Monday, July 1, 2013



It looks like director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and writers Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, and Justin Haythe have done what no one else has managed to do in decades: make a new Western that will delight and satisfy die-hard fans of the genre and the characters, and introduce the form to a young and fresh audience who will hopefully want to come back again and again.  (Note: I originally has a sentence here saying I was thrilled that they were already working on LONE RANGER II, but I have since learned that there are, as of yet, no plans for a sequel.)

Among the fine major Westerns of the last several years, 3:10 TO YUMA (2007), APPALOOSA (2008), and DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) were rated ‘R’. TRUE GRIT (2010), like LONE RANGER, was ‘PG-13’, and featured a child protagonist in Mattie Ross, but there was no great ‘reach-out’ to a younger audience.  But The Lone Ranger, since its inception in Depression-era radio, through two Republic serials and 217 TV episodes and three feature films, has always been for kids, and this new version, as the same production team did with their PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN franchise, has built a movie that will draw in the interest of kids while exposing them to the classic elements of westerns, which have delighted audiences for generations, nay, for over a century. 

I know there will be classicists who will accept no substitutes for Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, and I can only tell them that they’re missing out on something they would thoroughly enjoy – a Western made with so much money that there is nothing left out because of budgetary restraints, made by people who have a clear love, respect for and knowledge of the genre, and who flex the art and craft they’ve honed for years.  Is it perfect?  No.  Will you love it so much that you’ll forgive any imperfections?  Hell, yeah!  This is not a museum piece, it is living, breathing – sometimes hyperventilating – art that builds on the past without requiring a knowledge of the past to be appreciated.

The story opens, unexpectedly, at a carnival in San Francisco in 1933, perhaps not coincidentally the year The Lone Ranger premiered on WXYZ radio.  Will, a little boy with astonished and astonishingly large brown eyes, all dressed up in a cowboy suit and six-guns, is visiting a nearly-empty side-show, examining the stuffed bison and other displays, and jumps with surprise when an ancient Indian figure sitting outside a tepee, a crow atop his head, suddenly comes to life, and seeing the boy with a black mask on, addresses him as “Kemo Sabe.”  It is, you guessed it, Tonto, looking easily ninety.  They talk, the boy frightened at first, but soon fascinated, as Tonto tells him the story of his relationship with John Reid.  Soon the old Indian’s words take on visuals, and the story of how Tonto and John Reid met, and how Reid becomes the Lone Ranger, begins. 

Most of the story revolves around Promontory, Utah, and the upcoming event of driving the golden railroad spike that will complete the laying of track for the Transcontinental Railroad, linking the East and West coasts of these United States together.  As a demonstration that peace and civilization have come to the frontier, railroad magnate Cole has ordered that the most despicable of villains, Butch Cavendish, already sentenced to die, be brought there by train, to hang.  Also being transported is a lesser criminal named Tonto.  A group of Texas Rangers are on the way to assist, while the Cavendish gang is on the way to thwart the law.  On the train is John Reid, a young lawyer from a family of lawmen, coming out west to reunite with his family. 

When all of these people with differing plans collide, you have one of the two tremendous train-bound extended action sequences that book-end the movie, and it is so beautifully constructed that’s it exalting to watch – it’s everything you’re hoping for, and more.  I hope it’s not a spoiler to say they don’t get to hang Butch Cavendish that day.  The hunt for Cavendish and his gang, and his hostages, and the search for an insidious conspiracy, drives the movie through two hours and twenty minutes of thrills, action and humor.

Much has been said, in anticipation of this film, about the diminishing of the Lone Ranger to build up Tonto.  That isn’t what happened.  Instead, the story is, as it always has been, about the creation of the man, the identity, of the Lone Ranger; but this time, it is told from Tonto’s point of view.  And it works – after all, Tonto is who he always is.  It’s John Reid who takes on the new identity, and telling the ‘why’ is the purpose of the film.   

