The Legend of the Lone Ranger

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Legend of the Lone Ranger
The Legend of the Lone Ranger.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam A. Fraker
Produced byWalter Coblenz
Martin Starger
Written byIvan Goff
Ben Roberts
William Roberts
Michael Kane
Gerald B. Derloshon (as Jerry Derloshon)
StarringKlinton Spilsbury
Michael Horse
Christopher Lloyd
Matt Clark
Juanin Clay
Jason Robards
John Bennett Perry
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byThomas Stanford
Eaves Movie Ranch
ITC Entertainment
Wrather Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Associated Film Distribution
Release date
  • May 22, 1981 (1981-05-22)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$18 million[2][3] or $13 million[4]
Box office$12,617,845

The Legend of the Lone Ranger is a 1981 American Western film that was directed by William A. Fraker and stars Klinton Spilsbury, Michael Horse and Christopher Lloyd.

It is based on the story of The Lone Ranger, a Western character created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. Its producers outraged fans by not allowing previous Lone Ranger actor, Clayton Moore to wear the character's mask when making public appearances, and created further bad buzz when the dialogue of leading man Klinton Spilsbury was dubbed by another actor, James Keach.[5] The film was a huge commercial failure, and Spilsbury has not appeared in any films since.


The outlaw Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd) and his gang of outlaws ride into a Texas village, killing everyone except a young boy, John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury). A tribe of Comanche Indians takes John to their reservation, where one of the tribe's young braves, Tonto (Michael Horse) teaches him to shoot a bow and arrow with precision and how to track. The two eventually become blood brothers, and John later leaves the reservation. He goes on to become a Texas Ranger. Cavendish and his gang ambush a party of Rangers (Reid among them), killing all except Reid, who is rescued by Tonto. When John recovers from his wounds, he teaches himself to shoot with silver bullets, and he captures and tames a white horse, which he names Silver. He dedicates his life to fighting the crime that Cavendish represents. To this end, John becomes the great masked western hero, The Lone Ranger. With the help of Tonto, the pair go to rescue President Grant (Jason Robards) when Cavendish takes him hostage.




The rights to the character had been bought in 1954 by Jack Wrather, an oil billionaire, and his wife Bonita Granville. They had made many attempts to create a Lone Ranger movie that would appeal to a modern audience, including making Tonto an equal partner and mentor to the Lone Ranger. By the late 1970s they believed that the story was ripe for retelling in an epic vein similar to Ilya and Alexander Salkind's Superman (1978), with the potential for sequels.[8]

In October 1977 Lew Grade announced he would make the film as part of a slate of movies worth $97 million, including Love and Bullets, Escape to Athena, and Raise the Titanic. Most of the films Grade would finance himself but Lone Ranger was a co production with Wrather. Grade said the Lone Ranger would likely be played by an unknown, after a wide talent search.[9] In October 1978 Grade said the film would be distributed by his new company, AFD.[10]

"This is a grand old western in the heroic and glorious style of the cowboy picture," said Walter Coblentz, producer. "This is not Blazing Saddles. When he puts on his mask you're going to believe it."[11]

Martin Starger said they were doing the film because "Heroes are needed today more than ever... We're playing it straight. This isn't a spoof or a satire."[12]

Coblentz added, " I decided the Indian element needed upgrading. I decided to treat the Lone Ranger and Tonto more as equals. I wanted their relationship to be dignified. I wanted to take advantage of Indian lore."[13]

In September 1979 Coblentz announced the director would be William Fraker. Fraker was normally a cinematographer but he had directed Monte Walsh which Coblentz admired.[14]

William Fraker the director said "The Lone Ranger will work if we can make him real" and said he was influenced by Lawrence of Arabia.[15]

Two of the movie's four screenwriters, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, had previously created the hit TV series Charlie's Angels; they had also worked together on another hit series, Mannix. According to Larry McMurtry, novelist George MacDonald Fraser had written an excellent script for the film,[16] but he was not credited in the finished film.


Actors considered for the lead included Stephen Collins, Nicholas Guest, and Bruce Boxleitner. The part eventually went to Klinton Spilsbury, a photographer who had studied art (particularly sculpting) in New York. Spilsbury, whose father was a football coach at the University of Arizona, had grown up on a ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico. Spilsbury signed to a three-picture deal.[11]

"He looked great in the mask, which seems like an odd thing to say,” Starger said. “But that was important because we had to find an actor whose eyes were not close together. The mask doesn’t look good if the eyes are too close.”[17]

Tonto was played by Michael Horse, a silversmith by trade, whose only other acting experience had been a bit part in a Raquel Welch TV-movie. "For me this is an adventure and fun," he said. "Who knows if I can act. I'll soon find out. And if I'm a flop I'll just go off fishing." [11] Horse would later make himself known as a supporting regular on David Lynch's prime-time soap opera Twin Peaks.


