"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Derringer

  










Sneaky little pop gun



I was talking the other day about the Derringer.

 
A classic hideout gun, it was invariably used in Western movies by the gambler, the saloon gal or the bad guy. Derringers were not real man’s guns. They were sneaky little stingers.

 
Racking what passes for my brains, I came up with various instances of cowboy films where Derringers are used.


In Enter the Lone Ranger (Apex/ABC), the 1947 pilot TV film, Butch Cavendish, the bad guy, pulls one on our hero when cornered. Typical.


In Silverado (Columbia, 1985), Slick, the slimy gambler in fancy frock coat, pulls one.



Slick. Well named.
 

Maybe he was quoting the cheating gambler in Rio Bravo (Warner Bros, 1959) who also has one. Chance and Colorado take it away from him. 


Chance & Colorado disarm the gambler


Another gambler who uses what the heavy in the movie, Neville Brand, calls "the tinhorn's little popgun" is Frank Faylen in the 1954 B Western, The Lone Gun. The Derringer actually plays an important part in the plot. Excellent.


Gambler Frank Faylen has to check his Derringer behind the bar in The Lone Gun


Talking of bars, in Denver and Rio Grande (Paramount, 1952) the barman subdues a whole saloon fight with one! He seems to think it's a scatter gun.



John Wayne seems amused by women's Derringers in Red River and Big Jake:

What are you doing with a toy like this? he seems to be saying


Horrible Gene Hackman, cruel boss of the town, pulls one on Russell Crowe in The Quick And The Dead (Columbia Tristar, 1995).


Horrible Hackman, evil town boss


In The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937), the saloon owner Oakhurst pulls a derringer from his sleeve and gets the drop on the bandit Sonoma. Sonoma is unimpressed: “Measly little pop gun!” he complains. “Not so measly at close range,” Oakhurst quips.


In Jesse James at Bay (Republic, 1941), a Roy Rogers picture, TWO characters try to get the drop on Roy with Derringers. Great. A two-derringer picture, that's really something.


In War Drums, Ben Johnson tells his friend, "You won't be needing that pea-shooter, Judge." The Indians are friendly, you see.
 
 

In the Cecil B DeMille epic Union Pacific of 1939, Robert Preston, roguish rival to the hero Joel McCrea, has a Derringer ready to do in the good guy sneakily.




Bad guys Donlevy, Preston, Quinn ready to do in Joel McCrea


In the 1996 HBO movie The Cherokee Kid, the Kid, played by Sinbad, goes for villain James Coburn with a very nifty four-shot pepperbox. Nice one.


Nifty

 
 
In a 1953 episode of The Range Rider called Outlaw Pistols, the bad guy Laredo (George L Lewis) fools young Dick West, “all-American boy” (Dickie Jones), by crafting a Derringer out of soap. He uses it to threaten the Sheriff’s daughter and make Dick let him out. See, not only a sneaky hideout gun for a bandit used against a sweet girl but it’s not even real! Boy, is that tricky.
 
Made of soap!


The evil banker shoots the even eviler rancher woman with one in The Bushwhackers (Realart Pictures, 1951). The perfect user of a Derringer and the perfect victim because she really deserved it.



In Wagon Trail, a Harry Carey Sr. movie of 1935, the villain Collins uses a Derringer (typical) and the popgun plays an important part in the last scene.


Harry Carey Sr. examines Derringer disgustedly


In Wild Bill (1995) there are derringers galore (and don't you think derringers galore is a lovely phrase?): the whore Lurline shoots the ear off a miner with one, Wild Bill pulls one on Jack McCall in the opium den and Jack even does for Bill in the No. 10 not with a single action Colt, as per history, but, yes, with a derringer. Whore, gambler, assassin. Classic.


The English competitor in the horse-race Western Bite the Bullet (Columbia, 1975) is handed a derringer to shoot his injured horse with. He aims at the poor beast from several yards away. I hope it did not suffer.

Hope the poor beast didn't suffer

 
Is that a Derringer in Claude Akins's hat? I can't quite see. A sneaky hideout gun anyway. Will he get Mitch with it? As if. See Man With the Gun (UA, 1955).


Claude about to take a sneaky shot at Bob


Then of course the classic baddie Hedley Lamarr shoots a man with a nickel-plated Derringer for chewing gum while standing in line (fair enough) in the glorious Blazing Saddles (Warner Bros, 1974).
 
 
Hedley and sidekick Slim Pickens
 
 
See? It’s the bad guys. Outlaw Bill Doolin had one:



Looks a bit basic...


