The Lone Ranger [DVD]
Screenplay : Herb Meadow
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1956
Stars : Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), Jay Silverheels (Tonto), Lyle Bettger (Reece Kilgore), Bonita Granville (Welcome Kilgore), Perry Lopez (Pete Ramirez), Bob Wilke (Cassidy), John Pickard (Sheriff Kimberley), Michael Ansara (Angry Horse), Frank DeKova (Chief Red Hawk)
Probably the single most famous cowboy in all of American Western lore, The Lone Ranger, was not born in the fevered mind of a pulp writer or borrowed from the pages of literature. Rather, he was created in committee meetings at a small, struggling independent radio station in Detroit, Michigan, in 1933. WXYZ, an independent station owned by John H. King and George W. Trendle, was in dire need of a program to boost its flagging ratings and compete with the network stations, and the Lone Ranger turned out to be their salvation.
The Lone Ranger was created as a wholesome, uncomplicated hero who rode the range on his trusty steed Silver, encountering a new adventure each week as he fought to right wrongs throughout the ever-expanding Western frontier. The vast majority of the early writing was done by a freelancer named Fran Striker, who at one point was writing 156 Lone Ranger radio scripts a year in addition to a daily cartoon strip and a dozen novels. However, unlike Tarzan, who can be traced wholly through the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, or Sherlock Holmes, who was created solely by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Lone Ranger was a product of teamwork at WXYZ, with bits and pieces of his mythology and lore added by people whose names have unfortunately been lost in the shuffle of history.
There was simply something magical about this particular character-- he spoke to a need for something pure that was not fulfilled by other pulp radio characters. Adored by children and advertisers alike, the Lone Ranger soon became the most popular character on radio in the 1930s, expanding to hundreds of stations across the world and eventually finding his way into cliffhanger movie serials and a long-running television show.
The TV show, which debuted in 1949, starred Clayton Moore as the masked hero and Jay Silverheels as his trusted Native American companion, Tonto. Moore and Silverheels soon became synonymous with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, so it was of little surprise that they were cast in the lead roles when Warner Brothers decided to expand the show onto the big screen in the late 1950s, one of the first times a major studio had gambled with the idea of turning a TV show into a movie.
Unlike many recent big-screen adaptations of pulp characters and superheroes, The Lone Ranger (1956) made no attempt to expand upon or reimagine the characters. Rather, it was content to assume that all the viewers were comfortably familiar with the Lone Ranger and Tonto's origins. (For those not familiar, the Lone Ranger became a masked hero after he was wounded and five of his fellow Texas Rangers were gunned down in an ambush by an evil gang and Tonto nursed him back to health.) The movie version is really little more than a longer episode of the TV show, which is unfortunate because it restricts the possibilities, giving the movie a somewhat cramped and small-scale feel, despite its being shot in Technicolor on-location in gorgeous Kanab, Utah. Like the show, it has a somewhat goofy, anachronistic innocence that's fun, but never particularly compelling.
As with all Lone Ranger stories good are clearly marked from the bad. The plot involves a crooked land baron named Reece Kilgore (Lyle Bettger) and his hired gun, Cassidy (Bob Wilke), who are trying to stir up a war between a community of white settlers and the peaceful Native Americans who live on a nearby reserve. The Lone Ranger and Tonto end up working largely as intermediaries between the two groups, trying to avoid an all-out war between them while tracking down clues about the Kilgore conspiracy.
Interestingly enough, despite the overall simplicities of the plot and characters, The Lone Ranger is surprisingly liberated in its views of Native Americans, even though it saddles them with the kind of embarrassingly cliched dialogue that supposes they only knew the present tense and were somehow incapable of using personal pronouns ("Him say ..."). In this way, The Lone Ranger was part of a general move on the part of Hollywood Westerns toward more liberal views of Native Americans, at least since Delmer Daves' Broken Arrow (1950).
