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From the History Books

Best Movie Guns of the Golden Age

by Garry James   |  September 4th, 2012 29

As any firearms enthusiast/cineaste knows, as moves evolve thematically and technologically, fashions in cars, costumes, hairstyle and guns often follow suit.

Of necessity, the early days of films saw a large variety of different arms, but like today, ended up relying on a few stalwarts which, because of their ease of use, adaptability and actor-friendly characteristics, saw more action than many of the others. Except in a few films, such as Arizona (1940), where the director insisted on using percussion rifles, shotguns and handguns because cartridge guns were so much easier to manage and more reliable, they were often substituted for earlier arms.  I can think of at least a half-dozen or so longarms and handguns that stand head and shoulders above the rest and were movie mainstays from the silent era right up to the 1960s. Here’s the casting call, and just why they were so popular.

Garry James

About Garry James

Garry was born in Los Angeles, CA, in 1944. At age 11 he was given a Civil War vintage Remington revolver, and this began his passion for firearms. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, he joined the U.S. Army, eventually becoming an Ordnance ammunition officer. After discharge, he joined the staff of "Guns & Ammo" magazine in 1971, where he eventually served as Editor for several years. As well as acting as Arms & Armour Expert for the auction firm of Sotheby Parke Bernet, Garry has been a technical advisor for films and television, including the popular series, “Story of the Gun,” "Tales of the Gun"(for which he was series advisor,) "Mail Call," ”Unsolved History,” “Lock n’ Load,” “American Rifleman Television,” and “Top Shot.” Garry is currently Senior Editor at “Guns & Ammo,” and a contributor to “Guns & Ammo Television” and other Intermedia Outdoors TV productions. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts on the history and the technology of firearms, and has a first-hand knowledge of everything from medieval hand-cannons to the most modern full-autos.

  • Bill Lester

    Nice work, Garry.

    How about another silver screen appearance for the Trapdoor in disguise? I'm pretty sure they modified in a fairly extensive fashion to simulate early 19th century muzzleloaders in John Wayne's "The Fighting Kentuckian."

    • Garry James

      Bill:

      Yes, the conversions were quite clever. They even devised a setup whereby a hole was drilled in the breech and gasses passed back to the fake flintlock to mak it look like the priming was flashing.

  • ed rust

    Odd you don't mention the Thompson sub-machine gun, ie: "tommie gun??"

    • percynjpn

      Good point.

  • 4n6 rule

    I would have to add the Walther PPK. Hardly a spy movie goes by, or any WWII movie without at least one PPK showing up. Then consider that it is also the mainstay of the 007 series. It always amused me to see the old movie poster with Sean Connery posing with a long, slender barreled handgun. The movie had him using a PPK, while the movie poster was of a Walther .177 pellet pistol used for target shooting. While this handgun fits into the end of the time line presented, I still think it should be included.

    • Dirty Devan

      You think James Bond. How about Roger Moore & Daniel Craig.

  • mike

    Snubnose .38 or BAR !

  • strider98

    One more reason Key Largo is one of my favorite movies, it has my favorite small caliber pistol in it. Both Johnny Rocco and "Toots" carried one, with Rocco's M1903 being swiped by Gaye Dawn and given to Bogie, who uses it to good effect. One handed at fifteen yards, I can put multiple magazines worth into an area the size of my fist. Not bad for a hundred year old gun.

  • Wolvie

    Excellent list!

    My additions to the list would be:

    1) Side-by-side shotgun/Coach gun
    2) P-08 Luger (Ultimate bad guy gun)
    3) The Derringer (Ever see a western card game without one?)
    4) The Thompson/Tommy Gun/Chicago Typewriter (Hands down, the most recognizable gun ever)

  • Tim-LV

    I have to get on in for Audie Murphy. The M1 should be at the top of list!

    • old vet

      I'M sure Audie knew and loved the M1, and put the "Ma Deuce" to devastating use. He was a great fan of the M1 carbine also.

  • Imalarduss

    Horrors of horrors!! Is that a picture of John Wayne with his finger on the trigger of his Winchester?? Shaddupp!!!! Go french kiss Hillary Clinton. Gangsters of the Roaring '20s, and some of the good guys too, carried in their coat pockets the short barreled snubby S&W or Colt revolver.

