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Weapons in the Movies

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by basbol13, Mar 5, 2017.

  1. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    Another movie that somehow managed to get the gun details correct, if nothing else, was the Charles Bronson movie "Death Hunt." It was based on a true story about a trapper in the Yukon who shot a policeman who was sent out to question him about some complaints about trapping violations. In real life, the trapper was a mysterious individual that no one is quite sure about. Anyway, the actual man had a Savage Model 1899, and that was what was used in the movie. Just about every other fact in the movie was mor than slightly distorted.
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  2. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    Not necessarily on Titanic, but it's also common to have only a few working weapons on a set which are traded back and forth between actors who need the functioning one in that particular shot. VERY convincing molded plastic (or something of the sort) replicas are carried otherwise. Sometimes a bad version of these can be seen but the more poorly made ones are disappearing, they started to show up in the 1980s when there were fears of accidents with actual firearms and the technology to easily make the copies crossed paths. It's often more the finish that shows off a fake on camera than the crispness of the lines, I've seen molded copies of real guns that could confuse me until I picked them up ... but that's only when they get the finish right or it hasn't been beaten up or damaged by the sun. Generally the only actors with actual firing firearms are the ones who physically shoot them and quite often it's only during the actual shot where they do the firing. If a prop man or armorer has a nicer gun the last thing he wants to see happening is an actor (especially a star who no one can discipline) playing with it in a dangerous or damaging way. Most of the time they take the guns away as soon as the shot is over.

    I can't remember if the 1911 in Titanic was fired but I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of the few actual 1911s that reliably function. Getting the "valve" in the barrel of a semi auto (basically making it gas operated) set right is very difficult. You have to balance the slide/reloading motion with getting some muzzle flash and as you fire them they gum up quickly. The hole in the lug (usually a large set screw) that blocks the barrel is smaller than you'd think, but if you make it too small it ... well, bad things can happen. With the demise of Stembridge many times you get stuck using the very limited selection your prop man happens to own rather than having a wide set of choices or replacements. Film guns get beaten up horribly, it's VERY rare to find truly high quality pieces that function well too. Same with the classic cars used in films, many of the rentals barely run and are nursed to life just enough to get the shot. The people who have them are in business and they don't make money keeping cars in top shape if they don't need to. Many of them look good on film but if you saw them in person you wouldn't be impressed.

    Though British features tend to do some awesome weapons work, probably courtesy of a few (maybe just one) sophisticated film armorers, many BBC shows get along with just what their prop department has. With gun laws in the UK being what they are sometimes you'll see things like semi autos with missing hammers and other obviously "deactivated" details. I once did a book cover photo shoot in NYC where we had a choice of a number of piles of ill fitting, parts missing, deactivated junk. Thanks to the magic of photoshop I was able to use those as place holders then composite in other guns I found and photographed with appropriate lighting in states with different laws. It's odd this still goes on because there are so many top notch Air Soft copies. Many could be turned into excellent props with only a bit of a repaint or the removal of the 6mm barrel insert.

    It's cool as hell when a film gets every detail right but many things operate against that level of perfection.
  3. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    I saw a still, somewhere, from an old movie, a Western made either in the 1930s or 1940s. It showed a scene being filmed and it actually included a real rifle being fired for effect on the ground. Elmer Keith mentioned real guns being fired off-screen but I didn't think he knew what he was talking about until I saw the photo. THe man with the rifle was very close and there was a screen (an invisible protective screen!) in place but it was still surprising. But it may have been safer than many of the stunts in movies, even today and probably considerably safer than when horses, wagons and chariots were involved. Supposedly Jackie Chan does his own stunts and frequently gets hurt. Must be a tough guy.

    Another old movie, this one a Jungle Jim movie from around 1950, had the bad guy armed with a .45 auto. He used it but you didn't see the gun actually fired. Wonder why they picked a .45 auto?
  4. EngProf

    EngProf One of the Regulars

    Agree 100% about the potential problems/dangers about getting the blank orifice correct. You have to hit the "baby bear" diameter - not too big, not too small - to get reliable and safe functioning.

    I have been doing WWII reenacting for a number of years and among the reenacting community there is a tight connection between the blank manufacturers and the people who make, sell , and use blank-adapting hardware. If you find an adapter size (orifice diameter) that works well with a particular blank (source of pressure) and your gun, you want to stay with them.
    For my blank-adapted M1 Garand I only use US military-surplus M1909 blanks since I know I can rely on them to be of constant pressure.
    The blank-adapter folks will usually sell you a range of orifice sizes so that you can tune your firearm for reliable semi-auto function while not over-stressing it.
    Also agree that M1911's are among the most difficult to blank-adapt. Conventional wisdom used to be that it could not be done, but the "trick" is to use a junk barrel and cut/grind the barrel locking lugs off and convert it into a straight blowback pistol. Obviously, you DON"T put a live round in it!

