I’m not a big Glenn Ford fan, but I find his place in film history to be an interesting one. I remember him being in a lot of romances and dramas in the 1940s and 1950s, and balanced that with some tough guy noir roles. Comparable actors of the era would be William Holden and Kirk Douglas.
Ford had a long career in Hollywood, including being the box office leader one year in the late 1950s, but by the early 1960s, his marquee value as a film lead was dimming and he chose some unusual roles to keep working. He kept making films in the 1960s, but by the middle of the decade, his films were of lesser stature and he would move into television by the 1970s. Even though his later films were smaller budgets and lesser material, he turned in some very good performances.
Ford had a restrained and measured acting style. He was earnest and steady in his performances, he said that he basically played himself. His coolness and low-key approach cast him in every-man roles. He was put in dramas where his normally laid-back characters had to act under pressure, and his steady demeanor was quite effective with audiences. Ford didn’t chew the scenery or stray very far from what audiences learned to expect and appreciated from his performances.
In the 1950s, bad luck and regretful film decisions started his downward career arc, when Holden’s career moved in the opposite direction. Ford passed on the lead role in Born Yesterday, a role that Holden snapped up to great acclaim. Reportedly, studio scheduling difficulties caused him to miss out on From Here to Eternity, which helped define Burt Lancaster’s career. Even though Ford was no longer getting the “first look” films, he worked steadily, making as many as three films a year through the late 1960s.
Ford was at an interesting place in his career. He continued to make romantic and light comedy films but they weren’t big at the box office. Action films like Westerns were his bread and butter, but he wasn’t getting the scripts that went to Lee Marvin, Holden or Burt Lancaster. Ford looked good for his age and kept in shape; he was a reserve officer in the Marine Corps.
In the early 1960s, Ford made two comedies with Debbie Reynolds, several military service films, a few Westerns and the mandatory romantic features, like The Courtship of Eddie’s Father ( later a television series starring Bill Bixby). He starred with Bette Davis in Frank Capra’s last film, A Pocket Full of Miracles, but it was a disappointment, and Capra was noted in his autobiography as blaming Ford for part of the film’s failure. Ford also teamed with Henry Fonda in the modern Western, The Rounders.
In 1966, Ford starred in Rage, a film co-produced by Columbia Pictures and Cinematográfica Jalisco, a Mexican film company. Ford and co-star Stella Stevens were the only Americans in the cast, and it was filmed entirely in Mexico. Written and directed by Gilberto Gazcón, it is actually a very interesting film, but not one that did much for Ford’s career. He plays Dr. Reuben, a drunkard in a small construction community deep in Mexico.
Just two years earlier, Ford had co-starred with Geraldine Brooks in Dear Heart, a romantic-comedy about middle-age singles who meet at a New York hotel and begin a relationship. This was a sizable investment by Warner Bros., directed by Delbert Mann and a big song by Henry Mancini. Rage, by comparison, was quite a different experience. Rage seemed a bit of come-down for Ford’s career.
Rage was a gritty film, dour and very adult subject matter. Ford was 50 years old at the time. Not old for a movie star, but old for a leading man. Rage was a dirty film, you could feel the perspiration and a degree of desperation. And “Suggested for Mature Audiences.”
Ford’s doctor drinks because he feels responsible for his wife and child’s death. He tends to the worker injuries and sick family members. One day, a truck load of women appear, as entertainment for the male construction workers. Prostitutes. Stella Stevens is Perla one of the prostitutes. Lewd and drunken behavior follows, but not for Perla and the doctor. She is attracted to him but he’s wallowing in guilt and despair.
Dr. Reuben is flawed and not exactly your ideal protagonist. Ford mixed this roles through the years, not just the romantic lead or the idealized character. For example, he played an outlaw in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and a dis-likable trail boss in Cowboy (1958), so he ventured from matinee leading man back into tough guy noir roles where his film career began. In both 3:10 to Yuma and Cowboy, Ford displayed meanness and sadism more with attitude than action.
Rage was a physically demanding film for Ford. The terrain was harsh, the location a challenge and a lot of physical action was demanded of his character. Ford was in good shape and certainly up for the role, but you’d wonder why he’d bother. This was not a glamorous role and the prospects for a big commercial hit unrealistic.
Reuben is a beaten man who is brought out of his stupor through the needs of the community and his duty as a doctor. Unbeknownst to Reuben, the dog that bit him probably had rabies. A man wonders into camp who clearly has rabies. At personal risk, Reuben finds the rabid dog and kills it. Since one man already had rabies, the doctor knows his fate. He knows that me must find medical help in the city or he will die, but he gets sidetracked to deliver a difficult pregnancy of one of the local people. On his journey over the desert to the city, he finds Perla was got separated from her bus of harlots. Instead of giving up, he fights against the odds to make it to the city, literally running the final distance.
Stevens as the prostitute was certainly there as eye candy. The publicity effort focused on her, sexy poses of her on the poster and lobby cards. I can’t really fathom the attraction she had for the older, disheveled doctor, who accompanied him on his quest for medical help. This relationship does humanize the doctor.
Stella Stevens had several film credits to her resume, though usually more to add sex appeal. In Rage, her role was secondary but you wouldn’t know it by the marketing effort, sold the film as something it really wasn’t.
Rage is better than the typical B-film, although the script and production values show that Columbia didn’t put a lot of money in the film. The direction is better than average for the budget, though this film is nearly impossible to find on DVD. It is more or less a forgotten Ford film.