    • screw you 2

      He had just let fly and was standing waiting for the Stage Coach to pull up. Then you will see the Scattergun carried by the Sherrif riding "Shotgun". Andy Devine is the driver and John Carradine is the gambler passenger. Clare Trevor comes in later after she is run out of town.
      The doc is Thomas Mitchell. The bad guy was never titled.
      THis is the very best of John Ford and no other western so exemplifies this era. 1870-80.
      It made Wayne a huge star from that point on as it won several academy awards.

      • stevehenry1

        It also introduced Monument Valley. Stagecoach was the first film made there

  • http://www.facebook.com/999johnston Robert Johnston

    Other "Golden Age" weapons:

    01) Smith & Wesson #3 (Jesse James' Preferred Revolver)
    02) Walther P-38
    03) Ruger Bearcat (Often used as a stand-in for the Colt SAA)
    04) Mauser 1895 Commission Rifle
    05) Mauser 1898 8mm Rifle (w/straight handle)
    06) Winchester 1895 Pump-Action Shotgun (often in "whippet-gun" barrel length)
    07) Smith & Wesson Model 10 (Hermann Goering's preferred sidearm, surrendered with it in 1945)
    08) Colt 1911A1 in .38 Super Colt (preferred sidearm of the FBI during that era, since it could Swiss-Cheese a Tin Lizzy with ease).
    –RKJ

    • old vet

      Pretty good except the commission rifle was Model 1888

      • Ha ha

        Actually it is a win 92

        • Ha ha

          Wrong comment sorry i meant to post that somewhere else

  • screw you 2

    Well at least they got The Duke in and twice. Once for the greatest western ever made, "Stage Coach".
    There are many that should be included, listed in the posts, except one, that is definitely an old time western movie stalwart but, rare, The Gatling Gun. It impressed us in the 40s, 50s and the 60s as we grew up. The fact that a gun was popular, does not mean it was popular in the Movies. It was the 6 gun, the Winchester Lever and an occasional shotgun, usually a double or scattergun. The Derringer was also in many films. The .38 was in all the gangster films in various lenghts, as was the .45 Colt Auto and the Thompson. Oh! What fun to shoot.
    Rat a Tat Tat, Rat a Tat Tat, Take That, You dirty Rat !

  • Dirty Devan

    What Clint Eastwood,late Charles Bronson & Burt Reynold & recently pasted James Arness. they Golden age.

    • John

      I forgot the name of the movie: It starred Clint Eastwood. He
      used a bolt action rifle with a scope and shot one of his pursuers. Clint sighted in, on the scope and shot the baddie in the eye.
      Been trying to remember the name a long time; any help out there?
      Thanks,
      John

      • Stryker

        "Joe Kidd" (1975)

  • Stewie

    how about Steve McQueen using a BAR in The Sand Pebbles?

  • HGB

    I'm surprised the Navy Colt 1851 wasn't included. This is the first gun that really impressed me, because it's heavy and long and single action…and when it was drawn one had to have some muscles to be quick.

  • Phil Beckwith

    TOM SELECKS QIGLEY

    • merlich

      That one, as I recall, was a replica model 1874 Sharps Buffalo Rifle chambered in .45-110, the most accurate and powerful in the world until smokeless powders came into use.

  • petru sova

    How about Gary Cooper and “The General Died at Dawn” that showed at least a dozen 8 inch Artillery Lugers. Or how about Shawn Connery in firing a 1896 Mauser in “The Wind and the Lion”. Or Franchotte Tone shooting a Luger in “Three Comrades”.

  • country boy

    What about the Thomson sub-machine gun, I can’t think of one that I have seen more often in gangster or war flicks, even incorrectly used in war flicks!

  • petru sova

    Oh for the glory days of yesteryear when you could walk into your small town hardware store where they knew you by your first name. In the glass display case were not just guns, they were works of art. Mirror blue finishes on guns made of real forged steel, and beautiful HAND CHECKERED walnut stocks. Guns that were highly prized prestige collectors items the day you bought them. Guns you were proud to show your colleagues. Those days will never come again.
    Of course today you can buy guns with crude outside finishes, junk plastic frames and parts and brittle junk cast parts, and of course lots of stamped sheet metal. It doesn’t get any better than that these days.

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