    One blank-shooting horror story is that one of our guys did not confirm the source of his blanks and put a military grenade-launching blank in his M1. It blew about a cubic inch piece of the back of the receiver off. He was lucky that it blew off at an angle and missed his face, or it would have likely killed him.

    Any blanks that I don't know the exact origin of I only use in bolt action rifles with no orifice to raise pressure.
  5. Stearmen

    Stearmen I'll Lock Up

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  6. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I didn't know some of that. Thank you!

    To make matters worse for movie companies you can't always use the same sort of blanks. Some locations have rules about quarter, half or full load, sometimes safety rules mandate a certain approach, some directors want more or less flash or smoke. Yet filmmakers still are addicted to the 'gun porn' of fancy semi autos in every shot ... or they were a decade or more ago when I last worked in the biz. I used to argue for revolvers all the time just because they weren't tricky but it rarely got me more than a "yeah, yeah, you told me so." Military long arms work pretty good but the manufacturers pay a lot of attention to making them work with blanks for the various services.

    Anyway, you'd think on a high budget picture nearly anything is possible but the money spent on the expenses of day to day filming is surprisingly limited and every penny is pinched. The bulk of the cash goes to the various big names and a large percentage is actually paid back to the studio in a sort of shell game that repays the overhead created by all the films that are developed but not made. The money or time to get the perfect gun is not always there ... even on films like Titanic.
  7. basbol13

    basbol13 One of the Regulars

    Always liked what James Cagney could do with a couple of Colt Official Police models

  8. basbol13

    basbol13 One of the Regulars

    Or Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone with a sword

  9. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I once interviewed an old guy named Henry Donovan who produced some early TV. Earlier in his career he's been a prop man and had invented a dust pellet air gun which shot brittle plastic (or something) balls of powder these sent up a nice plume of dirt like a bullet had hit the ground. Other substances, like silver grease, could be used to simulate a bullet glancing off a darker metal surface. I believed he built this contraption while working on the Hopalong Cassidy series in the 1930s.

    However, as with many things in the feudal civilization of Hollywood, that did not mean he shared his invention. It may have been a calling card, a perk of hiring him and no other, that he kept to himself. Live ammo was used at times, in fact Rodd Redwing, the legendary stuntman and weapons master, told me when I was a child that he once shot a cigarette out of a movie star's mouth. I suspect that what he did was something more complicated than that because a simple shot of a man with a cigarette being torn from his mouth with a bullet is easily done with fishing line. The shooter (Rodd doubling) may have had to be in the shot or, more likely, the cigarette stayed in the man's mouth while the bullet destroyed the lit end of it.

    That sounds dangerous as heck but Rodd regularly (like in every shooting demonstration he did) but a .22 bullet through a hole the size of a quarter in a swinging piece of glass and THEN through the hole of a Lifesaver candy without breaking it. He'd have trouble now because I believe they made the hole smaller! After the Lifesaver, he'd actually split the bullet on the blade of a knife and pop two balloons, but that part was just theater ... if you can do the hole of the Lifesaver, who cares.

    That .45 auto was probably used in the Jungle Jim movie BECAUSE it didn't have to be fired. They look good and revolvers get boring even if they always work.

    I recently viewed some footage from a Super 8 movie I made as a teenager, a Western, where we had a guy taking cover while being shot at. My buddy stood outside the frame line and threw small dirt clods at his position. It looked remarkably like bullets hitting the ground but we lucked out with the size of the clods and how dry they were, when they hit the ground they just went up in dust leaving no other remains. The guy throwing them also had a pretty good arm, they were moving fast enough not to register on the film ... 18 frames per second in those days!

    Many actors would like to do their own stunts (actually actresses are the most insistent, the actors can be kind of wimpy) but the cost of a broken star is vastly more than a broken and replaceable stuntman. Chan did those stunts because no one else could and also because he was often in charge ... and different rules. I'm guessing in Hong Kong you might be able to cheaply return to filming after a few months. Unless some amazing deal was made, in Hollywood you'd have to keep everyone on payroll and it's likely you'd run up against scheduling issues where you lost some actors forever ... that would mean reshooting to replace them, staggeringly expensive! Jackie Chan is amazing and a once in history experience in a lot of ways!
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  10. Benzadmiral

    Benzadmiral Call Me a Cab

    Never seen that -- is that Cagney's famous Public Enemy?

