The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rage (1972)

One of the beauties of Turner Classic Movie's summer programming is August's Summer Under the Stars, each day devoted to one star's films. I was able to check out several from George C. Scott that I'd never seen before, including this 1972 timely drama that you can see appealing to all sorts of audiences upset with the government, politics, and the System as a whole. Here we are with 1972's Rage.

Dan Logan (Scott) is a small-time rancher who lives in Wyoming with his 12-year old son, Chris (Nicolas Beauvy). Dan's wife died years before, leaving him to raise his son alone, something he takes to heart and very seriously. They've got a good life on the Logan spread, just father and son making a living. One night they're out camping on a hillside when Dan wakes up to find Chris unresponsive and bleeding profusely from the nose. He races into town to the hospital and Chris is immediately taken away from him. Doctors aren't sure exactly what happened, but one doctor especially, Holliford (Martin Sheen), assures him that everything will be taken care of. Dan too is asked to stay for observation, just to see if anything has happened to him too. What's going on? What Dan doesn't know is that a local army base is covering up an accident with a nerve gas accidentally being released...

Here's a trivia question for you. With what film did actor George C. Scott make his directorial debut? You're looking at it. That would be 1972's Rage. It's an interesting debut for the longtime actor. It's timely. It's hard-hitting, cynical, violent (horrifically at times), intensely uncomfortable so yeah, basically made for an early 1970's audience fed up with any sort of establishment. While it doesn't get too heavy in getting it across, it's safe to say 'Rage' is a "message" film. It wants to get a message across and make the audience get down to basics and think about what the story is really saying. The nerve gas reveal in the above plot line is a relative spoiler. You find out pretty quickly actually what's going on. The point is, it's the start of something. It's what the nerve gas represents.

That being...anyone trying to keep things under wraps from you because as a people, we're too stupid to handle something dangerous. Whether you agree with that is up to you. 'Rage' is a movie for those folks fed up with information being withheld from them, of someone in power dancing around the truth, of that person treading the fine line between the truth and a flat-out lie "for your benefit." Your establishment a-holes? Sheen plays an army doctor working undercover of sorts who really knows what's going on. Richard Basehart is Logan's longtime doctor and friend, quickly realizing the truth as he puts the clues together. Also look for Kenneth Tobey, Paul Stevens, Barnard Hughes, Ed Lauter and others trying to keep things under wraps.

Whether it be from behind the director's chair or in front of the camera, this is Scott's movie. His single father and small-time rancher character is about as archetypal American as you can get. He's created a life and carved it out of the landscape for himself and his son. He'll do anything to protect it. While there are some familiar Scott outbursts, I liked the Logan character most in the quiet moments. Dan is looking out for his son, pleased he sees his boy picking things up quickly as he grows up. We see a lot of this in an extended montage through the movie's first 15 minutes as Dan and Chris interact all over the ranch, ultimately ending up playing checkers while camping next to a small fire.

Also look for Dabbs Greer and John Dierkes in small supporting parts.

I was both intrigued and struggled with the slow pacing here in Scott's feature film directorial debut. The first hour is intensely slow as we begin to realize how bad the situation is, how dangerous the nerve gas really is, and the depths the army/establishment will go to keep that news under wraps. It is about the hour-mark when Logan puts it all together and FREAKING LASHES OUT. We're talking Death Wish meets Falling Down with any other vigilante movie you want to mention thrown in for good measure. He becomes a man possessed to right a wrong done against him. I kinda figured where the story was going, but not to these depths. It is dark. It is uncomfortable, and that's no doubt what Scott set out to do. Life ain't easy, especially when the powers that be have rooted interests in something not getting out.

The ending itself is tough to watch. It's supposed to be. As far as it goes, I wish it would have gone a little further. From the word 'go' we know this won't be a happy ending, but some more revenge and vengeance being dished out would have been so much better. So many more needed to be punished for their actions. Man, I'm getting all sorts of Old Testament here, but it's true. The actual finale is heartbreaking because it doesn't feel forced. There aren't any easy answers so my complaints of wanting more revenge being doled out go unanswered. That's life. It's tough. A depressing movie, flawed at times but interesting throughout.

Rage (1972): ***/****

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