Friday, August 8, 2014

The Lone Ranger (Republic, 1938)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago Charles and I started watching the 1938 Republic serial The Lone Ranger, the first film adaptation of the famous radio program created by Fran Striker (a man rather than a woman, by the way — “Fran” is short for Francis, not Frances!) in 1933 for producer George W. Trendle. The serial survives but in poor condition, apparently pieced together from prints in Mexico and France — we’re watching an download — and oddly it doesn’t credit an actor playing the Lone Ranger because Republic was doing a variant of the frequent serial device of having the villain be incognito, setting up a few suspects but revealing the identity only at the end. Here it’s the hero who’s incognito and whose identity is revealed only at the end, though in the first two chapters, “Hi-Yo, Silver!” and “Thundering Earth,” we’re given five reasonably hunky young men and told that one of them is really the Lone Ranger (the others are impostors and will try to fool our panel … joke), one of whom is future sort-of star George Montgomery in his film debut while another is Herman Brix, who’d already played the lead in the Edgar Rice Burroughs-produced serial The New Adventures of Tarzan and would later change his name to Bruce Bennett and win assignments in major films with “A”-list stars (his most famous credits are Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart). The first episode takes its sweet time introducing the titular hero and focuses mainly on the principal villain, Captain Smith (Stanley Andrews), a renegade from the Union army — the place is Texas and the time is April 1865, apparently in those four days between the Confederacy’s surrender in the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Col. Jeffries has been sent by President Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, who was such a “go-to” guy for Lincoln his page lists him as playing the 16th President in no fewer than 11 films, including such important movies as the Shirley Temple vehicle The Littlest Rebel and John Ford’s masterpiece The Prisoner of Shark Island, though his appearance here is marred by a crêpe-paper beard that wouldn’t have fooled anybody) to collect taxes in Texas, but Smith murders him, assumes his identity and turns federal tax collection into an extortion racket to benefit himself and his gang. A band of Texas Rangers sets out to capture Jeffries but they’re ambushed and all but one of them are killed, and here the committee-written script (Barry Shipman, George Worthing Yates, Ronald Davidson, Lois Eby and future Republic serial producer Franklin Adreon — whose first name is spelled here with a “y” instead of an “i” for some reason) dovetails with Striker’s original origin story for the Lone Ranger: he’s left for dead but taken in by a cave-dwelling Indian, Tonto (Chief Thunder Cloud), who nurses him back to health.

Meanwhile, just before his death Lincoln appointed yet another plenipotentiary representative, George Blanchard (George Cleveland, in a serious performance quite different from his comic-relief characterization in the 1946 RKO “B” Step by Step), and sent him out to Texas to curb the abuses of authority by the supposed “Jeffries.” Only Smith a.k.a. “Jeffries” has heard of Lincoln’s assassination before anyone else in Texas has, and with Lincoln dead Blanchard’s authority to act has died with him. Of course Blanchard has also brought his daughter Joan (Lynne Roberts) with him just so this film can have a woman in a featured role somewhere! The 1938 Lone Ranger is a bit odd because much of the character’s familiar iconography is either de-emphasized or just ignored; this Lone Ranger wears a simple cloth over his face instead of the cool domino mask that became identified with the character when he was put on TV in 1949 with Clayton Moore playing him, there’s no reference (at least so far!) to him using silver bullets and shooting merely to wound or incapacitate, not kill; and it’s not until the end of episode two that the final strains of the William Tell overture by Rossini, famous to this day as the Lone Ranger’s theme song, are heard come scritto instead of just as bits and pieces in a murky mix of stock music by Alberto Colombo. It’s also a surprisingly disappointing serial; the writers missed the obvious point for the episode one cliffhanger (the five young men suspected of being the Lone Ranger are just about to be executed by order of the false Jeffries) and both the episode one and two cliffhangers involve barrels of gunpowder exploding. (Maybe this was Republic’s Western-genre version of jumping, which was all too often how the good guys got out of mortal peril in Republic serials set in contemporary times.) Republic wasn’t capable of turning out a totally dull and useless movies, especially in a film encompassing both the genres the company was best known for — serials and Westerns — but this one has an oddly by-the-numbers feel to it, basically playing fair with the concept of the Lone Ranger (this is not like the Republic version of Captain America, which basically threw out the original origin story and kept only a variation on the costume from the 1940’s comic books) but simply not being all that exciting. Still, we’ve seen worse … — 6/28/14


