Another movie moment for today’s post, but this time a more credible one that shows the filmmakers were actually familiar with their subject.
Last night I was looking for something to watch when I found a channel showing the original Django film from 1966. In the final scene Django has had both his hands broken and we see him trying to remove the trigger guard of his Colt so he can rest it on a gravestone. To really appreciate what is happening here one needs to have some understanding of how guns of this type work.
Like many American handguns of the time, the Colt that Django is using is single-action. What single-action means is that the hammer needs to be manually cocked before each shot. You pull back the hammer, pull the trigger and it fires. While this may seem a relatively slow system it was not long before inventive humans were finding ways to work around this.
What, for example, would happen if the trigger has already been pulled when the hammer is pulled back. With no catch to hold it back the hammer will fly forward and fire the round as soon as it is released. Some gunfighters realized you did not need to hold the trigger back with your finger and instead permanently wired back the trigger so that the gun would fire as soon as the hammer was pulled back and released. In the movie the “Wild Bunch” I believe Ernest Borgnine’s character comments about William Holden’s character having a revolver with a wired-back trigger. In Rio Bravo Stumpy wires back the triggers of his hammer shotgun, holds back the hammers and warns his prisoner that should he get shot the gun is going to fire.
It was also realized that the hammer of the gun did not need to be cocked with the thumb of the shooting hand. One hand could hold and aim the pistol while the other hand slapped the hammer back in a technique that became known as “fanning”. Fanning allowed a single-action revolver to be fired rapidly. The young Clint Eastwood was genuinely proficient with firearms, competing in fast draw competitions. Clint’s characters give some fine examples of fanning. One of my favourites is when he takes out a room full of French officers in “Two Mules for Sister Sarah”. I couldn’t find that clip, so here is another one. The gunplay starts at the two minute mark.
From the above, it should become apparent what Django was doing. By removing the trigger guard he can press the trigger back against the grave marker. Then he just needs to use his ruined hand to fan the hammer.