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The Guns of Raiders of the Lost Ark

By Will Dabbs, MD

Heroic Heroes, Villainous Villains and a Smookin' Hot Iron

In the classic 1981 Steven Spielberg movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, the world got its introduction to Indiana Jones, one of the most iconic film characters in cinematic history. George Lucas, the creative visionary behind Star Wars, wrote the original screenplay along with Lawrence Kasdan and Philip Kaufman. Harrison Ford’s depiction of Jones became arguably the most memorable role of his most memorable career. Another actor in the running for the role was actually Tom Selleck. However, Selleck was committed to the TV show Magnum PI and was unavailable for filming. Raiders was the first time that Spielberg, Lucas and Ford all collaborated on a movie.

Set in 1936, Raiders depicts the adventures of a globetrotting archaeologist as he seeks out the final resting place of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. According to scripture, the Ark houses the rod of Aaron, a pot of manna from the wilderness and the original stone tablets depicting the Ten Commandments engraved by God Himself. In the movie the Ark also conveys immense power to wage war. As a result, the Nazis are racing alongside to be first to find what they hope will be a powerful new weapon.

Ford’s gritty depiction of Jones has him fighting his way out of one close scrape after another using a variety of weapons. While his use of a bullwhip defines the film, Jones wields several period small arms as well. Some of these guns are somewhat inaccurate to the precise period depicted, but they remain fairly close.

The primary handgun Indiana Jones uses in the movie is a customized M1917 Smith and Wesson (S&W) revolver in .45ACP. The gun for the movie had its 6-inch barrel shortened down to four. To obtain the sound of the gun firing, the film’s Foley editors recorded a .30-30 rifle firing live rounds.

Different pistols were used for filming in California and England. The English version was actually cut down from a British-issue S&W Mk II Hand Ejector in .455 Webley. This gun...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N5 (June 2017)
and was posted online on April 21, 2017

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