Hollywood’s 1911 That Isn’t A 1911
Armorers for movies and TV shows want you to think it's a Colt 1911— but it's actually a Spanish-made 9mm stand-in, for one very important reason.
You might not know what a Star Model B is, but I’m sure you’ve seen one. Here’s a clue:
“Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides…”
Not yet? How about this:
“I’d like to make one good score and back off…”
If you’ve ever seen the movies Pulp Fiction (1994) or The Wild Bunch (1969), then you’ve seen a Star Model B pistol, but you may have mistaken it for the Colt 1911. And that was exactly the movie set armorer’s intent. It is easy to make such an incorrect assumption, since there’s a bit of Hollywood magic at play here. The Star Model B is the 1911 that is not a 1911.
An Early Star
As early as the 1950s, the Star Model B began appearing in some notable movies. In Halls of Montezuma, the 1951 movie starring Richard Widmark in a story about U.S. Marines fighting Japanese soldiers on a Pacific island during WWII, the Star made its first appearance. Here’s why: Back in the old days of movie making, it was difficult for a movie set armorer to run blanks in a .45 ACP-chambered 1911 pistol. The gun will fire blanks, but the slide won’t cycle like a semi-automatic pistol. The recoil spring and locking lugs of a .45 ACP 1911 offer too much resistance to the low-pressure blank.
Hollywood’s armorers improvised and used a stand-in for the venerable 1911, and that was the Star Model B. The Star, chambered in 9mm, runs on blanks reliably because there’s less resistance from the pistol’s mechanism, allowing the action to function. More importantly, the Model B looks a lot like a 1911. In fast-moving gunfight scenes, it is hard to tell the difference between the 1911 and the Model B.
Steve McQueen used one in The Getaway (1972), directed by Sam Peckinpah and based on the Jim Thompson novel. McQueen, playing Carter “Doc” McCoy, uses both a Colt 1911 and a Star Model B. In close-ups McQueen carries a Colt 1911, but in shooting scenes it’s a Star. Peckinpah also directed The Wild Bunch, and if you pay close attention to the 1911s in that film, you’ll see the external extractor on the right side of the pistol—a dead giveaway that the pistol is a Star Model B, not a Colt 1911.
The Star Model B was in a collection of handguns offered to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976). Kevin Costner playing Elliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987) used a Model B. Both a blued and a nickel-finish Model B appeared in that film. Even TV shows like MASH* and The Walking Dead have featured a Star Model B instead of a 1911.
But perhaps the most memorable use of the Star Model B is in Pulp Fiction, when Samuel L. Jackson, playing the character Jules, wields a nickel-plated Star Model B with pearl grips. Jules recites the Ezekiel bible verse before shooting a bad guy with it.
A History Fit for a B Movie
The Star did not start off with all the glitz and glamor, but has an interesting background nonetheless. In fact, the story of Star Model B involves a manufacturer in the Basque region of Spain making arms for the Nazis, a seizure by Soviet troops, and a trip to America by boat—the road to tinsel town for the Star Model B could be a script for a B movie.
Star, short for Star Bonifacio Echeverria, S.A., was a firearms manufacturer in Spain. The Star Model B evolved from the Star Model A, which started off as a Colt 1911 knock-off back in 1922. Even from a distance, you could tell the Model A was not a 1911. The Star Model B, however, received more design inspiration from the Colt 1911, which was obvious when introduced in 1931. (Then again, what pistol manufacturer was not influenced or impacted by the 1911 design?) But the Star was as much a Colt 1911 as a Chinatown Rolex has Swiss movements.
The plot thickens a few years after World War II began. Spain was neutral during the war, but sold weapons to whomever had the cash. Germany’s war machine was in full motion and was producing sidearms for front-line troops, but by 1942 there was a need for pistols to arm police and some military units. Germany bought the Model B by the crateful. Those guns were named B.08. Unlike nearly every other weapon issued to German troops and police, the Star Model B did not carry Nazis proof marks. (The serial number code to determine if the Star was German issue will have three digits and a proofing date code with an N, Ñ or O.)
