RAGE AT DAWN closes with the postscript “Thus the Reno Brothers passed into American Folklore“, wrapping up the serviceable 87-minute western, a 1955 item starring the resolutely unflappable Randolph Scott. History may have polished off the Reno’s, but Hollywood had one more gun up its sleeves, a year later trotting out the brothers for Love Me Tender, introducing a new folklore legend in the form of Elvis Presley.
The robbin’ Reno brothers plague the Midwest in the late 1860s, until lawman ‘Jim Barlow’ (Scott) infiltrates the gang by posing as an outlaw. Rough justice eventually comes when the brothers are strung up by a vigilantes. ‘Well, they shouldn’a run…’
Slightly more accurate than Love Me Tender, this one drops the ‘basic good guys’ shtick used in the Elvis version and shows the Reno’s as the less than decent crooks they were, and is on the nose with their skip-a-trial summary judgement by a lynch mob. Nat Holt produced a slew of okay westerns (Warpath and Denver & Rio Grande are fun); here has an expert cameraman in Ray Rennahan, shooting in color on locations in central California around Sonora, including the preserved Gold Rush site Colombia State Historic Park. Tim Whelan (The Thief of Bagdad) directs proficiently.
Scott strides through calmly, arrayed against co-starring bad guys Forrest Tucker and J.Carrol Naish (ever busy, six films in ’55), and romantic interest Mala Powers (1931-2007, she had an interesting bio). The screenplay was done by Horace McCoy, author of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”. McCoy notched some decent scripts (Texas, Gentleman Jim, The Lusty Men, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye) and he does offer a trenchant exchange where one lawman observes “They’re shrewd, those Renos, and vicious. Control the whole county in southern Indiana. Judge, prosecutor, constable – all on their side! Renos had ’em elected.” Answered with “I still wonder how a thing like that could happen“, he continues “Well, people who have had freedom for as long as we’ve had sometimes take it for granted. Come election day, they’re lazy, or callous. Same thing. However, it’s done. Our job is to get it undone.”
Mild outing will please diehard Scott fans. Another plus is a solid array of character actors–Edgar Buchanan, Myron Healey, Ray Teal, Denver Pyle, Kenneth Tobey, Trevor Bardette, Chubby Johnson, William Phipps, Richard Garland, Ralph Moody.