Sunday, August 14, 2011

Really Bad Movies - The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto by Leroy Neiman

Johnny Depp - Tonto?
Earlier this evening I read that the Disney corporation halted production of their new Tonto oriented version of the classic western hero saga, the Lone Ranger, and set to feature superstar Johnny Depp because the films projected budget was set at $250,000,000.

Now to be honest as much as I love the ol' Masked Man and his faithful Indian companion, I couldn't for the life of me figure out just what the hell they needed 250 million dollars to tell a Lone Ranger story.

I mean come on this is the Lone Ranger, and just what exactly is it that he does?

He goes around stopping cattle rustlers, crooked railroad men, bank robbers and outlaws, and really that's about it.

Sure he fights crime with a certain amount of style, but the Lone Ranger doesn't battle monsters, aliens or pretty much anything else that would take a budget of 250 million big ones.

Honestly, I have to say that as sad as it will be not to see the Ranger back up on the screen, Disney is probably doing us all a favor and saving us from a special effects extravaganza that had really nothing at all to do with either the Lone Ranger or Tonto.

And one thing that kept bugging me in all the lead up interviews about this film was this whole attempt to paint the classic version of the Lone Ranger as being racist and anti-American Indian, which to those of us who grew up watching the series know is complete nonsense.

Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels
Jay Silverheels might have spoken with a faux "Indian" accent, but Tonto was brave, intelligent, tough and was clearly Clayton Moore's Lone Ranger's best friend and equal companion.

It's been more than 50 years since the Lone Ranger was at its height of popularity, but back in the 1950's, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were probably second only to Davy Crockett in popularity among the boys and girls glued to their shiny new television sets every week.

The Lone Ranger was huge on television, and in the world of comics they were so popular that not only was there a Lone Ranger comic, and a Tonto comic, but they were so popular that even the Lone Rangers horse Silver had his own comicbooks with back-up stories starring Tonto's horse Scout.

So really going in with that crazy of a budget, mixed with what was obviously people who really did not understand the characters they were dealing with Disney probably saved us all from another disaster along the lines of Jonah Hex, the Wild, Wild West or even (GASP!) 1981's, The Legend of the Lone Ranger.

As for the Legend of the Lone Ranger, what can I tell you about this horrible movie that so many others haven't written before me?

The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)
Ineptly directed by cinematographer James Fraker, featuring male model Klinton Spilsbury in what as far as I can tell was his only film role starring, with actor James Keach dubbing in all of his dialogue as John Reid, the sole survivor of a group of massacred Texas Rangers, who is found and nursed back to health by his new friend Tonto, played by Twin Peaks, Michael Horse.

It takes a good hour of deathly boring film just to get to where Reid and Tonto decide to team-up to fight the badguys and another deathly boring fifteen minutes after that before he finally puts on the mask, climbs onto the damm horse and starts riding with the William Tell Overture playing in the background.

And then after all that build-up, well, nothing much happens.

The fantastic character actor Christopher Lloyd is wasted in this mess as the villainous Butch Cavendish. Lloyd tries his best to make something of what little he's been given to work with, but still he's all mustache twirling villain, with about as much depth and character as Snidley Whiplash, only without the funny dialogue.

Throw in the great Jason Robards looking truly embarrassed to be so obviously whoring himself in his role as Ulysses S Grant and a plot that involves the kidnapping of the Wild Wests greatest outlaws and heroes and you end up with what can only be called a truly terrible picture.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger a dull, dreary waste of two hours with almost none of that time being spent actually watching anything much to do with, you know, "The Lone Ranger". It's all origin and almost no action with what little there is is totally forgetful and amateurishly filmed.

So really while I am sure the Johnny Depp film would have been large, loud and maybe even fun, I just got the feeling that it wouldn't be the Lone Ranger, but it still would not be able to help but be better then this train wreck of a motion picture.

Not Tonto, not the Lone Ranger

They did make a nice looking lunchbox out of it though.

