Sunday, December 15, 2013


If you had told me that 2013 would bring a more controversial Western to the screen than the previous year’s DJANGO UNCHAINED from Quentin Tarentino, I’d have said you were crazy.  But 2013’s THE LONE RANGER, directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ruffled more feathers than any other Western I can recall in decades.  As a matter of fact, Tarantino himself surprised many when he put LONE RANGER on his own ‘ten best list’ for 2013. "The first 45 minutes are excellent…   It was a bad idea to split the bad guys in two groups; it takes hours to explain and nobody cares.  Then comes the train scene—incredible! When I saw it, I kept thinking, 'What?  That's the film that everybody says is crap? Seriously?'"

There is one shameful omission in the film which I missed at the screening, but caught watching the BluRay: when the credits roll, nowhere are the names of Frank Striker and George W. Trendle, the men who created the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and in the case of Striker, wrote hundreds of radioplays refining the characters.  It is a disgrace that neither name appears on the screen, and should be remedied.

LONE RANGER is coming to home video this Tuesday, December 17th, and the good folks at Disney have given the Round-up a pair of BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL Combo-Packs to award to two lucky Round-up readers.  You’ll find the contest below, after all the review-type-stuff.  (If you want to skip to the contest, and read the rest of this later, I’ll understand.)

LONE RANGER Movie Review

Originally posted 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. 

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 the best parts so much that you’ll forgive its 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 driving of 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 it’s 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 animated 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 Fitchner, 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. 

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, 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!

LONE RANGER – The Special Features

There are three featurettes included, all of them entertaining and informative.

ARMIE’S WESTERN ROAD TRIP lets the star provide an overview of the movie’s many locations – Monument Valley, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Comanche Country – and a sense of the challenges the cast and crew faced in each.

BECOMING A COWBOY details the ‘boot camp’ experience of the actors being trained with horses and guns for the film.

RIDING THE RAILS OF ‘THE LONE RANGER’ is the most interesting of all the special features, documenting the building of the trains, the laying of five miles of track, and the work of the gandy dancers who swung the sledges.

Additionally, there’s an amusing BLOOPER REEL, and a single DELETED SCENE, but like nothing I’ve seen before, as the scene is done entirely in 3D animation – fascinating!


Here’s what you need to do to win one of the two LONE RANGER BluRay/DVD/Digital sets!
On the left are numbered the names of the men who played the Lone Ranger, and on the right are lettered the men who played Tonto (I left out an unsold pilot version, but hopefully didn’t miss any others).  And no, it’s not a mistake that some of the ‘Tontos’ appear more than once.

Match the correct Rangers to the correct Tontos, and in an email, type them together (9J for example), include your name and mailing (snail-mail) address, and email your entry to  .  The first two entries I receive that do all of the match-ups correctly will win the LONE RANGER sets.  This contest is for readers in the domestic U.S. only – the discs wouldn’t play correctly in other regions anyway.  Good luck, Kemo Sabe!

1)Robert Livingston                                                                            A)Jay Silverheels

2)William Conrad                                                                               B)Chief Thundercloud

3)Brace Beemer                                                                                  C)Michael Horse        

4)Lee Powell                                                                                       A)Jay Silverheels

5)Clayton Moore                                                                                 D)Johnny Depp          

6)Klinton Spillsbury                                                                            E)John Todd

7)Armie Hammer                                                                                F)Ivan Naranjo

8)John Hart                                                                                         B)Chief Thundercloud

Winners will be announced in next week's Round-up!


A Home Video Review

One season at a time, Gene Autry Enterprises has been overseeing the restoration of THE GENE AUTRY SHOW.  It’s been a long-term commitment, a tremendous undertaking by the Timeless Media Group, Shout! Factory, and Gene’s own Flying ‘A’ Pictures Incorporated.  Now they’ve gathered all five seasons together and released them in a complete 91 episode, 47 hour set! 

Depending on your age, and where you grew up, these shows may be entirely new to you, or fondly remembered pieces of your childhood.  Either way, they stand up beautifully 63 years after the series first ran.  And the more I see of murky, shaky, duped prints, the more I admire the vision of Gene Autry, who acquired the rights to all of his movies and TV shows, to make sure that they were maintained in the highest possible quality. 

