A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do * ; or A Handy Guide to Life’s Goals

The epically awesome goals of a Silver-Screen Western hero can be distilled down to five emulation-worthy goals, which can be mixed and matched for dramatic effect.

win a love interest
protect society
wreak revenge
get rich
know thyself

*(btw, title from George Jetson of The Jetsons, not John Wayne)

Of these, one is never stated as an outright goal in westerns: win a love interest. Why? Although I would argue that westerns are romances, silver-screen manly men can’t wear their hearts on their sleeve. They get the gal, though, just by being awesome on their way to their goal. (And isn’t it is true that often you find a love interest when you least expect it?)

Wreak revenge: A goal proclaimed at the beginning of the movie, as in Stagecoach, when John Wayne’s Ringo Kid states that his brother was murdered, and with such a dark look on his golden-handsome face that the audience knows we’re in for some vengeance, high-plains style.

Protect society: A classic goal, as the silver-screen frontier of the West is a battle of civilization versus wilderness, with women, towns, and law being the side the hero chooses, as in The Virginian (1929), starring Gary Cooper. All westerns have this theme within their celluloid DNA, as the straight-shooting western hero (the Ur-Individual) is apt to conflict with the niceties of so-called civilized mores. Choose civilization, abandoning one’s wild ways (The Virginian)? Or choose self, heading into the wilderness (almost every Randolph Scott-as-drifter movie, Shane)?

Get rich: With the advent of the “professional” plot in the late 1960s, heroes and anitheroes could forgo the nobler goals in favor of filthy lucre, as with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s Blondie, who could care less about the Civil War (the movie’s setting) and women (of which there are few in this particular frontier).

Know thyself: This is mama of all plots, as all silver-screen heroes must act according to his or her nature. As Alan Ladd said in Shane: “A man has to be what he is.” Word. Even if it means he recognizes he doesn’t have a place in the civilized West and must soon drift (Shane) or finds civilization isn’t worth his effort (Gary Cooper in High Noon).

Tomorrow, an epically awesome modern-day western that messes with all of these, and today, as promised, a handy guide to reaching one’s goals, silver-screen western style:

Want a love interest? I suggest reading Colt’s Choice, from Patrice Michelle’s Bad in Boots series. Hothothot.
Want to wreak revenge? Follow the Ringo Kid’s lead in Stagecoach:

  • State your goal aloud in polite society. This marks you as a person of intention, worthy of fear and/or veneration to the common herd.
  • Prepare to make sacrifices to achieve that goal, e.g., the loss of your standing in society, the loss of your life, the loss of a possible love interest who begs you not to wreak vengeance….
  • Overcome fear and hesitation, helped by excellent script and lighting angles. Do the deed.
  • Achieve goal and win love interest, who sticks around despite your violent tendencies.
Want to protect society? Follow the Virginian’s lead in The Virginian:

  • Act in an honorable and straightforward manner. This marks you as a person of intention, worthy of fear and/or veneration to the common herd.
  • Prepare to make sacrifices to achieve that goal, e.g., your BFF is a rustler and you have to hang him to protect the fragile state of civilization, you have to go East to visit future in-laws and dress like a dude, your love interest says she can’t love you if you hang said rustler….
  • Overcome fear and hesitation, helped by your incredibly handsome, soulful face. Do the deed.
  • Achieve goal and win love interest, who sticks around despite your tendencies for vigilantism.
Want to get rich? Follow Blondie’s lead in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

  • Do not hide or apologize for your avarice. This marks you as a person of intention, worthy of fear and/or veneration to the common herd.
  • Prepare to make sacrifices to achieve that goal, e.g., you will have to double-cross many, many people; you may be dragged through a desert without water for days; you can’t trust anyone—even a bath could be interrupted; death could come at any moment, which will give you a cynical detachment…
  • Overcome any gentle emotion, helped by lines whose syncopated rhythms are based on jazz. Do the deed and secure the gold.
  • Achieve goal. And if you feel empty inside, tough—you made your bed, now lie in it.
Want to know thyself? Follow Shane’s lead in Shane:

  • Act in an honorable and straightforward manner. This marks you as a person of intention, worthy of fear and/or veneration to the common herd.
  • Prepare to make sacrifices to achieve that goal, e.g., you can’t get involved—which means no nookie with the homesteader’s wife; no showing the kid how to shoot guns; no befriending the homesteader; and all this even though you’re the one who will have a showdown with evil doppelganger Jack Wilson.
  • Overcome fear and hesitation, helped by incredible cinematography and epic lines. Do the deed.
  • Achieve goal and leave. You, out of all the heroes, truly understand that there’s no place for you and your crazy gunslinger-ness in the world.

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