The Legend of the Lone Ranger

The Legend of the Lone Ranger is a 1981 American western film that was directed by William A. Fraker and starred Klinton Spilsbury, Michael Horse and Christopher Lloyd.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam A. Fraker
Produced byWalter Coblenz
Written byIvan Goff
Ben Roberts
William Roberts
Michael Kane
Gerald B. Derloshon (as Jerry Derloshon)
StarringKlinton Spilsbury
Michael Horse
Christopher Lloyd
Matt Clark
Juanin Clay
Jason Robards
John Bennett Perry
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byThomas Stanford
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 22, 1981 (1981-05-22)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$18 million[2]
Box office$12,617,845

It is based on the story of The Lone Ranger, a Western character created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. Its producers outraged fans by not allowing actor Clayton Moore to wear the character's mask when making public appearances, and created a further bad buzz when the dialogue of leading man Klinton Spilsbury was dubbed by another actor, James Keach.[3] The film was a huge commercial failure, and Spilsbury has not appeared in any films since.


The outlaw Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd) and his gang of outlaws ride into a Texas village, killing everyone except a young boy, John Reid (Klinton Spilsbury). A tribe of Comanche Indians takes John to their reservation, where one of the tribe's young braves, Tonto (Michael Horse) teaches him to shoot a bow and arrow with precision and how to track. The two eventually become blood brothers, and John later leaves the reservation. He goes on to become a Texas Ranger. Cavendish and his gang ambush a party of Rangers (Reid among them), killing all except Reid, who is rescued by Tonto. When John recovers from his wounds, he teaches himself to shoot with silver bullets, and he captures and tames a white horse, which he names Silver. He dedicates his life to fighting the crime that Cavendish represents. To this end, John becomes the great masked western hero, The Lone Ranger. With the help of Tonto, the pair go to rescue President Grant (Jason Robards) when Cavendish takes him hostage.



The rights to the character had been bought in 1954 by Jack Wrather, an oil billionaire, and his wife Bonita Granville. They had made many attempts to create a Lone Ranger movie that would appeal to a modern audience, including making Tonto an equal partner and mentor to the Lone Ranger. By the late 1970s they believed that the story was ripe for re-telling in an epic vein similar to Ilya and Alexander Salkind's Superman (1978), with the potential for sequels.[6]

Clayton Moore lawsuit

Part of the plan was to shoot a feature film with a new actor to replace the 65-year-old Clayton Moore, who had starred in the long-running and hugely successful television series for much of the 1950s.[7] Wrather had a vision for the re-telling of the story, and he felt that the profile of character would be devalued by Moore continuing to appear in costume, as he had done for many years, at county and state fairs and entertaining children in hospitals. Also, he did not want audiences to believe that the aging Moore would reprise his role as the Lone Ranger. The producers obtained a court injunction barring Moore from appearing in public with his trademark black mask. He was also permitted to sign autographs only as "The Masked Man." Moore responded by changing his costume slightly and replacing the mask with similar-looking wraparound sunglasses, and by cross-litigating against Wrather. The suit was eventually dismissed.[8]


This film was shot in New Mexico, Utah, and California. Two of the movie's four screenwriters, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, had previously created the hit TV series Charlie's Angels; they had also worked together on another hit series, Mannix. According to Larry McMurtry, novelist George MacDonald Fraser had written an excellent script for the film,[9] but he was not credited in the finished film. The movie's ballad-narration, The Man In The Mask, was performed by country music artist Merle Haggard, and composed by John Barry with lyrics written by Dean Pitchford of Footloose and Sing fame. Klinton Spilsbury's dialogue was overdubbed for the entire movie by actor James Keach.[10]


Box office

The film was released to massive negative publicity fueled by the above controversy in 1981, and grossed a mere $12 million against its $18 million budget. Other contributing factors were the lack of public interest in Westerns by the early 1980s as well as alterations to some fundamental elements of the Lone Ranger's character such as his trademark silver bullets being made into magical talismans in the movie instead of mere symbolism.[11] Lew Grade, who invested in the movie, had managed to sell it to TV for $7.5 million, and also to HBO.[12]


The film received generally mediocre reviews:[13] Time Out London said, "The mystery is how Fraker, a gifted cameraman who made a superb directing debut in Westerns with Monte Walsh, could produce such a clinker as this."[14] Meanwhile, TV Guide proclaimed, "This film is so inept it's almost camp."[15]

Lew Grade later wrote, in his autobiography Still Dancing: My Story, that he thought that the problem with the movie was that it took an hour and ten minutes before the Ranger first pulled on his mask. "The mistake was not dispensing with the legend in ten minutes and getting on with the action much earlier on," his text said.[12]

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for, and won, several Golden Raspberry Awards:


A novelization of the movie was released in 1981, written by Gary McCarthy and published by Ballantine Books.[17]

The film was adapted into a newspaper comic, written by Cary Bates and illustrated by Russ Heath, published between 1981 and 1984.[18]

A line of action figures created by the toy company Gabriel in 1982, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Butch Cavendish, George Custer, The Lone Ranger, and Tonto. Also released by Gabriel were the horses Silver (The Lone Ranger's Horse), Scout (Tonto's Horse), and Smoke (Butch's Horse).


  1. "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". British Film Institute. London.
  2. Harmetz, Aljean (September 9, 1981). "HOLLYWOOD IS JOYOUS OVER ITS RECORD GROSSING SUMMER". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  3. Labrecque, Jeff (July 2, 2013). "Who was that masked man? The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  4. Noriyuki, Duane (November 7, 2003). "Art away from Hollywood is where his heart is". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  5. "THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER DVD Review". Collider. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  6. Johnson, Ted (June 25, 2013). "1981 'Lone Ranger' Pic Galloped Quickly Into Oblivion".
  7. Stassel, Stephanie (December 29, 1999). "Clayton Moore, TV's 'Lone Ranger,' Dies". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  8. "Clayton Moore Back In Mask". Chicago Tribune. January 30, 1985. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  9. McMurtry, Larry (2010). Hollywood: A Third Memoir. Simon & Schuster. pp. 60–61.
  10. "The Legend of the Lone Ranger". DVD Talk. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  11. Goldstein, Richard (December 29, 1999). "Clayton Moore, Television's Lone Ranger And a Persistent Masked Man, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2010.
  12. Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 259
  13. The Legend of the Lone Ranger on IMDb Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  14. "The Legend of the Lone Ranger | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes, movie release date | Time Out London". November 26, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  15. "The Legend Of The Lone Ranger Review". November 28, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  16. "Who was that masked man? The Legend of Klinton Spilsbury -". July 2, 2013. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  17. McCarthy, Gary (1981). Legend of the Lone Ranger. ISBN 9780345294388. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  18. "Russ Heath". Retrieved August 30, 2018.
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