Gene spent more than two years studying the difference between movies and television before shooting his first episode, analyzing questions like what is the best way to show action on a tiny, blurry screen.  He concluded that his television movies would have less long-shots, more close-ups, and more side-to-side rather than head-on action.   

Why was Gene, just back from the war, eager to get into the new market?  In Gene’s own words, “Like everyone else in show business, I had become very much interested in the possibilities of television. And, in addition, I had a special reason for wanting to hit the video channels. During my three and a half years in the service, a whole new generation of children had been born. These youngsters are still too young to attend many movies (if at all), but they’re not too young to watch television. And in these days, cowboy fans, like charity, begin at home.”

Gene wanted to build a pipeline of new fans from the TV series to his films at the movie theatres.  But movie exhibitors, whose venues were disappearing with the competition of the new medium of television, were not at all pleased when he decided to make shows directly for TV.  Some even cancelled their contracts to play his pictures, saying no one would buy a ticket to see him when they could watch him on TV for free.  To show how different the show-biz world of the 1950s was from today, Gene correctly countered that by-and-large, only rural areas played his movies, while only big cities had TV stations, so his films and TV shows were serving almost completely different markets.  He further pointed out that his new Columbia-produced films were not getting the playdates they should, because exhibitors, to save money, were instead booking his pre-war Republic films, which he didn’t own (yet).

One thing that set THE GENE AUTRY SHOW apart from its competitors was that the episodes were approached as self-contained mini-movies.  In THE ROY ROGERS SHOW, THE LONE RANGER, or HOPALONG CASSIDY, the identities and relationships of characters were always the same.  In Autry’s series, just like in his theatrical movies, Gene could be a lawman or a ranch hand or a well-known entertainer, and sidekick Pat Buttram could be an old compadre, or someone he just met.  Sometimes Pat is the sheriff who hires Gene as his deputy!  It made for a wider variety of story possibilities.  And also consistent with Gene’s features, there is always music, a not preachy but clear core of morality, and comedy supplied by Pat Buttram, who is very .  And there’s plenty of fighting and riding action, what Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman calls ‘the five minute rule’ – that’s the maximum time allowed between fistfights!

The shows often do feel like a very tight little movie rather than a TV episode, and the casts are peppered with actors who had worked with Gene in features, or would star in the shows he produced.  Dickie Jones, who would star in both THE RANGE RIDER and BUFFALO BILL JR. series; Gail Davis, who would do a number of features with Gene before he cast her as Annie Oakley; Myron Healy, a smug villain with more than 300 acting credits; Denver Pyle; SUPERMAN villain Ben Weldon; Abbott & Costello’s ‘Mike the cop’, Gordon Jones; and Harry Harvey, who almost always the sheriff both to Gene, and in Roy Rogers’ town of Mineral City.  There are also actors just starting on their career ascent like Denver Pyle, and Lee Van Cleef – in the season 3 episode, Gene beats Lee within an inch of his life!

In addition to about six episodes per disc, most of the fourteen discs include a special feature selected to place the shows in a historical context.  Among the entertainments are photo-galleries of Gene on vending cards; Gene starring in MELODY RANCH RADIO SHOWS; a photo gallery of Gene’s 1953 tour on England; and Gene’s movie trailers. 

And even if you’ve bought all of the individual seasons, there is one disc you do not have.  Back in the 1970s, in order to raise money to buy the rights to some of his features, Gene sold off the rights to the four other TV series he produced.  Although Autry Enterprises no longer owns them, the bonus disc includes two episodes from each of those series, all of them period westerns.  ANNIE OAKLEY, starring Gail Davis, was the most popular of Gene’s other productions, especially with girls who loved that Annie was the hero, and in charge, without anyone needing to comment on how unusual it was.  She was also beautiful.  THE RANGE RIDER starred Jock Mahoney and Dickie Jones, two of the best horsemen and stuntmen in the business.  The shows were non-stop action, and thrilling to watch.  Dick Jones followed up as BUFFALO BILL JR., which was more small-kid-aimed, but still a lot of fun.  THE ADVENTURES OF CHAMPION starred Gene’s horse, with 12-year-old Barry Curtis as the only kid who can ride him, and former ‘Red Ryder’ Jim Bannon as his dad.  There is a pair of episodes from THE GENE AUTRY SHOW as well.