    Watching it, I was going to say, "Not an umbrella to be seen," but then the big gangster (or so I assume) climbs out of his town car with one. Everybody else makes do with coats with collars upturned, and hats.
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  11. EngProf

    EngProf One of the Regulars

    Speaking of "movie blanks" with the maximum flash and noise, some reenactors use them just to put on a show, as far as I can tell. They're not necessary, but they use them anyway.
    To be specific, I remember one "battle" which was going on near dusk and in the woods. In the dim light one guy was shooting movie blanks in his BAR. The fireball and blast was so great that everyone else just stopped shooting and watched his fireworks display.

    I have the parts to blank-adapt a .45 auto, but have been too lazy so far. As you say, revolvers work 100% of the time with no problems, so I carry a Colt or S&W Model of 1917 and live happily ever after.

    A couple of recent interesting TV/movie firearms observations:
    In the old TV series "Yancey Derrringer" - set in the immediate-post Civil War time-period in New Orleans, one of the villains carried an 1851 Navy and the other an 1849 Pocket Pistol. I was pleased to see both from a firearms-historically-correct perspective.
    Also saw a portion of "Tom Horn", with Steve McQueen, and he was carrying an 1876 Winchester, which is not something you often see in a Western.
  12. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I think I actually recommended that gun to him! That doesn't mean I "knew Steve McQueen" or anything else that sounds cool or exciting. He studied up on the research that went into Tom Horn in my father's library, so he was around the house for a few weeks but not in a social way; just studying. I occasionally ran into him after school. He was a very private man, few stars can survive being social animals even if they want to because the public will just suck the life out of them, but he went beyond that; sort of feral.

    He seemed a nice enough man, though everyone was nice around my father ... he had that effect on nearly everyone. At the time I was more interested in the series of absolutely INSANE cars and vintage trucks that he showed up in, rather than the man himself. One day, I was just heading out and stopped by to tell my dad what I was up to, McQueen mentioned that he wanted to find a vintage rifle that was seriously powerful, and something that had a barrel that would look like a large caliber weapon on film. I grabbed a book off the shelf, I can't remember which one but I was obviously pretty familiar with it at the time, and showed him a few pages were some of the higher caliber Winchesters were detailed. If I remember correctly, Horn actually used a 30-30. My little contribution to the inaccuracy of weapons used in movies.
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  13. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    A couple of recent interesting TV/movie firearms observations:
    In the old TV series "Yancey Derrringer" - set in the immediate-post Civil War time-period in New Orleans, one of the villains carried an 1851 Navy and the other an 1849 Pocket Pistol. I was pleased to see both from a firearms-historically-correct perspective

    As a boy I loved "Yancey Derringer." For one thing, in the great age of the tv Western, it was a "Southern," But one thing I loved it for was the great and accurate variety of the weaponry. Not a fast-draw rig to be seen. Yancey carries a four-barrelled Sharps in his hat. His partner Pahoo carries a sawed-off shotgun under his robe and a knife sheathed behind his neck. Obadiah, elderly doorman of the bawdy-house, when there comes a knock at the door takes a .31 1849 Colt from the doorside table, gets arthritically to his feet and holds it discreetly behind his back as he answers the door.

    Another unusual thing back then was that Yancey often uses a knife, either one he carries in his belt or one Pahoo tosses to him. Many people don't realize it now but in the '50s the knife was sort of taboo. Put bluntly, it wasn't seen as a "white man's weapon." The only American hero licensed to use a knife was Jim Bowie, and his was big enough to be a sword, anyway. Even in war movies, when an enemy sentry had to be taken out with a knife, it was always the Indian or Mexican member of the squad (and there was always one) who did the deed. Apparently, Jock Mahoney didn't care. Until reliable cartridge revolvers came along n the late 19th century, the knife, Bowie or otherwise was the preferred backup weapon.

    Some years ago I was fortunate to meet Jock Mahoney, a most affable man and unfortunately now remembered most as Sally Field's stepfather. But in his day he was Hollywood's most legendary stuntman and a fine but underused actor.
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  14. Stearmen

    Stearmen I'll Lock Up

    How about a flintlock Trapdoor Springfield in Daniel Boone? :D [​IMG]
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  15. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    There are many obscure weapons, even though they were manufactured in the tens of thousands. They were never featured in newsreels or war movies. So they're merely obscure to us as Americans. But now and then they pop up here and there. One such old weapon is the Madsen light machine gun, introduced around 1900. It was made in just about every common military cartridge because it was sold worldwide and nobody thought about international standardization much then. In a strange (but fascinating) Danish-made science fiction film made probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s, one appears being used by Danish soldiers. The movie was about a regenerated dinosaur-type monster but I've never been able to discover the title. The movie also has an interesting segment filmed at Tivoli Gardens.

