I really wanted to start this piece off with “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!”. But every other critic in the world has already done that recently, mostly to set up their savaging of 2013’s The Lone Ranger reboot starring Johnny Depp as a “Sorta-Tonto”.
So I’m not gonna do that. Instead, I will present to you the Lone Ranger’s creed:
"I believe that to have a friend,
a man must be one.
That all men are created equal
and that everyone has within himself
the power to make this a better world.
That God put the firewood there
but that every man
must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared
physically, mentally, and morally
to fight when necessary
for that which is right.
That 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.
That sooner or later...
we must settle with the world
and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth,
and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man."
(NPR, “The Lone Ranger: Justice from Outside the Law” by Fran Striker. January 14, 2008)
Please, athiest friends, put your fists down, the Lone Ranger is making a point here. This is strictly a deist creed. I think it would be very difficult to argue against this creed, even in this cyni-hip day and age. This is the American Exceptionalism everyone likes to talk about but few aspire to, this is the antithesis of “Nothing personal, it’s just business” which lurks invisible on our money like a fnord. Like Doc Savage’s similar speech, it’s meant to be something aspiration. Something our young men and women were meant to grow up with—if you can’t do good, at least do no harm.
It’s very easy to look at these proto-pop culture ideals askance and find them dismissable because for the last two decades Americans have stopped believing in heroes. Perfectly understandable, of course. But we live in a culture of anti-heroism, people who do good because it’s in their best interest. A modern prototypical hero that comes to my mind is John McClain, played by Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies. He started as a regular guy who did the right thing because he was the only one who could. He was constantly frightened, stressed out, but brave five seconds longer than most other good people would be. (That’s the way it started, anyway, and the “real” John McClain is still in there despite the character assassination of A Good Day to Die Hard.) Certainly McClain is a distillation of our “classic” heroes, but passed through the emotionally-fried filter of the ‘70s and ‘80s. McClain aside, who do we aspire to be in our post-9/11 world when our most recent heroes can’t even bear to be seen in public with white hats?
The Lone Ranger first rode into culture in 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, where radio was really the only thing that was free. WXYZ (Detroit) radio station owner, George W. Trendle, and writer Fran Striker, conceived of the masked man and his “trusted Indian companion” as a window into an even simpler time. At a time when Wall Street had failed the entire country, once a week, The Lone Ranger looked out for the interests of the “little people”. He wore a mask for the same reason as Batman—to strike fear in the hearts of superstitious and usually uneducated criminals, generally men made mean by the world or, mostly, out of simple stupid greed. He wore a white hat, rode a “firey white horse”, shot silver bullets, looked out for the oppressed and his best friend, a member of the Potawatomi (which would make him, in Texas, very far south of his tribe’s normal territory, I believe, but what do I know?) who was constantly the target of simple-minded racism and prejudice. The Lone Ranger never killed. He shot guns out of villains’ hands and treated every arrest as a teachable moment. Throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s—and then again throughout the ‘50s once the characters transitioned to television—little boys (and tomboy girls) wore official and unofficial domino masks, the General Mills-sponsored premium rings and deputy badges, having devoured boxes of Cheerios to amount the boxtops needed. They named their bikes and broomstick horses and announced their comings and goings with “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” This is all a matter of cultural record.
On the radio, he is most associated with the throaty voice of Brace Beemer. On television, he and Tonto were brought to vivid life by Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, the best-remembered depictions of the characters. (There was an awkward season where the Ranger was played by John Hart and, for some reason, those were the episodes most often in syndication when I was growing up, mixed with the fifth season which was the only one in color.)
After a couple of full-length television movies starring Moore and Silverheels, the world was suddenly empty of the duo from 1956 until the early ‘80s. There was an animated show on CBS between ’66 and ’68 that thrust the Ranger and Tonto into a steampunk reality and suffered from a bizarre and arty stylistic design. When I was growing up, a few of these would sneak in with the Filmation The Lone Ranger and Tarzan Adventure Hour. But growing up with parents who’d grown up with The Lone Ranger, I was well-versed in the masked man by the time 1980 rolled around, bringing to audiences a new introduction to the stalwart heroes: William A. Fraker’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger.
