Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Legend of the Lone Ranger

The Legend of the Lone Ranger ~ 1981, at a time when other heroes of yesteryear were being brought back from the dead and onto the big screen, like Superman, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Little Orphan Annie – the Lone Ranger might have seemed like a natural to the folks trying to cash in, but somehow I think the project may have been cursed from the start.

Much like the very recent Sherlock Holmes, the Lone Ranger suffers a recognition problem. You might know the name but there are clearly multiple generations that have gone by without knowing what that name is about. And of course, director William A. Fraker also made the tragic mistake of all superhero movies – boring the audience to death with the unnecessary origin instead of just telling a good story. Also at the time of the film, actor Clayton Moore, who had portrayed the Ranger for decades on television and in movies was banned by the Wrather Company, owners of the character, from appearing in public as the Lone Ranger. If the film had any audience interested in seeing it, this action alone alienated them.

The string of bad luck did not end there. The young unknown hopeful-soon-to-be-superstar set to play the Lone Ranger, Klinton Spilsbury, was not only a terrible actor with bad seventies hair, but also had to have his voice dubbed throughout the film by the uncredited John Keach. He never went anywhere after this, his only acting role, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Spilsbury is probably better known as an obscure trivia answer than actually portraying the Lone Ranger.

Now that’s not to say that it’s all bad. The film has an old school 1950s-60s American western feel to it, except for the violence which alternates between excessive and over the top to fake and ridiculous (sometimes the blood is obviously strawberry jam). Christopher Lloyd does a surprising turn as villain Butch Cavendish and Jason Robards is as ever excellent in his role of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Michael Horse, also a bad actor here as Tonto, is still miles better than Spilsbury in the title part. And for the most part the movie is more Tonto than Ranger, which acting-wise was a good idea, but an epic fail for a movie about the Lone Ranger. For the record, Horse became a better actor and went on to a recurring role on “Twin Peaks” and a career doing voicework in animation.

There are too many unintentionally funny moments. One, in what should be the most dramatic and triumphant moment, where John Reid finally puts on the mask and rides off into the sunset with Tonto to the beats of the William Tell Overture, is completely ruined as they ride past the mountain where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn. I know I laughed out loud.

And forgive me, but I love the theme song "The Man in the Mask" sung by Merle Haggard with lyrics by Dean Footloose Pitchford, someone else who went on to better things. This tune is the best thing about this movie in my opinion. This one is a miss unless you’re curious or a hardcore Lone Ranger fan.

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