This film was shot in New Mexico, Utah, and California starting April 1980. Many scenes were shot in Monument Valley.[17]

Spilsbury was reportedly difficult during the shoot. “He came onto the set as if he was playing the role of a movie star,” says Lloyd. “I don’t know whether it was an affectation that he chose to bring with him, or whether he sincerely felt that that’s what was called for. And this was a problem from beginning to end. He did things that simply hindered the production.”[17] This included getting involved in several brawls at night during the shoot.[18]

The movie's ballad-narration, The Man In The Mask, was performed by country music artist Merle Haggard, and composed by John Barry with lyrics written by Dean Pitchford of Footloose and Sing fame.

The filmmakers were unhappy with Spilsbury's acting. "You just never believed what he was saying because he memorized the lines but he had never internalized them,” says Jim Van Wyck, who was a DGA assistant director trainee on the film. “It was like he was reading the script, but the intonations were wrong.”[17] This dialogue was eventually overdubbed for the entire movie by actor James Keach.[19]

"His inflections were a little strange, but I actually didn’t think he was that bad, to be honest with you,” says Keach. “I don’t know why they didn’t have him redo it. But it was a very well-paying job at the time, so I accepted it.”[17]

Five horses were used to play Silver.[20]

The film was part of a brief revival of the Western in 1980, which also included The Long Riders, Heaven's Gate and The Mountain Men.[21]

Clayton Moore lawsuit[edit]

Part of the plan was to shoot a feature film with a new actor to replace the 65-year-old Clayton Moore, who had starred in the long-running and hugely successful television series for much of the 1950s.[22]

Wrather had a vision for the retelling of the story, and he felt that the profile of the character would be devalued by Moore's continuing to appear in costume, as he had done for many years entertaining children in hospitals and appearing at county and state fairs. Also, he did not want audiences to believe that the aging Moore would reprise his role as the Lone Ranger. The producers obtained a court injunction barring Moore from appearing in public with his trademark black mask. He was also permitted to sign autographs only as "The Masked Man." Moore responded by changing his costume slightly and replacing the mask with similar-looking wraparound sunglasses, and by cross-litigating against Wrather. The suit was eventually dismissed.[23]

“I thought that was really kind of nasty and unnecessary,” said Christopher Lloyd. “Nothing Moore was doing was really interfering with the film. I thought that was kind of terrible.”[17]


The film was to have been released by AFD. However that company shut down in February 1981 after a series of unsuccessful films, particularly Raise the Titanic (film), and the film would be released by Universal, along with other Grade movies like On Golden Pond and The Great Muppet Caper.[24] This resulted in the release of the film being pushed back. Spilsbury refused to do any publicity for the film.[25]

Jack Wrather was good friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan and the Reagans were to attend the premiere. Due to an assassination attempt on Reagan's life in March 1981, they did not but Reagan sent a tape record of congratulations to be played at the premiere.[26]


Box office[edit]

The film was released in 1981 to massive negative publicity fueled by the above controversy and was one over a 1,000 screens. The opening week was considered a disaster, making only $4 million.[3] The film ultimately grossed just $12 million against its $18 million budget. Other contributing factors were the lack of public interest in Westerns by the 1980s and alterations to some fundamental elements of the Lone Ranger's character, such as his trademark silver bullets being made into magical talismans in the movie instead of mere symbolism.[27]

Lew Grade, who invested in the movie, had managed to sell it to TV for $7.5 million, and also to HBO.[28]

Marvin Starger claimed the film cost $13 million rather than the reported $18 million but said with advertising and prints costing $10 million the film lost $10 million.[4] Fraker never directed again and Spilsbury never acted again.[17]


The film received generally mediocre reviews:[29] Time Out London said, "The mystery is how Fraker, a gifted cameraman who made a superb directing debut in Westerns with Monte Walsh, could produce such a clinker as this."[30]

The Los Angeles Times said "you can have a very good time watching it."[31]

Lew Grade later wrote, in his autobiography Still Dancing: My Story, that he thought that the problem with the movie was that it took an hour and ten minutes before the Ranger first pulled on his mask. "The mistake was not dispensing with the legend in ten minutes and getting on with the action much earlier on," his text said.[28]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for, and won, several Golden Raspberry Awards:


A novelization of the movie, written by Gary McCarthy and published by Ballantine Books, was released in 1981.[33]

The film was adapted into a newspaper comic published between 1981 and 1984 that was written by Cary Bates and illustrated by Russ Heath.[34]

A line of action figures was created by the toy company Gabriel in 1982, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Butch Cavendish, George Custer, The Lone Ranger, and Tonto. Also released by Gabriel were the horses Silver (The Lone Ranger's Horse), Scout (Tonto's Horse), and Smoke (Butch's Horse).