Ah for the days of metal lunchboxes

Here, enjoy this the classic origin of the Lone Ranger.

It'll take that bad taste away...


  1. That movie's only worth was for the line of great toys and merchandising products linked to it.

  2. I found this while researching the piece..

    It's some great shots of the toys.

  3. That's not the classic origin, just the one done for the TV show. But then, the classic origin is that he doesn't have one. Although for that matter, the Lone Ranger did fight aliens and steampunk stuff in the 60s cartoon show.

    Although for that matter, the Ranger pre-dated Crockett on television by a good number of years. He was pretty much the first first-run television action hero. I think Hopalong Cassidy predated him on TV, but those were just the movies cut up.

    Sorry, I know way too much about a character that has pretty much been a dead license for most of my existence on earth.

  4. Here is the thing that annoys me the most about the Spilsbury film -- it ALMOST got it right. I first encountered it as not the film itself, but through the licensed paperback novel.

    And the book WORKS. The novelization of the film has some great, great advantages. First of all, the pacing that is so wrong for the movie is fine in a novel. Secondly, the actors don't screw up the line readings because they're images in your head. And thirdly, the added touches that really, REALLY cripple the thing -- like rhyming voice-over narration from I think Willie Nelson or whoever -- are absent.

    I'm delighted this new one is DOA though. I loathed the idea of doing the 'deconstructed' Seth-Rogen-Green-Hornet version of the Ranger with Johnny Depp as a smirky Tonto.

    Hell, just TYPING that last sentence made me shudder. I've said this many times, even in print -- but people who get pissy about Jay Silverheels and stereotyping clearly never WATCHED the damn show. As you said, Tonto is a partner, an equal, and a friend -- but more importantly, there were a HUGE number of episodes that involved Tonto and the Ranger taking the Indians' side against the white man. "We WILL find justice for your people, Red Hawk. I swear it." Or the one where the Ranger takes on the KKK-types on behalf of the Chinese laundryman. Or all the times the Ranger and Tonto cleared accused natives of crimes they didn't commit, or prevented townspeople from hunting down Indians and lynching them. Or etc. I could go on and on. Over and over the Ranger stood up for minorities who were being ground down by corrupt white ranchers or industrialists... and don't forget, this was in 1956 or thereabouts, when 'progress' was God.

    ...sorry, ranting, but that's a pet peeve of mine. My favorite version of the Ranger to date has been the version from Dynamite Comics by Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello. Not sure how to translate that into a movie though.

    One thing is sure, though -- I'd skip the origin or do it in flashback. I have come to hate the 'origin-first, hero's journey' style of superhero movie because it's like it's the only one they know how to make, and you don't get to see the guy you PAID to see till it's almost the end. The two times it really worked for me were IRON MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA. All the others-- pfft.

    Daydreaming now, really, but if I was King of the World and decided to make a Ranger movie, I'd shoot it like SILVERADO. Big and epic scenery, embracing Western tropes but with humor... and the Ranger himself would be someone like Scott Glenn in SILVERADO, tough and cool but with an unshakable moral center. The change that comes over Glenn's face when Danny Glover says, "They took the little boy"... THAT, to my mind, is a complete Ranger moment.

    Tonto? Tough, smart, the Ranger's best friend. The end. No need for 'magical mystic Indian knowledge' bullshit, but if they want to make him a better tracker and woodsman than John Reid, okay. Like Jay Silverheels but without the pidgin English. No need to fix what isn't otherwise broken.

    The story itself... it should be big and it should be about defending against greed. The Ranger vs. Goldfinger of the old West. Something about hijacking huge tracts of land or destroying a farming settlement town in order to get at mineral wealth. Maybe the instigating event is the Ranger and Tonto investigating night attacks on local farmers by the 'Iron Dragon,' something that would turn out to be the villain's prototype tank...

    ...okay I'll stop now.