Original vs. Remake: The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)

Howdy, folks. Welcome to another installment of Original vs. Remake. This month’s movie is The Lone Ranger. I will be doing The Legend of the Lone Ranger from 1981. Tiffany A. White will be doing The Lone Ranger from 2013, which starred Johnny Depp.

Set in mid-1800s Texas, the lone survivor of an ambush grows up to be masked vigilante who, with the help of his childhood friend Tonto, rescues President Grant when Butch Cavendish takes him hostage.

Watch the Trailer


About the Film

The film was directed by William A. Fraker who was known for his cinematography in films such as Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Wargames.  It starred Klinton Spillsbury, Christopher Lloyd, and Jason Robards. The film was shot in New Mexico, Utah, and California.

Interestingly (or maybe not), Legend of the Lone Ranger is Klinton Spillsbury’s only film credit. His spoken dialogue in the film was dubbed by James Keach.

Merle Haggard performed “The Man in the Mask/Ballad of the Lone Ranger,” a spoken song played in the background of the movie. The song was composed by John Barry. The song’s lyrics were written by  Dean Pitchford. I mention this because the song is one of the film’s neatest features.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger was an attempt to modernize the Lone Ranger concept. To that end, Tonto was given more dialogue and had a bigger impact on the story.

The modernization is good, but the Lone Ranger character goes way, way back. Let’s talk a little about the history of the Lone Ranger. That’s almost more interesting than the movie.

About The Lone Ranger

Every incarnation of the Lone Ranger has put a new spin on the story. But let’s go back to the original.

The original Lone Ranger character was a guy named John Reid. The lone survivor of a group of Texas Rangers who were ambushed and killed by the outlaw Butch Cavendish, John is nursed back to health by a guy named Tonto.

John’s brother Daniel was killed in the ambush. John creates a black domino mask out of Daniel’s vest and sets out to fight crime as a vigilante. Tonto’s role continues as John’s crime fighting companion.

The Lone Ranger character dates back to 1933 when he appeared on a radio show on Detroit’s WXYZ station. The radio show aired new episodes from 1933 to 1954. At the height of its popularity, the radio show aired three times a week.

The radio show’s success inspired a popular series of books. The first book of the series was published in 1936. Eventually eighteen volumes were published. Click here to view a list of the Lone Ranger books on Goodreads.

A Lone Ranger newspaper comic strip was distributed by King Features Syndicate from 1938 to 1971.

The first Lone Ranger comic book appeared in 1948. Since then, the Lone Ranger comic book has seen many incarnations, including a comic book mini-series written by Joe R. Lansdale and a brand-new comic book series which began 2006.

The concept was made into a television show which aired from 1949-1957.

Legend of the Lone Ranger is actually the fourth movie made about The Lone Ranger. The first three movies about The Lone Ranger were:

  1. The Lone Ranger (1956)
  2. The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958)
  3. The Return of the Lone Ranger (1961)

Some say the inspiration for the Lone Ranger character was Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes, to whom Zane Grey dedicated his 1914 novel The Lone Star Ranger. Others believe US Marshall Bass Reeves served as inspiration for the Lone Ranger character.

What I Think

The Lone Ranger is a long-lived concept. I think it’s worth anybody’s time to see what it’s all about. Stories about the Lone Ranger are available in so many different formats there’s something for everybody.

The 1981 movie is very dated and is sort of cheesy–think A Man Called HorseIt’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Surprisingly, it is available for sale at both Amazon (DVD and streaming) and iTunes. I’m not sure it’s worth buying unless you’re a Lone Ranger collector.

Be sure to stop by Tiffany A. White’s blog to see what she has to say about the 2013 remake.


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