Screenwriter Herb Meadow seems to go out of his way, though, to portray the Native Americans as not only dignified, but also as a heterogeneous society. That is, he doesn't portray them all as perfect embodiments of nobility, but rather as a complex society with competing ideologies. Hence, the elderly chief, Red Hawk (Frank DeKova), wants to maintain peace at all costs, while the younger, fiery, and aptly named Angry Horse (Michael Ansara) is as eager to engage in war as Kilgore is. While this narrative and character complexity is refreshing, it is still difficult to get past the bad dialogue and the fact that, with the exception of Silverheels, who was born the son of Mohawk chief on the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada, the vast majority of the Native Americans are played by Caucasians in obvious make-up.
Moore and Silverheels fill their lead roles well, and they have a strong on-screen chemistry that makes their unlikely partnership that much more believable. Moore had had an enormously successful career starring in serials for Republic Pictures during its heyday in the late 1930s and '40s, and he lends the Lone Ranger an unquestionably heroic and honest demeanor. Of course, some of his dialogue is a bit awkward and stilted, which is even more obvious in comparison to the realistic, so-called "adult" Westerns like John Ford's The Searchers (1956) that were fast becoming the norm. Moore's campy blue costume also seems a bit out of place, especially as everyone else in the movie appears to be dressed in realistic fashion.
Yet, out-dated polyester costumes and some clumsy dialogue are not at the heart of why The Lone Ranger falls short of all its could have been. More than anything, it's just not imaginative enough. The plot is good, but it's barely enough to sustain a 90-minute feature. Director Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key) is solid, but never inspired, in his direction, and he gives the overall production something of a by-the-numbers feel; there's no real spontaneity or ingenuity.
There are a few startling moments, such as when a character opens a hotel door after hearing a knock only to be shot several times through the wall. There are also some fairly daring stunts, including a final battle between the Lone Ranger and Cassidy that involves what had to be an incredibly painful tumble down a steep hill. But, all in all, innovative moments are few and far between, and what should have been a grand expansion of a popular mythology instead comes across as a small-screen episode blown out of proportion.
Two years later, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold was released, and while entertaining, it suffers from the same lack of imagination and limited scope that hindered the first film. This time released through United Artists and directed by Lesley Selander, a long-time veteran of dozens of serials and genre pictures, the movie starts off as a mystery about a group of hooded outlaws who are murdering Native Americans.
Screenwriters Eric Freiwald and Robert Schaefer unveil the culprits and their motive early on by letting us know that the hooded outlaws are working for the wealthy Frances Henderson (Noreen Nash), who wants to become even wealthier by finding the location of a lost city of gold. The Native Americans are being killed because they each possess a piece of a silver plate that, when put together, provide a map to the city's whereabouts.
Once again, it is up to the Lone Ranger and Tonto, again played by Moore and Silverheels respectively, to solve the mystery and stop the wrongdoing. Potential suspense is drained out of the film because we already know who's to blame and what's going on, so it's a matter of sitting back and watching as the Lone Ranger dons a disguise as a Southern bounty hunter to try to solve the mystery. Some of the scenes between him and Frances are amusingly torpid, as Frances proves herself to by a wily, avaricious woman who is not above back-stabbing, murder, and double-crossing to get what she wants.
The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, like the first film, deals with racial tensions in fairly interesting ways, again showing sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans while still saddling them in stereotyped roles with cliched dialogue. The film does break away from convention in its portrayal of Dr. James Rolfe (Norman Frederic), a Native American who can "pass" as a white man in town, right under the nose of the bigoted sheriff (Charles Watts). Rolfe has noble reasons for denying his heritage (passing as a white man allows him to give medical aid to other Native Americans), but the ultimate lesson is that denying one's race is never defensible.
