Home / Robert Farley / Tommy Gun: For Shooting Dangerous or Delicious Animals

Tommy Gun: For Shooting Dangerous or Delicious Animals


Reading CJ Chivers’ The Gun, which is more of a history of automatic firearms than of the AK-47 itself. He mentions this advertisement, which is just 95 kinds of awesome. The idea of fighting off rustlers and other miscreants with a Tommy gun is shockingly appealing to me.  It’s not quite the same as hunting deer with an AK on full automatic, but it’s still a very interesting cultural artifact.  The Tommy gun itself became a symbol of (ultra sexy) gangsterism shortly after its introduction, but Thompson first tried to sell it to gangsters by putting it in a cowboy/Western setting. A couple of thoughts:

1. Are there any Westerns that feature a Tommy gun?  I know we see automatic weapons in The Outlaw Josey Wales and A Fistful of Dollars, but I can’t remember any submachine guns, even ahistorical ones.

2. If the answer to the first question is “No,” does anyone else think that Clint Eastwood has the responsibility to direct and star in a Tommy gun themed Western before he dies?

UPDATE [SL]: The basis for the script is already out there!

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  • Custer could have had Gatling guns at Little Big Horn but he turned them down. Gatling guns were present at WoundedKnee though seemingly not used. That’s reality, but if it didn’t show up in the fiction it may be because shooting fish in a barrel is not regarded as heroic.

  • Actually, the Gatling guns probably were used at Wounded Knee.

    • witless chum

      Wiki suggests it was actually the Hotchkiss Gun, a light, quick firing artillery piece, used at Wounded Knee. They were probably responsible for most of the calvary’s casualties through friendly fire, given that the Lakota weren’t mostly shooting back.

      • Bill Murray

        There definitely were Hotchkiss guns used at Wounded Knee. My great-great grandfather was a photographer in the area and skated up the frozen Wounded Knee creek as soon as he heard about it and took several pictures of them.

    • soullite

      God bless you. If there’s one thing that can’t be said enough, it’s that TV is not real life.

  • Rob

    I’d be very surprised if there weren’t sub machine guns in a episode of Wild, Wild West.

    • Bill Murray

      or The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.

  • Were gangsters really Thompson’s envisioned customers when he first came out with the gun? They certainly took to it quickly enough, but what that his plan?

    • Bill Murray

      Thompson saw it as a trench broom for use in WW1 according wikipedia

      • Normantho.mas

        Thompson saw it as a trench broom for use in WW1 according wikipedia

        Exactly! The Thompon gun was developed just after the first world war and trench warfare was the norm. This was the first truly portable machine gun that didn’t take a two or three men to operate. They could run up to a trench and clear it out quickly.

        The 1921 model was the first that was available to the public. It’s rate of fire is quite high. In 1928 the ’28 model came out with a really, really low rate of fire…some say too low…about 450.

        Great gun. Since manufactured by Colt, Savage and then the newly resurrected Auto Ordnance in the 1980’s.

        One of the most romantic guns ever made. Lay out 10 machine guns and the crowd will all crowd around the Tommy.

  • Jon H

    My uncle could have used one of those, when he was killed by cattle rustlers in, I think, Venezuela in the 60s.

  • bob mcmanus

    I was thinking that automatics might have shown up in movies about the Mexican revolution, Pancho Villa and that period, which might be marginally considered “Westerns” but the Thompson and B.A.R were just a little too late.

    • bob mcmanus

      Anybody remember the “Wild Bunch” better than I?

      • Richard

        Among the guns that are part of the plot line in the Wild Bunch is a Browning submachine gun

        • mattc

          yes, the Mexican Revolution is the best setting to find maching guns in film. “Wild Bunch,” of course, but also “Duck, You Sucker” w/ James Coburn as an Irish bomber fighting against Huerta.

  • Nigel

    I seem to remember there was a tv series set in the west called, I think, Wildcats (though there’s no listing on IMDB), about two guys driving around in a car of the same name and/or type with various submachine guns hidden under the running boards of the car doing good and righting wrongs. Or I may have dreamed the whole thing.

  • DocAmazing

    Not a Western exactly, but Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite) takes place in the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th c., and features James Coburn as an IRA operative on the lam and Rod Steiger (I think) as the paterfamilias of a bandit group. The machine guns used are slightly anachronistic, if I recall correctly.

