Review – Who was that Masked… Oh, Who Cares? (“The Lone Ranger”)

Another troubled production (that almost led to its cancellation,) the same guys that gave us the Disney “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise have returned to give us their take on TV icon “The Lone Ranger.” Being somewhat close to my heart (Clayton Moore, the original Lone Ranger, is in fact, my Godfather), I gave this particular movie special attention.

So here’s the review. We start with an intro, a la Dustin Hoffman’s Jack Crabb from “Little Big Man”: Johnny Depp is a very, very old Tonto at a 1933 San Francisco carnival sideshow, who tells his tale to a little boy (Mason Cook) who is dressed as the Lone Ranger. In multiple flashbacks we learn about John Reid (Armie Hammer), a by-the-book, no-nonsense lawyer who is sworn in and joins his Texas Ranger brother Dan in the Wild West. Dan and his posse are out to catch the nasty outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Finchtner) and his gang. Ambushed by the gang and left for dead, John (the LONE survivor) is rescued by Tonto and given a mask to fight injustice with… along with a beautiful “spirit world” white horse. But John doesn’t like guns, would still rather do things legally, and is really rather a klutz at things when it comes to finding out where Butch and his gang are… lucky for him Tonto is there to help him out at every turn.

Did I mention Tonto has his own painful backstory? He’s been ostracized by his own Comanche people because he, as a boy, accidentally got his whole tribe wiped out by two mysterious brothers who sold him out for a canyon full of precious silver. No wonder he’s so moody and alone.

Meanwhile, back in town, railroad tycoon and all-around letch, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) has the hots for dead Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and will stop at nothing to get her and all the silver in that canyon. John and Tonto reluctantly team up to save Rebecca and her son from the clutches of Cole when they find out Cole is in cahoots with the very bad guys that he swore to get rid of. Uh-oh!

Every now and then we cut back to ‘really old Tonto’ and that carnival kid, who’s just trying to make sense of everything that Tonto is saying.

Anyway, after seeing that all his efforts were in vain, John gets a severe case of the apathies and yanks off the mask, vowing that he “can’t do this anymore”, but after getting nearly killed for the 23rd time, he gets an even more severer-er (is that even a word?) case of the sense of justice & law and order, and dons the mask again. ’bout freakin’ time!

The last 20 minutes is a triumphant rip-roaring’, stunt-crazy spectacular with two runaway trains and a ramped-up orchestra playing the famous William Tell Overture (aka the Lone Ranger theme song) as the bad guys get theirs and the good guys ride off into the gorgeous Utah mountain range. Yes, you waited over two hours for this, so drink it up, buddy-boy!

As much as I wanted to love this movie, I found it incredibly hard to do so with Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger being such a unlikable putz all the time, until he finally came into his true heroic persona at the end of the movie. With other “superhero” movies like Zorro, Batman, The Green Hornet, et. al. they all became their “other half” by at LEAST the one hour mark (often sooner) in their movie…NOT in the last twenty minutes! Up until then it’s one very, very, very long wait with scene after scene of John and Tonto arguing and bickering, getting in & out of fights and trouble, and attempting to bond with each other. Oh, yes, then there’s an extended cameo with Helena Bonham Carter as a shotgun concealed, ivory-carved fake-legged brothel Madam. Yup, I did NOT make that up!

At two and 1/2 hours long, “Pirates” director Gore Verbinski throws everything at the screen possible (Explosions! Runaway trains! More explosions!) to divert your attention away from the fact that the story is as thin as Armie Hammer’s acting. The thread-bare screenplay here was written by Justin Haythe, with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (the two “Pirates” writers).

But then you have Depp. That chameleon actor of actors, Depp. His Tonto is the one watchable thing in this overblown epic nonsense. He gives us another quirky, original, completely watchable character that will be added to his growing list of oddball performances. The man is truly is a master at his craft…even with a stuffed bird on his head. This should’ve been called “The Tonto Movie”.

The LONE RANGER saga:

Clayton Moore will always be known as THE Lone Ranger as surely as Jay Silverheels will always be known as Tonto, his faithful Indian sidekick. Their hugely popular TV series, “The Lone Ranger” which ran on TV from 1949 to 1957, made the leap successfully from B&W to color TV, and showed off his baby-blue Cowboy costume that would be the Ranger’s trademark colors. .

