and bribery the Renos did have a safe haven in their home county in Indiana. The three county officials who were on the Reno tab are Edgar Buchanan-judge, Ray Teal-sheriff, and Howard Petrie-county prosecutor. The three of them are the best thing in Rage At Dawn. I don't blame Randolph Scott for saying that he'd rather go after them than the Reno brothers.
Scott is a cynical hero in this one, part of his job in the Civil War as a spy was romancing the wives of high placed union officials, so he's got no problem courting Mala Powers to get the job done. I doubt the real Laura Reno would have fallen for it. Still Scott turns in a good performance.
As does the rest of the cast in this film, though I will say Indiana is not the usual setting for a western. Maybe this one should be called a Midwestern. This is yet another exceptional Randolph Scott western. Considering how many wonderful films he made in the 1950s, I certainly wasn't surprised that I liked this one.
In a couple ways, however, this film is a bit unconventional. First, Scott doesn't even appear in the film until about 20 minutes into the film! Until then, it consisted of showing the exploits of an outlaw gang in Indiana--a very hilly and California-like version of Indiana (where n real life I'd heard the highest elevation is reportedly 9 inches above sea level). Second, the ending is just plain bizarre--not at all bad, but really caught me by surprise and won't be something the average person could predict. I mention this because although the main plot of the film isn't that unusual (I've seen many similar to it), the thing is handled so well and offers some nice twists that make it well worth seeing--in addition to Scott's usual seemingly effortless performance.
Scott enters the film when he's recruited to infiltrate an evil gang that isn't exactly in the old west, but Southern Indiana (I lived just over the boarder--believe me, this is NOT a typical locale for a western). However, as you'd expect, there is a nice and semi-innocent girl who gets tossed into the mix--making Scott wonder if it's possible for him to do his job and the girl...I mean, get the girl.
Overall, the film is well acted and directed as well as a lot of fun. Plus, it helps that the supporting actors (such as Forrest Tucker and J. Carroll Naish) are so good. Worth seeing--and a must-see if you love the genre. a5c7b9f00b
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