Wealthy rancher Reese Kilgore aims to grab silver-rich Indian land by skilfully pitting Indians against settlers but the suspicious territorial governor sends The Lone Ranger to investigate.Wealthy rancher Reese Kilgore aims to grab silver-rich Indian land by skilfully pitting Indians against settlers but the suspicious territorial governor sends The Lone Ranger to investigate.Wealthy rancher Reese Kilgore aims to grab silver-rich Indian land by skilfully pitting Indians against settlers but the suspicious territorial governor sends The Lone Ranger to investigate.
The TV series (which, BTW, I loved) was always hampered by shooting schedule and budget, so location filming, riding scenes, fight scenes, etc., were always kept to a minimum. And usually the sets always looked as if they were constructed in 3 hours by the technicians at a local TV station in Cleveland, Ohio.
But in this film, besides being in color and having lots of outdoors scenes, there are plenty of great riding and fight scenes, including a full blown stampede. Best of all, both the Masked Man and Tonto each get to do a full-blown, knock-down, drag out fist fight. (Tonto's fight sequence is the more impressive one, since he ends up holding his own against an entire mob, until the sheer numbers inevitably overpower him. I won't spoil it how that situation resolves ) Additional treats include the Lone Ranger donning the Old Geezer disguise he often used in the TV series, and Silver doing some memorable work (similar to Lassie or Flipper, yet amazingly, this does not come off as corny).
Certainly there were no other actors, at least on screen, who ever did or ever could portray the Masked Man and Tonto as good as Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. Considering the material they had to work with, it would have been extremely easy for them to overdo it, or to be corny or campy. But no, they each had an almost magical ability to make these potentially ludicrous characters believable and likable.
I am especially impressed by Silverheels, whose dialog for some inexplicable reason was always written as Johnny Weismueller-style broken English, always delivered his lines with credibility. Tonto was never ridiculous, rather the opposite. In this film, unfortunately, all the Native Americans have to speak in this idiotic way, and you can see how hard it is to be take these guys seriously. Yet Silverheels' Tonto always projects intelligence and valor, despite horrible lines. I attribute this to Silverheels' ability as an actor.
It's undeniable that the Lone Ranger's target audience was mostly kids, and that his appeal to adults draws its strength from the well of our childhood. Yet it is a mistake to classify this film as being strictly for kids; there are in fact, many adult themes. For instance, in one very effective sequence, a racially-motivated mob attempts to lynch Tonto. I don't think there is anything on the Disney channel today, with our supposedly uncensored media, that deals with the American tradition of lynching (which was never formally outlawed until the 1960's).
The plot itself is concerned with a very adult theme, something that is perhaps more timely now even than in 1956. The main action is concerned with the activities of a wealthy white man and his vicious second-in-command who engineer a series of 'false flag' attacks and incidents so as to cause a group of darker-skinned persons to be blamed. (No, this is not the story of the Bush Administration, except as allegory.) The false flag attacks are intended to promote a war between whites, who have greater wealth and weaponry, and the Indians, so that the small group of whites can seize control of the natives' valuable mineral resources.
This film has a view of Pioneer/Indian conflicts that, besides being historically accurate, is surprising to find in 1956. The Lone Ranger himself says outright that in all the fights between Whites and Indians, it's the Whites who have always started the trouble. There are anti-war as well as anti-racism messages that seem ahead of their time.
The Masked Man and Tonto, as unequivocal representatives of Good, channel their energies into a desperate campaign to prevent a destructive war. These two heroes have no super-powers or abilities, but appear to draw their strength from a respect for human life and a sense of fairness. They remind us of what we knew to be right when we were children, and inspire us to believe in those things again.
- Nov 3, 2008