Grabbing the Barrel of a Revolver?
This old spaghetti western gem had some interesting six-gun shooting advice for the hero.
I hate silence in my house. In the woods I love it (though its never really silent) but when I’m home and doing things that require me to be perched in front of a keyboard for hours back-to-back, I need noise. Lots of times it’s music, and lots of times it’s the TV in the background. I usually can’t stand network TV, or commercials, so I rely on streaming services to fill the void. That means letting shows I’ve already seen run season after season, or putting on a series of lousy movies that are easy to ignore.
Lately I’ve been exploring Amazon Prime’s repository of Westerns that I’ve never heard of, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once.
The other day it was Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dynamite (1972), which is apparently more commonly known in the U.S. as Duck You Sucker with Rod Steiger and James Coburn.
After that I randomly put on a real spaghetti western with some of the worst overdubbed voices I’ve ever seen, Day of Anger (1967) with Lee Van Cleef, playing a role he was super familiar with: the aging, hard as nails gunslinger.
He befriends a young kid whose job is literally hauling buckets of poop, sweeping things, and getting abused by the townspeople. He practices his draw every day with a hunk-of-rust six gun with a gunbelt made of rope.
When Frank Talby (Van Cleef) comes into town with his lighting draw and mean attitude, young Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is practically smitten, and follows him out of town like a lost puppy and Talby shoots down one of his prime abusers after an argument. The kid learns how to kill from Talby, and starts drifting over to the dark side, especially when they return to his hometown.
Gradually, Scott Mary realizes Talby is just using him as a hired gun to do his dirty work, and under the tutilage of an aged lawman, he perfects his shooting technique so that he can finally best Talby in a classic western movie showdown.
He gets some advice from Murph, the one guy in town who was ever nice to him, and it’s…interesting:
Murph: “Never hammer a hammer. Just caress it.”
“Have you ever seen him draw? That’s one of his tricks. You shoot like this (fans the hammer) and he shoots like this (grabs the barrel from below like a rifle). But if you hold the barrel like that (puts a tight overhand grip on the barrel), you make sure, you don’t stop the drum (I assume he means the cylinder). Of course that’s why Talby’s modified the hammer. He can fire six shots when you can only fire three and he’s more accurate.
“It’s all in the gun. Was it he that chose your gun?”
Scott: “Yeah Murph. It’s a beautiful weapon.”
Murph:”Beautiful, uh huh. But the barrel is seven inches long. Have you seen Talby’s gun?”
Scott:“Yeah it’s one like mine, only its missing the sight.”
Murph:”Exactly. It hasn’t got a sight because because he’s sawed off the barrel. You have two more inches of barrel. Two more inches to draw.”
While it’s true some gunfighters filed down the front sight on their single-action revolvers so it would clear the holster easier and not get snagged on clothing or anything else, this is mostly something that was relegated to speed shooters and Hollywood. The front sights were designed to be filed down bit by bit until they were zeroed to the gun.
Murph also says that Talby cuts down the barrel of his gun, which is a Colt SAA. While I suppose this could have been done, it would only have been necessary for someone who had no other option but a long-barreled revolver and wanted something he could draw quicker.
The SAA was sold in 1873 and onward with a 4-3/8”, 5-1/2” or the calvary standard 7-1/2” barrel. Shorter barreled versions were also sold as the Civilian or Gunfighter model with a 4 3/4” barrel.
There was also a shorter 4” barrel model without an ejector rod that was unofficially called the “Banker’s Special,” “Storekeeper,” or “Sheriff’s Model,” though it was less common.
So there were lots of shorter options for Talby to choose from that he could have bought in any major town during his long gunfighting career without having to take a saw to his gun barrel.
Near the end of the movie, after Talby has killed Murph, Scott finds a revolver with a letter wrapped around it:
“When you read this, I’ll be dead. The only thing I can leave you is this pistol. It’s an old one, but it belonged to Doc Holliday. It’s also been mine, and now it’s yours. Its endowed with the tricks of three generations of gunmen. The firing pin has been modified so that all you have to do is think about shooting and the trigger fires immediately. This pistol is now in your hands, Scott. But if you still think the way Talby does, I beg you, throw it away.”
That business about the firing pin…I have no idea.
Needless to say, Scott draws and shoots with his left hand gripping the barrel like Murph taught him and bests Talby in a showdown. He then walks up and shoots him in the head, killing him, though he does feel bad about it.
Now, I’ve never seen anyone shoot a revolver like this…not in real life or in the movies.
Technically, if you gripped a single action revolver in this way, and didn’t get your hand near the chamber gap or the cylinder, it would actually work and make the gun pretty stable for quick follow-up shots, making it easy to cock the hammer. But after that first round or two, that barrel would be getting pretty hot, and there’s also the concern of the hot gasses coming out of the chamber gap burning you or setting your shirt sleeve on fire.
You’d be much better off using a traditional two handed grip and working the hammer with the thumb of your support hand. And using the sights, even rudimentary ones, helps quite a bit too.
The Murph method isn’t something I’m going to be trying at the range, but it’s an interesting bit of Hollywood gun magic buried in the recesses of Amazon Prime Video that I thought was interesting.