I realize opinions are like bananas in a grocery store… There are bunches of them lying around… however the lackluster box office in the Lone Ranger movie demonstrates there is a huge price of admission to pay when rebooting past icons of popular culture.
If I might ask, why in this day and age and with this much money invested did they think Johnny Depp’s portrayal as a strange, mystical and inane caricature work well as Tonto? It seems as though the producers were oblivious to criticism of portraying an Indian hero as anything resembling an individual capable of standing on their own with solid First Nations credentials. In this movie we see another damaged goods character added to support another caricature of the old west and a PR attempt to play up the remote genetic link Depp has to Native ancestry. I commend Mr. Depp in his desire to understand his ancestry and Native American culture but it seems more timed to help boost interest and justify his appearance in the 2013 Lone Ranger movie.
To be sure, creating a movie which uses a western theme is a huge challenge for box office success in the first place. The last successful movie which comes to mind was “Unforgiven”, a definite anti-hero movie with actors of incredible range. Wild Wild West attempted an action-comedy western unable to piece together the elements of the TV show it was patterned after, with an updated theme using proven actors, Will Smith, Kevin Kline & Kenneth Branagh in the key hero / villain roles. I realize subtlety isn’t going to fill seats in today’s theaters but it also has to have an anchor in reality to be successful. You can play off a portion of fantasy but if you place your hope on the fringes of unreality, then a western setting is not likely to work despite the team you put together.
Jay Silverheels was given a stereotyped role in the TV version of the Lone Ranger. Playing second fiddle as if he had limited intelligence isn’t a rewarding role. In life, he was animated and intelligent and his authenticity came through to the 1950’s audience. Clayton Moore also took the role seriously and like Silverheels they both had great athletic ability. So, despite the corny lines and limited script depth, their portrayal of fictional characters and commitment to be solid role models in real life, left an indelible impression on youth and adults.
Klinton Spilsbury may have looked as if he was a handsome replacement, but his real life personality problems shown through his portrayal in the Legend of the Lone Ranger, released in 1981. On top of that his voice was dubbed by James Keach, (uncredited). It was a flop on almost all levels. It didn’t help the producers outraged fans before the film was released. They won a legal battle over Clayton Moore preventing him wearing a mask in public appearances as the original Lone Ranger.
The highlight of that film was Michael Horse, giving him a reasonable part as Tonto without the halted speech and subservient manner written for Jay Silverheels 30 years before. Michael Horse looked, acted and portrayed a person in front of a mask that was capable of helping to ‘right the wrongs’ in a frontier justice setting.
This new movie appears as an action adventure romp without purpose or destiny other than to make money. It’s as disingenuous to the movie audience as it is to Native Americans. They could have carried phasers and been as credible.
Yakima Canutt – the Father of Stunt Work
- How the Legend Started: Justice from Outside the Law – NPR
- The Lone Ranger: Woman In White Mask – A little mask competition, TV classic.
- Clayton Moore Back In Mask: Chicago Tribune Lifestyles 1985
- Legend of Klinton Spilsbury: selecting an actor that looks good in the mask
- Who was Harry J. Smith? – The rise and fall of Jay Silverheels in Hollywood & the fight against Uncle Tomahawk
- Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels in a 1970 Aqua Velva Commercial
- First night: The Lone Ranger, Disney Studios Burbank, Los Angeles (independent.co.uk)
- The Mad “Genius” of ‘The Lone Ranger (2013)’ (Short Ends and Leader) (popmatters.com)
- Johnny Depp’s Tonto misstep: Race and “The Lone Ranger” (salon.com)