When you think about it, guns and movies have always had a very close relationship, but what are the best gun movies ever? Some of the greats not only feature firearms, but also owe much of their success to them. War films, detective stories, melodramas—even animation, all relied on firearms to some lesser or greater extent to help push the story forward.
Both of my parents were actors. I was born in Hollywood and grew up in the motion picture business. I used to go and watch them being made and never missed a western, war or adventure film. I’m sure, for better or worse, this had much to do with my getting interested in firearms in the first place. Over the years I’ve also collected films that have really impressed me, firearms-wise—hence this article involving a pick of my personal favorites of the many thousands of flicks that I’ve seen.
Of course authenticity is always important, and I’m impressed when a filmmaker goes out of his way to make sure the guns, costumes and sets are appropriate to a particular locale or period—but accuracy isn’t necessarily a paramount consideration. Some films, like a couple you’ll see later on, might be wrong in many details, but the way a firearm is used to advance the plot or the way in which it is handled by the actors also has a strong influence on selection–as does the types of arms used in relationship to when a movie was made. I’m not going to try to put this list in order of merit, because the types of movies represented are so diverse that the ranking would be virtually meaningless, and more than a little subjective.
So here we go, my own favorites, chronologically.
- OK, this is a good one. What kind of guns would you choose to arm the characters set in a film depicting a fictitious middle-European principality in the 1890s? Interesting question, and the filmmakers couldn’t have done better. But before I tell you their selection, a bit about the movie first. “The Prisoner of Zenda” was based on the highly popular fin de siecle romance by British novelist Anthony Hope (along with its sequel “Rupert of Hentzau,” highly recommended reads, by the way). It involves palace intrigue, dual identities, sword fights, kidnapping, cavalry charges, kings, queens, mistresses—everything, in fact, that makes life worth living.
Almost as soon as the book appeared it was transformed into a popular stage play, and thence into motion pictures—the most notable one prior to ‘37 being a 1922 version starring Lewis Stone and Ramon Navarro. David O. Selznick’s talkie pulled out all the stops. The production was opulent, and the stars (Ronald Coleman, Madeleine Carroll, Raymond Massey, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., David Niven, Mary Astor and C. Aubrey Smith) of the first rank. It takes place in mythical Ruritania, a country set vaguely somewhere between Germany, Austria, the Balkans and your imagination. Given the fanciful nature of the scenario the choice for handguns—exotic Montenegrin Gasser revolvers—was absolutely inspired. Never has a firearm better fit a totally made-up scenario. It showed real knowledge and panache. And the other period details are just as good. Director Richard Cromwell and art director Lyle Wheeler, deserved real kudos on this one.