Grace Caldwell (Suzanne Pleshette) was a college student in Pennsylvania where she was set to inherit her father's newspaper fortune. She lived in a large mansion with her mother Emily (Carmen Mathews) and brother Brock (Linden Chiles), and it was his friendship with Charlie Jay (Mark Goddard) that would sow the seeds of her downfall. She had returned home one afternoon and undressed for a shower, but what she did not know was Charlie, looking for her sibling, had entered the house and wandered upstairs. He was spying on her silhouette as she prepared to bathe, and this excited him so much that after a little small talk he forced himself on her - Grace tried to resist his advances, but he was too strong for her, and the further he went the more she gave in, eventually finding herself enjoying the experience...
From this unlovely event does mental imbalance grow, and we were meant to believe from this film that being forced into sex was enough to send the woman in question into a state of nymphomania, rather than more believably the opposite and put off the activity for life. A Rage to Live (title taken from a literary poem, just in case you thought it was low rent) was based on the bestselling novel by John O'Hara, who had also penned Butterfield 8 which had seen a film adaptation secure an Oscar for Elizabeth Taylor, a gong that has proved the source of much debate as to how deserved it was ever since (let’s face it, she was far better in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few years later). No Academy Awards were forthcoming for this, however.
If Suzanne Pleshette thought she was in with a shout, she didn't let on, very wisely for no matter how good she was in the role, and how many of the men in the audience would have wished to be introduced to her knowing her "problem", she didn’t convince as someone obsessed with carnal pleasure to the exclusion of everything else. She was simply too classy to be acceptable as what the other characters refer to as a tramp, and while she could approach the melodrama with some skill, the essential soap opera style of this, more applicable to television since it couldn't be explicit within the censorship confines of 1965, failed to paint a picture of anything but a dramatic contrivance for the audience to relish the lead character’s suffering.
No matter that Grace was not supposed to be in control of her impulses, she remained portrayed as someone we could really appreciate getting punished for her love of the pleasures of the flesh, which naturally do not come across as pleasurable at all when there's so much guilt part and parcel of the whole set-up. Not for us watching, because while we were moved to sympathise mostly by Pleshette’s account of Grace, indulging our moralistic poses was encouraged, so though she gets married to nice architect Bradford Dillman she cannot turn down an offer from the manly man who has become overwhelmingly attracted to her. In spite of three years' faithful marriage and motherhood, she finds her head turned by Ben Gazarra as Roger Bannon, who we can tell will be trouble.
Gazzara was evidently doing some relishing himself, presenting himself as the ultimate in irresistible virility even to the ladies watching who thought they were happily married and didn't have Grace's impulses. His bedroom scene with Pleshette is something which strains at the seams of the Production Code of the day, a censor’s guide that was about to be torn up come the nineteen-seventies, and you can imagine a more liberal attitude to what was permissible on the screen would have greatly benefitted what seemed constrained as it played out here. Which naturally means, from a modern point of view, camp and lots of it, no matter that the leading lady was essaying her part with the utmost sincerity, the trappings around her were more sternly ordering the female cinemagoers not to enjoy sex because not only would society come down on them like a ton of intolerant bricks, but they would ruin other's lives into the bargain. A Rage to Live practically invites you to be judgemental, which in places was downright laughable. Music by Nelson Riddle.