Poor Tonto. Nobody really knows where his made up name came from or what it means. And he can't get no respect. He was originally played by white actors spouting pidgin English written by white guys making up "Indianish" dialogue. And he came under fire by real Native Americans who demanded he be played by a real Indian. Then when Jay Silverheels came along, Tonto got portrayed with dignity, at least, but Silverheels was a Mohawk, and when he appeared on TV, the costume department had dressed him up in plains Indian buckskin, an outfit that would have roasted a real Comanche to death out on the hot west Texas llano estacado.
With the new movie iteration, "The Lone Ranger" is still coming in for criticism from Native Americans who are objecting to Johnny Depp's portrayal of Tonto. Depp, in his usual fashion, has brought forth a Tonto that's a combo of "Dark Shadows," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Edward Scissorhands," with his face paint taken from a well-known painting of a Crow warrior. He also plopped a dead crow on his head for a bit of business in which he keeps pretend-feeding the stuffed bird with bits of corn. It's Tonto as half-mad trickster.
And in this film, it works perfectly since this "Ranger" is going for larky satire, a delicious send up of all the bogus western myths: A live action "Rango," but without Clint Eastwood. And it's a hoot.
Armand Hammer plays the Ranger as the clueless Dudley Do Right naif, the perfect foil for Depp's sly Tonto. The bad buys are appropriately evil, the Railroad (corporate greed) the ultimate villain over which Tonto ultimately wreaks his revenge. And there's one heck of a train ride followed by a spectacular train wreck as the grand finale turns into one clever Roadrunner cartoon.
And did I mention Silver, the spirit horse who apparently can fly since in one scene he appears up a tree munching leaves?
Ultimately, despite it's superficial silly fun, the movie is really quite sweet and oddly moving, with a current of pathos for Tonto's fate, which was that of all his people: Wiped out in a bad trade.