Characters using guns in old films

In older films characters casually pull a gun out of their pockets and hold it at hip level. Sometimes they pull the trigger. Usually it was pretty deadpan. Sure, they might get a little hot – giving a little speech or whatnot – but it mostly seemed… casual. ‘Yeah, I shot him. So what?’ Nowadays actors seem to pull all sorts of poses, ‘gangsta’, ‘tactical’ (‘Ooh, I’m a trained killer!’), etc. And it seems they’re more emotional too.

I have a feeling that back in the day the characters were archetypes. Nowadays it seems as if they’re going for more depth-of-character. The Bad Guys can’t just be Bad Guys; they have to have some sort of underlying emotional conflict. The good guys have to feel really bad about killing.

In older films characters might have been WWI or WWII veterans. Maybe they’d seen a lot of death. Or there’s the Hard-Boiled Detective archetype who has seen the worst of people all his life (and may also have been through the wars).

I don’t think I’m articulating this well, but I hope you catch my drift.

What do you think of the casual gunplay in old films vs. the more emotional gunplay in modern films?

I actually asked a GQ thread about old-timey gun stances a while ago.

It’s not so much the stance, but the attitude. Today in films it has to be a struggle. In older films the actor just stands there and shoots, as if he’s stepping on an ant.

The Wild Bunch.

Yeah, the characters were ultimately conflicted (at least Pike was, but Lyle, Tector, and Dutch were sure enough willing to follow him on the last walk…), but when it came down to doing the bidness, they were about as “conflicted” as a rattlesnake biting someone about to step on it.

My favorite is from The Big Sleep. Canino kills the little guy…who is Kirk’s lawyer in a Star Trek episode, but I digress…who dies protecting the girl.
Canino shoots at Humphrey Bogart, who got a Colt Positive Police Special from the glove compartment, gets his handcuffed hands from behind his back to his side, and shoots Canino six times in the gut. I first saw this film in the 1970’s at the Arkansas Arts Center. Folks applauded when Bogie whacked Canino.

I think it was a broader cultural difference.

Medical technology was relatively primitive. Industry was less safety-conscious. People saw a lot more death in those days. They didn’t freak out about it like people do today. It was simply a fact of life.

People were also more willing to draw a line between the good guys and the bad guys. Today, bad guys people who had a bad environment when they were children. Back then, bad guys were people who made bad choices. If they got shot by a cop, it was their own fault.

Regarding firearms: In the old days, actors and film-makers came from a largely rural culture. A large percentage of them owned guns, and guns were regarded simply as one more tool in the toolkit. Today, I think a lot of people in the industry have little firsthand knowledge of guns, and many support gun control legislation in real life. So when a script calls for gunplay, it becomes a major drama.

Speaking of the guns themselves, I’ve noticed that many of the films from the '30s have a character using a small automatic. Smaller and easier to fit into a pocket than a Colt 1911, they had a full slide (i.e., the slide went all the way to the muzzle rather than having an exposed barrel like a P.08). Given that there were many small automatics at the time, and many films being made, can anyone identify the ‘typical’ pocket auto used in U.S. and British films of the pre-WWI period?

I’m guessing Colt 1903.

Not to discount how the different social and cultural attitudes figure into it—which I think is totally valid—there’s also the Production Code to consider, too. With the “all wrongdoing must be punished” law in effect, bad guys are probably going to get plugged more often, and the censors might decide it would be sending a “wrong message” if the good guys acted more shook up about metting out lethal justice.

It’s true, and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about. The movie stars nowadays who support anti-gun agendas have absolutely no problem making millions of dollars playing lead-hosers who spray bullets in every direction. And they always exhibit the WORST safety practices in these movies! It’s nearly impossible to see a guy in a modern movie with a gun whose finger is not literally on the trigger the entire time he’s holding the gun. Waving the firearms around, pointing them in every direction, with that finger right on the trigger.

Ah, the Production Code. IIRC, it also prohibited excess violence; which would probably explain why the alternate ending to Key Largo was not used.

The answer (as it always is) is probably “for dramatic effect”.

It ye olde days, the good guy probably held a pistol in a more realistic fashion for engaging a close-in target. Basically, the “stickem up” pose with the pistol close in to the body. This is presumably to prevent the target from either smacking it away or wrestling it out of the shooters hand.

Later, Hollywood determined that just didn’t look cool enough. So other, less realistic poses were developed:

The Gangsta’ - Arm straight out with the gun aimed sideways.
The tactical entry - Legs spread apart, two hands on the gun, poking the gun in and around corners (basically asking for it to get grabbed)
The Pulp Fiction - More of a camera angle from the targets perspective that makes the gun look like something mounted on a battleship
The John Woo - diving through the air with two pistols sideways screaming ‘YAAAR!’

The “true” gangsta style is not really with the arm held straight out, but the arm held out upwards and then downwards in an arch, with the shoulder and bicep held upwards, the forearm crooked as far downwards as it will go, which would make it relatively straight, and then the wrist and hand pointed downwards. Rappers sometimes make this same gesture whilst rapping, often grabbing their cock and balls with their other hand.

Twelve rounds.:slight_smile:
Somebody looped that a couple of times.

I counted 13, including the last one. :wink:

I think he does give Canino all six in the tummy in The Big Sleep, but then Canino needed killin’.

The Browning M1910 was a popular one, along with countless other French, Belgian, Spanish, and American “pocket pistols” from nameless manufacturers. You often see Webley Bulldog revolvers in old films as well.

My Great Aunt in Tennessee had a .32 Colt ACP that I wanted. I wish I’d asked her for it, she was robbed and killed with it.
Anyway, it was smooth and rounded; I don’t remember any grooves on the end of the receiver. I was quite young and surprised to see that it was hammerless. It looked very much like one I had seen in a Bogart movie.

Sorry to hear that, carniverousplant

Colt 1903 & 1908.

They met her to ostensibly to buy furniture, got the Colt from her. She took all eight in the face and ran out onto the porch where they killed her with an ax.
It obviously had no knockdown power. I wonder if it was .308.

Anyway, she had taught most of the State Policemen in third grade. The guys got caught.

Yeah, it was your 1903. It had metal grips, dull or blued steel and quite beat up.