“Hi-Yo Silver — 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 West… Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear… The Lone Ranger rides again!” (introduction for The Lone Ranger radio broadcast – listen here)
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the legend of The Lone Ranger, which first aired on WXYZ radio Detroit in February 1933. The hallmarks of the classic show have long since been enveloped into our cultural memory: the exciting strains of the William Tell Overture, the silver bullet, the white stallion, the monosyllabic Native American side-kick, and the word “kemosabe.” 6’3″ sportsman Brace Beemer became the voice and face of the Lone Ranger from 1941 until the show’s final episode in 1954.
Republic Pictures released a couple of Lone Ranger serials in the late 30s. The Lone Ranger television series (1949-57) was the ABC network’s highest-rating show throughout the 50s, making the “masked rider of the plains” an American institution. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels played the Lone Ranger and Tonto in all eight seasons of the television show and in both the 1956 and 1958 feature-length movies.
Although the Lone Ranger was hot stuff back in the 50s, it’s been pretty much lame game ever since. How does the Johnny Depp/Armie Hammer version measure up?
Things THE LONE RANGER (2013) does right
Johnny Depp. The man is hilarious. He turns the Tonto character completely around, from a stereotypical dumb Indian to a capable, though quirky, Native American man. Tonto is more central to the action of this movie than John Reid (Hammer), and you could almost say he deserves the title Lone Ranger more than the dumb white lawyer.
The horse Silver. In the original radio show, Silver became loyal to the Lone Ranger after the ranger saved Silver being killed by a buffalo. That’s not exactly how it happens in the movie, but Silver is still a pretty beautiful animal. He can jump really high (I mean really high) and can run really fast (really). And he can talk to Tonto. Or Tonto can talk to him. I’m not quite sure which.
The William Tell Overture. It’s pretty epic. I cannot think of a better piece of music for charging across the western frontier on a snow-white horse blowing things up with nitro glycerine. It sure does get the blood pumping, and no movie about the Lone Ranger could be complete without it.
The story about why the Lone Ranger wears his mask is actually fairly accurate to the original radio show. He was with a bunch of other rangers who were ambushed by Butch Cavendish. Tonto discovers the bodies, and when he notices that John Reid isn’t dead, he makes a fake grave to fool the outlaws. He then nurses the Lone Ranger back to health and becomes his trusty companion in tracking down his attackers. The film was even true to the part about the Lone Ranger’s mask being made from his brother’s bullet-torn vest.
Another thing I really love is how the movie stayed true to the story-telling tradition of the original radio show. The movie opens with a little boy dressed up as the Lone Ranger at a 1933 fair. He wanders into the Wild West tent and meets an ageing Tonto who proceeds to tell the story of why the Lone Ranger never takes off his mask. We then have a three point historical connection – 2013 as the 80th anniversary, 1933 as the year of the original broadcast, and the wild west days of the story itself. This is a beautiful orchestration of nostalgia that serves as one of the movie’s few redeeming features.
Things THE LONE RANGER (2013) Got Wrong
In a bid to make the story more politically correct or something, the movie takes away a lot of our heroes. The big business men of the railroad are villainized, so are the silver prospectors. Custer does not come out well at all, shooting at anything with a feather headband. I’m not saying that this is an inaccurate portrayal of events, but as a movie there were very few good guys. Even the Native Americans weren’t exactly very nice either.
The plot in general was a bit slap-dash, with little direction. It had more twists and turns to it than a rattle snake, even though the conclusion was predictable from the very first scenes. There seemed to be a large cast of characters, half of whom were not even loosely relevant to the story arc. This made the movie feel cluttered and unbalanced.
The name of the railroad company in the film was the “Transcontinental Railroad” and that’s just silly. That term was never used at the time. What we now call the First Transcontinental Railroad was then known as the Pacific Railroad or the Overland Route and it was controlled by three different companies: the Pacific, the Central Pacific, and the Union Pacific railroad companies. This is one of those historical goofs that Disney is famous for and for which we who know better will continue to mock them.
The popularity of the Lone Ranger of yesteryear was founded on racial stereotypes, melodramatic plot lines, and heroic action. I’d say the Disney movie lives up to that legend. This movie is more than a little phony, but sometimes we just really need to blow up a silver mine and derail a train and rob a bank or two. That’s fun. But what was lacking from the film was the deep patriotic ethic of your grandfather’s radio hero:
“To have a friend, a man must be one; all men are created equal; and everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world. God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself, a man should make the most of what equipment he has, that ‘this government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ shall live always, that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.” (The Lone Ranger creed)
I enjoyed THE LONE RANGER (2013). I laughed a lot and was totally swept up with the adrenaline of the action sequences. But on the whole this film is destined to slip into the great forgotten graveyard of Lone Ranger attempts since its last great hurrah in 1958. I wouldn’t invest in a movie ticket for this one, unless, like me, you need to see everything Johnny Depp is in. Remember, every ticket you buy is your vote for better entertainment.