From 1949 to 1957, Clayton Moore starred as the Lone Ranger, the masked vigilante who fired silver bullets but never aimed to kill. The only Texas Ranger to survive the massacre by the Butch Cavendish gang, this man took on the mask to rise above the threats of violence on he and his friends, to take outlaws to task and to make the West safe for everyone. Of course, the Ranger’s partner Tonto (Jay Silverheels) repays the childhood debt in saving his life and becomes the Kato to the Ranger’s Green Hornet, setting the stage for July’s The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto. Peeling back the layers here, we can see a lavish history of justice and a story that has been emulated many times since.
Watching the original episodes, I’m flashing back to my childhood, but recognizing that what I saw in the 1980s may or may not have been in chronological order! But watching them in succession, the overall story of the Ranger, from the ambush to the restoration of Ranger Reid by Tonto, to the taming of Silver, and the pursuit of Cavendish (which takes the majority of the first season), all unroll in serial form, not separate, individual pieces. What’s clear is the consistency of the man, even if he progresses in terms of what he’s responsible for and the relationships he builds with other lawmen and innocent civilians.
One of the first notable moments was the Ranger’s decision to not “put down” Silver. (Of course, Silver didn’t have a name yet, but we could tell the horse would be Silver.) The Ranger recognizes a brokenness in both himself and the horse, which had lost a fight with a hard-charging buffalo, and has compassion, recognizing the beauty that remains in the horse. His willingness to treat the horse in the same way that Tonto had treated him, not as a lost cause but as a redeemable soul, establish a kinder side to the trio (including the horse) that will continue throughout the episodes.
In fact, this “redeeming” aspect is clear in the Ranger’s desire not to kill. He says that it’s up to the law to judge a man, not the person at the other end of a revolver. Even when it would make his life abundantly easier to just kill a villain, not even preemptively but to stop them, the Ranger continues to hold to the code he’s articulated in the first few episodes to his friends. This code seems to set the Ranger apart, especially considering our current antihero/vigilante as violent justice, from what we’ve seen in recent movies, even upgrades to earlier ideas.
What remains to be seen is whether Walt Disney, and the upcoming remake by Gore Verbinski, will maintain the purist character of the Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp’s Tonto serving as both narrator (a necessary art form in the serial) and guide to Artie Hammer’s Lone Ranger. But even more than the question of how the filmmakers handle this (it is Disney), is whether film audiences will respond to a cleaned up articulation of justice? Can the Ranger not kill? Can he really be the chaste (and aloof), dangerous (yet compassionate), above-the-fray figure that he was in the serial? It’s what drove me to the show as a kid… and the reason I still want to watch.
For collectors: The 75th Anniversary Collection includes some seventy-five pages of pictures of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, as well as facts about the production and history concerning the actual character. The Episode Guide was also a helpful tool in exploring the first two seasons, as well as the animated episodes, the Lassie-Lone Ranger crossover, and one of the radio broadcasts. But fans will appreciate the pieces of nostalgia included as well: the “Lone Ranger Victory Corps” membership card (in support of U.S. troops in WWII), the “Lone Ranger Safety Club” registration card, trading cards, a print of Moore with signature, and, my favorite, “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” comic book!