The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold

The Lone Ranger / The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold
The Lone Ranger
Director: Stuart Heisler
Screenplay:Herb Meadow
Stars: Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), Jay Silverheels (Tonto), Lyle Bettger (ReeceKilgore), Bonita Granville (Welcome Kilgore), Perry Lopez (Pete Ramirez), Bob Wilke(Cassidy), John Pickard (Sheriff Kimberley), Michael Ansara (Angry Horse), FrankDeKova (Chief Red Hawk)
MPAA Rating:NR
Year of Release: 1956
Country: USA
The Lone Ranger Poster

The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold
Director: Lesley Selander
Screenplay: Eric Freiwald & Robert Schaefer
Stars: Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), Jay Silverheels (Tonto), Douglas Kennedy (RossBrady), Charles Watts (Sheriff Oscar Matthison), Noreen Nash (Mrs. Frances 'Fran'Henderson), Norman Frederic (Dr. James Rolfe), Ralph Moody (Padre Vincente Esteban),Lisa Montell (Paviva), John Miljan (Chief Tomache)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1958
Country: USA
The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold Poster

Probably the single most famous cowboy in all of American Western lore, The Lone Ranger,was not born in the fevered mind of a pulp writer or borrowed from the pages of literature.Rather, he was created in committee meetings at a small, struggling independent radio stationin Detroit, Michigan, in 1933. WXYZ, an independent station owned by John H. King andGeorge W. Trendle, was in dire need of a program to boost its flagging ratings and competewith the network stations, and the Lone Ranger turned out to be their salvation.

The Lone Ranger was created as a wholesome, uncomplicated hero who rode the range onhis trusty steed Silver, encountering a new adventure each week as he fought to right wrongsthroughout the ever-expanding Western frontier. The vast majority of the early writing wasdone by a freelancer named Fran Striker, who at one point was writing 156 Lone Rangerradio scripts a year in addition to a daily cartoon strip and a dozen novels. However, unlikeTarzan, who can be traced wholly through the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, or SherlockHolmes, who was created solely by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Lone Ranger was a productof teamwork at WXYZ, with bits and pieces of his mythology and lore added by peoplewhose names have unfortunately been lost in the shuffle of history.

There was simply something magical about this particular character-- he spoke to a need forsomething pure that was not fulfilled by other pulp radio characters. Adored by children andadvertisers alike, the Lone Ranger soon became the most popular character on radio in the1930s, expanding to hundreds of stations across the world and eventually finding his wayinto cliffhanger movie serials and a long-running television show.

The TV show, which debuted in 1949, starred Clayton Moore as the masked hero and JaySilverheels as his trusted Native American companion, Tonto. Moore and Silverheels soonbecame synonymous with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, so it was of little surprise that theywere cast in the lead roles when Warner Brothers decided to expand the show onto the bigscreen in the late 1950s, one of the first times a major studio had gambled with the idea ofturning a TV show into a movie.

Unlike many recent big-screen adaptations of pulp characters and superheroes,The Lone Ranger (1956) made no attempt to expand upon orreimagine the characters. Rather, it was content to assume that all the viewers werecomfortably familiar with the Lone Ranger and Tonto's origins. (For those not familiar, theLone Ranger became a masked hero after he was wounded and five of his fellow TexasRangers were gunned down in an ambush by an evil gang and Tonto nursed him back tohealth.) The movie version is really little more than a longer episode of the TV show, whichis unfortunate because it restricts the possibilities, giving the movie a somewhat cramped andsmall-scale feel, despite its being shot in Technicolor on-location in gorgeous Kanab, Utah.Like the show, it has a somewhat goofy, anachronistic innocence that's fun, but neverparticularly compelling.

As with all Lone Ranger stories good are clearly marked from the bad. The plot involves acrooked land baron named Reece Kilgore (Lyle Bettger) and his hired gun, Cassidy (BobWilke), who are trying to stir up a war between a community of white settlers and thepeaceful Native Americans who live on a nearby reserve. The Lone Ranger and Tonto endup working largely as intermediaries between the two groups, trying to avoid an all-out warbetween them while tracking down clues about the Kilgore conspiracy.

Interestingly enough, despite the overall simplicities of the plot and characters, TheLone Ranger is surprisingly liberated in its views of Native Americans, even though itsaddles them with the kind of embarrassingly cliched dialogue that supposes they only knewthe present tense and were somehow incapable of using personal pronouns ("Him say ...").In this way, The Lone Ranger was part of a general move on the part ofHollywood Westerns toward more liberal views of Native Americans, at least since DelmerDaves' Broken Arrow (1950).

