Picks and Pans Review: The Legend of the Lone Ranger

updated 06/22/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/22/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

First slated for release last Christmas, besieged with post-production problems and rumored to be an overstuffed turkey like Heaven's Gate, The Legend of the Lone Ranger emerges as a pleasant surprise, exuding a comfortable familiarity and fresh-found innocence. The story of John Reid, the masked man who avenges the murders of his parents and his Texas Ranger brother with the help of his Indian buddy, Tonto, has fascinated generations since 1933 when it debuted as a radio serial originally written by Fran Striker. In 1938 it began a 33-year run as a cartoon strip and in 1949 became a TV series with Clayton Moore and Jay Silver-heels (they also played in two spin-off feature films). The new Kimo Sabe is Klinton Spilsbury, an actor whose inexperience necessitated dubbing his voice by James Keach. But Spilsbury, who grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, has a physical presence, striking enough to make him the male pinup of the '80s. Only his faithful steed Silver is prettier—and he even does his own whinnies. Tonto, played by another hunk of beefcake, Michael Horse, has been saddled with speeches that sound like warmed-over Brando rallies ("One day all nations will be brothers"). Both are aided immeasurably by director William Fraker, who has a fetish for detail and an eye for action. An ambush, led by bad guy Christopher Lloyd, ranks among the best ever filmed. And what pulse won't quicken at the sound of the William Tell Overture and a hearty "Hi-yo, Silver"? Despite a ponderous subplot about kidnapping President Grant (Jason Robards) and violence that stretches the PG rating, The Legend of the Lone Ranger restores something rare in today's movies: a sense of wonder. (PG)

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