Sunday, August 30, 2009


Clayton Moore made his last official appearance on screen as the Masked Man in director Lesley Selander’s epic adventure “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold,” (*** out of ****) co-starring Jay Silverheels as his faithful Indian scout Tonto. Selander was an old hand at helming westerns during his 40 years in films and television with over a 100 westerns to his directorial credit. This fast-paced horse opera embraced a revisionist perspective in its depiction of Native Americans that had been gradually gaining acceptance since 1950 in Hollywood oaters after director Delmar Daves blazed the trail with the James Stewart western “Broken Arrow.” Racial intolerance figures as the primary theme in the Robert Schaefer and Eric Freiwald screenplay. Having written 13 episodes of “The Lone Ranger” television series, Schaefer and Freiwald each were thoroughly familiar with the formula, but they raised the stakes for this theatrical outing. Our vigilante heroes ride to the rescue of Indians who are being murdered by hooded white hombres for no apparent reason. The mystery about the identities of these assassins and the reason behind their homicidal behavior is revealed fairly early so that you don’t have to guess what is happening.

Although the violence in this Selander saga appears tame by contemporary standards, the fact that the Lone Ranger shoots a bad guy to kill in one scene rather than wound and that a dastardly dame slays a double-crossing accomplice by hurling a tomahawk that sinks into his back between his shoulder blades was pretty audacious. The television series never went to this length, and when the Lone Ranger wielded his six-gun, he shot the gun out of the villain’s fist rather than blow him away. The other discrepancy here is the Indians lynch one of the raiders and torture him for information, but they are never brought up on charges from abducting this henchman. Douglas Kennedy didn’t have the villainous statue of Lyle Bettger who menaced the Masked Man in director Stuart Heisler’s “The Lone Ranger,” but he acquits himself well enough as a cowardly outlaw who kills one of his own henchmen without a qualm when the miscreant threatens to divulge his name and the identities of his cronies to a band of vengeful Indians.

“The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” opens with a recap of the masked protagonist’s origins as an ambushed Texas Ranger and his transformation into the Lone Ranger with Tonto serving as his sidekick. This opening two minute refresher is an excellent way to get a series-oriented character off to a start so that everybody, including non-Lone Ranger fans, is on equal footing. The primary plot about a gang of ruthless white wearing hoods and called—not surprisingly—the Hooded Raiders begins with them killing Indians and stealing medallions worn around their necks. The Lone Ranger and Tonto arrive too late to intervene, but they find a baby hidden nearby. Taking the baby and the dead Indian, they ride to a nearby Spanish mission supervised by Padre Vincente Esteban (Ralph Moody of “The Outsider”) and turn the infant and body over to him. Initially, the Padre has to assure an Indian maiden, Paviva (Polish actress Lisa Montell of “Gaby”), that the masked man means them no harm and is their friend. Padre sends Tonto off to town to fetch the doctor, Dr. James Rolfe (Dean Fredericks of “Gun Fever”), and Tonto promptly runs into trouble in the form of the paunchy town lawman, Sheriff Oscar Matthison (Charles Watts of “Giant”), who abhors Indians. Tonto tries to see the doctor who is treating prisoners in the sheriff’s jail and Matthison’s men start to rough him up when Rolfe intervenes and rides back to the mission.

Eventually, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are able to capture one of the Hooded Raiders, but an Indian Redbird (Maurice Jara of “Drum Beat”), and his fellow braves abduct the henchmen and take him back to their village. They stake him out and shoot arrows at him to loosen his tongue. Chief villain Ross Brady (Douglas Kennedy of “Hell’s Crossroads”) and his cohort William (Lane Bradford of “Devil’s Canyon”) ride out to the village and Brady uses his Winchester to kill his captured henchman. Little does Brady know that his henchman talked. The Lone Ranger and Tonto arrive not long afterward and reprimand Redbird for his perfidy. Redbird tells them what the man said before he died and the Lone Ranger decides to adopt a disguise so that he can learn more. He masquerades as a gentleman bounty hunter with a mustache and faux Southern accent.

Meanwhile, not only does Paviva want to adopt the orphaned infant but she also wants Dr. Rolfe to drop his masquerade as a white man. Rolfe received a medical degree and came back to act as the town’s doctor. The white population doesn’t know about his real ‘red’ blood and he has kept it a secret because he thinks that he can make more inroads posing as a white doctor than as an educated redskin with a medical degree. As it is, the whites aren’t bothered by his predilections to minister to the needs of the Indians who couldn’t possibly pay for his services. After the villains wound Tonto, Rolfe changes his mind, chastises the town, and outs himself as a Native American to everybody’s chagrin. The Lone Ranger learns about the medallions that have been stolen, but he doesn’t realize their significance until he meets the arch villainess Mrs. Frances 'Fran' Henderson (Noreen Nash of “Phantom from Space”) and explains that he wants to earn the reward that she has placed on the Hooded Raiders. Brady walks in on them and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t skedaddle. To cast suspicion off of herself, Fran orders Brady to hit her payroll so he can pay his henchmen. Nevertheless, the Ranger’s suspicions about her are raised and he learns about the meteor that destroyed one of Coronado’s Spanish expedition and the legend about the lost city of gold.

Despite its concise 83-minute running time, “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” lacks neither excitement nor surprises. Selander keeps the action moving ahead at a full gallop. The dialogue is largely expository rather than memorable as Schaefer and Freiwald push the plot ahead more often than spring surprises, but there is one major surprise that ties in with the good Indian theme. There is also a scene where the Lone Ranger pushes his own credo about justice available for everybody under the law at a time when Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren had embarked on the high court’s landmark decisions that recognized and mitigated against the conditions surrounding racial segregation, civil rights, separation of church and state, and police arrest procedure in the United States. One thing that differentiates “The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold” from its predecessor is its epic scale with flashbacks to the age of the Spanish conquistadors with a slight bit of science fiction involved in the form of a destructive meteor. Generally, Lone Ranger stories confined themselves to the 19th century without dragging in European history. No, the Lone Ranger wasn’t the first movie to deal with Spanish conquistadors. Robert D. Webb’s “The Seven Cities of Gold” (1955) concerned the Spanish searching the southwest for the eponymous places, but Selander’s western beat Gordon Douglas’ “Gold of the Seven Saints” (1961) to the screen.