Which Silver-Screen Western Hero Are You?; or Part III, The Answers

The most satisfying part of a quiz are the answers. It’s as if having something hard and fast–a yes/no/write/wrong/you are this/you are that–keeps all the demons of uncertainty at bay and hence make us happier and more satisfied, right? Who wants to be consumed by doubt when so much is at stake (you, your love interest, the fate of the world, etc., etc.)

And so we come to the last installment of the Which Silver-ScreenWestern Hero Quiz Are You. In case you lost the quiz on a long, winding high-plains trail, here’s the link. Add up your answers and see below for the description of your archetype and which praiseworthy heroes you should be emulating.

  • If you answered mainly a’s you are the Lawman.

  • If you answered mainly b’s you are the Singing Cowboy Hero.

  • If you answered mainly c’s you are the Gunslinger.

THE LAWMAN

The lawman hero doesn’t have to wear a badge to know right from wrong. Brave, quietly charismatic, and with an outsized need to right wrongs, the lawman’s prodigious six-gun and do-good personality are at the service of community. Honest, loyal, and straightforward, the lawman hero always has a friend’s back. He or she has the kind of humility that comes from a.) truly understanding one’s minuscule place in this big universe of ours, but b.) trying to make a difference anyway. A lawman hero often comes across as brusque, stoic, or taciturn, keeping most people from glimpsing his or her inner romantic. But once the lawman’s heart is won, the work ethic that drives this person to do right will make sure the lucky spouse will live happily ever after.

  • The look: Simple and utilitarian is the look of the lawman—never flashy. But there’s always a little something that sets him or her apart from common mortals: well-balanced six-guns perhaps, or the fastest horse in the land. While practicality is the name of the lawman’s game, quality is always the bottom line. Sure, the lawman is unostentatious, but check the labels: Those beat-up jeans are top-of-the-line. Even the one vice that the lawman indulges in is expensive!
  • The life: Often with a regrettable past—a former hell-raiser or even a criminal—the lawman carries a heavy sense of duty that never quite leaves him or her, even when said lawman is whooping it up at a neighborhood waterhole. A deep sadness can be seen in their eyes, which makes them unbearably attractive. With sage wisdom laced with humor—even to the point of being the quiet rascal no one would ever finger as a culprit behind a practical joke—the lawman nevertheless has a heart of gold an (even if he or she will never admit it). But evildoers beware: In a showdown the lawman will just as soon beat you to the draw as call 9-1-1.
  • Pros: There are many positive aspects to a lawman: Fiercely loyal. Astute. Compassionate. And honest—with a lawman you always know where you stand. And maybe best of all, underneath the simple, perhaps rough exterior beats the heart of a true gentleman or lady. Parents, friends, and pets love a lawman.
  • Cons: The “fierce” in “fiercely loyal” isn’t just a turn of phrase. A lawman doesn’t get riled easily, but once you’ve crossed whatever line that was drawn, run for the hills. And bad news for those who love their lawmen: Duty calls often, and sometimes at the expense of a romantic evening…or a relationship.

Idol-worthy lawman heroes

In High Noon (1952), Marshal Will Kane has the heavy responsibility of being played by Gary Cooper, one of the handsomest movie stars ever. Being the quintessential lawman, Kane also has to stand up to thugs terrorizing him, his wife, and his town. In this classic McCarthy-era script, the town is full of craven cowards who aren’t worth fighting for, but Kane decides to stand up for what’s right, even at the cost, potentially, of his marriage and his life. It’s the lawman’s dilemma, perfectly portrayed by Cooper’s intense scowl and precise gunplay.

Randolph Scott was born to play tall-in-the-saddle lawman heroes. His strong-and-silent demeanor and rugged good looks are seen at their best in every film he did with Bud Boetticher, especially The Tall T (1956). His gentle Southern drawl gave him a gentlemanly air that had women running after him—not that he ever took advantage of them. The epitome of the savvy westerner, he was savvy in business as well: After starring in Ride the High Country (1962), he retired a very wealthy man, having invested wisely in the stock market.

“The Black Whip” is all woman. In Zorro’s Black Whip (1944), Linda Stirling cloaks herself in her slain brother’s secret identity of the Black Whip, vowing to find his killers and make the world a better place for girls everywhere who want to be sexy and strong. Unflappable under pressure, she dispatches badmen with verve. A stunning beauty with a rigorous whip hand, she always gets her man.

Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles (1974) dresses like a singing cowboy in his suede-and-leather ensemble and matching Gucci saddlebags, but he’s a law-and-order man through and through. Cleavon Little brings humor and righteousness to Mel Brooks’s send-up that shoots down racism in westerns (and as a bonus has an epic bean-eating scene around a campfire). With only his wits and lightning-fast draw Sheriff Bart and his partner (Gene Wilder) defeat empire-building bullies and enlighten racist townsfolk. After Sheriff Bart has broken the heart of saloon singer Lili von Shtupp, he and his pard ride off into the sunset in a shiny Cadillac. Ah, the life of a western hero!