The original masked man and faithful Indian companion had little back-story, and these have been expanded, giving more heart and humanity and motivation to the characters, and not a few surprises.  John Reid still has a brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid, but there is also a woman in his heart, who just happens to be, awkwardly enough, not his wife, but his sister-in-law.  We learn about John Reid’s background early on, but only discover the astonishing truth about Tonto as the story races along.  The mask is there.  The silver bullets are there, but while they were a minor part of the story of the original Lone Ranger, they take on startling significance in this telling. 

Johnny Depp’s characterization of Tonto borrows nothing from Jay Silverheels, which is good, because we don’t want an imitation, we want a performance, and we get it.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen Depp do before, diametrically opposed to his theatrical-to-swishy personification of Captain Jack Sparrow.  But it is still Depp, and his dramatic work, as well as his comedic timing, are spot-on as always.  More poker-faced then stoic, he reveals his emotions with his words and actions, almost never his expression.  Depp is virtually unrecognizable in his two distinct make-ups, as the young, and as the very old Tonto, and the masterful work by the make-up department under the direction of Joel Harlow is worthy of Oscar consideration.  Incidentally, Depp’s previous westerns are the highly regarded DEADMAN, directed by Jim Jarmusch, and last year’s RANGO.      

As the man who transitions from by-the-book lawyer to masked crime-fighter, Armie Hammer impressed as twins in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and as J. Edgar Hoover’s lover in HOOVER.  His look of doe-eyed innocence works perfectly with his character’s self-assured arrogance early in the story.  But in addition to the comedy, and he does play Costello to Tonto’s Abbott, he has a sincere believability which makes the pain of his many personal losses in the story moving to the audience. 

Striking British actress Ruth Wilson is effective as brother Dan Reid’s wife and mother of their son Danny (Bryant Prince), and projects that sort of inner strength we associate with frontier ladies.  She also has a lovely face for period stories.   James Badge Dale plays John’s more down-to-earth and down-and-dirty brother, Ranger Dan Reid, with the traditional restraint of the western hero, but with heart and courage.

Among the less likable characters is Tom Wilkinson as Cole, the railroad mogul more interested in profit than progress.  As Butch Cavendish, William Fichtner, star of the series CROSSING LINES, excels, portraying a character so revolting in his passions that I wouldn’t dare spoil things by giving it away here.  His make-up, including a hair-lip is, like Depp’s Oscar-worthy. 

Barry Pepper

Other performances of note include Helena Bonham Carter as Red, a madam with valuable information and an ivory leg.  Barry Pepper plays the dashing Fuller, a character modeled on Custer.  No stranger to westerns, he was Lucky Ned Pepper in the TRUE GRIT remake, and even turned up on episodes of both LONESOME DOVE spin-off series.  Saginaw Grant impresses as Chief Big Bear in a scene where the Lone Ranger learns about the earlier life of Tonto.  Mason Cook, who plays the little cowboy in the introductory scene is, surprisingly, a western veteran, having well-played a key role in last year’s WYATT EARP’S REVENGE.

Leon Rippy as Collins

Leon Rippy, who plays the key role of the tracker Collins, is disguised from his DEADWOOD fans (where he played Tom Nuttal) with a revolting spray of facial hair, gives a sometimes comic, sometimes emotional, and dramatically critical performance.  And though it’s just a cameo, it’s nice to see Western veteran Rance Howard as a train engineer.

From the moment the action moves from Depression San Francisco to the old west, the delights are many, with extra kicks for we western nerds.  The filmmakers express their reverence for Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST frequently, and in a way that cleverly extends the honors farther still.   The building-of-the-railroad through Monument Valley echoes not only Segio Leone’s similar use of the location in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but also reminds us that Leone was paying his respects to John Ford.  An early scene at a railroad station brings back not just the opening of IN THE WEST, but it’s homage to Zinneman’s HIGH NOON.  A later scene of growing menace in an isolated farm acknowledges not just IN THE WEST, but Leone’s love of George Steven’s SHANE.  For that matter, when a train-board revival meeting features, “We Will Gather At The River,” it’s not just a salute to Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH, but to John Ford and all of the other filmmaker who’ve used it.  And if you don’t know that guns will be drawn before the end of that hymn, then this must be your first rodeo. 