With a screenplay credited to no less than five writers (Ivan Goff, Michael Kane, Ben Roberts, William Roberts, Gerald B. Derloshon (as Jerry Derloshon), and a rumored three or four more brought on during shooting, not even to mention bafflingly uncredited George MacDonald Frasier), this was meant to be the new Lone Ranger for a new generation, for the kids that knew only Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest and especially Star Wars, the post-moon-shot generation who seemed to be looking more to the heavens than to the west. It was meant to launch the career of a carefully-chosen “It Boy” wonderfully-named Klinton Spillsbury in the title role, white hat and mask. Tonto underwent the most radical transformation. Gone was the halting pidgen English he’d been known for (which drove genuine Native American actor Jay Silverheels crazy). As portrayed by the handsome Yaqui actor Michael Horse, Tonto had no trouble with the “white man’s tongue”—neither did any other Indian character for that matter—and far from the “stereotype servant” the hippies had dismissed him to be in the late ‘60s, Horse’s Tonto was fully The Lone Ranger’s partner (even though Moore and Silverheels made this pretty clear already, but political correctness has deep roots). It was to be the difinitive re-establishment of the characters’ origins. Toys, tie-ins and, especially, costume accessories had been prepared more than a year in anticipation of the premiere. Indeed, seven year-old me was not the only kid in the theater wearing that scratchy plastic domino mask put out by Gabriel Toys.
The Legend of the Lone Ranger faithfully recreated the “second” origin of the title character (he was much more vaguely drawn in the early episodes of the radio show) and goes even further, starting with a ten-year-old John Reid rescuing a same-aged Tonto from a group of masked vigilantes. Hiding the young brave in a culvert, John hears the men proclaim that the Reid family was probably harboring the filthy savage and arrives just in time to watch his father bloodily gunned down, his mother dragged around the ranch from behind a horse (and then shot) and see his entire home burned to the ground. Tonto takes the young John back to his tribe where he learns the ways of the (now) Comanche. (Let’s set the history of the Comanche aside for a minute and try to forget just what a bloodthirsty group they were—towards whites and anyone else that happened to be standing where they wanted to walk.) Before long, John’s older brother Dan finds him and sends him back East “to learn”. Before bidding his new family farewell, John and Tonto become blood brothers and Tonto gives him a silver amulet, declaring him to be forever “kemosabe” aka “Trusted Friend”.
A decade later, adult learned lawyer John Reid is on a stagecoach traveling to Texas. On the stage he meets the lovely Amy Stryker and behaves chivolrously. When the stage is suddenly attacked by men wearing burlap hoods who want the postal bag containing land deeds, John is one of the first to act. (This sequence contains a number of really great practical stunts, including stuntman Terry Leonard performing an undercrawl beneath the horses’ post and the coach itself—a tribute to Yakima Canutt’s stunt originated in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), and nearly identical to a stunt he would further recreate in a little movie later that year: Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Reining in the horses, John and the other passengers manage to subdue two of the bandits—John convinces the others not to simply kill them but to bring them back to Del Rio for lawful justice.
John to a Deputy as he delivers the bandits: “Will you require a deposition?”
Deputy: “I dunno. You got one you wanna get rid of?”
Now, as Merle Haggard tells us during his narration, “Del Rio was a town with a gun in its back”, under seige by the villainously mad former Union Captain Butch (for “Butcher”) Cavendish and his behooded gang. We are also told that the sheriff is crooked and on Butch’s take (since he’s played by Matt Clark, we already know something is up) and that the half-dozen Texas Rangers, led by John’s bro Dan, have their hands full. After the malicious murdering of Amy’s newspaperman uncle (over a disparaging editorial of Cavendish), John joins the posse to run the gang down, deputized along the way.
One of Dan’s friends and trusted men, guy by the name of Collins, leads the men into a box canyon, rides ahead and betrays them. Cavendish’s gang swarm over the hills above and blow the Rangers to pieces with Henry rifles, plummeting dynamite wagons and a friggin’ gatling gun! This sequence is also rife with terrific stunts including some blood-curdling high falls (during which one seasoned Ranger quips, “It ain’t the bullet that kills ya, it’s the fall!”). Butch, himself a sharpshooter, personally puts down Dan with four shots then shoots John in the head.
Miraculously, John is only grazed by the lead and is therefore still alive when Tonto happens by and finds him. After converting a cave into a sweatlodge to heal his friend, Tonto once again brings John Reid back to the Comanche, who are at this point pretty damned sick of white guys (and everyone else since the Spanish arrived in 1706) and broken treaties. Still, John is kemosabe and Tonto will always care for his friend. A few weeks of mending, which includes rescuing a wild albino horse from a deep ditch and then riding it to a standstill (which in itself is a pretty exciting sequence), John has made up his mind. He digs a sixth grave alongside the others in Bryant’s Gap and chooses the way of the spirit warrior. As staged in the film, we see John, his back to the camera, pledging his duty to his dead brother, sketching out his plan to go back to the world disguised but still wearing his badge. Spillsbury stands, places his large-brimmed white hat on his head and turns into his close-up, face bisected by a black leather mask. And then the William Tell Overture kicks in!
