Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury

Whatever happened to that masked man, anyhow? Klinton Spilsbury had the leading role in 1981's THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER and ironically, 24 years later (despite false reports) that film remains his lone film credit. Who was he? How did he get the role? Was his name not "household" enough to catch on? And more importantly, did he actually ride off into the sunset as his character was about to do at the end of the film? Now, that's commitment, perhaps the strongest case of method acting ever known!

As I remember the film, it was a hit... then again, I was 4 years old and knew no better. After seeing the film in the theater, I was hooked and had to have the inevitable memorabilia... action figures, View-Master reels, Lone Ranger disguise, et cetera. So, my perception was a bit skewed. I assumed the movie was a hit due to the merchandise surrounding it's release (this was 1981, a different era... merchandising wasn't as extreme as it is now). Alas, the film made a very small impact at the box office and also for the expectations of it's legacy.

Back to our leading star...
So, why didn't Klinton Spilsbury go on to make another film? Did the film's lack of success with both critics and audiences destroy his aspirations to continue as an actor? Or, was it the dubbing of his entire performance by another actor (supposedly James Keach)? What did Klinton Spilsbury sound like? Was he truly an actor? Maybe he was a complete nobody discovered by the film's producers or a model who couldn't act chosen only for his look. Was the dubbing a result of negative test screenings or was it an agreement from the beginning that his performance would be dubbed? Whatever the reason, Spilsbury got his share of bad reviews, not to mention a Raspberry award for "worst new star" of that year. Certainly, all of this could drive a person to reconsider their prospects and, perhaps, leave the business entirely.

As for the film, I haven't seen it in it's entirety since it's initial release. Caught fragments here and there on HBO as a kid, but never paid notice to the film's troubled history. So, my quest is to watch the film again for the first time, with a renewed sense as to whether the film works or not. Does it truly deserve all the bad publicity it has gotten throughout the years? It's certain that my childhood fondness for the film will take hold and I will have a biased opinion, but then, the critics of 1981 did not grow up with the film or own any of the beloved tie-in material as I did. Granted, they probably all grew up with the Clayton Moore incarnation on television and had a tough time seeing anyone else in the role. I can understand that completely. Moore was and is the standard for the role, along with Jay Silverheels as the Ranger's faithful sidekick, Tonto. On the other hand, THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER was a product of the same era as Richard Donner's big screen SUPERMAN and I'm sure all those invested had hoped the end result would mirror that same level of greatness. George Reeves was the standard for Superman, but then, so was Christopher Reeve.

Having gone through all the possible scenarios, there's only one thing left for me to do (short of tracking down Spilsbury and interrogating him profusely) and that is to take in a viewing of THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER in the form the late Lord Grade doth presented to us.