I am a huge fan of the Lone Ranger. I love cowboys, I love superheroes, what's better than a cowboy superhero? And yes, folks, if you wear a mask, have a gimmick and fight bad guys, you are indeed a superhero. While superhuman abilities are a plus, they are not a prerequisite. If Batman is a superhero, then so is the Lone Ranger. But I digress... I love the Lone Ranger. I had high hopes for Disney's Lone Ranger movie and, unfortunately, that film was a fiasco. It was just bad. It wasn't the fiasco it could have been, with werewolves and stuff, but it was still bad enough. The lowest point of the film had to have been Johnny Depp's Sparrow-esque portrayal of Tonto. Johnny Depp is a great actor. Anyone who has ever seen Donnie Brasco or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas can attest to this, so why he insists on playing everything like Captain Jack Sparrow these days really boggles my mind. Somewhere along the line, Johnny Depp went insane. In much the same way Nicolas Cage did, I think. And don't get me started on the completely offensive way he portrayed Native Americans. I still can't understand the accolades he got for this portrayal. It was terrible, and quite possibly ruined the entire film.
Like most people, I think, I was introduced to The Lone Ranger through reruns of the original television series from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The show was great, and it continues to be great. The show spawned two successful theatrical motion pictures, The Lone Ranger in 1956 and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold in 1957. It is, quite probably, the most popular and well known iteration of the character. It wasn't the first, however. The Lone Ranger first appeared on a radio program in 1933, a program produced by George W. Trindle, the same man who would also create the original Green Hornet radio program. The Lone Ranger has also seen less successful attempts at revival, most notably a 1981 theatrical film starring Klinton Spilsbury and a 2003 WB Original Movie starring Chad Michael Murray, who would go on to star in One Tree Hill. While the WB movie wasn't too horrible, it wasn't very true to the source material, which I think was its downfall. There is, however, something that all of these films have in common, and a truly great Lone Ranger film would not. The real life Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger radio program was inspired by a very real historical cowboy named Bass Reeves. Bass Reeves was a black man, born into slavery in the 1830s, after the Civil War he moved out west, as did a lot of people, mostly former Confederates, looking to make a new life for themselves. Recruited in 1875, mostly due to his great size and strength - Reeves was 6'2", which was tall in those days - and his knowledge of Indian Country and ability to speak several native languages, Reeves soon made a name for himself as the type of lawman who put figures like Wyatt Earp to shame. By the end of his career, he had made over 3,000 apprehensions, and although he was a crack shot and quick on the draw, had only killed 14 men. Reeves brought criminals to justice, which was a rare thing in the Old West, when most lived and died by the gun.
Reeves was known to travel with a native tracker, and would leave a silver star - not the silver bullet that would become associated with the Lone Ranger - as a calling card. While he didn't wear a mask, as the Lone Ranger did, Reeves was a master of disguise, which was another attribute the earliest versions of the character, including the iconic Clayton Moore version, were depicted with. Most notably, the Lone Ranger's real name was Dan Reid (sounds like Bass Reeves).
While a highly fictionalized movie on the life of Bass Reeves was released in 2010, it is extremely obscure and I haven't been able to find it anywhere. Even Amazon doesn't recognize its existence. I would be greatly interested in seeing a biographical film on this great lawman, but there is also another film I think would be interesting. A film that melds the true story of Reeves and the fictional character that was inspired by that story. Now, before you go crying about making yet another traditionally white character black, keep in mind that this is the man whose legends originally inspired that traditionally white character in the first place. Maybe a new angle is what the Lone Ranger needs to keep it fresh again.
While this really needs to be a Lone Ranger movie, and it needs to be called The Lone Ranger - or, at least, have that somewhere in the title - it also needs to take as many elements of the Bass Reeves story as possible, and only mix in a little Lone Ranger bits for color. For example, have him born into a slave family, and show him fleeing to Indian Territory, where he lived among the Cherokee, Seminole and Creek Indians after getting into a violent altercation with his master, until he was freed in 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. He can even meet and become friends with a young native during his time in Indian Territory named Tonto (in truth, Reeves traveled with several different Native American companions, not just one as the Ranger did).
Reeves could then be recruited by the Texas Rangers, as opposed to the US Marshal Service, and have the normal Lone Ranger origin. From there, he would basically be the Lone Ranger. Have him wear the mask, because you have to, but also bring back the master of disguise element that has been missing from the Lone Ranger legends, and which was a real part of Reeves crime fighting style. Also highlight Reeves' superior detective skills, which would add new dimension to the Lone Ranger mythos. For a character who is rapidly losing relevance, I think taking him back to his original roots, those of the first African American lawman west of the Mississippi River, could be a great place to start.
What do you think? Would you like to see a Lone Ranger film incorporating elements of the real life story of Bass Reeves? Would you rather see a straight up biography of Reeves that doesn't include any Lone Ranger elements? Are you just happy to learn of this almost forgotten historical figure? Sound off in the comments below.