Wyoming sheep rancher Dan Logan (George C. Scott) and his teenage son, Chris (Nicolas Beauvy), spend a night camping out on their land. While Dan stays in the tent, Chris decides to sleep outside, underneath the stars. The next morning, Dan leaves the tent to discover that all of his sheep are dead and that Chris is having violent convulsions. Dan rushes his son to the local hospital, where he hopes that the family’s longtime physician, Dr. Caldwell (Richard Basehart), can save his son’s life.
However, at the hospital, Dan is separated from his son. Two doctors that he’s never met before — Dr. Spencer (Barnard Hughes) and Major Holliford (Martin Sheen) — take over his case. They tell him that Chris was probably just exposed to an insecticide and that both Dan and his son are going to have to stay at the hospital for a few days. Dan is confined to his room and not allowed to see his son.
What Dan doesn’t know is that both he and his son have been unwittingly exposed to a secret army nerve gas. Though the experiment was only meant to be performed on the animals that were grazing on Dan’s land, Dan and Chris were accidentally sprayed. When Dan discovers the truth about what’s been done to him and his son, he sets out to try to get revenge with what little time he has left.
Fresh from refusing an Oscar for Patton, George C. Scott made his feature film directorial debut with Rage. (He had previously directed The Andersonville Trial for television.) As a director, Scott sometimes struggles. Rage is so relentlessly grim and serious that even the most experienced director would have had a difficult time making it compelling. The scenes in the hospital are effective claustrophobic but they’re also often dramatically inert. The only humor in the film comes from Scott’s overuse of slow motion. When even simple scenes, like throwing coffee on a campfire, are shown in slow motion, it goes from being ominous to unintentionally humorous.
As a director, Scott did make a very wise decision by casting himself in the lead role. No one was better at portraying pure, incandescent anger than George C. Scott and the film picks up once Dan discovers what’s been done to himself and his son. Once Dan sets off to get revenge, Rage becomes an entirely different film, one that is about both a father’s anger and the cold calculation of a government that views him as just as a subject to be tested upon. The final scene is especially effective and suggests that Scott could have become an interesting director if he had stuck with it.
Scott would direct one more film, The Savage Is Loose, before devoting the rest of his distinguished career to performing.