Lights, Cameras, and the Valmet RPK

By Rick Cartledge

This Valmet started life as a semi-auto Valmet RPK chambered in 762 x 39. The serial number reads 157423 PMC possessing the unusual long barrel and bipod front end seen on it. It has a most distinctive rear stock A Valmet RPK stands as unusual enough. This particular Valmet stands almost alone.

The gun started as a rare semi-auto AK-esque variant configured as an RPK then made its way to Marty Pearl of Pearl Manufacturing, a respected firm in the Title 2 industry. Pearl filed the appropriate paperwork with the NFA Branch and then performed the conversion to a machine gun. Pearl made this conversion before the 1986 cutoff, for one of the larger movie prop rental houses. The unusual weapon carries the excellent craftsmanship of Pearl and the NFA characterization of ‘transferable’.

Internally, the weapon carries the well-finished Valmet parts along with the Pearl conversion parts. Those inserted by Pearl appear to be of first quality. The entire interior of the receiver shows tight fitting and well-polished smoothness. A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of examining and test firing a converted Valmet 62. The 62 variant eventually became the receiver for the Israeli Galil in .223. I have fired several of these in full auto. I find the Valmets to be AK variants of the highest quality. RPK #157423 PMC did nothing to alter that opinion.

Hammer Time

The owner declined to be photographed shooting his Valmet RPK. At this or any other gun range, his declining presented no problem. A host of people wandered down to the short firing range to catch a glimpse of the RPK. The entire gallery volunteered to shoot it. One may admire its fine workmanship on a rainy day, but today the sun shone brightly and we did what comes naturally. First we loaded the magazines, then we put the brass on the ground.

Several first impressions come to mind. My only experience with firing RPKs comes from firing them at Knob Creek Range. I remember particularly the time when Robert Landies allowed Mike Krotz and me the opportunity of firing one of his. These guns carry a different trunion and a heavier barrel. The straight stocked RPK runs well but kicks like a mule. One finds the long barrel on the Pearl converted Valmet to be lighter on the front end. Though lighter than a true RPK, the Pearl Valmet still posesses a front end heft. The front heft and the special butt stock shifts the center of gravity to the front and downward. I found this RPK to be very pleasant to shoot.

After I finished, a number of others volunteered to shoot the Valmet RPK. All found this gun to be surprisingly smooth. Several found that the gun was almost as much fun on semi auto as it was on full automatic. All liked the throaty and slightly slower sound of the RPK. They also commented on its surprising accuracy. The fun of shooting such a fine gun would have been sufficient, but with this gun there was so much more. As the reader will learn, this particular converted gun also occupies one of the very interesting places in firearms and motion picture history.

The History

One correctly might ask ‘How could a converted gun make history?’ For the answer, read on. Pearl converted the Valmet RPK for Stembridge Gun Rentals Inc. in Glendale, California. This firm, from 1916 until 1998, provided rental guns for the motion picture industry. Sydney R. Stembridge, President and grandson of its founder, ceased the gun rental portion of the largest business of its kind in 1998, but has since reopened under the same name and provides service to television, movies, and theatres in the same tradition.

This intriguing weapon is in many scenes from the brilliant John Milius film ‘Red Dawn’. This motion picture takes a look at what might happen to an invaded and post apocalyptic America. The Valmet and a number of other Stembridge guns added greatly to film. Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey all use the RPK and a number of other AKMs. They followed the dictum of Soviet prisoner Harry Dean Stanton to ‘Avenge me!...Avenge me!’ The brilliant actor Frank McRae took on the RPK from the business end in the hands of a Soviet paratrooper. In ‘Red Dawn’ the Valmet shone brightly. In another film, the Valmet RPK shone the brightest of all.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger made his breakthrough motion picture ‘Commando’ the RPK carried a unique stock. Supported by an excellent script and fine cast, Mr. Schwarzenegger served notice of wonderful things to come. With this film he greatly expanded his persona within the action drama. Within the action sequences Mr. Schwarzenegger inserts humor that would become his trademark. In this motion picture we first hear him utter his wonderful trade mark phrase ‘I’ll be back...’ The Valmet RPK comes back with him. He employs the RPK well to help make his point.

In the beginning Arnold Schwarzenegger, a retired special ops team leader, lives with his young daughter as a single parent. Members of his retired team begin to die violently. His former commander, a general still active, comes to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s isolated mountain home. He advises his former team leader of the coming trouble. He posts guards and departs. Almost immediately, the miscreants swoop. They kidnap the daughter and escape. Mr. Schwarzenegger pursues and gets caught. His captor, a deposed dictator, offers him a deal. He must kill the lawfully elected president of the dictator’s former country within hours and his daughter will be spared Mr. Schwarzenegger accepts the time frame. He entertains decidedly other thoughts about the deal.

In Mr. Schwarzenegger’s climatic phase of ‘Commando’ we view the Valmet in a number of scenes. The most memorable occurs when he first lands on the deposed dictator’s staging island off the coast of California. He comes in on an inflatable boat and suits up for battle. He picks up a shotgun with his left hand. With his right hand, he deftly swings the Valmet RPK across his shoulders as his last piece of armament.

Mr. Schwarzenegger strides forward to settle his score with the dethroned dictator and to save his kidnapped daughter. He then uses the Valmet in a number of scenes. He first fires the RPK at an enemy watch tower. He then employs the Valmet RPK through the gates and all the way through the courtyard of his enemy’s estate. This and much more awaits the viewers of ‘Commando’.

Some Thoughts on the Day

Having shot the full auto Valmet RPK in live fire, the following observatioins can be made about Schwarzenegger’s performance in ‘Commando’. The previously mentioned shift by the custom stock weights the gun lower. The weight shift matters. Given that some sequences exist for dramatic effect, I find Mr. Schwarzenegger’s performance very realistic. His action sequences mirror quite consistently the workings of the Valmet RPK in live fire. His insistance on realism has earned him every one of the many fans that he has among the readers of Small Arms Review. Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger continues his high quality work and commitment to craft at this very hour.

‘Red Dawn’ by John Milius, MGM/UA Movie Time, available at video stores

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Commando’, 20th Century Fox, available at video stores

Wanda Darsey, The Movie Gallery, 806 South Hill ST, Griffin, GA 30224, 770-228-0438

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N2 (November 2002)
and was posted online on December 20, 2013


Comments have not been generated for this article.