By Philip Schweier
Recently I stumbled across The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) on YouTube. Unlike many films on that site, it’s not broken up into multiple segments. It’s presented in its entirety, which one might think to be a copyright infringement, but methinks it’s the only way the film’s owners could get anyone to watch this turkey.
Moore had starred on the Lone Ranger TV series in the 1950s, and since then had been making personal appearances in full costume, stumping for the ideals for which the Lone Ranger stood: honesty, justice and good citizenship. Many of his appearances included schools and children’s hospitals
One might believe that having an independent individual make personal appearances on behalf of your property would be a publicity bonanza, but the producers felt otherwise. They wanted to distance themselves from previous interpretations, and in their eyes, Moore’s efforts would only harm their film. It was believed that Moore’s association would undermine the new film, and that some might think the film would star the 65-year-old actor.
In retrospect, one might question which is worse: to be kicked to the curb by the producers of this cinematic stink bomb, or to be endorsed? Irate fans of the Lone Ranger rallied in support of Moore, encouraging the filmmakers to ally themselves with their hero, hoping he might be given some acknowledgement for his pivotal place in the character’s history.
Not only did they fail to do so, they instead favored actor John Hart, who had briefly replaced Moore during the run of the original show, with a cameo. So for producers of the 1981 film to acknowledge this “usurper” to the mask only aggravated fans further. But it was merely one of many poor choices in casting for the film.
The film presented the origin of the Lone Ranger, in a long drawn-out sequence lasting 2/3 of the film. By rescuing President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) from the evil clutches of Cavendish, the Lone Ranger is awarded carte blanche to operate throughout the West on the side of justice.
Inevitably, the movie opened to horrible reviews, unresponsive audiences and a lackluster box office performance. It disappeared quickly, becoming another statistic in red ink on the financial ledgers of The Wrather Corporation. With a budget of $18 million, the film’s gross was $12.6 million, according to the Internet Movie Data Base.