When Charles got back from work he wanted something to watch so he could unwind, and I ran the third and fourth episodes, “The Pitfall” and “Agent of Treachery” (“he gets 10 percent of everything Treachery makes,” Charles joked), of the 1938 Republic serial The Lone Ranger. According to the “Trivia” posters, no intact U.S. print of this serial survived, and what we have is a version cut-and-pasted together from partial prints found in France and Mexico. (The French print at least preserved the original English soundtrack, since the preference in Europe was for subtitles, but the Latin American audiences preferred dubbing and so the Mexican version is in Spanish.) The visual quality is even worse than usual for an download, but enough survives that we can tell what’s supposed to be going on. The basis of the serial is that in Texas just after the Civil War, a no-good crook named Captain Smith (Stanley Andrews) has murdered Col. Jeffries, who’d been sent by the U.S. government to collect taxes in Texas just after hostilities were over (and though this isn’t well known, Texas was the last battlefield of the Civil War; there was a guerrilla movement still fighting for the Confederate cause even after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia). President Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr., in one of his 11, count ’em, 11 appearances as the Great Emancipator, though some of those were in historical shorts rather than features) realized his mistake and sent out another emissary, George Blanchard (George Cleveland), to take over from Jeffries and restore justice and law to Texas, but Jeffries kidnapped Blanchard and told him that since Lincoln had been assassinated, he no longer had any authority. What’s more, (the false) Jeffries is holding Blanchard’s daughter Joan (the highly personable and spunky Lynne Roberts — Republic’s serials always had more interesting female characters than the other studios’) hostage and threatening to kill her or torture her unless Blanchard did exactly what Jeffries told him to, including sending an official request to Lincoln’s replacement, Andrew Johnson, to appoint Jeffries territorial governor.

“The Pitfall” and “Agent of Treachery” deal with the attempts of the five nice-looking good guys, one of whom is the Lone Ranger (intriguingly, the committee that wrote this serial — Barry Shipman, George Worthing Yates, Franklin Adreon, Ronald Davidson and Lois Eby — decided that instead of having the villain be incognito through most of the serial and only be revealed in the last installment, this time they’d do that to the hero!), to steal the all-important state seal without which Blanchard’s document will not be valid. The “agent of treachery” in episode four is a henchman of Jeffries’ who tricks the Lone Ranger into an ambush by promising him documents that will expose Jeffries’ treachery, and the “pitfall” in episode three is one literally dug by the Union troopers who are under Jeffries’ command and into which the Lone Ranger and Jane Blanchard fall. The cliffhangers in this serial have been surprisingly lame and unthreatening, though at least they haven’t yet pulled one in which the good guys escape the bad guys’ trap by jumping (as I’ve been joking for years, anyone who’d ever seen a Republic serial could have figured out how to do a sequel to Thelma and Louise: just as the car was going over the cliff, they jumped out of it), and The Lone Ranger has suffered from the arbitrary changes in the character’s iconography made by the writing committee (just as they changed Dick Tracy from a Chicago police detective to an FBI agent, and Captain America from a surgically enhanced Army private to a crusading district attorney, they gave their Lone Ranger a dorky-looking cloth mask instead of the cool domino the Lone Ranger wore when his radio show transferred to TV, and there’s no sign of him using silver bullets). At the same time it’s intriguing how the writers tapped into the same gimmick they used in Dick Tracy and Undersea Kingdom of having the basically good old man trapped into working for the bad guy — only instead of having him put under the villain’s power scientifically they came up with a physically possible explanation: Blanchard has become Jeffries’ henchman to save his daughter’s life. The best parts of this serial, not surprisingly, are the hell-bent-for-leather action scenes, well directed by William Witney (the “h”-free spelling of his last name is correct) and John English, bolstered by enough stock footage that lists Yakima Canutt as one of the stunt people even though he probably never got a paycheck that was specifically for this film. Most of the reviewers have lamented the poor state of preservation of this movie and pleaded for a digital restoration — one would help, certainly, but enough remains that even in this form one gets a feel for the action-fest the original was. — 7/5/14