  • RepubAnon

    John Wayne’s movie “Big Jake” had a semi-automatic pistol, motorcycle, and a sniper rifle in it – I don’t recall any fully-automatic weapons, though. Plot set in 1909…


  • FWIW, in this lecture on Stagecoach, Richard Slotkin explains how some of the earliest attempts at reviving the A-movie Western in the late thirties (after it had definitely fallen into B-movie status) were sometimes really transparent efforts to turn gangster movies into Westerns. And since the studios didn’t have any A-list Western actors (putting b-lister John Wayne into a big studio production like Stagecoach was, for example, a big break with tradition), a lot of those early westerns were made by simply taking gangster movie actors (like Cagney and Bogart) and plopping them into Western scripts.

  • Also, William Holden’s machine gun in the Wild Bunch. But by the time of The Wild Bunch, the machine gun is really a way of showing that the west is over.

    • Jon H

      That looks like a Maxim, which was invented in 1884, only 8 years after Little Bighorn, and a good 36 years before 1920 which Wikipedia has as the rough end of the Old West period, and since it’s Wikipedia it must be right.

  • Machine guns and other high powered weaponry were heavily featured in the B-level (and lower) spaghetti westerns, largely because it opened the doors to more spilling of obviously fake blood.

  • efgoldman

    Robert, can’t you make the pic clickable? I’d love to be able to read the text.

    • sharculese

      One of the advantages of still being young:

      The ideal weapon for the protection of large estates, ranches, plantations, etc. A combination machine gun and semi-automatic shoulder rifle in the form of a pistol. A compact, tremendously powerful, yet simply operated machine gun weighing only seven pounds and having only thirty parts. Full automatic, fired from the hip, 1,500 shots per minute. Semi-automatic, fitted with a stock and fired from the shoulder, 50 shots per minute. Magazine holds 50 and 100 cartridges.

      The Thompson Submachine Gun incorporates all the simplicity and infallibility of a hand loaded weapon with the effectiveness of a machine gun. It is simple, safe, sturdy, and sure(?) in action. In addition to its increasingly wide use for protection purposes by banks, industrial plants, railroads, mines, ranches, plantations, etc., it has been adopted by leading Police and Constabulary Forces throughout the world and is unsurpassed for military purposes.

      Information and prices promptly supplied on request

      • Ed Marshall

        I couldn’t read the “seven” in “seven pounds”, but I could get the rest of it. Then again my claim on young is starting to get tenuous.

      • efgoldman

        Thank you.
        Now get off my lawn punk.

        • Bill Murray

          try nosquint, you can increase the size to whatever is necessary

  • Alan in SF

    Did that “Cowboys vs. Aliens” movie ever come out, or was I just having an acid flashback when I thought I saw the preview?

    • allium

      July 29th. Looks fun.

  • dugsdale

    I’m sure I go back further than most of yez, and I grew up watching ’30s-era Republic-style “B” westerns and serials on the teevee, and I’m willing to bet there was at least one “cowboys vs. gangsters” B-western. Of course, that’s a claim that needs some research, which I’m not in shape to do at the moment but it’s too intriguing an idea not to have been done.

  • wiley

    I believe “The Warriors Way” had a Tommy gun. It’s a kick ass wire-fu Western fairy tale.

  • Henry Holland

    My favorite Tommy Gun-related thing is the great Clash song Tommy Gun from the great Give ’em Enough Rope album.

    If death comes so cheap
    The the same goes for life…

    • Henry Holland

      Woops, hit submit before typing the warning: sound starts when clicking the link embedded in the lyrics

  • Karen

    Clint and machine guns: Find the trailer to “Where Eagles Dare.” Eastwood comically revels in being able to use WWII machine guns instead of a six-shooter and “kill a lot more people.”

  • rea

    I seem to recall a John Wayne vehicle called something like “War Wagon,” featuring a proto-amrmored car mounting a Gatling gun.

  • Normantho.mas

    Federal law does allow the personal owner ship of fully automatic firearms including sub machine guns. There is paperwork involved and additional taxes that need paid to own one.

    IIRC, 34 states allow personal ownership of fully automatic firearms. So you’ll need to be in one of these states to own a fully automatic sub machine gun and there’s a lot of ’em. I believe the majority of state do, indeed, allow them as well as silencers.

    You’ll need to find a class III firearms dealer to purchase a sub machine gun, legally.

  • David Small

    Clint Eastwood’s movie “Joe Kidd” features whatI remember as a Mauser 1896 semi-auto pistol with a shoulder stock.
    As far as defending the ranch with a Thompson, people along the Mexican border could remember Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, so the threat would have been real to them…funny how history rpeats itself.

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