Recalling those thrilling days of yesteryear

Ancient enough to have been brought up on the original Lone Ranger series on black and white television in the 1950s, I couldn't resist sneaking down to the cinema this week to see how they approach "those thrilling tales of yesteryear" a scary six decades later.

It will come as no surprise that it bears little resemblance to the original, which featured Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels in the leading roles. But what would you expect with Johnny Depp hamming it up as Tonto, wearing a dead crow on his head? In fact, the film has a distinct Pirates of the Caribbean feel to it, with doomed trains taking the place of sunken ships, and some of Tonto's mannerisms uncomfortably close to those of a certain Captain Jack Sparrow.

Fortunately the film doesn't take itself too seriously, although frankly it can't afford to as it's bit of a mess, albeit an entertaining one. It has received poor reviews in the US and one suspects Depp's antics are no longer the flavour of the month among some of the American public.

Depp plays Tonto strictly for laughs and steals most of the scenes, meaning Arnie Hammer in the title role is something of an afterthought. But it doesn't really matter. With much of it shot in the magnificent Monument Valley, the visuals are quite stunning.

Most importantly, the wife liked it, so it must be OK.

Not like the old days

One reason the original television series became so popular was the stirring sound of the William Tell Overture accompanied by that amazing "voice-over" at the start, which every self respecting kid knew by heart. You know, the one that starts with "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty hi-yo Silver" - what nine year old could resist that?

The new film doesn't have the voice-over, but at least Hammer is given the chance to shout "hi-yo Silver!" , although only once. He also gets to race through the desert to the stirring sounds of William Tell in one of the over-the-top and overlong action sequences.

One word of warning. The film lasts a full 149 minutes which can be bit of a strain on the bladder.

Losing face

Masks have become trendy in Thailand of late and there's just an outside chance there could now be a demand for the Lone Ranger version. One suspects there is already a search on to replace the white "V" Masks from the V For Vendetta film, sometimes known as Guy Fawkes masks. The only problem is that the Lone Ranger mask is not a very efficient disguise, as it only covers a small part of the face. On the other hand, considering the Lone Ranger's famously strict creed, which reads a bit like the 10 commandments, his type of mask carries a certain moral weight.

However, one suspects the Tonto headdress worn by Depp will not catch on. I can't see too many Thais demonstrating with dead birds on their heads.

Clippety, clippety, clop

It is unlikely that the new Lone Ranger will spark the return of other Westerns that were so popular in the old days. For example, it's hard to imagine people rushing to the cinema to see a new version of Hopalong Cassidy . Even in the 1950s, the sarsaparilla-drinking hero played by William Boyd seemed a bit out of date. He wasn't helped by the song which began "Hopalong Cassidy, clippety, clippety clop".

The Cisco Kid might be worthy of another try out, however. The title character didn't suffer from the political correctness of the Lone Ranger, as reflected in the song by War, "He drink whiskey, Poncho drink the wine". In fact one suspects Cisco could be a nasty piece of work, which would probably fit in nicely with the values required of modern heroes.

A four-legged friend

One common theme among these old Western TV heroes was that they all had great horses. The Lone Ranger's steed, Silver, has always been a beauty and the one featured in the current film is a fine creature.

White horses tend to be the colour of choice, including Hopalong's Topper and Tex Ritter's White Flash.

But perhaps the most famous Western horse was Trigger, a golden palomino made popular by Roy Rogers. Originally called Golden Cloud, the horse was renamed Trigger by Rogers because of its alertness. Rogers no doubt had Trigger in mind when he sang A Four-Legged Friend which became a big hit. Trigger built up a huge fan club and there were many tears shed when the horse died in 1965 at the age of 33.

Smokey the scene stealer

One movie horse which became a celebrity in a most unorthodox style, was Smokey, Lee Marvin's dodgy mount in the 1965 comedy Cat Ballou. In one famous scene, the horse appears as drunk as Marvin, and it has become an iconic poster with a plastered Marvin slumped on the cross-legged horse. Marvin, who won an Oscar for best actor, recognised Smokey's contribution and in his acceptance speech remarked: "I think I should be sharing this award with a horse somewhere out there."

In fact Smokey was not entirely overlooked _he went on to win the Craven Award for best acting by an animal, resulting in sugar lumps all round.

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About the author

Writer: Roger Crutchley
Position: Writer