(I’m going to return to this famous piece of Rossini music in a minute, but everyone in America has heard it. They may not know what it’s called or who William Tell was aside from the apple-on-the-head thing, but everyone knows that the William Tell Overture is the Lone Ranger’s theme song. And it’s one of the most exciting pieces of music ever written.)
With the origin over, finally, at the 56:00 minute mark, The Legend of the Lone Ranger finally kicks to life. John and Tonto and Silver and Scout (Tonto’s horse; “Victor” is John’s nephew’s horse. Everybody knows that.) thunder across the plains. They discover that Butch’s big evil scheme is to hijack a train car containing the President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. The “why” of this has something to do with Cavendish’s court martial and his plans toward enacting his own form of Manifest Destiny but, really, who cares? The President is in danger!
Following a rousing introduction to the town—the people have decided that Tonto is somehow to blame for something terrible and aim to hang him—The Lone Ranger shoots the rope of Tonto’s noose before the long drop, shoots the guns out of the hands of damned near everybody, rescues his buddy and then off they are again to stop Cavendish from doing that voodoo Cavendish does so well. Which is not to imply that he performs any voodoo in this movie.
The last twenty minutes of The Legend of the Lone Ranger are knock-down, drag out, good old fashioned excitement and adventure. Dams explode, the Cavalry rides in, John and Butch face off for the first and last time. Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill join General Custer on the rescue (they were on the same train so they felt obligated)! Everything magical about the old west comes to brilliant chaotic life, beautiflly captured by Laszlo Kovacs’ photography and all set to that famous music of maestro Gioachino Rossini. By the end, justice has been delivered, peace restored, and The Lone Ranger, sadly leaving Amy Stryker behind thinking John Reid dead, bellows “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” and off go the Ranger and Tonto into the sunset. President Grant, fingering a silver bullet, wonders aloud, “Who is that Masked Man?” Merle Haggard wraps things up and the credits roll.
Between 1980 and the film’s release in ’81, The Legend of the Lone Ranger was frought with problems, as one can tell from the platoon of screenwriters kicking the thing into place. Production delays were considerable and the film’s new star, fresh out of a brief stint at Brigham Young University, was, to put it mildly, a bit of an asshole. Reportedly hard to get along with, Spillsbury picked fights with both cast and crew and was quite the social carouser off-set. (Andy Warhol reported in his Diaries (published in 1989) that during his interview with the actor, Spillsbury was drunk and rambling about his unrequited crushes on Dennis Christopher and Bud Cort, in Warhol’s words, “blowing his whole image”.
Worse still—if not worse than anything else in the history of ever—Universal Pictures gave their blessing to producer and Lone Ranger TV producer/character rights-owner, a millionaire robber baron named Jack Wrather, to “sue the mask off” Clayton Moore. Moore, who had, in his own words, “fallen in love” with the character, frequently wore his costume and mask to events, charities, and childrens’ hospital wards. More than once he broke up altercations with strangers on the streets. The man was The Lone Ranger and a hero in his own right. Yet neither Wrather nor the studio wanted to give anyone the impression that the then 65-year-old actor was reprising his part in the film (or would have anything to do with it at all). So they got a court order to stop Moore from making any public appearances wearing the mask. Moore fought back and in the meantime adopted a pair of dark Foster Grant sunglasses, only slightly altering the costume. Public response was a disaster. Moore was one miracle short of sainthood in the eyes of the people and they held this grudge against the movie.
Meanwhile, with their drunken jerk of a star making a drunken jerk of himself, Universal opted to distance themselves from Spillsbury and brought in James Keach to redub all of Spillsbury’s dialogue. Keach—whose sole “good” performance to date (as opposed to his brother, Stacy, and his career of genius) was as Jesse James in The Long Riders, but let’s face it, he had a lot of support in that film—turned in a dazzling performance that rivaled Harrison Ford’s original Blade Runner narration in terms of excitement. The dubbing is poor and even now sounds like John Reid’s voice floats somewhere else while interacting with the other characters.