Are there some flaws?  Sure.  It’s funny when it should be, but sometimes it gets too jokey, and after you’ve been emotionally involved, you’re pulled out of the story by the silliness.  There’s a visit to ‘hell on wheels’, a traveling amalgam of sinful entertainments to entice the track-layers, that is amusing, but grinds the action to a halt for too long.    

I saw the movie at Disney Studios, with an audience of other press and industry types, but mostly with families with exuberant kids who just ate it up.  The one criticism I heard the most?  “The Lone Ranger spends too much time being stupid.”  Dramatically, it’s logical to delay the transition from dope to hero for as long as possible, but for those of us who knew what must ultimately be coming, the wait was sometimes frustrating.  But don’t worry – you do get the William Tell Overture in the nick of time, and from that moment on the film is an enthralling gun-battle and two-train chase to the finish.    

Yugoslavian-born cinematographer Bojan Bazelli shoots like he’s been doing westerns all of his life.  Hans Zimmer’s score is big and grand as it should be, and while there are musical motifs that are a nod of respect to Ennio Morricone, they are nods, and not imitations. Art Director Jeff Gonchor was nominated for an Oscar for TRUE GRIT, and continues to do meticulous work, including the three trains and two towns which were all built from scratch.  Penny Rose, who has done the costumes for all of the PIRATES films, has a beautiful eye for westerns as well.  I’ve seen five big new summer movies in the past week, and THE LONE RANGER is miles ahead of all the rest!  Hi-yo Silver!  Away!


On Saturday, July 6th, at Raindance Book Store in Long Beach, YELLOW ROCK leading lady, co-writer and producer Lenore Andriel, co-writer and producer Steve Doucette, and actor Rick Mora, who plays Crow Runner in the film, will be signing the DVD, and the just released soundtrack album composed and conducted by Randy Miller.  I recently interviewed Miller, and the interview will be appearing in the Round-up very soon.  If you would like to hear some of the music from the Intrada album, click HERE.  And below is the film’s trailer.



The address of Raindance Book Store is 419 Shoreline Village Dr. Long Beach, Ca 90802. The phone is 562 432 0199.  The signing will be from 3 to 7 p.m.



I’ve just heard from Julie Ann Ream that she has been working with Jim’s widow, Janet Arness, to arrange an estate sale of the property of TV’s Matt Dillon.  I’ve no details yet on what manner of items will be offered, or the address of the event, but I promise to keep you informed as I learn more.



That’s all for right now.  Monday is the start of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.  If you know of any events marking the Battle, please share them here and/or on the Facebook page.  If you have a good photo, please send it along!  And if you are one of the reenactors who took part in the making of the movie GETTYSBURG, why not drop us a line.


Hi-yo Silver!  Away!




All Original Contents Copyright by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved


  1. defintely looking forward to seeing the new Lone Ranger next week.

  2. Looking forward to seeing The Lone Ranger. A few months ago they had a huge set up with blue screens, the trains and other stuff to do effects and stunt work in the parking lot of the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, which is close to where I live. Very impressive set up. Passed by there several time while they were there. I think the shot in the LA Arboretum some, too. Right now one of the locomotives that was brought to Disney California Adventure park for the World Premiere, is on display outside the Disney parks in the shuttle bus area. Not sure how long they are going to keep it there.

  3. Wow -- thanks for all the info, Don! I'd love to check out that locomotive!

  4. Henry, thanks for a thoughtful review. I wasn't going to go see this...but now I am.

  5. I know Armie so really looking forward to this.....he said everyone worked hard on this....
    Dorman Nelson