Texas 1854, and one young Indian boy was chased on horseback by a gang of outlaws who were gaining until he was sheltered by another boy, John. John realised with horror that the criminals were heading back to his home, and by the time he reached it the building was in flames and his parents had been murdered, but to help him through his grief the Indian took him back to his tribe. There he was adopted by the elders and brought up by them, side by side with his saviour who he came to know as Tonto, but circumstances dictated they would be split up eventually, and John grew up to become a lawyer in the West. He had ambitions to clean up the lawlessness he had not quite left behind, however...
Which was a longwinded method of telling us John Reid would become the Western hero of about a billion hours of vintage radio and television The Lone Ranger, but even then you had to wait for a good hour until he put on his mask and began righting wrongs. Before that, you could see why this was such an notorious flop, as it took ages to get to the point, Merle Haggard's overexplanatory song narration little help, and to replicate the look of old sepia photographs the normally reliable cinematographer William A. Fraker, who took the director's chair this time around, made everything look the same shade of orangey-brown, a curious artistic decision when coupled with the soft focus that made you want to blink your eyes until your vision cleared.
The Lone Ranger returned to the news over thirty years later when Gore Verbinski tried to do what Sir Lew Grade and his producers had all those years ago, and make a movie franchise out of the property, only to fall victim to the exact same lack of interest and poor reaction among those who did see it: the parallels were uncomfortably close, though they had chosen to cast two stars in the roles of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, instead of the unknowns we had here. Klinton Spilsbury was that masked man in this case, in what would be his only film, so dreadful was the judgement on his performance, especially when it got out that he had been dubbed by James Keach as his line readings were so weak. Not helping was his quickly picked up reputation for on-set obnoxiousness which further damaged the perception.
Was he really that bad, though? Certainly he looked the part, should that part have been in a television revival which might have been a better idea, with his blandly handsome features that didn't matter if they were covered by a mask, and big hair as if he had stepped out of the Parker Stevenson Academy for Acting, but the fact remained he was something of a cypher for the movie to project its hopes for a hero onto. Michael Horse was a little better served, assuredly more noble and took none of the flak that certain others involved did for the failure; around ten years later he was in a supporting role in Twin Peaks, so at least he forged a respectable career away from this setback. The lead bad guy was Christopher Lloyd, starting off a decade that would be very good to him in a strangely reined in performance.
Lloyd played Major Butch Cavendish, who plans to assassinate the President (Jason Robards Jr) when he visits on a tour of the states, though Reid's brother is no fan of him either, grumbling about the government so much you half expect him to accuse it of being behind the destruction of the World Trade Center. But the brother doesn't hang around, as he and John and some others set off in a posse to capture Cavendish and end up ambushed, with our protagonist the sole survivor. Tonto finds him again and nurses him back to health, effectively giving him a makeover to transform him into the silver bullet firing, white steed riding man of the moment, and the Major better look out. What will be foremost in the minds of those who like the character is whether it looked better now the 2013 remake was gaining few friends, and it did to an extent, mostly down to them using very similar material, the 1981 incarnation dialling down the camp. Though the famous elements - the catchphrases, the William Tell Overture, etc - were presented with odd reluctance. Music by John Barry.
[Network's Blu-ray looks fine considering this was so visually soft it isn't especially well-served by HD, it probably sounds better. The extras include two Barry suites, a trailer and a gallery.]