Always riding on his white stallion, Silver, the Lone Ranger’s horse would rear-back on two legs, while Moore shouted, “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” As they galloped off, someone would point and ask, “Who was that masked man, anyway?” Tonto referred to the Lone Ranger as “kemosabe”, meaning either “trusty scout” or “trusted friend,” but in the newest movie, Depp says it means, “wrong brother”. Whatever. These catchphrases and the famous silver bullets, (along with the William Tell Overture) have become icons of Clayton Moore & his TV show.

So much so, that well after the series ended, he continued to portray the legend (costume and all) at parties, conventions, special events, etc for a little extra cash and to teach kids the Western cowboy values. (check out his “Aqua Velva” or “Jeno’s Pizza Rolls” commercials on YouTube, they’re a kick!). He is the ONLY actor to ever get a Star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame WITH his character name aside his own! For a time, back in the 70’s, he even had his own franchise of Lone Ranger restaurants! I should know…I ate there all the time since my dad invested in them! One was on Reseda Blvd & Vanowen St. in the San Fernando Valley. Clayton Moore even made a personal appearance there one day, riding up on his horse! Classy guy!

But then… Hollywood, who had been such a friend to Moore, bit him back.

In 1978 Jack Wrather and Bonita Granville gained the legal rights to the Lone Ranger character because they were planning on making feature film starring a younger actor. Then, in a move that many to this day still call unconscionablein, Wrather obtained a legal injunction to stop Moore from appearing in public as the Lone Ranger! Oh, like Moore’s appearances were somehow going to jeopardize his movie’s integrity! WTF??

It seemed that Wrather, anticipating making a new film version of the story, did not want the devalue the character being “advertised” by Moore’s 65-year-old “old Ranger” running around town. Naturally, this move proved to be a public relations nightmare (no, duh!). Moore responded (on national TV, no less) by changing his costume slightly and replacing the mask with similar-looking, wrap-around sunglasses (made exclusively for him by Foster Grant) that LOOKED like his trademark mask! Later he got an endorsement from Corning for their SunSensor Sunglasses (his YouTube commercial for these is fun!)

Anyway, news of the lawsuit traveled like wildfire and spread through every newspaper and Hollywood trade across the country. The public was on Moore’s side and vowed to picked the movie when it came out! Moore, in the meantime, counter-sued to get his mask and original costume back and eventually won the suit, resuming his appearances in and continually did so until his death in 1999.

Oh? What about the movie, you say? I never saw it, nor did I ever WANT to see it, nor will I ever see it, out of respect for my Godfather!

BUT, I can tell you this:

“THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER” (1981)

This movie was made in 1981 and directed by William Fraker and starred an unknown actor named Klinton Splisbury as the Lone Ranger. Michael Horse played Tonto, and Christopher Lloyd played the outlaw Butch Cavendish.

With FIVE screenwriters at the helm, this was a re-telling of the Ranger story, but it tried to skew it to a modern audience, including making Tonto an equal partner and mentor to the Lone Ranger, not unlike the 2013 film. In this version, Tonto teaches the hero how to shoot and is mainly responsible for training Silver, the hero’s horse. Oh, and Tonto speaks in whole sentences here, not in the clipped “Indian-speak”. And just like in the 2013 story arc, John Reid is (at first) not an actual Ranger, but a civilian observer who survives Cavendish’s massacre.

Because of the public outrage over “what THEY did to the real Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore)”, the movie bombed at the box-office big time. It’s rumored that at many screenings audiences actually “boo-ed” Spilsbury’s terrible acting.

Cosmic retribution, I say. But even without the intense bad karma, the movie itself was a real stinkeroo (from what I’ve read & heard). Spilsbury (his one and only acting credit, mind you) was considered “nuts” on set and routinely drank, got into fights with the crew, and had all his dialogue re-dubbed by actor James Keach!

At the Golden Raspberry Awards it won the coveted Worst New Actor, Worst Actor, Worst Musical Score Awards and was nominated for Worst Movie & Worst Original Song Awards.

So there!

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