Guns of Django Unchained
It’s not a western, it’s a southern
Never one to repeat himself, after the widely successful Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino hit the movie world with what he called a Southern, not a Western. It has a lot of Western flavor, but takes place in the American south well before the Civil War. The time period means the firearms are almost all cap-and-ball revolvers, a few lever-action rifles, and shotguns. Since guns from the era before metallic cartridges aren’t as various or visually interesting as more traditional “Old West” guns, a lot of the firearms in this movie are a bit anachronistic, having been developed well after the movie’s time period.
Django Unchained is a sort of reimagining of a spaghetti western featuring a hero of the same name played by Franco Nero, who has a small cameo in this modernized remake. In the original Django (1966), the titular character drags a coffin that contains a fictional machine gun and along with a “half-breed prostitute becomes embroiled in a bitter feud between a Klan of Southern racists and a band of Mexican Revolutionaries.” The name was used in numerous spaghetti westerns after the original’s success, though they have nothing to do with the first Django film.
In Tarantino’s take, the story takes place primarily in the southern U.S. in 1858 and stars Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman, a slave who is liberated by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) in order to track down and eliminate a gang of wanted men. Shultz and Django strike a deal. If Django helps him bring the brothers to justice, Shultz will help him on his quest to rescue his wife who is still in bondage.
Dr. King Schultz
When it comes to long-range work, Schultz keeps a Sharps 1874 Buffalo rifle handy. Again, this gun wasn’t introduced until 20 years after the film’s time period, so this is another anachronistic firearm, though earlier models of the Sharps were around in the 1850s.
Sharps rifles were a series of large-bore single-shot rifles beginning with a gun designed by Christian Sharps in 1848. They were known for their long-range accuracy, hence their use as buffalo guns. By 1874, the rifle was available in a variety of popular calibers and had been adopted by the armies of several nations. It was one of the few long gun designs that successfully transitioned to the use of metallic cartridges. Production of Sharps Rifles ceased in 1881.
When training in the mountains, Schultz is seen using a Henry 1860 lever action rifle. Again, this gun is a bit out of place in 1858, but it could be intended to stand in for the Volcanic Repeater rifle, which was available at the time and was a direct predecessor to the Henry rifle.
The Volcanic Repeating Arms Company was formed in 1855 to develop Walter Hunt’s Rocket Ball ammunition and lever-action mechanism. The company produced carbines and pistols that used the lever-action design, but folded after a couple years. The lever-action pistols couldn’t outpace revolvers, but the action went on the be the basis of repeating rifles for the rest of the century and beyond.
When training in the snow, we see Schultz carrying what looks to be a Remington 1858 New Army revolver.
In the big shootout at Candyland, Django duel-wields a pair of pistols, one of which is a Remington 1858 New Army. The other is a Colt 1851 revolver. Near the end of the film, he’s also seen with a pair of 1858 New Army fitted with a brass frame.
Schultz’ trademark firearm is a derringer he keeps hidden in his sleeve attached to a slide-spring device (think Taxi Driver). It appears Django either uses the same gun, or makes a similar device with another derringer at some point. Both derringers are stainless with pear grips.
Double-barrel Derringers weren’t introduced until about 1866, after the Civil War, so the gun is a bit out of place in 1858 and the gun used in the movie is a Cobra “Big Bore” Derringer, which is a modern version of Remington Derringers that were popular in the Old West.
When Django returns to Candyland and appropriates Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) duds, he also picks up a pair of highly polished Remington 1858 New Army revolvers with gleaming brass frames. He uses these revolvers when shooting the remaining members of Candie’s clan from the plantation stairway.
Through most of the movie Django carries what looks to be the Sheriff’s model of the Remington 1858 revolver, which is a shorter-barreled gun that would have been a bit easier to quickdraw than the full-sized version. Billy Crash (Walton Goggins) also carries what looks to be a stainless steel reproduction of the same gun.
After the standoff with the mining company men on the road away from Candyland, Django takes a Remington 1858 New Army “Cattleman’s Carbine” which was the same as the pistol version with a carbine-length barrel and a buttstock.
Django is seen carrying the carbine on horseback while racing back to the slave plantation and to his wife, Broomhilda, though he never uses it. At the very end, we can briefly see Broomhilda holding the gun.
Broomhilda’s last name is Von Shaft, hinting that she is the ancestor of John Shaft, the detective protagonist of popular series of blacksploitation movies in the 1970s that is one of Tarantino’s favorites. A remake of Shaft starring Samuel L. Jackson was released in 2000. Another remake, starring three generations of Shaft men played by the respective actors, Richard Roundtree, Jackson, and newcomer Jessie T. Usher, is slated for a 2019 release.
At the opening of the movie, in the dark woods, we see slaver Ace Speck (James Remar) armed with a double barrel, side-by-side, percussion shotgun. Schultz takes the gun and gives it to one of the slaves being led by Speck, who uses it to dispatch the remaining slaver.
Later, when Django and Schultz get to town, Sheriff Bill Sharp (Don Stroud) is also carrying what appears to be the same shotgun, though it is no match for Schutlz’s concealed Derringer.
Billy Crash (Goggins) is perhaps the most vile gun thug in the movie, which is saying something. He takes a particular dislike to Django from the moment he meets him, and does everything he can to torment the man. We see that Crash carries a nickel or stainless reproduction of a Remington 1858 New Army revolver, which he holds to Broomhilda’s head.
In Candyland, we see that Calvin’s bodyguard, Butch Pool, also played by James Remar, uses a sawed-off version of the same double-barrel shotgun he uses when playing a slaver in the beginning. He uses the scattergun to kill Dr. Schultz in the library.