If you’re an adult watching for your own enjoyment, you can watch the shows any way you want – binge-view a season, watch them chronologically, jump around randomly.  After all, each show stands up well on their own.  But if you’re going to show them to kids, I have a suggestion: start with season five.  While all the rest of the shows are in black and white (except for two from season one), the thirteen episodes of season five are in beautiful color.  Over the years I have introduced literally thousands of schoolkids to Laurel & Hardy, when a class had worked hard all day, and had earned a treat for the last twenty minutes of the school day.  But I learned that I had to use the colorized versions – they simply wouldn’t look at black and white.  But once you’ve got them hooked – on Gene or Laurel & Hardy – they’ll not only watch black & white, they’ll even listen to the radio shows! 

After re-reading the above, I fear I have shortchanged Pat Buttram, who is Gene’s sidekick in the series.  Pat was a very bright and clever guy, and seamlessly mixing ‘dumb-guy’ humor was a wry, observational wit.  Incidentally, there was one time during season one when Pat was nearly killed by a prop cannon.  For the next several episodes actors Fuzzy Knight, Alan Hale Jr. and Chill Wills took turns donning Pat’s duds and filling in for him (you can learn more about this HERE  in my review of PAT BUTTRAM, ROCKING CHAIR HUMORIST).

If you’re looking for a highly enjoyable way to spend forty-seven hours, I highly recommend THE COMPLETE GENE AUTRY SHOW.  And if you’d like to learn more about Gene Autry, and how he ran his business, please read my interview with Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman HERE .


Once again I have to thank Karl Tiedemann, who never misses a thing on BBC radio.   Here’s a half hour podcast about the world’s most popular western writer, German 19th century author Karl May.  Virtually unknown in the English-speaking world, everywhere else he’s the King of the Cowboys.  Here’s the link:


Back in October of 2009, many of us followers of the great maestro of the Italian cinema – especially of the Leone spaghetti western – were crushed when, due to health concerns, Morricone had to cancel his Hollywood Bowl performance.  Now, under the sponsorship of TCM, the brilliant composer with over 520 scores to his credit, will have his first United States tour in March, starting with an appearance at the Los Angeles Nokia Theatre on March 20th, followed by a New York appearance three days later.  It’s not yet clear whether more dates will be added.  He will be working with a 200 piece orchestra and choir.  It’s not something you see – or hear – every day.  You can learn more HERE 



Just as I was about to post, I got word that Tom Laughlin, writer, director and star of the BILLY JACK movies of the 1970s, has died.  A self-made filmmaker and movie star, Tom loved Westerns, and in addition to the contemporary BILLY JACK films, where he played an American Indian with martial arts skills, he also appeared in THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER, THE LITTLEST HORSE THIEVES, and did a cameo as a member of the Butch Cavendish gang in 1981’s LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER.  I had the pleasure of hearing him and his wife and partner Delores Taylor talk about their lives and careers in October 2012, when he was honored with a SILVER SPUR AWARD.  You can read what he had to say, and the rest of the article, HERE .


I had a terrific time Saturday morning, being a guest on the ‘AROUND THE BARN’ chatting with these charming ladies – Roy Rogers’ and Dale Evans’ granddaughter Julie Fox Pomilia; host Nancy Pitchford-Zhe; Gene Autry Enterprises President Karla Buhlman; and OutWest purveyor and host Bobbi Jean Bell, on KHTS 1220 AM in Santa Clarita.  We discussed Gene Autry, what’s coming in the Round-up, and we heard a lot of Gene’s great Christmas music.  I was given a pair of delightful Gene Autry Christmas CDs, and my wife and I loved listening to them as we drove to and from a Christmas party that night.  It doesn’t begin and end with RUDOLPH and HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS – there’s also FREDDIE THE LITTLE FIR TREE, and many more.  Bobbi Jean has them all HERE 

If you missed AROUND THE BARN, or if you want to hear it again and again (and who can blame you?), I’ll be posting the link as soon as the Podcast is available.  

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright December 2013 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

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