Eastwood’s early career began with a series of what became known as “spaghetti westerns” made by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, who made his movies on the cheap in Italy using mostly local talent in minor roles with their dialogue dubbed later, resulting in a unique, technicolor style that defined an era of westerns.
He followed these with some higher budget westerns and war movies before branching out. Let’s start at the beginning.
After a slew of bit parts, many of them uncredited, in TV shows and movies, the young actor landed the part of Rowdy Yates in 1955 on the popular western show Rawhide, which ran from 1959 to 1965 with Eastwood appeared in 216 episodes.
Just before the show went off the air, Eastwood’s distinctive cowboy look and squinty-eyed stare caught the attention of Italian director Sergeo Leone, who cast him as The Man With No Name the first of his many so-called “spaghetti westerns” (imdb.com credits the role with the name Joe).
They were low budget films set in the American Old West, often somewhere near the Mexican border, that were filmed in Italy (hence the name) with local actors standing in for cowboys, Mexican villagers, and bandits—plus some notoriously bad sound dubbing to cover non-English speakers voices and accents. Many say the first of these films, A Fistful of Dollars, was based on the Kurosawa film Yojimbo, which even resulted in a lawsuit.
Eastwood plays a stranger who enters a small Mexican town during a battle for control between two warring families. He’s pretty much a mercenary, seeing opportunities to make some cash by playing both sides of the conflict, creating a role that would span three back-to-back films for Eastwood, which are commonly referred to the Dollars Trilogy or the Man With No Name Trology.
In Fistful Eastwood carries a Colt Single Action Army revolver which he draws and shoots with remarkable speed and lethality. The pistol had a case hardened frame and the infamous rattlesnake grips, which are dark red wood with a silver, coiled snake affixed to the exterior panel. It’s a flourish that remains constant through all three films, even though the revolver changes. The design is based on the revolver grips his Rowdy Yates character had in Rawhide.
Eastwood returned as the same character (presumably) in For a Few Dollars More in 1965. In this film, he carries the same rattlesnake SAA revolver, but this time, he’s at least graced with a nickname: Manco, which is a Spanish term meaning “one-handed.” He also wears a laced up leather guard on his shooting hand, perhaps hinting at a mysterious unexplained injury between films.
While Manco was undeniably awesome, all the really cool guns in the movie went to Lee Van Cleef as Col. Douglas Mortimer, an assassin with the famous gun-roll saddlebags holding numerous specialized firerams, like two long-barreled Buntline Special SAA pistols, one with a detachable shoulder stock.
Manco does briefly get his hands on a rifle in Few Dollars, one that’s a bit more rare than a Henry or Winchester: a Volcanic Repeater rifle.
Volcanic Repeating Arms Company was founded in 1855 by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson to develop Walter Hunt’s Rocket Ball ammo and lever-action mechanism. The company improved the ammo and introduced a carbine and pistol version of the lever-action gun to fire it. The company was short lived, but both Smith & Wesson and Winchester Repeating Arms Company can trace their roots to Volcanic.
Eastwood returned for his last, and perhaps most famous film with Leone in 1966: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. With its distinctive score and lengthy stare-down sequences before gunfights, GBU became a classic, especially with heavy and repeated play on TV stations in the 1970s and 80s.
This time, Eastwood’s character is referred to as “Blondie,” mostly by Eli Wallach’s extremely memorable bad guy, Tuco. Van Cleef also returned for this film, but as a different character: another assassin named Angel Eyes.
Eastwood gets more time on a rifle in this film than in either of the others. He uses a Sharps 1874 rifle with a ladder elevated sight to sever the rope around Tuco’s neck as he is hanged in a graveyard as part of a running bounty scam they’ve been running under a…loose agreement.
Later in the film, he uses a Winchester 1866 Yellow Boy lever-action rifle to make the same shot, though he only skims the rope with the first shot with the lever gun.
The wooden forend of the rifle has been removed to make it appear like a Henry 1860 rifle, but you can tell it’s a Winchester because of the loading gate on the side of the receiver. On a Henry, the cartridges are loaded at the front of the magazine tube. There is also is no magazine tube loading break switch, which would be present on a Henry of that era.
Though his revolver still has a silver coiled snake on the grip, it has become a larger Colt 1851 Navy cartridge conversion revolver in this film.
Eastwood’s first non-Leone western was 1968’s Hang ‘Em High, in which he plays Marshal Jed Cooper, an innocent man accused of cattle rustling who is left for dead hanging from a tree by the four men who lynched him, led by veteran character actor Ed Begley.
