The Film: The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)
The Principals: Klinton Spilsbury, Michael Horse, Christopher Lloyd, Juanin Clay, Jason Robards.
Premise: Lawyer John Reid (Spilsbury), returns to Texas after growing up and being educated back East. He accompanies his brother, a member of the famed Texas Rangers in the Old West, on a posse to bring murderers to justice. The Rangers are ambushed and slaughtered by outlaw Butch Cavendish (Lloyd). The only survivor, Reid is found and nursed back to health by his old Comanche friend, Tonto (Horse). Vowing to avenge the Rangers and seek justice, Reid trains to become the Lone Ranger, a masked hero, and, together with Tonto, goes forth to defeat the plans of Cavendish, who is readying an assault on President Ulysses S. Grant’s train.
Good: On paper, this probably had all the makings of a hit: An update on a classic Western hero, a fresh-faced, square-jawed unknown in the lead and supporting work by Lloyd and Robards. Turns out paper and film are very different mediums indeed. If the Lone Ranger is anything, it’s lackluster. Nothing in it, not the one-hit wonder Spilsbury, not the direction, not the script, and not even Lloyd as the villain hold your attention. There is virtually no urgency to the film, no sense of place, no reason for what should be key elements, a key lack of conflict, and very little sense of closure in the climax.
“Ride like the wind, Tonto! We’ve got to get there before it’s too late!”
“The ambush on President Grant?”
“The Unemployment Office…”
Starting with Spilsbury: he was a nice looking guy, but I’m wondering what it was about him that he decided never to work in another film again. Not even minor roles in TV. He’s a Hollywood conundrum and more a subject of a “where are they now” piece than anything else. And how was it that the producers cast the guy and completely redub his voice? Then there’s Christopher Lloyd as the villain, Butch Cavendish. Cavendish is the most dour and humorless villain ever to ride in the Old West. As written, there’s no flavor to him whatsoever, and that’s exactly how Lloyd plays him: white bread. Cavendish isn’t a bloodthirsty savage (even though he exterminates the Rangers), and he’s not a scene chewer either. He’s easily Lloyd’s most boring villain, and anyone who Saw Star Trek III or Who Framed Roger Rabbit? knows that Lloyd can pull off a very effective antagonist.
Also, love interest Amy Striker (Juanin Clay), is only in the film only to fulfill expectations. She does absolutely nothing in this film and has zero purpose. Finally, the script is just a disappointment. There’s no presence to it, nor to The Lone Ranger, and it crawls in places. Furthermore, the loss of Tonto’s family, which seem to be a somewhat crucial little element, is given with a bit of throwaway dialogue only. The Legend of The Lone Ranger is also the softest Western I’ve ever seen. Cinematographer Laslo Kovacs seems to have shot a good deal of the film through silk. He does capture some impressive vistas of the Old West, however.
A Look: Maybe for curiosity’s sake, but not really. Although, the plot is notable for probably being co-opted by Wild Wild West and The Mask of Zorro in terms of the antagonist’s master plan.
This film will forever be linked with an ill-advised lawsuit by producers Jack Wrather and Bonita Granville to try to get the original Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, to stop his public appearances at country affairs as the masked hero. The lawsuit was a public relations disaster and Moore countersued; he sidestepped the issue during the proceedings by altering his costume slightly and continuing his appearances. Moore eventually won the suit and the film tanked at the box office. This is also the one and only appearances of star Klinton Spilsbury, who even had his voice dubbed over for the entire production by Stacey Keach.
“This model isn’t built to scale nor painted. Anybody got an f-ing problem with that?”
Soulmates: The Mask Of Zorro, The Legend of Zorro, Wild Wild West, any footage of Clayton Moore later in life.