  1. ^ "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on January 17, 2009.
  2. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (September 9, 1981). "HOLLYWOOD IS JOYOUS OVER ITS RECORD GROSSING SUMMER". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  4. ^ a b MOVIES: PRODUCERS WHO HATCHED THE TURKEYS J M W. Los Angeles Times 15 Apr 1984: t19.
  5. ^ Labrecque, Jeff (July 2, 2013). "Who was that masked man? The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  6. ^ Noriyuki, Duane (November 7, 2003). "Art away from Hollywood is where his heart is". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  7. ^ "THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER DVD Review". Collider. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  8. ^ Johnson, Ted (June 25, 2013). "1981 'Lone Ranger' Pic Galloped Quickly Into Oblivion".
  9. ^ FILM CLIPS: Lew Grade's $97 Million Projects Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 15 Oct 1977: b9.
  10. ^ FILM CLIPS: A New Dimension for a Brother Act Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 28 Oct 1978: b11.
  11. ^ a b c Hi Yo Silver] It's the Lone Spilsbury] Davis, Ivor. The Globe and Mail 28 May 1980: P.15.
  12. ^ The Movie Industry Offers Comic Relief For Your Headaches: Coming Films to Star Popeye, Flash Gordon and Tarzan; Sign of Creative Drought? The Movie Industry Offers Comic Relief For Your Headaches By EARL C. GOTTSCHALK JR. Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Wall Street Journal 12 May 1980: 1.
  14. ^ 'Buffalo' Roams Super Bowl SCHREGER, CHARLES. Los Angeles Times 1 Sep 1979: b4.
  15. ^ MOVIES: LONE RANGER AND TONTO--THEY'RE COMING THISAWAY MOVIES Greco, Mike. Los Angeles Times 18 May 1980: t6.
  16. ^ McMurtry, Larry (2010). Hollywood: A Third Memoir. Simon & Schuster. pp. 60–61.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Labrecque, Jeff (July 2, 2013). "The Lone Ranger legend of Klinton Spilsbury". Entertainment Weekly.
  18. ^ Terrell, Steve (June 17, 2013). "Santa Fe has storied past with 'Lone Ranger'". The New Mexican.
  19. ^ "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". DVD Talk. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  20. ^ HEADING FOR A SILVER ROUNDUP Greco, Mike. Los Angeles Times 18 May 1980: t7.
  21. ^ Back In The Saddle Again: Hollywood's $100-Million Stampede to Bring Back the Western BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN By Pat Dowell. The Washington Post 11 May 1980: H1.
  22. ^ Stassel, Stephanie (December 29, 1999). "Clayton Moore, TV's 'Lone Ranger,' Dies". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  23. ^ "Clayton Moore Back In Mask". Chicago Tribune. January 30, 1985. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  24. ^ Film Clips: Show-Biz Segue: From Agent To Studio Chief Pollock, Dale. Los Angeles Times 25 Feb 1981: h1.
  25. ^ Film Clips: Dick Donner's Next: A Fly-By-Day Fairy Tale, Pollock, Dale. Los Angeles Times 11 Mar 1981: h1
  26. ^ California Friends Come Calling on Reagans: Wrathers Head for a Round Up Jacobs, Jody. Los Angeles Times 19 May 1981: f2.
  27. ^ Goldstein, Richard (December 29, 1999). "Clayton Moore, Television's Lone Ranger And a Persistent Masked Man, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2010.
  28. ^ a b Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 259
  29. ^ The Legend of the Lone Ranger on IMDb Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  30. ^ "The Legend of the Lone Ranger | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes, movie release date | Time Out London". November 26, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  31. ^ LEGENDARY MASKED MAN RIDES AGAIN Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 21 May 1981: k5.
  32. ^ a b "Who was that masked man? The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury -". July 2, 2013. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  33. ^ McCarthy, Gary (1981). Legend of the Lone Ranger. ISBN 9780345294388. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  34. ^ "Russ Heath". Retrieved August 30, 2018.

External links[edit]