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Musings by an Elder Statesman of Geekery, including such topics as, but not limited to: Comic Books, Captain Action, Toys of the 1960's and 1970's, Vintage Action Figures, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fantasy and Sci-Fi TV, Horror Films, Universal Monsters, Classic Movies, Film Noir, B-Movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Public Libraries, RPGs, Superheroes, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Dr. Who, and the History of Southern Illinois.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Who Was That Masked Man? And What Was He WEARING????

One month from today, Disney launches its big screen summer release 'The Lone Ranger' starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp as John Reid and Tonto, respectively.  The trailers have a moody, washed out, sepia quality that earths up the Old West in a way the painted desert of Clayton Moore never did.  Tonto is a wise and wisecracking shamanistic figure who seems ready to go on a vision quest at the drop of a Stetson.  Hammer cuts an impressive figure as the Masked Rider of the Plains, wearing his trademark mask but accessorizing with a long black duster and perhaps more traditional and accurate clothing of the American West than Ranger fans have seen before.  All told, it's quite a departure in tone and look from previous and iconic handlings.  Will it succeed in creating a new generation of fans for these characters?  Will it disgust and alienate fans of the older visions of the Ranger?  Will it make a buck or two billion for Disney, Inc.?   Never count out the House of Mouse for successfully updating tales, legends and icons, and never count out director Gore Verbinski, who took a Disney theme park ride/attraction and lovingly turned it into a fine film (though the sequels to the first 'Pirates of the Caribbean' were only so-so for me).  It's a risky move, and no doubt.  The last artistic-slash-big summer blockbuster chance a company took on the venerable but elusive Western, with a solid cast, a director with a proven track record, and a solid vision of doing right by past genre giants as Leone and Ford at least as far as the Western elements were concerned, was 'Cowboys and Aliens'. 

Budget: $163,000,000 (estimated)       Opening Weekend: $36,431,290 (USA) (29 July 2011)    

Gross: $100,215,116 (USA) (28 October 2011)

So I've been watching and reading and trying to get a feel for how receptive the movie-going public, young and old, is to the re-imagining as the release date draws nigh.  Seems about 50/50 between those who can't wait, and those who could wait an eternity without witnessing what they expect to be a cinematic and box office train wreck (a beautiful old steam locomotive one, too; I've seen the extended trailers!).  One comment this week did pique my interest more than some others from the nay-saying owlhoot camp.  When the moderator of the Captain Action FB group posted a picture of the new 12" Lone Ranger action figure just released in Disney Stores, a veritable and vitriolic chorus went up:
"That ain't the way the Lone Ranger dresses!  Give us the canon look, red shirt and black pants or sky blue suit!"
One of the more colorful comments opined:
"The new Ranger dresses like a New Orleans pimp. I wonder if his sidearms have pearl handles...."
A few cooler heads posed that, actually, The Lone Ranger has sported many looks since his radio days, and both the red-and-black and sky blue togs were 'canon' only in that more people had seen them via comic books and the classic TV show than any of the others.  Clearly, time to take my own vision quest...one to find out, collectively, What Has The Ranger Worn?  A lot, actually, and some of it as different from those 'canon' styles as the new movie version.  First, let's look at those heavy 'canons'. 
Ah, yes.  Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.  Nostalgia just doesn't get any better than this.  Loved the show, respect mightily Mr. Moore, Mr. Silverheels, and John Hart (the substitute LR of the series) immensely.  When I picture the perfect brunch in Heaven, I want to sit down over biscuits, bacon, eggs and grits with Fred Rogers, Bob Keeshan, Jim Henson, and Clayton Moore.  That being said...
I never saw the Lone Ranger outfit of the series as sky blue.  To me, that's baby blue.  And about as inappropriate and tenderfooted as any color one can conceive for dropping into the Old West.  Can you imagine the cleaning bill???  The heart of the series, and the leading actors, overcame that look, but I've never been fond of it except as a nostalgic bit of childhood, and as close to a white knight, paladin look as the character could have.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  
I've always been a bigger fan of the red shirt look, though it's probably no more Old West accurate than the blue.  When paired with black jeans, it is a strong color combo in a 1950's screen cowboy way, and at least gives the Masked Rider a little more edge. 
Both the red and the blue, in the hands of some great artists, have managed to give The Lone Ranger a very iconic, and at times bordering gritty, look.  It's truly a testament to those artisans that they could make these versions work on a scale for young readers; their layouts in Dell, Gold Key, Dynamite and other modern companies are at times moody, atmospheric, action-packed and just plain fun. 

But as those older and wiser heads pointed out, red or blue do not a Ranger make.  There are several other 'looks' the Masked Man bore in promotions for the radio program, advertisements, and books.  The voice actors for the Ranger on radio, in the tradition of the time that they make public appearances or have publicity photos done in the costume of their characters, appeared in a black and white costume.  Mostly black. 

In other pulps and promotional-style art, the Ranger was....he had....well, let's say he was kind of a checkered mess.  Can you say, 'Masked Harlequin of the Plains'?  Even Marty McFly  in 'Back to the Future 3' would have made fun of this guy and considering his own 1950's style Western dress plunked down in the real Old West, that's saying something.  Let's give a hearty 'Hi-NO, Silver!'.  Now -this- makes him look like part of a New Orleans Krewe.

At times, in similar art forays (in this case, Bubble Gum Cards), he was given a more...what?  Brownish or cream colored shirt.  At least, against a desert backdrop, he might blend.  A little. 

A few depictions had the Ranger covering up some of the fashion faux pas under buckskins and coats...not a bad look, really.  Not at all. 
Finally, movie serials had a slightly different look for him, and I think it may have had a bit to do with making him fit more in the style of his descendant, Britt Reid, AKA The Green Hornet.  The mask looks like it's trying to skirt between being the usual domino face fair, and the full-coverage mask that the Hornet was initially envisioned in. 
And so, yes....the Lone Ranger has sported many looks over the years.  In his last big-screen adventure, he actually retained the mostly iconic bluesuit look. 
And yeah, that worked out so well.  Klinton Spilsbury, ladies and gentlemen.  The studio took Clayton Moore to court to keep him from wearing the mask in public, as he spent his golden years introducing the character to a whole new generation of little buckaroos and buckarooettes, and gave it to this guy.   The guy they had to re-dub every line of dialogue for in the finished film because his voice was 'squeaky'.  Movie cost in the $18,000,000 ballpark to make, grossed $8,000,000.  Let that be a lesson to you, Corporate America:  Do not take saints to court.  You may win the case, but you have paved your way to ruin. 

Clearly, clothes alone do not make the man.  So let the new Lone Ranger sport his new look.  Tonto, too.  And while we decide if the new imagining is Good or Ungood, let's grab some popcorn and juju fruits, huddle down in our theater seats, and watch as the new team fights for law and order in the Early West.

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