No, sorry, not that Lone Ranger. I'm talking about the 1956 film of the TV Show staring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. With all the ads about the current feature film, my boys wanted to know about this Western hero. So we found on Hulu or Netflix that we could watch episodes of the 1950's vintage B&W TV show. The boys love it, and I've been enjoying the show as well. Good guys wear black (masks)!
Now, the story in the film is, quite plainly, an extended length TV episode. No origin story, no startling revelations or world-changing plot twists. Just our eponymous hero and his faithful friend riding hard to save the day for settlers and the Indians. I know that some of the expressions, especially racial epithets and stereotypes, used in that era are not acceptable any more, so I'll try to avoid using them, but they are not enough reason to not see this film.
The story opens in an unnamed territory out West, with the territorial Governor coming to visit an influential rancher. The territory wants to apply for statehood, but the Governor is concerned that “Indian trouble” will be a stumbling block to that process. You can tell almost right away who the film's villain will be. Rancher Kilgore gets a minor-key musical motif, and his name (Kilgore= kill + gore) implies wickedness.
The Governor also has a secret meeting planned while in town, and eventually he meets up an old prospector who show him a silver bullet as his credential. After establishing that the Governor is on the up-and-up, the prospector does a quick change into the Lone Ranger! Clayton Moore does a great character switch; I really did not know he was both characters until the LR dropped into the prospector's voice to convince the Governor. The two agree to work together to maintain peace between the two sides, and root out the source of the trouble.
LR & Tonto go to visit the local reservation and meet with Red Hawk, the aging chief, and his ambitious junior, Angry Horse. Is that supposed to sound like Crazy Horse? Maybe. Anyway, the Indians (no tribal name is given) have their gripes with the Territorials, violations of their land, especially the Sacred Mountain, which is taboo for everyone. Tensions are on the rise, and the younger braves want to fight.
Kilgore's men start up a cattle drive. The herds cross Indian land, the ranch crew steals cattle from another farmer and kills him, to further demonstrate who the bad guys are. At the other end of the drive, Kilgore's henchmen pick up a shipment of dynamite on the hush-hush, so you know they're up to no good with it. Later some more of Kilgore's men disguise themselves as Indians and start a dangerous brush fire. The final straw comes when Kilgore sends his daughter away to keep her from danger and her carriage is attacked by the Indians. The Territorials form a posse behind Kilgore to get her back and punish the Indians.
Our heroes, having discovered Kilgore's ultimate goal (surprise!) in causing all the strife, ride ahead to the reservation to secure the girl's release. LR debates with Angry Horse, saying that he doesn't have the wisdom needed to be a leader of his people. The two get a good fight in, with the girl's release dependent upon the victor. You can guess how the fight ends.
Unaware of all this, Kilgore leads his posse towards the reservation to start the war. LR & Tonto find themselves in the middle of the two warring sides. Do they survive? Is a happy ending possible? Of course, and I won't spoil it.
One of the things I appreciate about the TV show and this movie is that there is a balance – people on both sides want to fight, and people on both sides want to live in peace. Yes, Kilgore is the designated villain, but he's not the only source of ill-will and even he gets some sympathetic treatment. The local sheriff and Indian Agent want to maintain peace and respect the Indian's rights even against the sentiment of many of the Territorials. The gunplay is exciting but unbloody & the Ranger does a lot of his trademark trick shooting. There is one near-lynching of an Indian which is clearly meant to seem unfair and unjust to the audience. The Ranger's simple and humble heroic career is a refreshing change from the modern penchant for jaded anti-heroes. This movie is a fun, fast-paced adventure with lots to cheer about. It remains to be seen if the current feature film can live up to this standard of good guys, good friends and justice over vigilantism.
p.s. As to the stereotypes, we've used them as starting points for conversations with our boys about how we, especially as Christians, treat those who are different from us, and recognizing & respecting virtue no matter who displays it.