Screenwriter Herb Meadow seems to go out of his way, though, to portray the NativeAmericans as not only dignified, but also as a heterogeneous society. That is, he doesn'tportray them all as perfect embodiments of nobility, but rather as a complex society withcompeting ideologies. Hence, the elderly chief, Red Hawk (Frank DeKova), wants tomaintain peace at all costs, while the younger, fiery, and aptly named Angry Horse (MichaelAnsara) is as eager to engage in war as Kilgore is. While this narrative and charactercomplexity is refreshing, it is still difficult to get past the bad dialogue and the fact that, withthe exception of Silverheels, who was born the son of Mohawk chief on the Six NationsIndian Reservation in Ontario, Canada, the vast majority of the Native Americans are playedby Caucasians in obvious make-up.

Moore and Silverheels fill their lead roles well, and they have a strong on-screen chemistrythat makes their unlikely partnership that much more believable. Moore had had anenormously successful career starring in serials for Republic Pictures during its heyday inthe late 1930s and '40s, and he lends the Lone Ranger an unquestionably heroic and honestdemeanor. Of course, some of his dialogue is a bit awkward and stilted, which is even moreobvious in comparison to the realistic, so-called "adult" Westerns like John Ford's TheSearchers (1956) that were fast becoming the norm. Moore's campy blue costume alsoseems a bit out of place, especially as everyone else in the movie appears to be dressed inrealistic fashion.

Yet, out-dated polyester costumes and some clumsy dialogue are not at the heart of whyThe Lone Ranger falls short of all its could have been. More than anything, it'sjust not imaginative enough. The plot is good, but it's barely enough to sustain a 90-minutefeature. Director Stuart Heisler (The Glass Key) is solid, but never inspired, in hisdirection, and he gives the overall production something of a by-the-numbers feel; there's noreal spontaneity or ingenuity.

There are a few startling moments, such as when a character opens a hotel door after hearinga knock only to be shot several times through the wall. There are also some fairly daringstunts, including a final battle between the Lone Ranger and Cassidy that involves what hadto be an incredibly painful tumble down a steep hill. But, all in all, innovative moments arefew and far between, and what should have been a grand expansion of a popular mythologyinstead comes across as a small-screen episode blown out of proportion.

Two years later, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Goldwas released, and while entertaining, it suffers from the same lack of imagination and limitedscope that hindered the first film. This time released through United Artists and directed byLesley Selander, a long-time veteran of dozens of serials and genre pictures, the movie startsoff as a mystery about a group of hooded outlaws who are murdering Native Americans.

Screenwriters Eric Freiwald and Robert Schaefer unveil the culprits and their motive early onby letting us know that the hooded outlaws are working for the wealthy Frances Henderson(Noreen Nash), who wants to become even wealthier by finding the location of a lost city ofgold. The Native Americans are being killed because they each possess a piece of a silverplate that, when put together, provide a map to the city's whereabouts.

Once again, it is up to the Lone Ranger and Tonto, again played by Moore and Silverheelsrespectively, to solve the mystery and stop the wrongdoing. Potential suspense is drainedout of the film because we already know who's to blame and what's going on, so it's amatter of sitting back and watching as the Lone Ranger dons a disguise as a Southern bountyhunter to try to solve the mystery. Some of the scenes between him and Frances areamusingly torpid, as Frances proves herself to by a wily, avaricious woman who is notabove back-stabbing, murder, and double-crossing to get what she wants.

The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, like the first film, deals with racialtensions in fairly interesting ways, again showing sympathy for the plight of the NativeAmericans while still saddling them in stereotyped roles with cliched dialogue. The film doesbreak away from convention in its portrayal of Dr. James Rolfe (Norman Frederic), a NativeAmerican who can "pass" as a white man in town, right under the nose of the bigoted sheriff(Charles Watts). Rolfe has noble reasons for denying his heritage (passing as a white manallows him to give medical aid to other Native Americans), but the ultimate lesson is thatdenying one's race is never defensible.

The lost city of gold mentioned in the title fuels the narrative, but it doesn't appear until thefinal moments of the film. Its unveiling is somewhat anticlimatic, given the obviously limitedbudget for special effects and set design. The movie does have some fine moments scatteredthroughout, including a hilarious sequence where Tonto and his horse, Scout, lyingback-to-back, fight over a blanket like an old married couple. Such moments almost make upfor the otherwise mundane nature of the rest of movie.