And no lawman list can be complete without the Ringo Kid from Stagecoach (1939), the role that shot John Wayne to stardom. The Kid’s got the shady past, the thirst to avenge his slain brother, and the added complication of a tender heart. In between getting arrested for breaking out of jail and having to defend the stagecoach against Indian attack, he has the time and energy to fall for soiled dove Dallas (Claire Trevor), a fellow outcast from polite society. But the Ringo Kid shows audiences everywhere that “good is as good does,” and ultimately gets revenge, the girl, and an awesomely heroic life.

THE SINGING COWBOY HERO

The singing cowboy hero drifts through life in a way that’s happy-go-lucky or, well, some might say as rootless as a tumblin’ tumbleweed. Sentimental, spiritual, wearing hearts on fringed sleeves, these heroes are nostalgic for tradition, love, and family but are often too restless to stop and stake a claim. Sure, the singing cowboy hero has a job—somewhere—but that doesn’t ever get in the way of him or her singing the praises of winding trails, home sweet home, and kisses sweet as prairie roses.

  • The look: Impeccably attired in all colors of the rainbow (despite the fact their movies were often in black and white), the singing cowboy hero never goes anywhere without a beautifully groomed steed, usually given a one-word name like Trigger or Champion, which signifies the awesome power between his or her thighs (read that as you wish). Shiny guns, clean white hats, and custom-made boots no real cowboy could afford round out the singing cowboy hero’s ensemble.
  • The life: Singing cowboys help dispel the blues, whether the blues are from unemployment or unrequited love. Preferring talk or song over a two-fisted ruckus, the singing cowboy hero seeks a peaceful end to altercations. But watch out! Those pearl-handled beauties on his or her hips aren’t just for decoration. A singing cowboy hero somehow always has time for target practice between singing to dogies and riding on the range. And most importantly, despite all odds, the singing cowboy hero always triumphs, whether it’s against greedy ranchers or evil masterminds.
  • Pros: The most positive attribute of a singing cowboy hero is the way he or she will find the silver lining in every cloud, and sing about it in three-part harmony at the drop of a hat. Singing cowboy heroes usually have humble goals—just promise ’em enough freedom to wander, and life is one big happy trail.
  • Cons: The shadow side of this sunshine hero is a stubbornly independent streak. Sometimes a singing cowboy hero will run afoul of the law, big business, or anyone who just tries to tell him or her what to do. And sooner or later, everyone connected to the singing cowboy hero learns that his or her habit of blowing out of town when the high plains call means you can’t trust the singing cowboy hero to keep a commitment or pay the bills.

Idol-worthy singing cowboy heroes

Gene Autry got his start singing bawdy “hillbilly” songs, but once he upgraded to cowboy duds, he became the singing cowboy. At first he couldn’t ride, rope, or shoot, but he learned fast, and just in time to save the word from underground super-scientists and the evil Queen Tika (The Phantom Empire, 1935) and ride Champion to the rescue of women and children everywhere, selling millions of records in the process. And he could walk the walk. No doubt inspired by one of his movie lines (“Always defend your name, son. Just like you defend your country when you need to.”), Autry served as a US Air Force pilot in World War II.

Roy Rogers dropped his real name, Leonard Slye, and became King of the Cowboys when Autry enlisted. He lived up to his crown: He shot straight, rode fast, outboxed every bad guy, and he never needed a shave. His ladylove, Dale Evans, was just as sparkling clean and bright as he was, and their crooning melodies righted wrongs because dang, could this guy sing! Cool Water, Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds, Happy Trails—with songs like these no wonder he won every time. Don’t Fence Me In (1945) is a trail-drivin’ treat.

Herbert Jeffrey, the “Bronze Buckaroo,” was good with guns, rode a white horse named Stardusk, and crooned in silvery tones about the Cowboy Way. He never became a big-time star, because in the 1930s, moviegoers couldn’t identify with a black man as a cowboy. Their loss. Now he’s as decorated as any western hero: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an inductee of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and best of all, still alive and singing in SoCal, surrounded by great-great-grandkids. A former singer with Duke Ellington, his voice is so silvery-sweet beautiful in Harlem on the Prairie (1937) that your heart will swoon for the cowboy life. Here’s a clip.

One of the hardest-working women in show business, Dale Evans was chosen to be Roy Rogers’s partner on the basis of her singing voice and the fact that she was from Texas, which, um, automatically meant she would be able to ride horses and rope, right? A true western hero, she faked it until she made it, eventually marrying her pardner. Fifty-one years of marriage not only attested to Evans’s true-blue heart but also her ability to write the sweeter-than-sugar “Happy Trails.” She often played girl-from-Back-East-in-trouble roles. One of the best, which also highlights the singing cowboys Sons of the Pioneers, is Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944).

THE GUNFIGHTER

A loner by nature, the gunfighter nevertheless will deign to use his or her prodigious talents to right wrongs—for a price (or for the hell of it). Intense and driven, often with a tragic past, the gunfighter hero has a kind of remoteness that seems off-putting to all but those who know them best. So savvy to be almost world-weary, a gunfighter hero can seem cynical and calculating in one moment but then explode into action, terrorizing foes (or just closing a deal in a decisive manner). The thousand-yard-stare says “back off,” but a deep need for love and acceptance keeps the gunslinger hanging around, sometimes past his or her welcome.

