Neil Earle bel­lows ‘Hi-Yo Sil­ver’ to crit­ics of Lone Ranger

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED - BYNEILEARLE Neil Earle is orig­i­nally from Car­bon­ear South. He teaches church his­tory for Grace Com­mu­nion Sem­i­nary On­line. He writes from Duarte, Calif. Duarte is a city in Los Angeles County

The 86th Academy Awards have come and gone. I no­ticed that “The Lone Ranger and Tonto” were only nom­i­nated for one award, best makeup, which was at least very de­serv­ing.

I feel slightly in­dig­nant (with my tongue set firmly in my cheek) that not only was the movie con­sid­ered to have bombed, but it didn’t even make it to the outer lim­its of best pic­ture con­sid­er­a­tion. I say this with at last some his­tory in all this Western movie busi­ness and Lone Ranger fan­dom. It’s al­most a cliché but the Lone Ranger and Tonto con­nected with me and mil­lions of other kids when I was old enough to sit on mom’s floor read­ing ju­ve­nile fic­tion based on the comics.

A first for Park Lane, Car­bon­ear

The orig­i­nal Lone Ranger de­buted as a chil­dren’s ra­dio show on WXYZ Detroit 85 or so years ago and from 1949 to 1957 be­came a TV sen­sa­tion for our age group. This se­ries starred the un­for­get­table Clay­ton Moore as the masked rider of the plains and the Cana­dian Iro­quois Jay Sil­ver­heels as Tonto.

What fun to rush home af­ter school to catch the weekly in­stal­ments. That’s right, the first tele­vi­sion on Park Lane on Car­bon­ear’s South Side was in mom and dad’s house.

What Hol­ly­wood types call “the back story” of Lone Ranger has co­her­ence, even at the comic book level. A band of Texas Rangers are am­bushed with only one sur­vivor, John Reid, who was left for dead. Reid is nursed back to health by Tonto, then dons a mask, the bet­ter to seek vengeance on the am­bush­ers and along the way does a lot of good, “bring­ing law and or­der to the early West.”

Add to that el­e­gance of story a su­perb open­ing se­quence by a sten­to­rian-voiced 1950s an­nouncer ac­com­pa­nied by the Wil­liam Tell Over­ture play­ing in the back­ground and you have a pop-cul­ture win­ner. (There is the old joke that the def­i­ni­tion of a snob is some­one who lis­tens to the Wil­liam Tell Over­ture and doesn’t think of the Lone Ranger, but I won’t men­tion it!)

Re­mem­ber­ing the Bond Theatre

By the great Sil­ver’s shiny mane I do de­clare the crit­ics were out to lunch on this one.

The crit­ics missed the sig­nals. Miss­ing too was the par­tial homage to the clas­sic John Ford Western, the in­ten­tion­al­ity of the lo­cale — Mon­u­ment Val­ley. Add to this mas­sive train de­rail­ments and there’s plenty of vis­ual ac­tion.

In this 2013 ver­sion of the Lone Ranger, the train­ing and prepa­ra­tion — “the Plan Stage” of any movie — sees the masked man at times de­scend into bathos if not out­right farce. He al­most stresses you out in his “will he ever get his act to­gether?” men­tal­ity.

But the fi­nal scene with Lone Ranger rid­ing on top of a train to get the bad guys could have dragged even we cow­boy fa­nat­ics at the old Bond Theatre out of our seat.

Ah, those “thrilling days of yes­ter­year.” My heart stirred ever so slightly as the Wil­liam Tell Over­ture fi­nally made its ap­pear­ance for the train scene and for a minute I’m back in my old liv­ing room again with all my bud­dies, trans­fixed. Mom al­ways said those were the best days of our lives.

Ar­mie Ham­mer looked like a con­tender — vis­ually “to­gether” with white hat and black mask. Not Clay­ton Moore but Son of Clay­ton Moore. Johnny Depp’s caked on war paint and ironic per­sona were a nod to our skep­ti­cal times. But all that could be ac­com­mo­dated to our dream-state tastes con­sid­er­ing that Johnny Depp got ini­ti­ated by the Com­manches in a small cer­e­mony on the way to the set and, Ham­mer learned to ride as well as any stunt­man.

“Hi-yo Sil­ver!”

Hard to du­pli­cate

Why, then, did the movie fare so poorly? What can a some­time Chris­tian movie critic say to all this? Lone Ranger 2013 re­minds me of what a fel­low pas­tor stated years ago when our church was be­ing dec­i­mated and morale suf­fered: “Res­ur­rec­tions are hard to pull off,” opined my boss at the time.

The Lone Ranger is one of those com­pelling gi­ants of the pop­u­lar cul­ture who is hard to du­pli­cate. Ap­par­ently the cast sensed this. Ham­mer sounded philo­soph­i­cal in his re­flec­tions to Cow­boys and In­di­ans mag­a­zine: “This coun­try was the last fron­tier and to be able to spend six months on the Western fron­tier find­ing a sense of self-worth and ex­plo­ration, was an ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Myth be­comes fact

Even though we lived at the di­ag­o­nal op­po­site of the con­ti­nent, Roy Rogers could pack the Bond any given Satur­day.

The Mon­u­ment Val­ley area of Ari­zona which fea­tures huge in the 2013 ver­sion is sa­cred to the Navaho. They even came to bless the set. They didn’t have to con­vince me, with a full reper­toire of 1950s Westerns to draw upon. The echoes of some­thing tran­scen­dent draw you in at Mon­u­ment Val­ley where I led a bus load of tourists in 2002.

Then there are the shaman­is­tic over­tones of Johnny Depp’s Tonto, the evoca­tive way he greeted Reid as “Spirit Walker … the one who has been to the other side and re­turned,” and how stu­pe­fied the cast and crew were when Ham­mer did his first rear­ing-back se­quence on Sil­ver — these are slight strands of con­nec­tion to … some­thing big­ger than our­selves. The myth be­come fact!

Self-ref­er­en­tial to the Western myth though it was on film, the Lone Ranger myth at times bumps up against a big­ger story of a man sup­posed to be dead but re­turned.

The 2013 ver­sion re­minds us that John Reid comes back from the other side, seem­ingly, a Res­ur­rec­tion Fig­ure in a way, to be­come the in­car- na­tion of jus­tice. We didn’t catch a lot of that back in the 1950s but Dawn Moore, daugh­ter of Clay­ton Moore, the orig­i­nal Kemo Sabe, continues to re­ceive her fa­ther’s fan mail . There is a trend, in that Moore’s mail comes “es­pe­cially from po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers, and teach­ers,” she told Cow­boys and In­di­ans. “These were the young view­ers who de­cided to be­come pro­tec­tors in some ca­pac­ity be­cause of my fa­ther’s role on tele­vi­sion…it is very pow­er­ful stuff.”

It is pow­er­ful. The 2013 in­car­na­tion showed that the myth of the Old West, which has to be seen to be be­lieved and, as the Lakota say, be­lieved in or­der to be seen. This makes a po­tent recipe for com­ing out of yourself for two hours. And maybe dream­ing big­ger and higher thoughts af­ter you leave the “show.”

And isn’t that what the movies are all about?

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