Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Joel Cairo's Gun

In the great film noir classic "The Maltese Falcon," Joel Cairo comes into Sam Spade's office and pulls a gun on him. After asking Spade to clasp his hands behind his neck, Cairo motions for Spade to come to the center of the room and turn around, facing away from Cairo. Cairo then places the muzzle of the pistol in the small of Spade's back, intending to search the detective; however, this is a mistake because now, despite not being able to see behind him, Spade knows exactly where the pistol is. Using a simple jujitsu move, Spade turns and both knocks Cairo's gun arm aside and grasps it by the wrist. In the struggle, Cairo drops the gun.

Why Spade doesn't use both hands to take control and transfer the pistol directly to his own hand, I don't know; that is what one is supposed to do with this technique, but cinematically, the result is more dramatic. The fallen gun lands next to someone's shoe. Whose, we don't know, but the pistol is clear to see just for a second.

Actually, this is not a frame from the movie, but rather my own restaging of the shot, because I happen to own exactly the same type of pistol that Joel Cairo used in the movie.

The gun is a Colt 1908 "Vest Pocket" semi-automatic pistol. Mine was manufactured in 1927 and was shipped to a hardware store in Tennessee as part of a small lot. It had not been fired much if at all until coming into my possession. I fired fifty rounds at a shooting range and found that it works but occasionally jams. Not bad for an old gun that is primarily a collectors' item. It was intended, of course, only for close range use, but I am embarrassed to say that at twenty-five yards distance I only hit my target four times out of fifty. That is called accidental.

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