When Charles and I got home last night I ran him chapters five and six from the 1938 Lone Ranger serial, “The Steaming Cauldron” (an odd title because it was actually supposed to be a pit of molten lava) and “Red Man’s Courage” (another misnomer because the plot of the episode was actually about the piece’s villain, the false Col. Marcus Jeffries, turning the local Indians against the Lone Ranger), two more typical Republic serial episodes, with leaden plot setups but great and exciting action scenes. In “The Steaming Cauldron” Black Taggart (Raphael “Ray” Bennett), who nearly killed the Lone Ranger in episode four, “Agent of Treachery” (he was the episode’s title character!), tricks him again, pretending to need to be rescued before he falls into the lava pit (which looked so tacky on screen I half expected him to joke, “No, that’s not a steaming cauldron — that’s just my geothermal teapot!”) only really attempting to pull the Lone Ranger in so he falls into the geothermal teapot — oops, the steaming cauldron — oops, the lava pit — while Taggart escapes. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way, though (alas) Taggart escapes to be part of more schemes against the Lone Ranger. Also in these two episodes, Jim Clark (George Montgomery, making his film debut and billed under his real name, George Letz), one of the five men suspected of being the Lone Ranger — in this serial the writers decided to make the hero, not the villain, the incognito character who’s revealed at the end — gets killed, and heroine Jean Blanchard (Lynn Roberts), whose dad has been forced to help the evil “Col. Marcus Jeffries” (Stanley Andrews), whose real name is Captain Smith but who murdered the real Col. Jeffries, a tax agent appointed by President Lincoln to take over Texas’s tax collections after the Civil War ended, in his various schemes to take complete control over Texas and turn it into a dictatorship. (This is an oddly timely plot twist given the recent Rolling Stone article called “How the Wingnuts Took Over Texas,” whose central premise is that the Tea Party Republicans, relying mostly on two big issues — immigration, which they’re against; and guns, which they’re for — have turned the state so dramatically to the Right that George W. Bush couldn’t be elected to anything there today.)

He’s been able to bend Blanchard, whom Lincoln appointed to replace him but whose appointment instantly turned invalid once Lincoln was assassinated (that’s not how federal appointments actually work, but try telling that to the five-member committee who wrote this film’s script), into issuing proclamations bolstering Jeffries’ authority by holding Blanchard’s daughter hostage and threatening to torture — oops, I mean “use enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EIT’s for short — her if her dad doesn’t comply with his demands, though Jeffries’ attempts to be appointed interim governor of Texas were frustrated at the end of episode four when the Lone Ranger stole the official state seal, without which Blanchard’s letter recommending Jeffries for the post is not valid. (Why not? It’s just a letter, after all!) Anyway, Mary Blanchard tries to smuggle a letter outside via a flock of carrier pigeons owned by the local priest, Father McKim (William Farnum, a former silent-era Western star himself), but Taggart intercepts the note and forces McKim at gunpoint to substitute one of his own to lure the Lone Ranger — indeed, all five of the possible Lone Rangers — to a trap at a “mill” which, as Charles pointed out, doesn’t seem to have any source of motive power: it’s not anywhere near a stream and there’s no sign of a windmill either. Charles also noted that Taggart substituted a message of his own for the one that was supposed to be sent by Mary via carrier pigeon — but did not bother to shoot the other pigeons so the father couldn’t use one of them, once Taggart had gone, to send a countervailing message rescinding the fake one. In “Red Man’s Courage” Jeffries and Taggart turn their attention to breaking up the Lone Ranger’s good relations with the Comanches, the local Indians, by killing an Indian in cold blood (shooting him in the back, no less) and leaving behind the sort of silver bullets that presumably only the Lone Ranger uses — though this is the first mention in any part of this serial that the Lone Ranger uses silver bullets! As a result, the Indians turn against the Lone Ranger and capture his Indian sidekick Tonto (Chief Thundercloud — however many white actors played other sorts of people of color in films, Tonto was almost always cast with a genuinely Native American actor until the recent big-budget Disney Lone Ranger remake that ill-advisedly put Johnny Depp into the role), whom they’re about to burn at the stake as the cliffhanger at the end of episode six — and Tonto is so cool about the whole thing, no wonder they gave the episode the title “Red Man’s Courage”! — 7/6/14


