The West Goes South

Faux Pax On The Silver Screen

The real Lone Ranger carried Remington pistols!

It was the late 1940s and very few homes had television sets. If you wanted to see TV, you had to go downtown and look in the window of the department store. However, kids who lived in the right neighborhood could go to the local fire station in the evening and watch TV along with the firemen. In those days, firemen only answered fire calls so they spent a lot of time simply on duty at the fire station. In the evening it was not unusual to have 15–20 kids spread out on the floor watching television.

In those days, TV consisted of both original programming and old movies from the 1930s — and especially, there were the serials. These usually consisted of anywhere from 12 to 20 chapters of about 15 to 20 minutes each and always with a cliffhanger at the end to bring you back for next week’s episode. I don’t know if the firemen really enjoyed watching the serials, or if they just put up with them to accommodate us.

Note the crude pot metal added by a prop master to the bottom of a
Colt Single Action to make it look like a Civil War era Remington percussion revolver.

Silver Screen Frustration

This particular evening was to be really special as we were going to see what we had only imagined on radio. We all gathered and, there in front of me, was The Lone Ranger. I had been looking forward to seeing this all day but now I was totally disappointed.

My disappointment stems from the fact what I was seeing on the small black-and-white screen was not the Lone Ranger I knew. I listened to him every night on the radio and had a vivid picture in my mind of what he look liked. This was aided by the fact I also had Big Little Books from the 1930s passed down to me from my older cousin. The Lone Ranger was not at all dressed like what I was seeing on TV — he was wearing a checkered shirt, vest and jeans but the biggest problem was his sixguns.

The real Lone Ranger did not have a fancy double buscadero belt with a pair of short-barreled nickel-plated revolvers but rather, long-barreled revolvers with distinctive webs under the barrel and carried in holsters on crossover belts. I was to learn later the TV Lone Ranger was carrying Colt Single Actions while the real Lone Ranger carried Remington sixguns. Since he got his name as the only Texas Ranger to survive the ambush of the Butch Cavendish gang, his clothes were not the fancy things seen on TV. Whoever drew the early comic strips of the Lone Ranger, I believe it was Fran Striker, got it right. The TV producers did not.

The arrival of replica cartridge conversions such as these Colts
allow the depiction of more realistic revolvers in Western movies …

Illusions Shattered

As I grew older, and especially as I became a shooter, I began to notice how far off Hollywood really was. No matter what time period was being depicted in Westerns, the same firearms were almost always used. The Civil War was not fought with the Colt Single Action and Winchester leverguns as often depicted. Sometimes they tried to disguise them by crudely welding a Remington-type web on the barrel of a Colt to make it look more like a percussion revolver, and Winchester Model 1892 and 1894 rifles had the forearm removed and the action painted yellow to make them look like 1860/1866 Winchesters.

However, some Westerns were notable in the use of 7 ½” Colt Single Actions, which were apropos to the time being depicted. But, this was often marred by the gun fight scenes when these were replaced by double-action revolvers, quite often a Colt New Service with a phony ejector rod housing. The ultimate deception must be Broderick Crawford fanning a double-action in The Fastest Gun Alive. Robert Mitchum also switched to a double-action to be able to shoot fast in Five Card Stud.

I would have expected John Wayne to know better. After 1939 and the excellent movie Stagecoach, the Duke moved from “B” Westerns to more serious and higher budget roles but he continued to use the large loop lever-action Winchester introduced in his hands as he stopped the stagecoach. When he confronts the Ned Pepper gang in True Grit, he twirls the Winchester in his right hand while his left hand is wrapped around what he calls a Navy Colt though it is a Colt Single Action.

I am sure I’m not the only one on the verge of “ruining” Western movies for others by continually pointing out such mistakes. Then there was the movie Colt .45 with Randolph Scott. Instead of using the Colt Single Action .45 as one might expect, they did a reversal using cap and ball revolvers.

TV Westerns often tried to have a gimmick, such as Don Durant as Johnny Ringo using a LeMat revolver in a modern-style spring clip holster, and Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp doing fast draw work with a 12″ Buntline Special. However, the ultimate gimmick was used by John Payne in the Restless Gun.

He carried a standard Colt Single Action but when he wanted to shoot long-range he simply unscrewed the barrel, replaced it with a longer Buntline-style barrel, added a butt stock — both of which were carried in his saddlebags — and he was ready to outshoot any rifleman. All of this was done in the field with no tools whatsoever. Tied with this gimmick was the Mare’s Leg by Steve McQueen as Josh Randall in Wanted Dead or Alive.

This was a takeoff of the large loop lever Winchester used first by John Wayne and then in the Rifleman series. Randall’s was even more useless by having most of the butt stock cut away, carried in a spring clip holster and a belt which had .45-70 rounds on it instead of the .44-40 cartridges the lever gun used. Looking realistically at these large loop leverguns, imagine how many rounds one could get off against them while they are twirling the lever! As unrealistic as all of this was, it was still entertaining.

Say It Ain’t So

It would be easy to compile a long list of really dumb quotations from Westerns; however, number one has to be Chester saying: “Mr. Dillon, that .36 Navy Colt can blow a hole clean through a man!” Now I have great respect for the .36 Navy percussion sixguns. I have shot many replicas over several decades. Realistically speaking, on paper, it is the equivalent of the .380 ACP. I don’t think I can envision anyone saying a .380 would “blow a hole clean through a man.”

Happily, things began to change in Westerns in the 1990s with more attention being paid to the firearms being used at the time that was being depicted. The arrival of so many Italian replicas made this more easily possible. Tom Selleck’s Westerns are notable in this aspect; not perfect but notable.

One of the major disappointments with Westerns is the dangerous situations being depicted. One has to wonder how many “accidents” have been caused by unknowledgeable shooters imitating what they had seen on the screen. Hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of times, good guys or bad guys are shown holding a cocked single action revolver and pointing it at someone.

Even though the guns being used were loaded with blanks, they still were not safe and several instances have occurred with people being killed by being shot at close range with a blank. Anyone handling a single-action revolver or any firearm for that matter should be prepared to forget everything they have ever seen on the silver screen and start with a blank piece of paper.

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Compromise Part...

In the early 1950s, the Colt Single Action Army was history and Colt had said they would never produce it again. However, history does not always travel a...
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The West Goes South

It was the late 1940s and very few homes had television sets. If you wanted to see TV, you had to go downtown and look in the window of the department store.
Read Full Article
Compromise Part...

This brings us to the final category, replicas. Today, this is a thriving part of the industry with replicas of nearly every sixgun found on the frontier...
Read Full Article