Disney, the studio that gave us a hydrocephalic mouse and rips off everything, including itself (don’t get me started on ‘Kimba, the White Lion’) has produced a new Lone Ranger film, which stars everyone’s favorite, um, well, Armie Hammer as the titular hero and Jonny Depp as Tonto. Because Depp is clearly a Native American.
Now, I have no idea if this movie will be any good or not, but I DO know that the Lone Ranger is overdue for a big-budget movie by a major studio.
This character hails from those thrilling days of yesteryear, the Golden Age of Radio.
I talk about movies and TV a lot, often waxing nostalgic about serials and such, but I’ve rarely discussed radio, despite the fact that radio is what TV used to be. In fact, a large number of classic television shows – like ‘Dragnet’ – started out as radio shows.
And radio was a great place for superheroes and action! Yes, I know you couldn’t actually SEE the action, but see, the thing about radio was that budgets weren’t a problem. Special effects? Just noises. Sets? Just describe the place. Actors? You didn’t even have to look good or be in shape. Quasimodo could have been a radio star, if he had the voice (sadly, he didn’t, as he was deaf and only spoke medieval French).
So having larger than life superheroes or outer space warriors or, well, Westerns was just as cheap as doing soap operas – which ALSO come from radio.
Now, it’s arguable that the Lone Ranger IS a superhero. He has a mask, a sidekick, gimmicks, trademark catch-phrases, et cetera. But since he doesn’t have actual powers, let’s just go with the whole ‘it’s a Western’ idea.
The budget for this little idea was kept remarkably low, even for radio, by not spending money on theme music! For ‘The Lone Ranger’, they just slapped the William Tell Overture on it and called it a day. And that BECAME the Ranger’s theme for all time. There’s an old joke that says an intellectual is a person who hears the William Tell Overture and doesn’t think about the Lone Ranger.
I didn’t say it was a good joke.
The story is simple: Dan Reid and his team of Texas Rangers, hot on the trail of the evil Butch Cavendish gang, are led into a box canyon ambush at Bryant’s Gap. They are massacred. One Ranger, Dan’s brother, survives and is nursed to health by Tonto, who knew him when they were boys.
This unnamed survivor takes his dead brother’s vest and makes a mask, becoming the Lone Ranger, then takes down Cavendish and goes on to bring justice to the West. And, you know, silver bullets, Kemo Sabe, “Hi-Yo, Silver!” and so forth.
It was incredibly popular! So much so that when the actor who portrayed the Lone Ranger died in a car crash, the producers had to work very hard to deal with it on the radio show, because children everywhere could have been traumatized.
Now, George W. Trendle, who owned the franchise, knew that children needed a role model, so the Ranger was quickly developed into an EXTREMELY positive hero for boys and girls. Here was a cowboy who didn’t kill, who believed in tolerance and fairness, and who would punch a bad guy so hard the dirty son of a gun’s soul would bleed – but only because he had to. Trendle even had the scripts corrected by an English teacher, to ensure the Lone Ranger used good grammar!
Of course, radio was superseded by other media. There was a Lone Ranger movie serial, which was okay, but TV changed everything.
In came Clayton Moore as the Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, and it was magic time. The Lone Ranger was insanely popular on radio; on TV it was a MONSTER. This show was a juggernaut. And Clayton Moore was so identified with the character that when he quit, the show almost ended. Bear in mind, the Ranger’s face was never shown without a mask on, and they couldn’t recast him! They tried, but it was just like when Coy and Vance came in on ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ (if you’re too young to understand that reference, feel free to Google it).
The show was such a hit, Moore and Silverheels made not one, but two feature films.
Now, all things come to an end, and one day, the Ranger and Tonto rode off into the sunset. There were cartoons, comics and reruns, but it wasn’t the same….
It wasn’t until the 1980′s that anyone brought the character back in live action. Hey, Star Trek was back, Superman was back; why not the Masked Man?
‘The Legend of the Lone Ranger’ is not a BAD film – I love it – but it was missing something: Clayton Moore.
Actually, that was not the worst of it. When Klinton Spilsbury (no, you havent heard of him) was cast as the new Ranger, the producers took Moore to court to stop him from making public appearances as the character. This was a public relations nightmare, because to most people (including himself) Clayton Moore WAS the Lone Ranger! But the studio won: Moore was prohibited from wearing the mask. He just swapped it out for oversized dark glasses and kept on truckin’, and the movie tanked. Eventually, Clayton Moore got his mask back. Score one for the good guys.
The film was pretty faithful, except that the Ranger finally got a first name (John) and was shown without the mask. But once he put on the outfit, it was pure Lone Ranger. Wasn’t enough to save it from bad publicity, though.
Now, in the interests of fairness, I’m going to mention that the former WB network made a pilot for a new Lone Ranger series in the early 2000′s. And I’m done mentioning it, because it was that bad.
So now, we have a Lone Ranger in an Armani-esque suit and a Tonto with warpaint and a bird on his head. BUT, from what I can see, the origin story is intact. And so I have my fingers crossed, hoping against all hope that the Lone Ranger rides again.