Rage at Dawn
Western, Action, Drama | 87 mins | Released: 1955
Director: Tim Whelan
Starring: Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, Mala Powers, j. Carrol Naish, Edgar Buchanan, Myron Healey, Howard Petrie
Our Rating: 7
In this film’s version of the story, four of the Reno Brothers are corrupt robbers and killers while a fifth, Clint (Denver Pyle) is a respected Indiana farmer. A sister, Laura (Mala Powers), who has inherited the family home, serves as a housekeeper and cook to the brothers. Some of them served in the Civil War, which has given them a hardened attitude toward violence. One brother is killed when they go after a bank in a nearby town, leading them to draw the conclusion that someone that they know is an informant, as the men of the town appeared to have been waiting for them. They soon learn that it was Murphy, a local bartender, whom they then murder by knocking him out, and tying him up in his barn, which they then set ablaze. The bartender was in fact an agent employed by the Peterson (in real life, Pinkerton) Detective Agency sent to investigate and provide information about the Reno Brothers’ crimes.
His replacement is Scott’s character, James Barlow, a former secret agent for the Confederacy, who determines to join the gang by posing as a train robber, a ploy which is aided by his being allowed to pull off a staged train robbery (with the full cooperation of the train crew) in the area. (He also begins courting the sister.) Grudgingly accepted by the brothers (led by Tucker’s character, Frank Reno), he soon learns that they have corrupted local officials, including a judge (played by veteran character actor Edgar Buchanan), allowing them to operate in that part of the state with near-impunity. The brothers plan a train robbery with Barlow, but this proves to be a setup in which they are captured following a shootout and taken to an area jail outside the jurisdiction of the corrupted officials. (In the shootout, Barlow’s fellow Peterson agent, Monk Claxton, is killed.) Townspeople are incited to mob violence and break into the jail and lynch the brothers before they can be brought to trial despite Barlow’s best efforts to stop this. (Apparently the sister accepts his efforts as genuine; in the film’s final scene she is still with Barlow.)
Rage at Dawn is a 1955 American Western film by RKO Pictures starring Randolph Scott and Forrest Tucker, and featuring Denver Pyle, Edgar Buchanan, Mala Powers and J. Carrol Naish. It purports to tell the true story of the Reno Brothers, an outlaw gang which terrorized the American Midwest, particularly Southern Indiana, in the period immediately following the American Civil War.
A more successful version of the Reno brothers’ story was released the following year (1956) as Love Me Tender, starring Elvis Presley as Clint Reno.
This film was shot on location in Columbia State Historic Park, California, which means that the buildings have a somewhat authentic period look, but the landscape looks almost nothing like the lower American Midwest. The opening sequences reveal telephone poles and telephone lines in the background. Also, the U.S. and California State flag are shown on a flagpole in the background.
Judge: [to the sheriff and prosecutor] “You’re too suspicious.”
Lattimore, Prosecuting Attorney: “We’ve a right to be suspicious. Our share keeps getting smaller and smaller; first thing you know they’ll deal us out completely.”
Judge: “How can they? We’ll be re-elected next month for two more years. They know which side their bread’s buttered on.”
Lattimore, Prosecuting Attorney: “You think we can get away with this for two more years? Our collusion with the Reno Brothers is one of the worst kept secrets in history. Collusion, conspiracy, malfeasance. Ugly words, your honor, but true. We’ve got to be realistic.”