The lost city of gold mentioned in the title fuels the narrative, but it doesn't appear until the final moments of the film. Its unveiling is somewhat anticlimatic, given the obviously limited budget for special effects and set design. The movie does have some fine moments scattered throughout, including a hilarious sequence where Tonto and his horse, Scout, lying back-to-back, fight over a blanket like an old married couple. Such moments almost make up for the otherwise mundane nature of the rest of movie.
|The Lone Ranger: Two-Disc DVD Set|
The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold: Two-Disc DVD Set
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 / 1.33:1|
|Audio||Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| The Lone Ranger |
Interview with Dawn Moore by Leonard Maltin
Interview with Michael Ansara by Michael Druxman
Cast and crew biographies
Theatrical trailers for The Lone Ranger, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, Ride in the Whirlwind, and The Shooting
Cast and crew biographies and filmographies
The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold
|Distributor||VCI Home Video|
|Both films can be viewed either in nonanamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) or full-frame (1.33:1). With the full-frame option, you actually get more picture information, as the movie appears to have been filmed using the entire 35-mm negative and then matted to a widescreen aspect ratio. However, the widescreen options results in a picture that is framed slightly better, as the full-frame version leaves too much headroom in most of the shots. Overall, the image quality on both discs is quite disappointing, especially because the widescreen option isn't anamorphic. Both movies look roughly comparable in quality to a slightly worn VHS copy, with some sequences looking significantly better than others. Both appear to have been transferred from a master tape rather than original film elements, and the real trouble comes in terms of sharpness and color quality. Both movies look excessively soft, which results in an image that is lacking in detail. Color is equally problematic. Both films were shot in Technicolor (although the first film is listed as being shot in "WarnerColor"), and they look to have faded considerably over the last 55 years. While both films are bold in their color schemes, the colors on these DVDs seem drab and a bit off, with some slight bleeding from time to time. Many scenes also have a reddish tinge, which throws off the blue in the Lone Ranger's costume and also makes flesh tones appear unnaturally pink.|
|The soundtracks for both films are presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural. While neither is particularly compelling, the soundtracks are free of any overly distracting hiss or aural artifacts, although there is at least one moment in The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold when the sound drops out entirely for a few seconds, and there a few instances of sync problems that are probably inherent to the original elements. Sound effects sound good, and while the musical score is somewhat lacking in fullness, although it doesn't become overly thin or tinny.|
| Both movies are available individually in two-disc sets, with the movies on the first disc and a set of supplements on the second disc. |
The supplemental disc for The Lone Ranger contains two lengthy interviews. The first, conducted by Leonard Maltin and running roughly 38 minutes in length, is with Dawn Moore, the daughter of the Lone Ranger himself, Clayton Moore, who passed away in December of 1999. Moore talks about what it was like growing up as the daughter of the Lone Ranger, and she obviously maintains a great deal of respect and admiration for her father, as both a performer and a parent. Maltin, as always, is good at conducting the interview.
The second interview, conducted by writer/director Michael Druxman (Cheyenne Warrior, Dillinger and Capone) and running about half an hour in length, is with Michael Ansara, who played the small but pivotal role of Angry Horse. Many people may not have heard of Ansara, but he's been an integral part of the movie business for decades, having starred in some 90 different movies and TV shows, including the lead role of Cochise on the TV series Broken Arrow. Druxman isn't the best interviewer, as he doesn't let Ansara get a word in for the first five minutes of the interview, and the rest of it consists of him going through all of Ansara's roles in major movies and asking him what he remembers about them (there are a few instances that border on Chris Farley moments--"Do you remember when ..."). Despite Druxman's lackluster interview skills, Ansara, who has a deep, compelling voice comparable to James Earl Jones', gets in some good stories about his broad range of experience (everything from acting with Sir John Gielgud in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's production of Julius Caesar to playing the first Klingon on the Star Trek TV series).
The supplemental disc also contains a nice gallery of about 45 production stills, posters, and lobby cards, as well as trailers for the two Lone Ranger movies and two Monte Hellman Westerns, Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting, which (big surprise) are also available on DVD from VCI Home Video. The disc also contains a solid set of cast and crew biographies, as well as the "Lone Ranger Creed."
The supplemental disc for The Lone Rangers and the Lost City of Gold is a bit lighter, but is does contain two gems that Lone Ranger enthusiasts will definitely what to see: video footage of the 1990 induction ceremony for Clayton Moore and the posthumous 1993 induction ceremony for Jay Silverheels into the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Otherwise, this disc is largely the same as The Lone Ranger, with the same trailers, a good set of cast and crew biographies, the "Lone Ranger Creed," and a slightly smaller photo gallery of posters and production stills.
©2001 James Kendrick