I screened Charles the next episode in sequence in the 1938 serial The Lone Ranger — the seventh, “Wheels of Disaster,” in which the Lone Ranger rescues Tonto from being burned at the stake by Comanche Indians who became convinced that two of their braves had been shot in the back by the Lone Ranger. They became convinced of that because two minions of the serial’s principal villain, Col. Marcus Jeffries (Stanley Andrews) — actually renegade Captain Smith, who killed the real Col. Jeffries (an appointee of President Lincoln to collect taxes in Texas after the Civil War), took over and intends to run Texas as a dictatorship — deliberately left silver bullets at the scene of the murder. Oddly, the reference to silver bullets in episode six, “Red Man’s Courage,” was the first we’d heard in this serial of this iconic part of the Lone Ranger mythos — the writing committee (Barry Shipman, George Worthing Yates, future Republic serial producer Franklin Adreon, Ronald Davidson and Lois Eby) simply ignored it in episodes one through five. But the Lone Ranger and the ranchers he’s protecting against Jeffries’ depradations (one of whom actually is the Ranger — the writing committee this time decided to make the serial’s hero, not the villain, one of five people and wait until the end to reveal which one) come upon the Indians as they’re about to immolate Tonto and talk them out of it by asking if any of the bullets actually in the braves’ bodies were silver. (Were we supposed to believe the Indians had doctors who removed bullets from corpses to examine them?) They weren’t, so the Comanche chief lets Tonto go and apologizes to the Lone Ranger for doubting his friendship with the Indians. The wheels of disaster don’t come in until the final cliffhanger — yet another one built around a barrel of gunpowder that explodes spectacularly, this time blowing up a carriage presumably containing the serial’s heroine, Joan Blanchard (Lynne Roberts), who’s being held hostage by Jeffries to force her father, George Blanchard (George Cleveland), to do Jeffries’ bidding. (Blanchard, the writing committee told us, was appointed by Lincoln to take over Texas and stop Jeffries — which assumes awfully fast transportation between Washington, D.C. and Texas in the four days between the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination — only by the time he arrived Lincoln had been killed, though Jeffries was apparently the only person in Texas who knew that, and Jeffries used that fact to tell Blanchard that his authority had died with the President who appointed him — I’m not making this up, you know!) The Lone Ranger is even more preposterously plotted than most serials, and the murky white-on-white print available on (apparently combined from the only two surviving original prints, one from Mexico and one from France) doesn’t help much, but directors William Witney and John English were masters of action and the big chase set-pieces still come off vividly even though the plot of this one is silly even by serial standards. — 7/17/14


