Monday, August 16, 2010

The Legend Of The Lone Ranger!

I happened to catch this 1981 flick on television a few days ago. I've got it on VHS around here somewhere, but I never think to dig it out and watch it.

The movie is famously a failure, and frankly deserves that reputation, but it does have some redeeming qualities. I'll get to those after I beat up on it a little.

One thing I noticed about the movie the very first time I saw it in the theater (yes I am one of the teeming hundreds who saw it in the theater) is that the cinematography is lousy. And that problem is odd considering the director William Fraker was primarily a cinematographer. The settings are fantastic in and of themselves, long landscapes with small figures like a good western ought to have, but the whole thing is blurry. It's been blurry in every version I've ever seen, even the theater which I specifically remember after all these years. It reminds of that gauzy haze they use in men's magazines sometimes to obscure the hard reality of what you're seeing.

Add to that some very sluggish editing, scenes that run too long and action sequences not moving quickly enough and the movie seems downright dreary at times. And as famous as the movie is for having looped the lead actor's voice, the sound overall seems a bit tinny.

Klinton Spilsbury is famously bad in this film, save that he isn't so much bad, but boring. He looks the part aside from an unfortunate 80's haircut he can't be held responsible for, and he seems like he ought to be pretty decent. But he's dull, just plain dull. I never care a whit for anything he does and I hate to say it, but his best scene is when he "dies" beneath his brother in the shootout.

So with a bad general look to the movie overall and a boring lead actor, you'd not be surprised this movie was a famous flop. That's true, but there are some finer points.

Michael Horse as Tonto looks great, though he's a wee bit too much the noble savage from time to time. I've always wished they'd let him keep his original look with the bare chest and longer hair as Tonto. He doesn't look nearly as imposing in the buckskin shirt. As for that, I think Spilsbury looks great as the Ranger too. His duds are one of the best things about the movie, a neat blend of classic with a quasi-realistic nod.

The stunts in the movie are pretty good. There are some fantastic falls and if memory serves at least one stunt mistake is kept in the movie. The scene where the stuntman tries to clamber beneath some horses to get to the fast-moving stagecoach is a recreation of the classic Yakima Canutt stunt, but I think this one didn't work as well as they'd hoped, but they kept it in anyway. That could be an urban legend, but it's what I remember.

Christopher Lloyd is dang good as the villainous Cavendish and he seems properly motivated for once. He chews a good scene. Jason Robards does his typical fine job as President Grant and adds some real salt to the movie before it blunders to an end.

In the final analysis what you have here are the makings of a good movie, but for whatever reason it doesn't come together. Klinton Spilsbury takes the hit as he's the name on the marquee, but I tend to blame the director and editor more for the mistakes as the big problems seem to be in the film making and not necessarily in the acting itself. If Spilsbury is weak (and he is for sure), it's a director's job to coax a performance, and it doesn't seem to have happened here.

Rip Off


  1. There was also a big stink behind the scenes when the producers took legal action to ban TV's fifties Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, from making personal appearances in the LR mask. Seems they didn't want the public to be confused by this old guy when everybody knew that Klinton Spilsbury was the "real" Masked Man. Moore took to wearing Foster-Grant shades instead and took his case to the public which rallied 'round the actor and against the upcoming film on general principal. At age 22, I signed a petition saying I would never see the picture...and I never have. When it became an obvious flop, the Wrather Corporation quickly moved to mitigate all the bad publicity by embracing Moore again and allowing him to continue to make his living opening supermarkets.

  2. Oh, and it turned out Spilsbury couldn't read lines either. His entire performance was looped in post by Stacy Keach's brother, James.

  3. I well remember the hubbub concerning the treatment of Moore. It was uncalled for and I'd have to agree likely wrought some very bad karma for the movie.

    It was one of those lame-brained events where despite a legal right to do something, it's still stupid and shortsighted and to do it.

    They tried to get some of the mojo Superman had gotten with Chris Reeve, but it was bungled.

    Rip Off

  4. Klinton Spilsbury's voice was dubbed by James Keach.

  5. Another example of why Sir Lew Grade should have stuck to TV and stayed out of the movies. However, it worked better than the Disney version


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