The Legend Of The Lone Ranger has gone down in history as one of the great Hollywood misfires and the stories behind the making of this 1981 western are almost as legendary as The Lone Ranger himself. However, nearly 40 years have passed since the film was released and it’s time to reappraise the movie now that the myths have subsided and because the film’s failure has been superseded by that of Johnny Depp’s ill-fated 2013 vanity project, The Lone Ranger (which saw Armie Hammer in the title role).
Directed by cinematographer William A. Fraker, The Legend Of The Lone Ranger updates the infamous masked man’s tale with Klinton Spilsbury jumping into the Clayton Moore’s well-worn saddle. Fraker’s film takes the route of Richard Donner’s Superman, starting the story from scratch and showing how the ranger became the legend. The Lone Ranger’s infamous tropes are all present and correct – from sidekick Tonto (Michael Horse), trusty horse Silver, well known catch phrase (Hi yo Silver, away), trademark silver bullets and even the iconic William Tell Overture. Fraker’s film embraces what made The Lone Ranger a hero to millions of young boys across the globe.
Time has been kind to The Legend Of The Lone Ranger. The film’s major flaw was the decision to underscore the film with Merle Haggard’s rendition of The Man in the Mask. This has a certain old-fashioned throwback vibe, but it’s a touch cringeworthy all the same. However, the decision to embrace what made the character so iconic is a great one. Today, films like James Bond – and even the 2013 incarnation of The Lone Ranger – are almost ashamed to include certain elements that helped to make those characters so popular. It’s almost refreshing to see such love and affection go into bringing The Lone Ranger to the screen.
When it was released in 1981, The Legend Of The Lone Ranger was under a lot of scrutiny for all the wrong reasons. Producer Jack Wather battled Clayton Moore (who played the character on television from 1949 – 1957) in the courts for the wearing of The Lone Ranger mask in public. This led to a huge backlash from fans who had much affection for Moore’s portrayal of the western hero. Stuntman Terry Leonard was almost killed when a horse stunt went wrong but the film’s biggest blow came when it became known that Klinton Spilsbury’s voice was over-dubbed by actor James Keach. In fact, Spilsbury is now nearly as mythic as The Lone Ranger – this is his only known acting credit and he vanished from public life shortly after the film’s release.
The Legend Of The Lone Ranger is ripe for revisitation. The film was released at the same time as Raiders Of The Lost Ark and maybe audiences were eager to see a new hat-wearing hero with a galloping theme tune. Today, it’s refreshing to see a fun adventure story telling the tale of well known hero and the kid inside you will leap for joy once the William Tell Overture kicks-in.