A couple years back, I posted about my wanting to re-watch THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, the 1981 film starring Klinton Spilsbury in the title role. After purchasing a couple of VHS copies, I tried and tried to watch the film again. The pan & scan-ness of the presentation and my knowing that the film was shot and intended for Panavision 2.35, kept me from digging in completely. Fast forward to early '08 when I came across a widescreen DVD transfer from the fine folks at Flesh Wound Video.
From a collector-to-collector DVD-R basis, FWV clearly leads the pack with their beautiful, painstakingly restored presentations and attractive packaging. In the case of LONE RANGER, the disc contains a correctly framed anamorphic widescreen print with two great bonus features: the film's original theatrical trailer and an extensive photo gallery. Very nice.
After finally taking the time to give it another shot (it's been at least twenty years since my last viewing), my opinion of this film hasn't changed all that much. I enjoyed it back then and, with some minor criticisms, I still do.
By far, this is not a perfect film, but by no means is it as bad as some have criticized. For the most part, it has everything going for it. Stunning cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, great locations, yet another memorable score by the always impressive John Barry and despite being dubbed by another actor, Klinton Spilsbury's turn as the masked avenger does work. The film also benefits greatly from a few stand-out performances, mainly Christopher Lloyd putting true evil into his Butch Cavendish characterization (an icy-ness absent from previous portrayals) and Michael Horse's interpretation of Tonto, in which Horse not only expounds the dignity and integrity of the role, but also supports Spilsbury's RANGER to the point that his performance does not falter.
THE LEGEND pertains to how John Reid became the masked man and the vengeful mission that drives his hero-like persona. After the origin and events leading up to his mission are presented (within the film's first half), the film begins to fall apart and feels quite rushed when it should not be. At the moment when Spilsbury first turns to the camera in full "LR get-up" to the familiar tune of the William Tell overture, the momentum seems lost. And, the events that transpire from that point, during Reid's quest for justice, never fully satisfy.
The inclusion of the overture unbalances the mood a bit. Sure it's identifiable to the character, but it would have been nice to get a new theme composed by Barry (not unlike the revisionistic interpretations of John Williams in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE or Jerry Goldsmith in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE). I get the "return to yesteryear" vibe that the film tries hard to perpetuate, but it clearly does not compliment the mounting, slow burn style the film has already established. Imagine if the central theme music of the 1960's BATMAN series had been incorporated into Danny Elfman's score for Tim Burton's BATMAN and you'll get the idea. I presume this has to do with Jack Wrather's hold on the character from the original television series to this feature film version, but cross-breeding an epic western film with the conventional trappings of a Saturday afternoon serial doesn't even out.
So, there's my main gripe. A great build-up with little pay-off. This should have been at least a two-hour film, rather than one that runs 98 minutes. The first half takes it's time and deserves a respectful, fleshed-out continuation of the storyline. Also, James Keach's dubbing of Spilsbury's vocals is glaringly obvious and while it is done well, it's still hard to get past this fact, making it difficult to embrace the character in a relatable fashion.
Drawbacks aside, overall, I found the film enjoyable and it brought back a lot of good memories. With so much potential, THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER is difficult to resist and worthy of a second look.
2 years ago