In 1981 a billionaire brought the Lone Ranger to the big screen as we look back at the “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” to determine if the criticism of the movie was justified or is there some redeeming qualities nearly forty years later.
Jack Wrather, an oil billionaire bought the rights to the character in 1954 and over the years Wrather made several attempts to have a Lone Ranger movie made that would appeal to a modern audience. One of the goals of Wrather was to see Tonto be an equal partner and mentor to the Lone Ranger. In the late 1970’s Wrather felt the time had finally come to have the story of Lone Ranger be retold with hopes for potential for sequels.
Several actors were considered for the role of the Lone Ranger including Stephen Collins, Nicholas Guest, and Bruce Boxleitner, but it was an unknown by the name of Klinton Spilsbury, a photographer in New York who was cast in the role. Michael Horse, a silversmith by trade, would be cast as Tonto. Horse’s only experience acting prior to being cast as Tonto was a bit part in a television movie.
“The Legend of the Lone Ranger” would be released to theaters on May 22, 1981 to overwhelming negative reviews, earning just $4 million its opening weekend. The movie would go on to earn just $12 million during its theatrical run on a reported budget of $18 million.
I have now seen this movie twice in my lifetime. The first time as a kid in the early 1980’s when it was on HBO. The second time was just recently on Pluto TV.
In the 1980’s as a kid I enjoyed watching this movie for the simple reason it was a Lone Ranger movie. I always loved watching the reruns of the old television show The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. As a kid I was not looking for potential flaws, bad acting or those little things as an adult you might take notice of that may or may not influence how you view and see the movie. Face it as a kid you either like a movie or you do not and that is about as far as it goes.
As I began to watch “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” for the first time in about thirty-eight years I was not sure what to expect. In my head I remember enjoying the movie and watching it several times on HBO, but would reality of watching it as adult hold up to what I remember as a kid in the 1980’s? I was about to find out.
Being an origin story, we meet a young John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger) who helps protect a young Indian kid (Tonto) from being killed from a couple of white men. These same men when they loose sight of the young Tonto ride off to the home where Reid lives. Reid runs back home trying to warn his parents only to watch them both be shot and killed.
The movie eventually jumps a head to find an adult John Reid now a lawyer, returning to Texas to see his older brother who is a Texas Ranger. While visiting his brother several men loyal to Butch Cavendish, hang the man who runs the local newspaper in the small Texas town. Butch Cavendish played by Christopher Lloyd, whom I did not realize was the villain, or even in this movie is a former soldier who is disgruntled with the federal Government who sets out to kidnap President Ulysses S. Grant from the train he is traveling on across the state of Texas. Cavendish, commands a small army of men who are loyal to him and his cause.
John Reid joins his brother and the Texas Rangers who set out after the Cavendish men who hung the newspaper gentlemen. What Reid and his brother are unaware of his that one their own is working with Cavendish who has set a trap and in a rocky-cliff area with only two ways in or out. Cavendish and his men gun down the Rangers using a gatling gun, killing everyone.
A now grown-up Tonto comes across the dead Texas Rangers only to discover that John Reid is still barely alive. Tonto takes Reid and nurses him back to health. While Reid is recovering from his wounds and slowly becoming the Lone Ranger, Cavendish puts his plan into motion and successfully kidnaps President Grant, taking him back to Cavendish well-fortified camp.
Reid makes the decision that John Reid must remain dead and must assume a new identity. Eventually The Lone Ranger is born. Reid, now the Lone Ranger along with Tonto set out after Cavendish. The Lone Ranger and Tonto discover the empty train car that carried President Grant and head to Cavendish headquarters and successfully rescues Grant and turn Cavendish over to the Cavalry to answer for his crimes.
The plot or storyline they were trying to go for in this movie was not terrible. I liked the idea of kidnapping the President, I mean if you are going to have the Lone Ranger save day, why not go big, after all it is a movie.
To me the character that stood out in this movie was not our hero, but the villain. Christopher Lloyd as Butch Cavendish was without a doubt the best character, the most well rounded and the best acted. I have only seen one other movie where Christopher Lloyd played the bad guy and that was in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There is nothing wrong in having the villain of a movie be the more interesting character, we have seen it before in The Dark Knight, but if you are going to do that, then in my opinion your hero must have some redeeming qualities and unfortunately that is not the case here.
I did have some issues with the character of John Reid / Lone Ranger in the movie. The big one for me was when he was recovering from being shot and Tonto was helping him become a better marksman. Reid was target shooting and could not hit the side of the barn if he tried until Tonto showed and gave him a silver bullet and all the sudden Reid could not miss. While in one sense this may seem like a cool idea, it does not work especially if you are familiar with the television series from the 1950’s where the silver bullets were nothing more than mere symbolism, not magical bullets.
It was only after watching “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” that I read about all the issues with the movie and the fact they had another actor voice over the lines of Klinton Spilsbury in post-production. While watching the movie nothing caught my attention to that affect, but I would be interested in seeing the movie and hearing Klinton Spilsbury actual voice, maybe some of my opinions of Spilsbury character of John Reid / Lone Ranger would change.
If there was one thing that really took me out of the movie it was the music used during the movie, specifically the theme of the Lone Ranger. Do not get me wrong the theme is fine when used properly, but in my opinion, it was not used well at all. The theme was played a couple of times during different action scenes when the Lone Ranger was on screen and compared to the rest of the musical score used it seemed out place. If they had saved the Lone Ranger’s theme for the end of the movie as the credits began to play it would have been fine, it is where I would have expected them to play it, but for me when they used it and how they used just did not work for me. I was not sure if I was watching a movie or a television show because of it.
In the end “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” has its issues in many areas. However, I do believe when you strip away the glaring problems the movie at its core had something there, specifically the overall plot and Christopher Lloyd’s character of Butch Cavendish, unfortunately the few good things cannot overcome the bigger issues.
If you have never watched “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” I would encourage you to give it a shot and see what you think. After viewing the movie as an adult, I would have to give this movie a D+ maybe a C-, but that might be pushing it.
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! … With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”