Now combine all of that with an over-burdened and sluggish—and surprisingly violent and bloody—first hour and what you wind up with is box office cyanide. To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra, “If people don’t wanna go to [a movie], you can’t stop ‘em.” Despite some really cool action figures (which I still have), the costumes, the lunch boxes, the Underoos (remember those?), The Legend of the Lone Ranger landed with a thud, with a worldwide gross of only $12M against an $18M not-insubstantial budget for the time. After a brief summer run and a take-home of three Golden Raspberry Awards, the movie revived zombie like on HBO and home video for a while, but left behind a legacy with a bad aftertaste, still ridiculed to this day.
But something magical happened in July, 2013. Having acquired the rights to The Lone Ranger and all characters, Disney decided way back in 2007 that they would redo The Lone Ranger for the even newer post-millennial generation. Their ace-in-the-hole was box-office busting Johnny Depp, who would “rescue” Tonto from the disgraceful role of step’n fetchit “sidekick” (as he described the faithful Indian companion over and over again despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, pidgen English notwithstanding). Depp, on a career high due to his inarguably brilliant creation of “Captain Jack Sparrow” that led the Pirates of the Carribbean franchise to monumental riches, was proclaimed to be unable to do no wrong.
In between 2007 and 2013, however, Depp grew abjectly weirder in his role choices, actually infusing weird where weird wasn’t there originally. His Willy Wonka creeped out virtually everyone who witnessed the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory train wreck; his Barnabas Collins (which was, in my opinion, speaking as a non-fan of the original series) enraged Dark Shadows fans (especially after the passing of original Barnabas Jonathan Frid just prior to the release of Tim Burton’s newest flop reboot). In between those Burton-Depp pairings came also a less-than-successful (but nonetheless brilliant) Sweeney Todd, the ill-advised Alice in Wonderland, and the grudgingly-accepted Pirates: On Stranger Tides, mothers began to whisper Depp’s name to their children in order to get them to eat their vegetables. By the time the first stills of the masked man’s latest incarnation were released, the only thing people could focus on was that Depp’s Tonto, for whatever reason, wore a dead crow on his head.
Almost a year before its release, the Gore Verbinski-directed The Lone Ranger was declared to be a future flop of John Carter-esque proportions. Unlike the much-maligned John Carter, however, this might not have been the declaration of bloodthirsty critics eager to see the fall of Disney. If you’ll allow me further digression, the latest Lone Ranger film does, indeed, place The Legend of the Lone Ranger in a better light, though it does bear resemblance to its most recent past incarnation.
First and foremost, Depp and Verbinski’s Lone Ranger also features a bloated script, this time from Pirates scribes Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, with some last-minute rescuing by Revolutionary Road writer Justin Haythe, who managed to expunge the former’s script of its pre-occupation with werewolves. As John Reid, Armie Hammer has far more charisma than the Hasselhoff-esque Spillsbury (though the bar was already pretty low), but this story is told by an elderly Tonto to a young Lone Ranger admirer, from the confines of an exhibit in a traveling circus, circa 1930. Tonto’s version of the story prevails and allows for comic asides, gags, and cartoon logic. We’re not supposed to take it literally when, for example, he and Reid are hurled from a moving train and tumble for a couple of miles amidst iron and wood train track debris and are spared being crushed by the inertia-defying engine by a happily-placed wheel rod that impales itself between the two of them. That neither of them have been atomized or even bruised by this adventure is because of the spritely and saggy old Tonto’s imagination. Which also allows for other leaps of logic.
Not to mention several Princess Bride moments where the kid, speaking for the audience, exasperatedly accuses Tonto of “telling it wrong”. For in this version, gone is the childhood bond, the reaching out of races, the “trusted brother”. In This Tonto’s memory, John is a pale comparison to his heroic brother Dan. In This Tonto’s translation, “kemosabe” means “Wrong Brother”. In Depp’s Tonto’s telling, it is still the Indian (and still Comanche, though a tribal exile) that nurses the young Reid back to health following the even more violent ambush at Bryant’s Gap. It’s still Butch Cavendish that’s the bad guy—only this time he’s no dignified mad military man but rather the greasiest outlaw this side of Lonesome Dove’s Blue Duck, with a cruelly scarred face, committing the sadistic of cutting out and eating Dan Reid’s heart while the Ranger lies dying. He’s also responsible, along with the movie’s “secret” obvious villain, of massacring a younger Tonto’s tribe after brought there at the edge of death by none-other than Tonto.
