The Guns of the Movie Lawless
Dr. John Woods 01.09.18
Certainly the 1920’s were the “roaring” times of America, but there was considerable hold over of those wild and wooly days. In the 20’s industry and society were still getting over the first major world war. People were suffering the memories of the Great War, as times were still tough for the hard working class of America. This spilled over into the 1930s, too.
Organized crime was making a foothold in the country as the Bonnie and Clyde Era saw rampant robberies and daylight raids. The major crime figures were nearly hailed as heroes as they pillaged the country whilst the everyday person and families continued to try to scratch out a living as best as possible. Then the stock market crashed in 1929. That was the reset button.
The Prohibition Era bought on the wholesale back 40 manufacture of illegal liquor and everything that came with it. Those were perilous times at best with bootleggers being chased across rural counties in an effort to quench the thirst of individuals for a spiked drink to help them forget their woes. Law enforcement became ever more vigilant in an attempt to stop it.
For gun enthusiasts the 20s and 30s brought on a highlighted array of firearms for the commission of crimes as well as personal protection and police action. Though many of the finest firearms of those times were designed and manufactured even before this era, their display was never more evident than during this time frame in history.
The 2012 movie Lawless set in 1931 was a vivid portrayal of those times. Set in Franklin County, Virginia, Lawless was based on the true story of the Bondurant family of bootleggers staring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Jason Clarke as Forrest, Jack, and Howard Bondurant. The arch villainous Special Deputy of law enforcement Charlie Rakes was played by Guy Pearce.
Other actors included Jessica Chastain as Maggie Beauford, Tom Hardy’s love interest, and Gary Oldman as Floyd Banner, the organized distributor of the illegal alcohol produced by the Bondurant’s. It is certainly an action filled movie worth the Red Box rental.
But for us gun aficionados, this was a quintessential movie of guns. Between the Bondurant bootlegging family, the local county sheriff’s office and deputies as well as the Special Deputy and his entourage of dubious crime busters, virtually every actor in the movie carried or used multiple types of firearms.
These were the great old guns, too with the single most modern pistol shown as a lone Colt M1911A1, .45 ACP used by one policeman. There were hordes of fine Colts used in the movie, but one single Smith carried by the Special Deputy officer a bright nickel Model 10 with pearl handles in a black leather holster.
The Colts in the movie included some true classics such as the Colt Detective Special carried by the main character Forrest Bondurant the entire movie. Brother Jack also carried one. These were all .38 Specials. Forrest is also seen with a nickel Colt New Service with what appears to be an 8-inch barrel. Several Colt Official Police revolvers were shown in use throughout the movie as well by local police.
At one point when the youngest Bondurant, Jack is making a huge delivery of booze to Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), he is frisked to reveal a Harrington and Richardson .32 Hammerless revolver with a 2-inch barrel hidden in his waistband, a common use for such a gun in those days. Banner’s men disarmed Bondurant joking about the “pea shooter” he was carrying.
In one scene of the movie when a fight breaks out at the Bondurant’s gas station eatery, one of thugs drops a Colt Single Action Buntline Special. Likely an unusual gun for crime use in those days, but an interesting addition none the less. Another unusual gun shown several times in the movie carried by Jack’s sidekick Cricket Pate was a Webley MKVI probably in .455 Webley. This was probably a handgun that came home from the war.
Several shotguns were prominent in the movie including an old Colt 1878 Coach Gun used by the Special Deputy. Another double barreled shotgun a Stoeger IGA Coach gun was also used by Jack Bondurant. The Special Deputy guy also carried a classic Winchester 1897 Trench Gun with a leather sling. This shotgun was fully configured as a military turned law enforcement pump shotgun, certainly in 12 gauge. Winchester 1897 riot models were also used. Cricket Pate was also photographed on the hood of their liquor running car with a Winchester Model 12 pump. Several of Rakes’ special agents also carried Model 12s on raids.
Other rather odd guns depicted in the movie but only noticed by the most critical movie screeners was a Krag-Jorgensen 1896 Carbine in the final bridge shootout scene. In an opening scene child Jack was seen using an unidentified bolt action .22 rifle to shoot a pig. Another .22 a Stevens Crackshot was wielded by a bootlegger during the final bridge shootout scene, as was another unidentified bolt action centerfire rifle.
Another bootlegger is this shootout sequence was shown holding a Winchester Model 62, pump action .22. A Winchester 1894 lever action was also shown in this scene. I guess they grabbed every gun they had.
One more fascinating factoid about the guns in this movie was mention of a Thompson M1928 submachine gun with a round drum magazine being used by the Gary Oldman figure Floyd Banner. However, I have seen this movie twice now, and those scenes with the Thompson were not shown. I can only guess the TV version trimmed those scenes out for some reason.
So, what you have here is a bootlegger, crime movie, and a simple family trying to make ends meet during tough times. Between the Bondurant’s guns and all those used by law enforcement and other assorted bootleggers and support characters is a most eclectic collection of guns in any movie I have seen that was based on a true story.
The movie was based on the book The Wettest County in the World written by Matt Bondurant, the grandson of Jack Bondurant. Perhaps Matt knew from the family some history on all these guns depicted in the movie. One would like to think so anyway. This is a must see movie for gun folks.