I have seen nearly a thousand movies in my life, each unique in its own right, and coming with a slew of potential props that we might love to get our hands on if the opportunity arose. I actually own two movie props, both from the 2004 film The Alamo, which starred Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid. One is a replica flintlock pistol, and the other is a clay coffee mug. The pistol might actually be clearly visible on film, perched upon the desk of William Barrett Travis (Patrick Wilson) as he pens a letter for reinforcement help. The cup was just a background piece and may or may not even be seen (at least not that I have noticed, and I’ve looked every time I watch the film). Anyway, the reason for this seemingly random post is because I was asked by a representative of Invaluable, an auction mega-site, to answer the simple question of if I could own one movie prop, which would it be, and why? They have had quite a few movie props up for auction over the years, including the original blaster used by Harrison Ford as Han Solo for the Star Wars franchise. If I had to, picking one prop would be very difficult, because I have so many favorite movies. A friend of mine who works for Christies once gave me the catalogue for a recent John Wayne estate auction due to her knowing my love of The Duke. Page after page of browsing left me drooling.
However, my choice for a movie prop would be a pair of handguns (I couldn’t just pick one—they needed to be together) from the Sam Peckinpah western The Wild Bunch. These are the ones used by William Holden as the character Pike Bishop. One is an old-fashioned style revolver, while the other is a more modern (for the time) military handgun during World War I and Pancho Villa’s uprising in Mexico. The whole point of this film was Peckinpah saying goodbye to the fading days of the Old West, where romantic gunfighters, bank robbers, and bandits were taking a backseat to more modern times. The Wild Bunch concerns a team of career criminals who made names for themselves robbing trains and banks, seeing their way of life come to an end. One of the taglines states, “Born too late for their own times. Uncommonly significant for ours”, while another more dramatically tells of, “Nine men who came too late, and stayed too long”, and depicts the group walking into an unknown oblivion. They decide to set up one last big score and go out on top, which sets the stage for the climactic final shootout. Filmed in 1969, it remains one of the most violent and bloody scenes in film history, with a body count of more than a hundred in less than five minutes. Its influence still remains.
Now, why choose these two handgun props when I could have anything else? The reason is because they are symbolic, as is the film. Bishop’s character is old-fashioned, which is why he keeps the revolver even when much more powerful weapons are available. His more modern handgun, which is alluded to in the film as him getting it by stealing the piece from the US Army, is his way of trying to catch up with modern times. The Wild Bunch is all about being out with the old and in with the new. The same can be said for the film’s place in history. Its production ushered in an age of more violent film-making. There was a plethora of controversy surrounding its release (and a few other Peckinpah films, helping him earn the nickname “Bloody Sam”). No longer would westerns, and other films involving violence, be relegated to corny, phoney, if not cartoonish blood splatter. There would now be realism and carnage. Ironically, Peckinpah desired the opposite effect. He had hoped to disgust audiences with an overabundance of blood, but instead they loved it.
The Wild Bunch is one of the greatest films in history, and these two prop pistols help to illustrate its chilling and serious effect. The bloody deaths of the main characters is representative of the death of the Old West and a way of life never to return. The film production itself ended an age of innocence in Hollywood. Despite thousands of bullets to fly during the infamous closing shootout, none come from Pike Bishop’s older revolver. Instead, he is killed using some of the newest technology available (his other handgun, a shot-gun, and finally, a machine gun). It was as if Peckinpah laid down some other symbolism, by saying that when its time to go, its time to go—the newer weapons will not save you. “If they move, kill ’em!”
So now let me ask you the question: if you could pick one movie prop to own, which would it be and why? Leave a comment in the area below!