    My army training was artillery and I have to mention that virtually none of the artillery pieces that appear in movies, and there appear fairly often, exhibits much in the way of blast and recoil. But then, hardly any other firearms do, either.

    I also seem to recall that in the movie "Patton," there was a scene in which Patton was given a Remington pocket pistol (which I do not know the model number of). Supposedly he actually had one of that particular model. He is better known for owning a pre-war .357 S&W Magnum as well as a Colt Single Action Army revolver. But photos exist of him wearing a Colt .32 or .380 general officer's pistol. Don't think I've seen one with a .45 auto, though.
  16. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    Well, here is the result of a little internet research. The Danish movie I mentioned was "Reptillicus" and it came out in 1961. That was two years before the first beach movie, so there's no excuse for not having seen it. Anyway, there are dozens of Madsen machine guns in the movie, many of them being fired from tripods, too. And not only that, a 105mm howitzer being fired is clearly firing live ammunition and had realistic recoil. That much I know because I've fired that very model of howitzer. There are bits and pieces of the movie on YouTube. A couple of the beach movies are on YouTube, too.
  17. EngProf

    EngProf One of the Regulars

    The Remington pocket pistol would have been a Model 51. They were famous for their unusual mechanical design and excellent ergonomics. They fit your hand remarkably well.

    Speaking of unusual firearms that you don't often see, in an episode of the early 30-minute "Gunsmoke", the outlaw gun-runners were selling Spencers to the Indians. Matt Dillon held up what looked like an excellent example of a Spencer carbine that I would love to have.
  18. I love how in so many of these "sword fights", they start out with sabers, switch miraculously to foils, then back to sabers for the finish. Ronald Coleman in "The Prisoner of Zenda" comes to mind. In Robin Hood you can see how his broadsword is lightened so much that by the time he rescues his honey pie it's bent in the middle. Guess the real things were too heavy and unwieldy for a flashing sword fight.

  19. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    Fencing sabers have frequently been used in movies and on television. The best example I can think of is Zorro, on TV. Totally inaccurate. But I didn't catch the differences in those film clips. However, real swords aren't all that heavy. A typical renaissance period rapier weighs little more than a .45 automatic, around 2 1/2 pounds. Neither does a Civil War period cavalry saber. A two-handed long sword, though, can easily weigh twice as much or more, though. But we shouldn't expect a sword fight to be any more realistic than a gun fight in the movies. People don't fall down and die within seconds from a stab wound. Yet you can probably recall many times in the movie when someone immediately expires from a knife wound (always in the back and always a thrown knife) or an arrow wound. The movie "Helen of Troy," back in the 1950s was full of arrow, spear and sword wounds. Good movie, if you like that stuff.
  20. Inkstainedwretch

    Inkstainedwretch Practically Family

    In older movies, no matter what the time frame, the moves were taken from Olympic-style fencing. That's because the fight arrangers were fencing masters, often from the Hollywood Atlhetic Club. Even when the weapons were 18th century smallswords, as in "Scaramouche," the moves were often saber moves. This is because the wide, sweeping cuts are easier for the audience to follow, unlike the tiny, precise thrusts of foil or epee. To see a realistic smallsword fight, watch the second duel in Ridley Scott's "The Duellists." After a bit of feeling out, the two come together, there is a flurry of thrust and parry that is too fast to see, then one of the fighters staggers off and collapses. Once engaged, the fight lasts no more than a second or two. This is very realistic.

    Incidentally, Rathbone carried Flynn in those fights. Flynn was a natural athlete and a quick study but Rathbone was a fencer of long experience and knew how to make it look good in front of the camera. Same when he fought Tyrone Power in "The Mark of Zorro." Power was a good fencer, but he didn't look all that good to the camera. Rathbone was always superb. The best Olympic-style fencers in Hollywood were Cornel Wilde and Tony Curtis, both of Olympic quality.

    Pre-1970s the best medieval duel was the fight for Calahorra in Charleton Heston's "El Cid"(1961). It's fought on horseback with lance, then on the ground with swords, both single-handed and two-handed. The desperate, improvisational nature of these fights is well portrayed, with Heston at one point even using his saddle as a shield. It's full of anachronisms. The setting is 11th century, but the armor is 12th and the giant two-handed swords are Reformation era, 15th-16th centuries. Still an outstanding movie fight.

    Only in the '70s, when William Hobbs set the standard for fight arranging, do we see a real attempt to replicate the true techniques used with pre-18th century weapons.

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