ITC’s ponderous retelling of the legendary story of Texas Ranger John Reid was in trouble right from the start.
First, the production company pursued an injunction against beloved TV Lone Ranger Clayton Moore that prohibited him from wearing a mask in public, which angered longtime fans.
Then, cast in the title role was a wooden unknown named Klinton Spilsbury, who not only got into a brawl during production, but was such a terrible actor that his part had to be totally redubbed by James Keach (THE LONG RIDERS).
One of the most notorious movie flops of the 1980s, THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER at least looks nice, as well it should, having been photographed by Laszlo Kovacs (EASY RIDER) and directed by Oscar-nominated cameraman William A. Fraker (HEAVEN CAN WAIT). On the other hand, Fraker’s stodgy direction moves the film along at a snail’s pace, and the shallow screenplay is the product of five writers, including CHARLIE’S ANGELS producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who clearly have no idea what people want to see in a Lone Ranger movie.
What people most want to see is the Lone Ranger. Sounds like an obvious point, but the masked man doesn’t appear until 56 minutes into the movie. That’s just ridiculous. Also in the bad decision department is the use of Merle Haggard as a narrator that tells us every six minutes exactly what we’re looking at. Haggard sings the wretched theme song penned by FAME’s Dean Pitchford and John Barry, who also composed the score (which is good).
It isn’t until LEGEND gets into its final half hour that a plot actually occurs. And it’s a good one, as nefarious bandit Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd), the man responsible for the murder of the Lone Ranger’s brother, details a plan to hijack a train and kidnap President Ulysses Grant (Jason Robards). But by the time this story gets underway, it’s almost time for the movie to be over, and the plot is no more developed than a typical TV episode.
What does work about LEGEND? The stunts and special effects are first-rate. Horse imbues Tonto with dignity. Lloyd is appropriately chilling in a role that should have been beefed up in a rewrite. And despite the script’s fiddling with the Lone Ranger’s origin, it’s still a thrill to see the hero gallop into action to the strains of the “William Tell Overture.” Performance issues aside, Spilsbury looks good in the costume.