Charles and I eventually ended up screening episodes eight and nine of the 1938 Republic serial The Lone Ranger, “Fatal Treasure” and “The Missing Spur.” These were actually something of an improvement over previous episodes in the show, in that they were plotted more coherently — beginning with a rather confusing resolution of the episode seven cliffhanger (a carriage with gunpowder in it, heroine Joan Blanchard [Lynne Roberts] inside it and the Lone Ranger under it, clinging to hold on; apparently he undid the bracket connecting the carriage to the horses, rode off on one of the horses and rescued Joan just before the carriage exploded, but the footage was in especially poor shape even for this wretchedly preserved serial and it was hard to tell what was supposed to be going on) but for the most part a nice, suspenseful drama centering around the silver coins the piece’s villain, Col. Jeffries (a nicely understated performance by Stanley Andrews — instead of the melodramatics associated with most serial villains Andrews turns in a cool, matter-of-fact performance, quiet and un-raging even as he proclaims his desire to make himself dictator of Texas) has collected in taxes from the Texas populace in the wake of the Civil War. Jeffries is supposed to be a federal tax official but he’s really Captain Smith, who murdered the real Jeffries in episode one; when Joan Blanchard’s father George (George Cleveland) came out as a last-minute appointee of President Lincoln to take over and bring Jeffries to heel, Jeffries — having found out about Lincoln’s assassination before anyone else in Texas did — told Blanchard he had no real authority because the man who’d appointed him was dead, but he’d hold Joan as hostage and force Blanchard to exercise his authority to support Jeffries. This made Charles wonder why, after the Lone Ranger rescued Joan at the start of episode eight, he let her go back to her dad and her status as hostage forcing her dad to do Jeffries’ bidding. Quite a few of the Republic serials of the time featured a basically decent character forced to do the villain’s bidding — including Dick Tracy, Undersea Kingdom and others — though in modern-dress science-fiction contexts it was usually due to an operation or some sort of treatment that had destroyed the victim’s will to resist and made him a willing pawn in the villain’s operations, and without a supernatural or science-fictional gadget to sap Blanchard’s will it’s difficult to believe even he would be unable to resist Jeffries and act according to his own decent instincts.

These two episodes are about what happened when Dick Forrest (Lane Chandler), a newly arrived Union officer who isn’t part of Jeffries’ scheme, arrived a day early and saw the silver bags piled up in Jeffries’ office. This interfered with Jeffries’ plan to embezzle them and turn over only Confederate currency to Forrest — he was planning to justify that by saying that, though they were legally valueless, that was the only money the Texans were using — but Jeffries just hatched a new plan: he’d have the silver deposited in the Pecos Bank and then his henchmen would break into the bank and steal it. Only the Lone Ranger and his gang of good guys got word of this through the carrier-pigeon system between Joan, Father McKim (former silent-era Western star William Farnum) at the local mission, and Tonto (Chief Thunder Cloud), who seems to have little to do but hang out at the mission and wait for Joan’s pigeons to fly in their messages. They determine to steal the silver from the bank before Jeffries’ men can do so, and they hide it at the bottom of the well and get it out again inside casks of well water — but the villains stumble on one of the water casks containing silver and try to blow up the well. They fail, of course, but the honest Union soldiers arrest the Lone Ranger’s men for the theft (never mind that the Rangers have returned the money!) and Kester (John Merton), one of Jeffries’ principal assistants, grabs a spur from the Lone Ranger’s boot and is about to expose the secret identity of the Lone Ranger when … and that is the episode nine cliffhanger! The 1938 Lone Ranger survives only in composite form, pieced together from partial prints from France (where it was subtitled) and Mexico (where it was dubbed), and there appear to be some lacunae — one rather jarring transition point between the two sources is given away by a blip on the soundtrack where the dialogue stops and underscoring was supposed to start (obviously the unknown restorationist cut from the French to the Mexican version at this point) — but it’s still an unusually good serial, relatively well acted by the standards of the genre, with a plot that makes sense and at least somewhat credible resolutions of the cliffhangers. Surprisingly, for a Republic serial we’ve watched 60 percent of, so far no one’s escaped the seemingly mortal threat by jumping! (I’ll once again quote my joke that anyone who’d seen a Republic serial could have figured out how to do a sequel to Thelma and Louise: just before the car went over the cliff, they jumped out of it.) — 7/29/14


