Sunday, July 7, 2013
"Who Was That Masked Man?": 2
SPOILER ALERT: This post mentions details from the film.
In Gore Verbinski's new film, The Lone Ranger, I was waiting for the line that's the title of this post. At the end of the old TV show (did it happen every time? or just a lot? can't remember), the Lone Ranger and Tonto would ride away from town, waving back at the grateful residents (whose bacon, in one shape or another, our two heroes had just saved), and one of the folks would ask, "Who was that masked man?" No one would know, of course, but someone (sometimes it was a kid? often? just my memory?) would then say something like this: "I don't know--but he left this!" And he/she would hold up a silver bullet, one of the Lone Ranger's trademarks--along, of course, with the mask, which as far as I can recall, never came off, even when the bad guys captured him now and then. They would threaten to take it off--but something always intervened and/or dissuaded them.
But, as I said, in the new film, this did not happen. A minor disappointment.
For the most part, I liked the new film--it was far better than I thought it would be (based on what's happened to other old TV shows/movies I've liked). The location shooting at Monument Valley (you didn't know it was in Texas, did you? well, in the film it is) was spectacular (like those gorgeous shots in John Ford's The Searchers), and it sent me to the road atlas, where I began plotting a return trip. We were there once, back in early 50s, but I don't remember much/anything about it: At that stage of my life (8 or so) I was interested mostly in the next DQ or A&W and in persuading Dad to STOP at it!
I liked some other things, too. Verbinski and his actors (Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp) showed both respect and playfulness with the characters. (By the way, I had to look up Hammer on IMDB to discover that he had played the Winklevoss twins in the Facebook movie, The Social Network.) The Ranger was always deadly serious in the old TV show, but that sort of thing is less appealing these frivolous days, so Hammer played him as kind of a prissy doofus in the early part of the film (he was coming back to Texas to be a county prosecutor), and it's not until he teams up with Tonto that his "real" education in "real" life commences.
Tonto, as I wrote yesterday, was originally a very demeaning part. He invariably got his ass kicked on the TV show, and the Ranger had to save him. He also spoke in a sort of ugly pidgin English--sounding more like an American Indian version of Tarzan than anything else. Um, Tonto find head of horse in bed, kemo sabe. It bloody. Mean trouble. That sort of thing. The screenwriters gave Johnny Depp's Tonto a richer language, though he still affected that husky sound that Jay Silverheels produced back in the day--intentional, certainly; a tribute? Perhaps.
We have to suspend our disbelief about Depp's Tonto, though, over a pretty deep (depp?) chasm. He has no trouble with anything in the film--from firearms to fantastic physical agility to the intuitive (practiced?) sense of how to operate a railroad steam engine. Yet he also displays a kind of appealing naivete now and then. And, of course, a profound belief in the supernatural.
I kind of liked the frame story that the filmmakers injected. A little boy, dressed somewhat like the Ranger, goes to a Wild West display at a carnival; a very elderly Tonto is there, posing behind glass in a Western setting. The boy listens as Tonto tells about his experiences with the Ranger--and we periodically return to the pair of them throughout the film. Stay for the final credits: You'll see even more. At first I thought it was kind of corny, but I found myself touched by the innocence of the kid--by his devotion to the story. Frankly, I could see myself being that kid. Wanting to be that kid.
The filmmakers also were careful to include the Ranger's back story--a story that no one under Medicare age probably knows any longer. So we see how he became a Texas Ranger, how he became the "lone" ranger, too. (All is pretty much how I remember it from the old shows.) There is a love interest added, of course, with a very Liberated Woman at the center of the story. There's also a violent cameo by Helena Bonham Carter, who plays a kind of madam (yes, that kind) with an ivory leg that contains surprises. (Oh, she's come quite a way from, oh, Ophelia, whom she played in the 1990 film of Hamlet--the one directed by Franco Zeffirelli and staring Mad Max Mel Gibson as the Melancholy Dane!)
The plot is right out of a B Western from the 1940s. (A bad rich guy! Corrupt politicans! Easily influenced townspeople!) And the action in the film is mostly conventionally contemporary for action films--light-hearted frivolity combined with the most savage violence. (Did Beverly Hills Cop start this trend? Think Lethal Weapon and, more recently, Red and its ilk.) So we get quite a bit of frisky and very funny dialogue and action (a horse running along the top of a moving train: It was so ludicrous I laughed). And then a moment later--SPOILER ALERT--the brutal slaughter/massacre of an entire group of Comanche by a corrupt U. S. Cavalry unit employing Gatling guns, a unit commanded by a Custer lookalike. I was appalled by that scene--could not figure out why it was necessary ... perhaps as some sick metaphor for our sick treatment of Native Americans? Gratuitous--and it very nearly ruined the whole thing for me.
But ... I couldn't help liking most of the film. Was glad I'd seen it. Will probably watch it again when it hits cable and/or Netflix.
And as I wrote on Facebook the other day, when the old radio and TV theme song, "William Tell Overture," commenced during one of the action scenes near the end, tears leapt into my eyes--oh, the memories of my lost youth!--and they pretty much stayed there until I got home.
BONUS: Here's a YouTube link to the music with the opening credits of the old TV show. And, as I said, that rearing horse (Silver) appears in the film, and I laughed so loudly at what ensued that other people laughed at me!