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Reno Gang legend comes to life in docudrama


Much of movie filmed in Crawford, Harrison counties, includes local actors


March 26, 2014 | 09:42 AM

"The Legend of the Reno Brothers" — the first accurate telling of the story of Indiana's Reno Brothers Gang, according to the film's makers — is now available to the public.

"I think we kind of captured it for the most part," producer Morgan Raque of Corydon said.

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The poster for "The Legend of the Reno Brothers" notes that the Reno Brothers Gang, which originated in Jackson County, despite not being as well-known, came before Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Tombstone. (click for larger version)
Previous efforts included Elvis Presley starring as "Honest" Clint Reno in the 1956 movie "Love Me Tender," but none captured the true exploits of the gang of brothers from Jackson County.

Although the Renos are most known for committing the first peacetime train robbery, at Seymour right after the Civil War, their influence extended much farther, eventually forming a criminal network more than 100 strong that essentially was the start of organized crime.

"Anything that was within a 700-mile radius was laid at their doorstep," Raque said.

That included counterfeiting and illegal land, livestock and real estate operations. In their big robbery, they stole close to $1 million.

"Everything the James Gang, Cole and Younger gangs did, they learned from the Renos," historian Loren Noblitt told Anthony Susnick of Louisville, who worked on the project for more than a decade.

Raque, whose MB Production Services puts on the re-enactment of Gen. John Hunt Morgan's raid through Corydon and furnishes costumes and other items for period films, became involved in the project around 2010 after meeting with Susnick.

"It went from a 15-minute film to an hour and a half," Raque said, noting filming began in 2011 and concluded in August 2013.

The film — which covers the Reno Gang from its beginnings in Jackson County to the hanging of Frank, William and Simeon Reno and another member, Charlie Anderson, by vigilantes at New Albany, as well as the international incident the hanging caused — mixes re-enactments with several interviews.

As producer, Raque was responsible for "making sure that everything's ready to shoot." That not only included securing the location, but making sure the necessary props arrived on time and there was plenty of food for the actors and other crew members.

For a period piece like this, it also meant making sure that any anachronisms, like telephone lines and automobiles, were not in view of the camera.

Most of the film was shot with one camera, operated by Susnick, the film's director and writer, and each scene required multiple takes from various angles.

"At least three takes on every scene," Raque said.

Much of the movie was filmed locally — at the Lonnie Bottles property in Milltown and the Les and Donna Smith property in Laconia — as the topography was authentic to the story. Raque noted that another Reno Brothers movie, 1955's "Rage at Dawn," was filmed in California, clearly evident to anyone familiar with the Southern Indiana landscape.

Raque added that he also is pleased that the film features several locals, including his son, Mark, who played gang leader Frank. Others include Bottles, Shane Jones, Les Smith, Chris Maples, Aaron Cash, Keith Bolea, Billy White, Trish Jones and her children, Robbie Brown, Betty Brown Pierson, Rob Erwin, Joe and John Sears, Andrew Morton and Allie Fleitz.

Raque, who also helped Susnick with the dialogue, even got some screen time, portraying the Reno brothers' father, Wilkinson.

This wasn't the first time that he has appeared in front of the camera. Raque, who early in his career served as a specialty rider (in between a stuntman and an extra), later was cast as a member of the militia in "The Patriot" starring Mel Gibson.

"Some of my best shots are of my shoulders," the tall Raque joked, adding his nickname on the set was "High Tower."

Raque said the film, which relied on the book "Anarchy in the Heartland: The Reno Gang Saga" by A. David Distler, who served as executive producer, is important not only because it brings attention to a piece of history that has been overshadowed by the exploits of more well-known outlaws, like the James Gang, but does so as accurately as possible.

"It's kind of nice to do something in your own backyard," Raque said.

"The Legend of the Reno Brothers" is available for purchase locally at the Blaine H. Wiseman Visitor Center and The Emporium Mall, both in downtown Corydon, Amazon.com and on eBay.

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