Last night Charles and I got home early enough from the Balboa Park organ concert to watch episodes 10 and 11 of the 1938 Republic serial The Lone Ranger, crudely pieced together from partial prints found in France and Mexico — the French one with subtitles translating the original English soundtrack and the Mexican one, though apparently more complete and possibly in better shape technically, with the dialogue dubbed in Spanish. This probably accounts for discernible lacunae that affected these episodes — especially 10, “Flaming Fury” (the title comes from the cliffhanger, in which the Lone Ranger and Tonto are trapped inside a barn that catches fire when a bullet from one of the bad guys’ guns knocks over an oil lamp and sets some straw ablaze; Our Heroes escape at the start of chapter 11, “The Silver Bullet,” by finding a cellar door and hiding in the cellar until enough of the barn fire burns out that they can leave again safely), in which the principal villain, Col. Jeffries of the United States Army (Stanley Andrews in a nicely restrained performance free from the eye-rolling overacting of most serial villains) — actually a renegade captain named Smith who’s been posing as Jeffries through the entire film to extract the silver coins paid as taxes by Texas farmers newly adjusting to life back in the United States at the end of the Civil War — decides he wants to marry the heroine, Joan Blanchard (Lynne Roberts). Blanchard’s father George (George Cleveland) was sent by President Lincoln himself to depose Jeffries and set up an honest territorial government in Texas until it could be readmitted to the Union, but Jeffries persuaded Blanchard père that Lincoln’s assassination (which Jeffries somehow found out about before anyone else in Texas did) invalidated his appointment, and he has held Joan hostage and therefore forced her dad to become his puppet and make whatever orders Jeffries wants. In the middle of chapter 10 there’s a crude modern-style title stating that Jeffries has somehow forced Joan Blanchard to marry him — we have no clue how, though that may have been explained in some footage that either does not exist with an English-language soundtrack or does not exist anymore at all — and there’s a scene in which Joan’s friend Father McKim (former silent Western star William Farnum) is supposed to perform the wedding but refuses to at the last minute, distracting Jeffries’ henchmen and giving the Lone Ranger the opportunity to break up the wedding party and protect Joan’s virtue. Evidently this scene survived only in the Spanish-language version from Mexico, but it was sufficiently important plot-wise the compilers of this version felt a need to include it anyway — so they apparently had modern actors dub in the English dialogue, putting such a heavy reverb on the voices it sounded like two soundtracks playing just out of synch with each other, and enough added hiss to match the rest of the sound and make the actors sound like they were trying to talk and gargle at the same time.

Nonetheless, despite the absolutely rotten shape it’s survived in, the 1938 Lone Ranger is a surprisingly impressive serial — not a ground-breaker for the genre the way my two favorite serials (the 1934 Return of Chandu and the 1943 Batman) are, but consistently well plotted, with credible setups for the action scenes and effective action direction by Republic’s ace team of William Witney (the “h”-free spelling of his last name is correct) and John English. The setup in chapter 11 is that the villains, unable to deduce the identity of the Lone Ranger from the “missing spur” clue that provided the title of episode 9, nonetheless trace the Ranger’s trademark silver bullets to blacksmith and gun repair person Joe Cannon (Walter James), catch him making silver bullets and kill him, but the crime is witnessed by Cannon’s early-teens grandson Sammy (Sammy McKim, who apparently is going to appear throughout the rest of the serial), who hears Cannon’s dying declaration of what happened to him. Generally The Lone Ranger has been a fast-moving, well-plotted, decently acted serial that has the advantage, rare for Republic, of taking a pre-existing successful character and not taking the appalling liberties with him that marred their serials about Dick Tracy and Captain America. The Lone Ranger’s mask isn’t the tacky-looking piece of cloth I’d identified it as in previous episodes (I think I was fooled by the poor technical quality of some of the images of it earlier) but a form-fitting, well sculpted contraption actually more successful in hiding its wearer’s true identity than the domino mask Clayton Moore wore as the TV Lone Ranger in the 1950’s — looking more like an all-black version of the Guy Fawkes mask in “V” for Vendetta than anything else I can think of at the moment. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that The Lone Ranger is unusually effective — after all, Republic was most famous for its Westerns and its serials, and this is both! — 8/5/14