And of course John Wilkes Booth used one:
 




 The Gun ~
It did for Abe
 

Wild Bill Hickok carried two Williamson .41 Derringers in special pockets. Sadly, they didn't save him on August 2nd 1876 in Nuttall & Mann's No. 10 in Deadwood.


Williamson .41 Derringer as used by Wild Bill Hickok
 
 
They were definitely ladies' guns.
 
Persons of the female persuasion carried them in their purses. Or even in their garters! Think of Cat Ballou.


Cat has one

Julie Adams in The Man from the Alamo

 A Derringer means a lady gets what she wants. The Eagle and the Hawk (1950).


Then there was Belle Starr in The Long Riders. They were small and almost jewel-like, ornamental anyway, maybe with a pearl handle. But they could sting, at close range anyway. And the kind of girls who had them were the ones you, ahem, tended to be at close range with.


 
Lady's purse gun


A Derringer does an awful lot of damage from under the table in Rio Lobo:



How a lady deals with gunmen
 

Frenchie Fontaine (Shelley Winters) uses one in Frenchie (1950).






Yup, the ladies liked them alright.


In the great TV Deadwood, obviously Cy Tolliver would have one, being a sneaky gambler and slimy saloon owner. Various saloon gals have them too.


Nasty Cy. Derringer the obvious weapon.

 
Spaghetti westerns loved them. For an example, Lee van Cleef’s in E' tornato Sabata...hai chiuso un'altra volta (Artemis, 1971). Yul had a triple-barreled one in Adios Sabata (UA, 1971) too.
 

 

Colonel Mortimer would have to have one in For a Few Dollars More:


Col. Mortimer prepares to face El Indio


A matched pair in Lucky Luke (2009):



 
Derringers play a key part in Django Unchained, I am happy to say. Good for Mr. Tarantino.





It wasn’t all the bad guys, though. Marshal Randolph Scott deals with the evil gunny Dingo Brion with a Derringer fired from underneath the barber's sheet in A Lawless Street. Paladin carried one as a back-up in Have Gun, Will Travel. And arms salesman-turned-sheriff Kenneth More demonstrated a spring-powered one in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (Fox, 1958). In fact Fractured Jaw might be the best Derringer movie ever. If you haven't seen it yet, remedy that now.


Handy for a gambler though hardly a Sheriff's weapon
 

And there was James West's similar sleeve Derringer in The Wild, Wild West. He also had one hidden in a boot heel.


What a heel

 
There was the black and white TV series Yancy Derringer, starring Jock Mahoney, 34 thirty-minute episodes in 1958/9. It was all New Orleans and frock coats and crinolines.


Fancy Yancey
 
 
Of course in Cat Ballou (Columbia, 1965) it wasn’t only Cat who had a Derringer. Jed rescued his partner with one, the gun hidden in a Bible. That idea was copied by Preacher Robert Mitchum in 5 Card Stud (Paramount, 1968). As if Derringers weren’t sneaky enough. To hide one in a Bible!


Derringer in a Bible?
 
 
The nearest to a hero who used a Derringer was Kirk Douglas in The Last Sunset (Universal, 1961). It was an unlikely weapon for a gunfighter but he carried it off.


Gunfighter with a Derringer? Well, ...
 
 
Actually, you couldn’t hit much with one, not unless you were very close. In a quite good ten-minute video on YouTube, an expert hits with only one of the two shots at 15 yards, and (just) hits twice at seven yards.

On p 140 of Louis L'Amour's novel Showdown at Yellow Butte, the heroine has a .22 seven-shot Derringer in her skirt pocket and shoots the evil gunslinger Dornie Shaw with it, through the material of the skirt, hitting him in the ear. A seven-shot! I never imagined such a thing but discovered that it did indeed exist.

A seven-shot .22 derringer. Wow.
 
 
I’m actually giving these Derringers a capital D but in fact, of course, the original gun invented by Henry Deringer, a 19th century maker of pocket pistols (no double R in his name), was subsequently made by various manufacturers, notably Remington. Soon derringer became a generic name for any small pistol.  They’re still made today. Wikipedia tells us that “Bond Arms, Cobra Arms and American Derringer all manufacture the over/under derringer in a variety of calibers”.

I’m sure there are many other Westerns with derringers in. I can’t think of one for the moment but doubtless I’ll think of others. Let me know if you know of any.

But ten to one they’ll be sneaky.

 

 

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