Let’s pause to let that sink in. A young Comanche brave finds two dying white guys in Texas, during the midst of a seemingly endless Comanche War, and instead of building bonfires in their crotches, he brings them back to the rest of his Comanche settlement, replete with adult male Comanches taking a brief respite from murdering whites, Mexicans, Spanish and other tribes. And instead of hollowing out the skulls of these two white dopes for use in ersatz hockey games, the tribal elders not only nurse the clowns to life, but are unaware that Tonto has led the men to a silver mine in exchange for a tin watch (echoing, of course, the idea that Indians are attracted to shiny things in exchange for land—when the Indians themselves were laughing at the very notion of “selling” land and believed to be getting the better end of the deal—“Hey, I just “sold” some morons that entire island over there. No, that one. What’d Drunken Buffalo call it? ‘Manhattan’. Yeah, that one. They gave me some shiny rocks in exchange. It was the strangest conversation I’ve ever had!”). And THEN we’re supposed to believe that these two white guys, not even smart enough to pack water for lengthy trips into the desert although they remembered to bring their heavy black leather duster coats, massacred an entire Comanche encampment by themselves, leaving only Tonto alive. Not exactly the Sand Creek Massacre involving mostly women and children, these idiots were up against healthy male Comanches who, even in 1854, knew what rifles were and possessed them! But, anyway, back to senile Tonto’s story.
To combat all the universally negative reaction to the bird-hat, the screenwriters turned it into a motif during production. The bird on his head may or may not be a spirit animal. He feeds it grain just in case. In fact, he gives grain to everyone he meets, sort of like “Aloha” means both “hello” and “goodbye” and “what time is it?” The Lone Ranger is pretty much a bumbling dunce in Tonto’s eyes and while he’s certainly no step’n fetchit, this poor, half-crazed-with-guilt Tonto still hasn’t grasped the use of personal pronouns, prepositional phrases or linking verbs and sounds even worse than Jay Silverheels—and it wasn’t Jay’s choice to talk that way to begin with. I found less problem with his constantly wearing “war paint” (as the media consistently harped on) because Tonto’s mind is trapped between Earth and Spirit, and seems more like Hopi medicine mask than anything else (and I don’t really know that much jack about American Indians).
Now, once you get past all of the above. One you get into whatever hole Verbinski and Depp have dug for themselves, it becomes more or less a groove. But there’s still the sluggish nature of the origin story. It takes just as long for John to don his mask and dig the extra grave. Tonto has practically no respect of or confidence in Reid and only hangs out with him because the white spirit horse keeps telling him to. (The horse(s) playing Silver—as in The Legend of, a combination of geldings and mares—is marvelous and actually has more chemistry with Depp than Hammer does during the endless second act.) Let’s set aside, again, the idea that many tribes considered albino horses to be extremely bad luck and usually avoided them because, c’mon, what’s The Lone Ranger without Silver?
As opposed to Christopher Lloyd’s Cavendish (and let’s not underestimate the disconnect we kids of the ‘70s had seeing Taxi’s Reverend Jim ordering two of his own men executed), William Fichtner is depraved both outside and in, as a visual shortcut for evil, mainly because Cavendish the character is mostly wasted and forgotten by the third act, relegated to third-banana in the villain line-up.
Where The Legend of triumphs over Lone Ranger is in two areas: first, the former plays the story straight. It trusted the audience to accept the adventure as it stands. Verbinski and Disney had no such confidence in todays attention-deficit moviegoers, so, in spite of many clever moments, the gags and jokes flow even more egregiously than in any of the Pirates films, yet still injects some, quite frankly, shocking amounts of bloody violence. Verbinski borrowed more heavily from Leone and Peckinpah than Fraker, and Fraker had Reid’s parents murdered in front of him.
Second, when Spillsbury’s Reid first dons his mask, turns into his close up and reveals himself to be THE Lone Ranger, The William Tell Overture erupts from the soundtrack. 56 minutes in, that score covers the movie like a blanket of awesome. 2013’s Lone Ranger waits until almost 95 minutes before finally unleashing that famous score. In both instances, the music transforms the films. The music, those famous galloping trumpets, gives both movies permission to be what they are. No matter how impossible the task or ridiculous the stunt (or even, in the recent case, how stunningly clumsy the CGI), The William Tell Overture paves over the improbable. By the time it appears in 2013’s Lone Ranger, the film has already devolved into a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with its crossing runaway trains, magical leaps and outstanding marksmanship. But it doesn’t matter. Because “the song” is playing.