Last night Charles and I decided to finish watching the 1938 serial The Lone Ranger, which proved surprisingly good — despite being weighed down by one of those damnable “recap” episodes (number 13, “The Fatal Plunge” — a reference to the cliffhanger from the previous episode in which the Lone Ranger and George and Joan Blanchard are nearly killed by a runaway carriage that falls off a cliff, though, this being a Republic serial, they got out by jumping first) which went back to chapters one and two and showed a lot of the exposition all over again in flashbacks. Still, the final chapters (except for the “recap”) are quite imaginatively scripted by the writing committee (Barry Shipman, George Worthing Yates, future Republic serial producer Franklin Adreon, Ronald Davidson and Lois Eby), starting with a chapter 11 cliffhanger in which one of the four potential Lone Rangers crashes the villains’ poker game and antes up with silver bullets (naturally the villains try to ambush him but he escapes) and moving up to the principal villain, Col. Jeffries a.k.a. Captain Smith (Stanley Andrews), discovering that George Blanchard (George Cleveland), his nominal superior as Texas territorial governor whom he’s been able to control by holding his daughter Joan (Lynne Roberts) as hostage, has learned his true identity as a renegade and outlaw. Fearful that the Blanchards will somehow escape and alert the authorities to his real identity, “Jeffries” puts them on a carriage — I had suspected it would contain a bomb that would blow it up, but instead they did the runaway-carriage bit — ostensibly to send them out of the Pecos area for their own safety, but really to do them in.

Jeffries arrests Joan Blanchard’s contact, Father McKim (former silent-era Western star William Farnum), and his men steal the Father’s carrier pigeons, with which he’s been relaying Joan’s messages to the Lone Ranger. The idea is to release the pigeons one by one and use them to trace the Lone Ranger to his hideout — which is in a spectacular cave full of stalactites and stalagmites, and the gimmick is that if anyone starts shooting guns in the cave the stalactites will fall from the cave ceiling and crush everyone beneath them. Though there’s a typical serial plot hole Charles spotted instantly — the Lone Ranger insists on hiding the Blanchards and the typical obnoxious 1938 movie kid, Sammy Cannon (Sammy McKim) in the cave even though it’s booby-trapped and there’s only one way in or out — the climax is quite exciting, as Jeffries’ men storm the cave, a detachment of federal troops under non-corrupt leadership counters them, and in the end all the candidates to be the Lone Ranger are seemingly killed in the battle, with the Lone Ranger himself supposedly falling off a cliff while wrestling Jeffries, leading to the apparent demise of both of them. Only just as the surprisingly moving ceremony for the fallen Rangers concludes, we hear a hearty voice on the soundtrack yelling, “Hi-yo, Silver!” (not the voice of Lee Powell, whose character, Allan King, is revealed as the Lone Ranger at the end, but that of Earl W. Graeser, who was playing the character on radio at the time) and the Ranger explains that now that he’s brought law and order to Pecos, Texas, he needs to depart and perform that service elsewhere in the West. Though the serial really doesn’t benefit from the gimmick of the Lone Ranger’s secret identity (and in the radio version he was a character named John Reid, whose distant relative became the Green Hornet several generations later), overall The Lone Ranger serial is a quite good piece of work, excellent by the usual standards of the genre and badly in need of a better reconstruction than the version we’re offered here (in which key lines of dialogue were clearly dubbed in decades later to fill in gaps in the source material). — 8/8/14