  • The look: Gunslinger heroes have signature looks that can be wildly different, but whatever they wear, it makes a statement—artsy, anarchy, whimsy, minimal, s & m. Like the lawman, the gunslinger bears the weight of the world, usually manifest as dust on the folds of a battered hat, nicks in the metal of a well-used gun, a slight scar on the brow. Or, alternatively, the gunslinger is the one who, in any situation, manages to stay cool, sharp, and above it all, like an otherworldly apparition.
  • The life: Their seeming cynical, opportunistic streak is a bluff for a strict moral code that cannot be broken. This code is rarely glimpsed unless abuse of children or animals is involved—the gunslinger identifies with those who are powerless. The gunslinger always has a steed, and friends (of a sort), and a mission, but these can be sold, abandoned, or given away depending on what strikes the gunslinger as the best option at the moment. And so their steeds have no names; their friends are few and far between; their romances are short. But their legend looms larger than life. Everyone’s heard of the gunslinger. Everyone.
  • Pros: A gunslinger always has more adventures than anyone else, better luck, and a lover that is hotter than the desert at high noon. With uncanny speed, grace, and smarts, a gunfighter hero can outwit, outpunch, and outgun any adversary. While always ready to savor a drink, meal, or quickie, nevertheless the gunslinger will—okay, might—drop everything to save the day.
  • Cons: Trouble is ever far from a gunslinger—they either stir it up, or it comes looking for them. They tend to believe they are a law unto themselves (as well as enforcer, judge, and executioner). Ultimately, a gunslinger is a lonely soul; no one can possibly understand that their thirst for vengeance comes from a sense of wanting to atone for their own past bloody deeds. Perhaps that’s why gunslingers tend to drift, never staying in one place for long—the high plains don’t judge.

Idol-worthy gunslinger heroes

The classic gunslinger evokes the white knight of medieval times. And there is no one who epitomizes that better than Alan Ladd in Shane (1953). As a buckskin-clad stranger, Shane rides down from the mountains just as a homesteader family, the Starretts, are menaced by a greedy cattle baron who wants their land. At first Shane puts aside his knightly buckskins and six-gun to be a simple farmer, but a true gunslinger hero can never forget his past: The kid hero-worships him; the wife is attracted to him; and the husband’s friendly rivalry turns to blows when Shane won’t let him face the most evil villain on earth, Jack Palance’s black-clad gunslinger. One epic showdown later, Shane, bloodied but unbowed and clad in buckskins once more, rides away into the mountains, alone.

The classic gunslinger got a lot grittier when Clint Eastwood took his first film role as “Blondie” in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Also a mysterious stranger, the mercenary Blondie isn’t interested in saving people. Forget about romance and honor and duty—all this antihero wants is Confederate gold that’s gone missing, and before lethal gunhands, played by Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef, get their hands on it. There is loyalty (kind of) and honor (of a sorts) in this poncho-clad, cheroot-smoking, gimlet-eyed antihero, just enough to have audiences rooting for him to win the showdown of showdowns in an old cemetery… and appreciate his last laugh in one of the western genre’s best dénouements.

Most female silver-screen gunslingers—a fairly recent innovation in westerns—take their badass cue from the sexy cool of Eastwood’s Man with No Name. But none is as startlingly original, as over-the-top macho, as to-die-for righteous as Joan Crawford’s Vienna, in Johnny Guitar (1954). She’s the saloon owner, not the gunslinger of the title (played by guitar-strumming Sterling Hayden). But it’s easy to see who wears the pants in their relationship. Johnny Guitar is hired to protect Vienna from a posse headed by her rival Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), but by the time the showdown explodes on the screen, Crawford is the one pointing her six-gun at the heart of her nemesis with the classic gunslinger’s brooding scowl. One straight shot and she rides off into the sunset with her guitar-strumming lover.

No gunslinger hero does tragic past and thwarted hopes like Dum Dua of The Tears of the Black Tiger (2000). In what could be the world’s best (and only) pad thai western, Chartchai Ngamsan embodies the heroic gunslinger ideal of jaw-dropping handsomeness, an otherworldly skill with guns, and a deep pool of unbearable sadness in his eyes. In true revisionist-western mash-up style, the costumes and sets are pure singing-cowboy while the message is all gunslinger. He almost gets the girl—numerous times—but ultimately his fate hinges on the showdown with his nemesis, or perhaps his karma. Like Dum Dua, real gunslingers accept their fate, whether it be tragic or comic.

Remember–watch those films. Tape film stills to your mirror. Sing the theme songs. It takes work to be as epically awesomely happy as a silver-screen western hero. But you’re starting off just right, with the first principle of the Silver-Screen Cowboy Code: Believe you are a hero, and you will be a hero.

Q: But what if I really, really want to be a villain?

A: Go ahead, make my day (whoops, wrong genre.) To be continued…

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