The Legend of the Lone Ranger doesn’t become so until the music starts. As integral as Tonto, silver bullets and the mask, it’s that music that announces that The Lone Ranger has arrived. At this point I’d like to posit that The William Tell Overture is part of both our cultural and physical DNA. My five-year-old neice, while still growing up under the “yesteryear” eye of my father, knows what that music means, even if she wasn’t immediately clear who the Lone Ranger was. More than anything, The William Tell electrifies the American bloodstream. It more than brings out the seven-year-old kid in all of us, it erases cynicism to a very large and instant degree. NSA, IRS, CIA, Republicans, Democrats, foreign wars, lousy economy—it’ll all be okay because, right now, The Lone Ranger is here, and he’s telling us we can do something about all this too. The William Tell delivers unto all of us a white hat and a black mask, tells us to earn friends by being friends, that a bullet-to-the-head is not the way to bring in the bad guy and that John McClain was correct in adopting as his catch phrase “Yippie-Ki-Yay”. In fact, as fellow journalist Mike Haushalter told me at the screening we attended, if that music had played over the endless trailers, the 2013 Lone Ranger would not have bombed on its opening weekend. That music draws Americans to it like iron filings to a magnet, and just as naturally.
It’s been 80 years since that music first thundered into living rooms from the tinny speakers of torso-sized radios and economically the world isn’t much different. We still mistrust our governmental officials, determined to put us all into Hoover camps and keep the poor ground under the heels of corporate progress. Once again, Bankers put their own interests ahead of the greater good and went unpunished for it.
In 1981, the economy was climbing out of a recession, we were still more or less at war with others, only in this case, Middle Easterners and not Comanches (just like today). And in all three cases, we needed The Lone Ranger. But after the ‘60s, we had lost faith in the Masked Man. He wasn’t enough to stop the march of distruction and poverty. Neither the ’81 Lone Ranger nor the 2013 incarnation were conceived and executed in the seeming purity of the man from the ‘30s or ‘50s. “American Exceptionalism” doesn’t mean what it used to. We’re no better or worse-off than we were when the two men first rode, but heroes have come to be redefined.
Fraker made an admirable stab at reintroducing the archetypical hero. By ’81 we had Luke Skywalker instead of Popeye Doyle and the former was easier for the seven-year-olds to swallow. But we also had Indiana Jones and he seemed to stand a little taller than our masked man. At least we had Indiana Jones. Our heroes today seem to be heroes in spite of themselves. As of right now, the number one movie at the box office is the animated Despicable Me 2, about a man who, despite his greatest desires, sucks as a supervillain so becomes a hero. Even Superman flies with a heavy conscience. There are quotes around Truth, Justice and, especially, The American Way, where there didn’t use to be. It’s nothing to mourn; culture changes. Times change.
Both recent Lone Rangers failed for different reasons. The former because greed wished to replace the original, the man who embodied the character, with a shinier, younger version. The latter because the shinier star can no longer hear the word “no” because it’s never uttered in his direction. Depp’s Tonto isn’t offensive but it is disingenuous, no matter how much or how little Choctaw or Cherokee his blood possesses, he made the decision for whatever reason to deliver halting sentences and give us all the bird. Michael Horse rewarded Jay Silverheels. Johnny Depp couldn’t bear to be off-center of attention. Neither Fraker nor Verbinski could see that The Lone Ranger isn’t about grand sweeping change. John Reid’s story is not an epic. It’s about one man—in this case, two—overcoming cultural prejudices and making tiny changes by showing others how they, too, can affect the world in a positive way. There’s no need for apologies for the Lone Ranger or Tonto of yesteryear, no matter how “quaint” they seem to be now. What they symbolized is what mattered. The absence of irony and cynicism. Still, in the end, 2013’s Lone Ranger gets John Reid as right in the end as he’s ever been. He does not take a life. He does not succumb to the vigilante justice that constantly befell his best friend. Right to the end both Spillsbury’s and Hammer’s John Reid stayed pure to the notion of justice. Sinking to the level of the villain may be emotionally satisfying, but is it moral? Of course not. But decades of Charlie Bronson Death Wish clones have continued to give us the easy way out. Neither Reid nor Tonto ever made the easy decisions and that is what made them heroes.
And it isn’t wrong or old fashioned to think that way, so long as you have The William Tell Overture playing in your ears.
No William Tell Overture, no box office.