Federal Marshal Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson) sees Cooper and cuts him down before he can strangle to death, saving his life so he may embark on a journey of legal revenge.
Not only was HEH Eastwood’s first American big screen western, it was also the first film made by Eastwood’s production firm: the Malpaso Company.
Though it was a cool story, the armorers didn’t get very inventive on this one. Every single character in Hang ‘Em High carries and uses a Colt Single Action Army revolver. Additionally, several characters use Winchester 1892 Saddle Ring carbines when long guns are called for.
The next big gun movie for Eastwood was departure for the still young actor, a World War II film called Where Eagles Dare (1968), shot on location in Austria and Bavaria and based on a novel by the same name written by Brian G. Hutton.
The plot revolves around Army Brigadier General George Carnaby (Robert Beatty) who is captured by the Germans in the winter of 1943-44 when his plane to Crete is shot down. A chief planner for the second front, he is taken to the Schloss Adler, a mountaintop fortress in the Alps of southern Bavaria, accessible only by cable car.
A team of seven Allied commandoes, led by British Major John Smith and U.S. Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Eastwood) are tasked with parachuting into the base, disguising themselves as German soldiers, rescuing the General, and escaping via the enemy airfield. Of course, one of the team isn’t what they appear to be, and it gets complicated.
Since he spends the combat time in the film dressed as a German, Eastwood gets to tote some of the most well known Axis arms of the war, like a captured Wehrmacht MP40 submachine gun, which is carried by almost all the guards at the Schloss Adler.
At one point, Eastwood actually dual wields two MP40s to mow down attacking German troops, in what may have been the first Rambo moment more than a decade before there was a Rambo.
As Hickok45 demonstrates in this video, it’s not impossible to do at all, as long as the targets are at close range.
When it comes to being stealthy, Eastwood and Major Smith (Richard Burton) use Walther PPK pistols fitted with suppressors throughout the film.
After a war film, it was time for Eastwood to get back to his roots in one of his best liked later westerns, Two Mules for Sister Sara. Set in Mexico during the French intervention, a nun named Sara (Shirley MacLaine) is aiding a group of Juarista rebels fighting the puppet regime of Emperor Maximilian.
A gunslinger named Hogan (Eastwood) happens upon and saves a woman from being raped in the desert by a group of bandits. He fires a warning shot from his Colt SAA, but when the bandits make a move, he takes them out, waiting calmly for the last man standing to yell a little while before throwing a stick of dynamite his way, forcing him to let go of the woman and run, so he can finally be shot himself.
Hogan calmly strolls to the stick of dynamite and steps on the fuse, pulling it out with his boot. The woman ends up being the titular cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking Sister Sara, who presses him into service.
Later, after trying to destroy a French ammunition train, Hogan is shot in the shoulder with an arrow. Sara bandages him and, despite ingesting a good amount of whiskey, he is able to shoot the charge and blow up the train with his Winchester 1873 Saddle Ring carbine, which he rests on Sara’s shoulder to make the shot.
In keeping with the dynamite theme, Hogan later uses a stick to kill a group of soldiers manning a Gatling Gun. Somehow, the dynamite killed the soldiers, but left the multi-barrel crank machine gun unharmed.
Hogan later uses it to kill a big group of soldiers. This is not the first time Eastwood uses a Gatling Gun on screen for such a purpose.
In 1970, Eastwood decided to switch gears a bit, but not too much, going back to the war film genre for Kelly’s Heroes, a war comedy about a group of WWII soldiers who go AWOL to rob a bank behind enemy lines starring Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, and Donald Sutherland.
Private Kelly (Eastwood) who has been demoted from the rank of lieutenant, captures a German prisoner and learns from him that there is a cache of 14,000 gold bars ($16,000,000 worth) stored in a bank vault 30 miles behind enemy lines. he decides to go for it, picking up a group of miscreants and some tanks along the way. This basic plot was reused and reset in the Gulf War for 1999’s Three Kings.
Using American gear in this war picture, Eastwood carries an M1A1 Thompson submachine gun in most of the movie. Kelly specially requests Thompsons for his squad. Throughout the movie, the M1A1 Thompson alternates with the M1 Thompson with a more complex bolt and a bolted peep sight with no protective housing.
Later, Kelly mans and fires a Browning M2 .50 BMG Aircraft gun mounted on one of Sgt. Oddball’s (Sutherland) Sherman tanks. You can tell its an M2 by the perforated barrel shroud, which was meant to prevent the hot gun barrels from contacting the walls of a plane when mounted in an aircraft. In the photo, you can clearly see that the ammo can is filled with blank .50 caliber cartridges.