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KLINTON SPILSBURY IN 'THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER'

year: 1981 cast: Klinton Spilsbury, Michael Horse, Christopher Lloyd, Matt Clark, Jason Robards rating: ***
It’s the week of THE LONE RANGER reboot, in which Johnny Depp plays a quirky Tonto to Armie Hammer’s annoying doofus John Reid, who reluctantly wears the thin black mask and is scolded for eventually speaking the famous line, “Hi Ho Silver, away!” Well Klinton Spilsbury’s far more serious and daringly adventurous lawyer turned justice-seeker has no problem spouting that and other unapologetically pulpy dialogue, but alas, it’s not even the actor’s voice.

Spilsbury has become somewhat of a cinematic enigma. After starring in this 1981 film directed by William A. Fraker, with terrific old school “Cowboy Picture” cinematography by László Kovács and plenty of shootouts, he descended into obscurity and never appeared in another project, anywhere. Perhaps the decision to replace his voice with James Keach was too much for a young actor to take; after all, voice is more than half the performance.
David Hayward's traitor Collins answers to Klinton Spilsbury as The Lone Ranger
Given that, the square-jawed Spilsbury does a good job as a confident yet brooding John Reid, donning the mask like the dashing hero generations grew up watching on TV and before that, listened to on radio. While James Keach has a delivery befitting the grungy genre (he played Jesse James in THE LONG RIDERS), there's a contrived echoing tone to the voice-over, making Reid sound like a breathy wraith compared to the other characters… perhaps, given the storyline, this was intentional – it’s the synthetically tacked-on grunts and groans during fight scenes that are really distracting.

Meanwhile a sporadic narration by country singer Merle Haggard feels like a prolonged DUKES OF HAZZARD episode (channeling Waylon Jennings)… Since the tale’s told clearly enough, The Balladeer’s input is unnecessary. But what makes this unfairly maligned film work is a lean, tight, enjoyable script.
Klinton Spilsbury as John Reid aka The Lone Ranger
We begin in the title character’s roots: Reid was raised by a tribe of Indians, and his best friend, who had saved his life, is Tonto himself. Both are young and brave and at one point, Reid is taken back to society where, once grownup, he becomes a lawyer who wants to serve justice with a pen.

He’s tested when his stagecoach gets attacked – leading to the first action scene and meeting partial love interest Amy (the late Juanin Clay). Reid’s older brother is an intrepid, foul-mouthed tough guy thoroughly ticked his beloved small town is constantly marauded by Christopher Lloyd’s nefarious Butch Cavendish.
Christopher Lloyd as Butch Cavendish
Lloyd plays more of a gentlemanly sinister politician than a gritty hands-on antagonist. With plans to shape Texas in his image, he controls the environment like the dictator of a third world county, spouting grim monologues while his banditos (and a few turncoats) do the dirty work... Although he does take an active part in the massacre that catapults the Lone Ranger’s legend: massacring Reid’s brother and a dozen others…

Thus Reid’s “brought back to life” by Tonto, played by a gallant Michael Horse, who, seeking vengeance for Cavender, winds up with an old friend and brand new partner. This pivotal sequence is shot well but often feels too close-up and choppy, befitting more of a television series than motion picture… Yet the impending sense of doom within the wedged-in valley is palpable and visually haunting.
Klinton Spilsbury and Christopher Lloyd square off in the finale
The best scenes are right before Reid decides to don the mask, which would keep him anonymous from those who thought he died with everyone else. In a neat montage, Tonto teaches Reid everything from shooting a gun to taming the wild white horse, Silver, sealing the deal as the duo ride off for revenge, cushioned by Cavendish’s brainy plot to hijack a train with President Grant on board.

There could have been more screen time with the newly-formed duo, ready and willing for action. Instead we have dialogue-driven scenes with Lloyd and Jason Robards as the gruff Civil War General turned famously drunken Prez, leading to one last bullet-riddled shootout kicking dust into the dusky skyline, somewhat rushed and anticlimactic compared to a more personally involving fist fight between Cavendish and The Lone Ranger, who, with his Native American counterpart, seemed primed for a sequel (or perhaps a spinoff TV series) that never came to pass.
Spilsbury's one and only shot as THE LONE RANGER
Christopher Lloyd as Butch Cavendish
Hi Ho Silver, Away!
Christopher Lloyd as Butch Cavendish
Jason Robards as President Grant with Christopher Lloyd
Klinton Spilsbury rides into the sunset (Andy Warhol claims he had a crush on Dennis Christopher)
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