Wednesday, July 03, 2013

That Darn Lone Ranger And More Alternative Westerns

The big budget blockbuster silver screen release "with a bullet" today, just in time for the Fourth Of July weekend will be a 2013 variation on The Lone Ranger, this time co-starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.

It appears that the very first film of The Lone Ranger - the earliest and the crudest - was this cartoon produced by Roy Meredith on such a microscopic budget that it featured subtitles - yes, subtitles, five years after all the animation studios had been cranking out "All Singing, All Talking, All Dancing" adventures starring Mickey Mouse, Bosko, Bimbo, Betty Boop, Krazy Kat, Scrappy, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, etc.

From the 1933 into the 1950's, the not-that-dynamic duo were a huge hit, first on radio in an impressive 23 year run, then in cliffhanger serials, comic books, and a 1949-1957 television show (starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels) which led to two spinoff movies, The Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger & The Lost City Of Gold.

The original Lone Ranger series, which premiered in 1933, however, was designed for radio, an entirely different medium from all the others, one in which the listener's imagination filled in the blanks. Frankly, TV's ascot-wearing Masked Man struck Your Blogmeister as more of a fashion statement than a western hero - but Tonto was cool.

Today's posting will be devoted to various Lone Ranger sendups. Some are riotously funny, others. . . just odd. First off, here's one of the greatest standup comedians and storytellers, Bill Cosby, from his 1965 album I Started Out As A Child.

Next, one of Your Blogmeister's many favorite sketches from Second City Television. With the proviso that the jokes here will be totally lost upon young people who never saw or heard of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as well as to much older individuals who never liked it and simply do not "get" the skewed, multi-layered pop culture parody that was SCTV's stock-in-trade, the concept is as follows: The Lone Ranger (Rick Moranis) hosts a late-night program very much along the lines of The Tonight Show, with Tonto (Joe Flaherty) in the Ed MacMahon boozed-up sidekick role.

Nobody, with the possible exceptions of Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks, could reduce sacred cows to steak tartare quite like satirist-standup philosopher-social commentator Lenny Bruce. Here's animator Jeff Hale's 1968 cartoon based on one of Lenny's signature take-no-prisoners monologues.

Looney Tunes' 2 cents on the subject, made in 1939 as a response to the popular Republic serial starring the macho masked man, is The Lone Stranger & Porky. In the Bob Clampett tradition, it makes you laugh loudly and repeatedly with gloriously bad jokes - some seriously off-color - and then think "geeeees - I laughed at that". PLEASE forgive Mr. Blogmeister for posting a cartoon that, although produced in beautiful black and white, has been given the dreaded computer color treatment (there is, unfortunately, no transfer from an original B&W 35mm or 16mm print on YouTube, Daily Motion, Vimeo, Hulu, etc.).

Not nearly as successful but even more politically incorrect, 1940 style, is this spoof by Hugh Harman.

Harman was an animation pioneer and very creative director who started out in the 1920's (pre-Mickey Mouse) Disney Studio, along with Rudolf Ising and Friz Freleng. Harman was not known for hilariously funny cartoons, but for attempting to blend lavish Disney-style animation with either unfettered Fleischer/Warner Bros. rowdiness (the "three good little monkeys" and raucous "jazz frogs" series), or more serious subject matter (the 1939 antiwar epic Peace On Earth). Although Harman's attempts at a Disney animation + cartoon insanity blend usually did not succeed, there were blazing, grotesquely imaginative, surreal and most un-Disneylike moments in such delirious MGM cartoons as Swing Wedding and Art Gallery

Hugh's masked man sendup, The Lonesome Stranger, doesn't succeed, especially in the laughs department, but at least tries the breaking of the 4th wall technique, notably used in Frank Tashlin's 1937 suspense cartoon The Case Of The Stuttering Pig and Tex Avery's 1939 lampoon of Warners gangster flicks, Thugs With Dirty Mugs - yes, the very same technique that Avery would soon personally bring to MGM cartoons and carry beyond the nth degree. And, funny, the voices throughout (including a "Rochester" horse) sure sound a lot like Mel Blanc. . . and make Your Blogmeister wish so much that the head bandit could have been played by Jack Benny!

Harman and Orson Welles wanted to collaborate on a live-action/animation film of The Little Prince, and it's too bad it never happened; film history was robbed of the fun spectacle of studio executives on the project jumping out 17th story windows like captains of industry in 1929.

And speaking of spectacles, rest assured that Your Blogmeister, against his better judgment, will see the new lumbering mess of an elephantine epic on the big screen and eat diabetic-unfriendly buttered popcorn throughout.

No comments: