Legend of the Lone Ranger, The
Reviewed by Mike Brannon
Rating: 3 Beans
hristopher Lloyd’s character resume is long and colorful indeed. Butch Cavendish, Taber, Reverend Jim, Uncle Fester, Doctor Brown, Klingon Commander Krudge, Nazi Captain Schultz, Doctor Emmett Brown, Judge Doom, Professor Plum, John Bigbootie, Al the Angel and Uncle Martin, among many others.
Klayton Spilsbury’s resume is less impressive: The Lone Ranger. End of list. I’m sure Klay’s phone wasn’t ringing much after this ghost town of a Western Epic. Moore and Silverheels did it better.
I must admit, one of my earliest heroes has been the Lone Ranger. This enigmatic masked lawman has thrilled generations with his daring exploits. When I was growing up in Texas, during Rodeo days, the local radio stations would play the old Clayton Moore serials… and I would be glued in front of our family’s stereo, much like my father must have back in the 50s.
I remember going to see the movie when I was eight, and loving it. However, children are not hard to please when it comes to movies, especially when the movie features a cherished hero. Recently, I saw it again, twenty-one years later. Naturally, I wanted to like the movie. I couldn’t. It is obvious why it did so poorly at the box office.
Who was that masked man? Klayton Spillsbury. As stated, he never went on to do anything else, and it is obvious why. Klayton is obviously a graduate of the Mark Hamill university of wooden acting. This is fine when he is playing the callow and naïve John Reid, but when playing the Lone Ranger, I wanted to give him some Vivarin. The obligatory scene of The Lone Ranger crying “Heigh-O Siiilver!! Away!” almost had me cracking up. The Lone Ranger’s rallying cry is supposed to be a thunderous, bold shout. Spillsbury sounds like he is reading it out of a children’s book and hasn’t slept in days. Also, what’s with the Beatles haircut?? He looked like a member of Styx dressed up as the Lone Ranger: they went through such pains to get his costume correct, why did they give him the hippie haircut? Also, the mask was actually cut from the vest of John’s dead brother… but that is never shown. I guess in the movie, John just had one handy… every old west lawyer carries black domino masks in his pocket, dontcha know.
Like in the legend, a frontier boy named John Reid saves an Indian boy named Tonto, who gives him an amulet and declares him a blood brother. Fast-forward about fifteen years, and John comes to Yucca City to visit his brother Dan. While on the way, John foils a stagecoach robbery, running him afoul of the Cavendish gang. He also meets the token love interest, Amy Striker, whom he kisses one time and then she kind of falls off into plot oblivion. Joining his brother on a posse to bring Cavendish to justice, they approach a foreboding looking canyon. Perhaps sensing that characters of his nature don’t last past the second act, Dan asks John to watch after his boy, should something happen to him. John graciously agrees… but he never does it! That’s the last time we see or even hear of the soon-to-be-orphaned Dan junior… he trots over to the storyboard sideline with Amy.
Sure enough, Cavendish’s gang is waiting for the rangers and bullets fly and the blood packs burst. After the outlaws leave them all for dead, Tonto appears searches the carnage. He finds John, and recognizes his amulet, so he nurses him back to health. (And his Indian medicine obviously cures a Winchester shot to the chest. Now that’s some good mojo!)
Tonto is played by Michael Horse, who is just an encyclopedia of Indian clichés. But since Tonto was the same way, I suppose we can let him slide. Tonto is curiously inactive; he’s not even a sidekick, just like an occasional helper. He has a chip on his shoulder about the poor treatment his tribe has received from the white man. But he seems very ready to trust any white man he meets. In fact, at the end of the movie, Tonto tells Grant “You can thank me by keeping your treaties.” Grant replies, “I will try.” Tonto nods… obviously, that’s good enough for him! Puh-leeze.
Major Bartholomew “Butch(er)” Cavendish, as any Lone Ranger fan will tell you, is Reid’s nemesis, for obvious reasons. This outlaw is a megalomaniac ex-Cavalryman who dreams of carving out an imperialist nation of his own from Texas. Articulate, but extremely vicious and deadly, few actors could give the role the subdued, cultured menace it calls for. Billy Zane would have made a good Cavendish, had he been available at the time. Therefore, I think it is an extremely odd choice to cast Christopher Lloyd in this role. Lloyd is a very gifted actor, in fact one of my favorite actors. But he is not right for this role. Cavendish should be physically imposing and threatening. Lloyd is slight and has a funny-looking face, so it just doesn’t work, despite his icy, deadpan delivery.
The story, while scrupulously following the legend up to the ambush at the canyon, suddenly takes a turn towards nonsense when Butch Cavendish hatches a plot to kidnap President Grant. The President is traveling in a strangely unprotected train, accompanied by Old West dignitaries such as Will Bill Hickock, General George Armstrong Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody. I find it hard to believe these guys would have ever been near each other in real life… they were scattered far over the country. Grant also talks about how the red man is not getting any justice in the American West. Again, I really doubt this ever happened. Grant was behind a lot of the treaty reneges himself.
The climax of the movie is, naturally, The Lethargic Ranger and Tonto rescuing Grant from Cavendish’s stockade in a nighttime raid. They sneak around, sneak around and finally find Grant. Then they sneak around some more and set some dynamite charges. As the charges go off, the Calvary inexplicably arrives! With Custer, Cody and Hickock… who begin cleaning house. At this point I wondered if the screenwriters forgot just who was the hero here. The Ranger’s involvement in this entire battle seems to minor indeed.
Cavendish, seeing things going badly, hops on Smoke and gallops away. Then of course “Heigh-hooo –*yawn*-- Silver…” Prozac boy charges after him. Then, very typical for the ending of all the serials, the hero and villain end up in a melee, where the villain’s underhanded attempts at using weapons fail, and it comes down to dukes on dukes. With the William Tell Overture blaring (natch), our hero smacks the bad boy silly, right on down to punctuating the final notes with grabbing a dazed Cavendish by the lapels and landing that big right hook that floors him.
But of course, our upright lawman doesn’t gun down the helpless bad guy. After all, he’s got to get that chivalry merit badge, right? So he brings him back to the now army-controlled stockade and turns Cavendish over to the government. Looks like Butch is going to spend the rest of his days in a dusty New Mexico prison… at least until Michael J. Fox shows up in his Delorean and takes him back to 1985, right?
Heigh ho Silver. Away…. from this crap. Three beans.
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