Directed by Tim Whelan; produced by Nat Holt
In 1866 Indiana, the Reno brothers take advantage of the upheaval of the late Civil War to go on a crime spree, robbing banks and treasury offices with impunity, protected by corrupt officials in their town and county. Along with neighbouring law enforcement officials, a national detective agency has become involved, sending one of its top operators (Kenneth Tobey) to the scene, along with a new man, a former Confederate States intelligence agent (Randolph Scott). It doesn’t take long before their investigation turns violent.
Rage at Dawn is a bit of a departure for Randolph Scott, in several ways. Firstly, it is based on real people and events. Though highly fictionalised, this is a true story. The action is condensed and the time-line re-written drastically. Secondly, Scott does not appear for some while, the setting and situation being laid out before the viewer initially. Thirdly, its conclusion is not the normal one for a western.
Unfortunately, these novel elements don’t make for a superior film. Scott is as dependable a western star as John Wayne, and more likeable. He is, however, let down by the writing and the production here.
The story is set in southern Indiana, an unusual location for a western (in this case, it may be termed a ‘mid-western’) but the movie was filmed in California (in an early scene, the latter’s flag may be viewed on a flag-pole in the background). Consequently, though the scenery is rather different than in many westerns - a more treed and less barren landscape - it does not look anything like southern Indiana. Most of the Renos met their fates before the end of the 1860s, yet the firearms used are those of the 1870s and ‘80s.
The story is adequate, but hardly delves deeply into the subject. For instance, who hired the ‘Peterson’ (read ‘Pinkerton’) Detective Agency to gather evidence against the Renos? The company would hardly have expended lives and money on their own account. Why were the Renos criminals? What made them turn to robbery and murder? Motivation in the film is light.
The action is decent, and the acting is good, especially among the minor players. But these aren’t enough to compensate for average writing and what must be termed lazy production. Scott is better served in the several movies he made with Budd Boetticher in the director’s chair, with Burt Kennedy writing the script. Check out one of these in preference to Rage at Dawn.