Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hi Yo, Yee Haw!

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.


Billy Dunne said...

Thanks for the review Ann. This movie has been disappointingly getting killed by the critics, which certainly doesn't diminish my man crush on Johnny Depp, but my wife and I thought we might sit this one out. Now we have the Calhoun seal of approval, so off to the movies we go!!

Churadogs said...

Billy, by all means go. You're a smart movie critic so I'll be curious to see what your opinion is. I thought the critics were far too hard on this one. Yes, it's overly long and draggy in bits, but I suspect the problem was the critics took this film far too seriously. It's a Roadrunner cartoon, a live action "Rango," and a perfect remake for 2013 -- instead of the 1950's can-do optimism of the old TV series, this film captures our current sorry zeitgeist perfectly: Our national myth turns out to be a clueless, well-meaning doofus who's helpless in the face of corporate greed, being helped along the way by a delusional, deracinated Native American Icon who has no future, outside of a diorama.
Plus a horse who likes to climb trees.