Putting The Anger In “Ranger”

Being an adorer of the western film genre as a whole, I was all set to put aside my misgivings about the Disneyfied Pirates-of-the-Caribbeanification of “The Lone Ranger” and go see it.

But now I won’t, thanks to a TV spot for the movie that made me yell “Whoaaaaa!” Specifically, it was the split second within the commercial that changed my mind so drastic and definitively when Johnny Depp’s Tonto — basically a more stone-faced Native American version of Cap’n Jack Sparrow — turns to the camera just as he’s about to be yanked hard off the top of a speeding train.

As his overly maked-up and crow-covered head swing around toward the lens, I see what’s coming next and futilely yell “Don’t do it!” out loud not at the TV so much as at the director, at the screenwriters, at the producers, at the marketers, at the studio, and of course at Depp… But to no avail he does it anyway. Does what? He cheap-ass smirks at the audience, like so (click to biggify):

In general I hate cheap-ass smirks at the audience, in large part because they rarely don’t look straight-to-video LAME. I hate them specifically when performed by Depp because it seems like it must be a contractual thing, where the filmmakers and studios are obligated to include at least one of his signature simpering grins at theatergoers of every damn movie he makes now. I swear, he could star in the lead of a remake of “Johnny Got His Gun” and damn if he wouldn’t figure out a way for that faceless protaganist to wink out at me knowingly, as if it’s the freshest thing ever. Except it’s not.

If my attitude seems a bit extreme, I won’t argue. My irrationality has deep roots that stem from being ooooooold enough to remember the classic TV series starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. You have to understand that waaaaaaaaay back when I was barely halfway through my single digit years, after watching an episode on TV, I’d already have my mom’s well-worn LP of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” spinning on the old Admiral stereo turntable. I knew that platter so well I could drop the needle on it so I wouldn’t have to wait more than a couple seconds before those trumpets blared out their signature theme song notes. Then, astride a wooden broom as my faithful steed, I’d “Hi-Ho, Silver, away!” and do laps and laps and laps around the coffee table for the duration of the piece. And until it came to an end I WAS the Lone Ranger with an imaginary Tonto at my side, chasing after the bad guys and raining silver bullets upon all them dastardly bastards with a ridiculous and amazing accuracy. Then I’d flop on the couch long enough to catch my breath, queue up Mr. Rossini’s masterpiece again and off I’d go to ensure my livingroom was a safer place (HUGE props to my mother for enduring the deathless replays).

Thus it is that I cannot accept or forgive Depp’s micro-momentary grin because it goes so hard against my childhood-built mythology of who I accept the Long Ranger and his trusty sidekick to be. Basically, it boils down to my inner child’s total unwillingness to tolerate Disney and Depp devising and revising his heroes in so patronizingly.

In other words: Tonto don’t smirk. So when Depp has his character do so, and the film’s director and editor don’t have the intestinal fortitude to leave such completely unnecessary crap on the cuttingroom floor, then I know there’s plenty more of those smirks to be had in the film’s 2.5-hour runtime. If they work for you, enjoy. Me, I’m saddling up on my broomhorse and gettting my ass far from the theaters where it’s playing.

“Hi-Ho Silver, away!” Indeed.






One thought on “Putting The Anger In “Ranger””

  1. I grew up in an area in the Sierras where a lot of westerns were made and I can remember when they came to film High Noon, one with Barbara Stanwick that has disappeared from record, and lots of Tim Hold westerns designed for Saturday matinees. I remember when they filmed one Lone Ranger but I don’t know if it was for tv or theater release. I do remember Jay Silverheels was Tonto.
    With the making of some of the Louis L’Amour books into movies, I follow them and if there’s a train involved, chances are it’s the old Sierra Railroad and the Rail Museum in Jamestown (‘Jimtown’ the locals used to call it, maybe they still do)..
    Growing up in Sonora in the mid to late 50s, there was only radio so I listened to many of the classic western programs. It was a mile to the outskirts of town and open hillsides to explore (and always with a plot from an episode I’d heard in mind) so the living room didn’t suffer from galloping feet but I can definitely relate to your identification with your heros.
    I like Johnny Depp in somethings but when they were first talking about a Lone Ranger film with Depp I read about it with the sense that when the other shoe fell, it would land in a pile of what horses leave behind.
    AMC runs classic western tv series on Saturday mornings and unlike early tv I don’t think they’re aimed at the kids…unless we’re talking about 50-60-70 year old kids…
    Westerns are iconic and while it seems each generation re-interprets the genre, those that are successful in capturing whatever magic westerns possess keep it going and those that don’t….make everyone involved in them look stupid.
    I don’t care how much money Wild, Wild West the movie made, it was stupid and didn’t work. Whoever is doing Longmire on A&E does know what they’re doing and I’ll watch each episode twice when it’s first aired, not because I might have missed something but because it’s put together so simply (which means a whole lot of work) that the story is worth hearing/seeing again.
    I am reminded of the Jim Croce song: ‘you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger..’ to which I would add: You don’t mess around with TOHTO.

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