We only have so much time in the day, and to devote it to something you already know you’re not going to enjoy when it is not necessary to do so is rather silly. That’s why this is a rather different installment of Finally Watched because I actually didn’t…because a half hour in (with ad breaks) I just couldn’t get into it enough to even do a proper review. That’s how boring The Legend Of The Lone Ranger was, and that makes me sad.
When I was a kid the movie did a tie-in with General Mills cereals, including one of my top 3 cereals, Cheerios. I don’t remember if it was a pack-in or a mail-away promo but you got a poster, a cheap mask, a cheap badge with a rather neat way of staying on without a pin, and a certificate of being one of the Ranger’s buds. I didn’t get the chance to see the movie but always wanted to. A couple of weeks ago it aired on TV, I think on INSP, and my dad and I sat down to watch it…and gave up 30 minutes in. I wanted to finish watching anyway for the sake of the review. I’ve reviewed movies I don’t like but sat through to the end. With my media backlogs and trying to keep my posting schedule on course (when I remember to program the time correctly in the auto-scheduler) I just couldn’t bring myself to do this one, and I hear I’m not missing out.
So no, this isn’t a review of the full movie. Maybe it gets better but when you lose me this early I have to doubt it. Instead, here’s why I couldn’t finally watch The Legend Of The Lone Ranger.
With a PG rating, a run time of 1hr, 38 minutes in theaters, and a budget of $18,000,000, the movie only made $12,617,845 according to IMDB. Critics were not kind to the movie and when you hear the stories of the behind the scenes you really aren’t surprised. The problem starts right at the top with Jack Wrather, who had purchased the TV show rights back in the 1950s, restoring Clayton Moore to the role and putting the show in color after Moore had been replaced by John Hart, to the negative response of fans. Hart is okay in the role but he’s so different from Moore in voice and personality (Hart’s voice is deeper and Moore had more time to find his character after four seasons) that it’s really jarring. To TV fans Moore was the Lone Ranger, a character originally created for radio dramas. In fact, John Reid, the man behind the mask, used to be an ancestor of Britt Reid, the Green Hornet, until the rights for both characters went in different directions.
The “man behind the mask” seemed to be Wrather’s intention with this reboot. He had moved the show to movies after not liking dealing with networks. (I read an article about the movie on Texas Monthly but be warned it’s one of those sites they give you a couple of free reads and then you have to give them money to keep using. This was my one of two.) However, this is the part where the movie kind of earns some infamy as it’s been referenced as recent as Scooby-Doo: Mask Of The Blue Falcon. Clayton Moore had been going around wearing the mask to build on his fame and, so he claims, remind people of classic heroes in the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate world. Wrather, who is kind of a flake really, wanted a clean start, and basically forced Moore in court to stop wearing the mask, singing autographs as “The Masked Man” (one of the Lone Ranger’s nicknames) and wearing sunglasses reminiscent of the Ranger’s iconic mask. Then he made the movie…and I like to think karma came to shove a silver bullet someplace dark.
The treatment of Moore was already bad press and I guess Hollywood learned something and just let Adam West talk when they made Tim Burton’s Batman despite a tone closer to the Bronze Age (though ending up a template for the 90s “Dark Age” along with The Dark Knight Returns). They also hired an actual Native American actor, Michael Horse, who had misgivings despite treatment of “Injuns” in westerns (though Jay Silverheels, also Native American, faired well in the role–they even had a Native American in the Lone Ranger cartoon from Filmation…was Johnny Depp the first non-Native Tonto?) but the money was good and he ended up having fun. Apparently Tonto was also well-handled but I didn’t get past kid Tonto so I can’t confirm that.
One of the big problems was Klinton Spilsbury, the actor hired to play John Reid. He looked good in the mask but apparently he sounded terrible, and given the body language when I did see him I’m inclined to believe it. Apparently James Keach redubbed all his lines. What’s worse he was a premadonna on set. One story given in the Texas Monthly article was demanding the film be shot in sequence so he could stay in emotional consistency. You can bet director William Fraker was not happy, as this would be more expensive and rather than shooting all the scenes for one location he’d have to keep coming back. I’m kind of surprised he wasn’t replaced. The article also mentions an interview with Andy Warhol where a drunken Spilsbury claimed to have an affair with the fashion designer and having crushes on a couple of male co-stars…which whatever you may think in 2022 didn’t have the desired image in 1981.
So already my dad and I are looking at the beginnings of a train wreck. The part we sat through wasn’t all that spectacular either. It starts with John’s parents being killed when he was a boy. Granted I don’t know if this was ever part of his story but this is how he meets Tonto, whom he rescues from the same gang, the two becoming blood brothers. John’s big brother, Dan, soon comes to the reserve to pick him up, and then sends him to Detroit, where John becomes a lawyer. I know that’s not part of the origin. John returns as an adult and decides his heart is out here and will become a Texas Ranger whether Dan like it or not. This is after helping to stop a runaway stagecoach and stopping two members of the Cavendish gang from robbing it. A woman on the stagecoach will become John’s love interest, which I know isn’t part of the Lone Ranger mythos, and that’s where a lot of the trouble starts.
John Reid becomes the Lone Ranger because he is the last surviving member of the Rangers who were attacked by Cavendish and his gang, and though it looks like that part will happen, having Reid as a city slicker (I’m guessing this is supposed to explain his more traditional values and love of country or…something) who has to learn to become good enough to become the Lone Ranger is highly unnecessary. Apparently this is what the movie is going for, an extended origin story that wasn’t really needed. Where we stopped John has not reconnected with Tonto, not become the Lone Ranger, and suddenly has a love interest he doesn’t need since Britt Reid is no longer his descendant like he was in the radio days.
Where the movie lost me was also the only decent scene in the half-hour. Butch Cavendish wants to kidnap President Ulysses S. Grant to force Texas to succeed the Union and become a sovereign nation under his control. That was never Cavendish’s mission in any version of the Lone Ranger I’ve ever heard of. He just runs a gang. At best he might take over a town to use as a base for his crimes. That said, Christopher Lloyd’s one scene I caught was clearly him enjoying playing this slimy, crazed, almost cultish villain. It was a far cry from his big role at the time, the scatterbrained cab driver on ABC’s Taxi, or his more famous later role as Doc Brown in the Back To The Future franchise. Lloyd is a versatile actor, but if you want to see him having fun playing a villain I recommend looking up the TV show Deadly Games instead. The show’s logic is questionable but a lot more fun than this slog.
I really wanted to enjoy this movie on some level. The Cheerios promo made the concept look cool to me as a kid, a cowboy superhero and his “Indian” friend cleaning up the Old West on amazing steeds. I think that’s why I stopped. Just these 20+ minutes were so disappointing I didn’t want to make my inner child any more sad that he already was. This was such a huge disappointment and I can find better praise for Disney’s disaster than I can for this film, even if I find someone mentioning it. Maybe someday when the Finally Watched backlog is trimmed down a lot I may risk going to one of the various free streaming sites hosting it (YouTube even has an ad-sponsored posting officially as of this writing) and do a proper review, but I don’t think it will be much of a loss if I don’t. If you lost me in the first half hour of a two hour plus TV run time I have better things to review. Just watch the TV show instead, or catch the old radio show on the Internet Archive.