When the war ended, the Soviets scrambled to gather up the machines that made weapons and the weapons themselves, sending them back to the Mother Land in preparation for the next war. Numerous Star Model B pistols were captured and confiscated by the Soviets. Back in the Soviet Union, the pistols were disassembled, re-blued with a hot dip, and reassembled with no regard to keeping the original parts to the original gun. The telltale Soviet trace can be found on heat-treated, hardened steel parts, because the Soviet bluing process changed the color of these parts to a plum color. They were also then dunked in the U.S.S.R.’s version of Cosmoline and were stored in wood crates for use in the next war.
But that next war never happened. Due to peace, or the semblance of it, and the age of the Model B pistols, arsenal stockpiles in the former Soviet Union made their way to the U.S. on a slow boat from Asia as imported surplus handguns.
The Star Model B was produced after World War II for Spain’s military, and was last made in 1983.
Chambered in 9mm, the Model B looks a lot like a U.S. military 1911A1 externally. The slide stop, thumb safety, trigger, and magazine release button on the Model B are near dead ringers for the controls on a 1911. The rear grip strap on the frame of a Model B incorporates an arch, making it look like the mainspring housing of a 1911A1.
But the most obvious feature that makes the Star a bogus 1911 is the extractor—a long slender piece of metal set in a cutout on the slide that can be seen on the right side. While some later 1911 builds (such as those from Smith & Wesson and SIG) do feature an external extractor, most, including the original U.S. government-issued 1911, have an internal extractor.
The other obvious difference is the lack of a grip safety. Other than those two features that sharp-eyed 1911-ophiles can spot easily, the lines, shape and look of the Model B is all 1911A1. With the same sights and similar checkered grip panels, the Model B resembles an ordinary government issue 1911A1 from the outside. Internally, however, the Model B is quite different from a 1911.
For instance, the trigger on the Star pivots rather than slides, as it does in a 1911. The thumb safety on the Model B can be engaged with the hammer fully forward or fully cocked, whereas a 1911’s hammer must be cocked for the thumb safety to be engaged.
My Star Model B has a high serial number and was produced in the 1970s. It is easy to gripe about surplus pistols, since most look like they were dragged behind a jeep driving down a gravel road. To say I was jaded going to the range to test a weathered-looking 1911 knock off is an understatement. But looks can be deceiving.
The importer had long ago cleaned off the Cosmoline that held the ghosts in this pistol. I would rate the finish about 60 percent—fair condition by NRA standards, and that is being generous. One grip panel is checkered plastic, the other checkered wood, and look like the gun had been left in the sun for too long. Racking the slide, it was obvious the Model B was still inebriated with oil. After a squirt of CLP, the Star started to act like a combat pistol.
I have to say that the Star Model B turned me around. There is a reason why there were so many produced.
The Model B uses a single stack 8-round steel magazine. The follower and spring were in good condition, and the magazine was easy to load. The magazine dropped free when the magazine release was depressed, similar to a 1911. There was surprisingly very little wiggle between the slide and the receiver. The rear vertical slide serrations offer a good purchase to manipulate the slide. The spur hammer was nicely checkered, making it slip free. The controls mimic the 1911, so the thumb safety works the same. The trigger was surprisingly crisp. Either some hombre in Spain or the importer did a great job reassembling the pistol after the war. Either way the trigger broke at about four pounds with little take-up.
Whoever had the gun before me must have had cross-dominant eyes, because the rear sight was pushed way over and the pistol shot to the left. A brass punch and hammer knocked the rear sight back home—and a real shooter emerged.
I loaded a variety of different 9mm bullets types, anticipating the ball-style ammo would run and hollow-point loads would choke the pistol. I also expected stovepipe jams and extraction failures (I had heard that some surplus Star Model B are fraught with jams). What I found was that there were absolutely no glitches with any ammo, My Star Model B did prefer Aguila ammo with 124-grain FMJ bullets, and at 25 yards put 5 shots into about 3 inches—a nice group. The sights were similar to a government issue 1911A1small but capable.
I was impressed with the Star Model B. The wannabe 1911 provided a fine performance—which, of course, it has been doing for decades.