Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Overlooked Films: THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER (1981)

It's a bad sign when the lunch box looks better than the movie poster.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger left a bad taste in America’ collective memory, mine included. But hey, it’s been 33 years, so I figured it was time to give it another chance. My main question was - did it really deserve the bad rap? Or were our collective minds poisoned by the two pre-release disasters: 1) The studio’s decision to ban Clayton Moore from wearing the mask, and 2) Klinton Spilsbury’s unRanger-like behavior, getting into fights on set, showing up drunk for work and slapping a cocktail waitress.

Neither of our local library systems (which have dang near everything) had a copy of the film, and I sure has heck wasn’t going to buy it, so I watched it on YouTube. And for the first 56 minutes, I was mildly surprised. This doesn’t stink, I told myself. It’s not great, but it’s not as bad as I remembered. The worst things about it were the truly insipid theme song “The Man in the Mask” sung by Merle Haggard, and the amazing lack of acting ability displayed by Michael (Tonto) Horse.

Those first 56 minutes were the set-up. Like many first-in-a-projected-series masked hero movies, this one diddled around for over half the film with the origin story. It was all unnecessary, and it moved too slow (particularly when tries to break Silver in slow motion), but it didn’t really suck. Little did I know that would be the best part of the film.

At minute 57 Spilsbury finally put on the mask, the William Tell Overture fired up, and the movie began to suck. And it kept on sucking, harder and harder, until the thing was finally over. But though history has dumped most of the blame on poor Klint, it wasn’t his fault. It’s hard to complain about his acting, because - with his dialogue dubbed by actor James Keach - he did so little of it. What made the movie suck were the many bad decisions made by the producers.

So why was the last half of the film so bad? The reasons could probably fill a book, but here are a few of my main complaints.
    1) The William Tell Overture was used so clumsily as to defy belief. It was simply dropped in every time we were supposed to think the Ranger was doing something exciting. The sound quality was lousy - as if someone had recorded it from their TV - and sloppily edited to fit the brief action sequences. As a result, it just distracted from the action and made it look silly.
    2) The Ranger and Tonto have almost nothing to do. They ride around, walk around and slink around, saying little and accomplishing less while Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd) and his gang menaces and finally kidnaps President Grant (Jason Robards).
    3) For reasons unknown except to the toy franchisee, George Custer and Buffalo Bill are riding Grant’s train, and they have even less to do than LR and T. They’re unused until the very end, when they come riding in with the cavalry. This gives them a chance to wave.
    4) The climax is ridiculously overblown, probably hoping to compensate for the lack of action in the rest of the film. A single box of dynamite produces an unending string of explosions, sending villain after villain flying through the air. And even amid all the carnage, LR and T just scurry about trying to look busy until the cavalry arrives.

Klint, Mike, Butch & Geo. looking no less wooden than they do in the film. 

A note about YouTube: Don't go looking, because the movie is no longer there. Thanks no doubt to the studio that once lived up to the name Disney, YouTube removed it the afternoon of July 2, the day before the premier of the Depp debacle.

John Reid arrives from the East, intent on lawyering.

Tonto teaches him to survive in the West.

He finally dons the mask. The producers thought he looked good in it. Hm. 

The guys ride aimlessly about, listening to Wm. Tell. 

They stop to pose for a lobby card.

Jason Robards and Christopher Lloyd exchange unpleasantries.

Klint poses while everyone else fights.

Klint and Silver wonder how their movie went south.

More, and no doubt better (they couldn’t be much worse) Overlooked Films at Sweet Freedom

Next week: Jeez, not another Lone Ranger movie!! Yep, it's that thing from 2003. 


Todd Mason said...

As long as you're suffering them so we don't have to, we salute you. ("Who was that brave blogger?")

Brian Busby said...

Not having seen it, I had no idea that Jason Robards played the President of the United States (again). With Grant, Lincoln, Roosevelt and the fictional Richard Monckton of Washington: Behind Closed Doors, he's probably not the record-holder but he is up there. Seems appropriate and somewhat ironic that he won his Oscar for All the President's Men (in which he does not play the President).

Randy Johnson said...

I remember watching this one, but, like you, the years have pretty much wiped it from my memory. Appreciate your taking the hit for all us fans.

One of the 'bsby' networks did a version ten years or so ago that was a pilot for a series. After watching it, boy was I glad that never happened. The Ranger and Tonto were these teenage looking geeks.

Evan Lewis said...

Stay tuned, Randy. That one rears its ugly head here next week.

Dan_Luft said...

This movie is even dumber for the time it was made. Westerns by Sergio Leone and Mel Brooks were still fresh in a lot of moviegoers minds. To make an old-fashioned, god guy/bad guy western was a bit short-sighted. To make it so badly didnt help.

Chris said...

I saw this one as a teenager and remember liking it at the time. I even recently thought about tracking it down; don't think I'll do so.

Evan Lewis said...

I expect it will sneak back onto YouTube after Disney loses interest.

Anonymous said...

Some people don't fit their names. Unfortunately, Klinton Spilsbury did.

capewood said...

For reasons I never really understood, my wife really wanted to see this movie when it came out. I thought it looked awful from the trailers. But we saw it an I hated it. She loved it. Now she wants to see the new Brad Pitt version which looks pretty awful to me. I don't know what is is about my wife and the Lone Ranger.

Evan Lewis said...

If my wife acted like that, I'd probably start wearing a white hat and a mask.