The LoneRanger: Two-Disc DVD Set
The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold: Two-Disc DVDSet

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 /1.33:1
AudioDolby 1.0 Monaural
SupplementsThe Lone Ranger
Interview with Dawn Moore by Leonard Maltin
Interview with Michael Ansara by Michael Druxman
Cast and crew biographies
Photo Gallery
Theatrical trailers for The Lone Ranger, The Lone Ranger and the Lost Cityof Gold, Ride in the Whirlwind, and The Shooting
Cast and crew biographies and filmographies

The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold
Cowboy Hall of Fame induction ceremonies of Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels
Cast and crew biographies/filmographies
Photo Gallery
Theatrical trailers for The Lone Ranger, The Lone Ranger and the Lost Cityof Gold, Ride in the Whirlwind, and The Shooting
Cast and crew biographies and filmographies

DistributorVCI HomeVideo

Both films can be viewed either in nonanamorphicwidescreen (1.66:1) or full-frame (1.33:1). With the full-frame option, you actually get morepicture information, as the movie appears to have been filmed using the entire 35-mmnegative and then matted to a widescreen aspect ratio. However, the widescreen optionsresults in a picture that is framed slightly better, as the full-frame version leaves too muchheadroom in most of the shots. Overall, the image quality on both discs is quitedisappointing, especially because the widescreen option isn't anamorphic. Both movies lookroughly comparable in quality to a slightly worn VHS copy, with some sequences lookingsignificantly better than others. Both appear to have been transferred from a master taperather than original film elements, and the real trouble comes in terms of sharpness and colorquality. Both movies look excessively soft, which results in an image that is lacking indetail. Color is equally problematic. Both films were shot in Technicolor (although the firstfilm is listed as being shot in "WarnerColor"), and they look to have faded considerably overthe last 55 years. While both films are bold in their color schemes, the colors on these DVDsseem drab and a bit off, with some slight bleeding from time to time. Many scenes also havea reddish tinge, which throws off the blue in the Lone Ranger's costume and also makesflesh tones appear unnaturally pink.

The soundtracks for both films are presented in DolbyDigital 1.0 monaural. While neither is particularly compelling, the soundtracks are free ofany overly distracting hiss or aural artifacts, although there is at least one moment inThe Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold when the sound drops out entirely fora few seconds, and there a few instances of sync problems that are probably inherent to theoriginal elements. Sound effects sound good, and while the musical score is somewhatlacking in fullness, although it doesn't become overly thin or tinny.

Both movies are available individually in two-disc sets,with the movies on the first disc and a set of supplements on the second disc.

The supplemental disc for The Lone Ranger contains two lengthy interviews. Thefirst, conducted by Leonard Maltin and running roughly 38 minutes in length, is with DawnMoore, the daughter of the Lone Ranger himself, Clayton Moore, who passed away inDecember of 1999. Moore talks about what it was like growing up as the daughter of theLone Ranger, and she obviously maintains a great deal of respect and admiration for herfather, as both a performer and a parent. Maltin, as always, is good at conducting theinterview.

The second interview, conducted by writer/director Michael Druxman (CheyenneWarrior, Dillinger and Capone) and running about half an hour in length, iswith Michael Ansara, who played the small but pivotal role of Angry Horse. Many peoplemay not have heard of Ansara, but he's been an integral part of the movie business fordecades, having starred in some 90 different movies and TV shows, including the lead roleof Cochise on the TV series Broken Arrow. Druxman isn't the best interviewer, ashe doesn't let Ansara get a word in for the first five minutes of the interview, and the rest ofit consists of him going through all of Ansara's roles in major movies and asking him whathe remembers about them (there are a few instances that border on Chris Farleymoments--"Do you remember when ..."). Despite Druxman's lackluster interview skills,Ansara, who has a deep, compelling voice comparable to James Earl Jones', gets in somegood stories about his broad range of experience (everything from acting with Sir JohnGielgud in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's production of Julius Caesar to playing the firstKlingon on the Star Trek TV series).

The supplemental disc also contains a nice gallery of about 45 production stills, posters, andlobby cards, as well as trailers for the two Lone Ranger movies and two MonteHellman Westerns, Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting, which(big surprise) are also available on DVD from VCI Home Video. The disc also contains asolid set of cast and crew biographies, as well as the "Lone Ranger Creed."

The supplemental disc for The Lone Rangers and the Lost City of Gold is a bitlighter, but is does contain two gems that Lone Ranger enthusiasts will definitely what tosee: video footage of the 1990 induction ceremony for Clayton Moore and the posthumous1993 induction ceremony for Jay Silverheels into the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Otherwise, this disc is largely the same as The Lone Ranger, with the sametrailers, a good set of cast and crew biographies, the "Lone Ranger Creed," and a slightlysmaller photo gallery of posters and production stills.

©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2.5)

James Kendrick

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