Private detective James Barlow (Randolph Scott) is sent to Indiana to infiltrate the ranks of the four Reno Brothers (Denver Pyle, Forrest Tucker, J. Carrol Naish, Myron Healy), a gang running roughshod over luckless locals. After attracting the Renos’ attention with a staged train robbery, Barlow gets in deeper when he strikes up a romance with their sister, Laura (Mala Powers). Gradually, Barlow devises a strategy to set the brothers up for ambush in another train robbery.
Four of the Reno Brothers are corrupt robbers and killers while a fifth, Clint, is a respected Indiana farmer. A sister, Laura, 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 an agent employed by the Peterson Detective Agency sent to investigate and provide information about the Reno Brothers’ crimes.
His replacement is 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 Laura. Grudgingly accepted by the brothers, led by Frank Reno, he soon learns that they have corrupted local officials, including a judge, allowing them to operate in that part of the state with 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. Townspeople break into the jail and lynch the brothers before they can be brought to trial despite Barlow’s best efforts to stop them. Laura accepts his efforts as genuine.
Rage at Dawn is a 1955 American Technicolor Western film directed by Tim Whelan, and starring Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, 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 as Love Me Tender, starring Elvis Presley as Clint Reno.