Tuco’s gun(s)

Tuco is one of my favorite characters in TGTBATU. His very questionable morality combines so many facets that we never tire of his character brilliantly interpreted by Eli Wallach.

“Every gun makes its own tune” says Blondie in the movie. Tuco certainly has his own philosophy and expertise in the gun area, as he prefers building what he considers the perfect gun out of several pieces. Sergio Leone was passionate about guns and selected probably very carefully those used in his movies. And although there are some anachronisms, his choices are quite eye-pleasing and prone to raise interest in this matter.

As a kid when I was watching the movie a few details bothered me, and in particular one, Tuco’s gun. The movie is set during the Civil War and it seems that the characters are never clear which side they are encountering between the North and the South, which might explain one aspect of his gun.

Here are some interesting sources:

In the movie Tuco is using 2 different guns which I believe are:

  • A Colt 1851 Navy percussion used when no shooting occurs or aiming at actors
  • A combination of a Griswold & Gunnison barrel (octogonal barrel shank version) and a cartridge conversion 1851 Navy frame when shooting

I don’t believe the second gun is a Colt Dragoon as the barrel shank / barrel length ratio is not consistent with this model.

The first gun was produced by the North, the second by the South. In theory the second is an assembly by Tuco of various models and brands in the shop he robs after his desert walk. But what we see is an assembly from 3 percussion Colt 1851 Navy.

First gun is a percussion Colt 1851 Navy for the Grip
Second gun is also a percussion Colt 1851 Navy, but for the cylinder
Inspecting the barrel – probably not much to be seen through the “nipples”
Third gun is also a percussion Colt 1851 Navy, but this time for the barrel, which is octogonal
One of the many funny scenes in this movie
Finally Tuco is satisfied. And it’s still a percussion Colt 1851 Navy
A famous close-up of the finale

Since Tuco is using a Colt 1851 Navy when shooting is not required, logically he should be using a cartridge conversion when shooting – like the Blondie version (but without the rattlesnakes).

But the interesting detail popped up in the hotel scene where I had to watch and rewatch to confirm what I was seeing all the time: A round barrel.

There are two kinds of barrels my friend. Those that are octogonal, and those thar are round
You can see clearly the round barrel which ressembles the one from a Griswold & Gunnison
No more doubts on this shot
Just in case

So the closest existing gun to what we see is a Griswold & Gunnison, which was a Southern copy of the Colt 1851 Navy, as can be seen below.

But from what I understand there has never been a cartridge conversion on the market, so Tuco’s gun is incorrect historically.

This cylinder is made for cartridges and looks very close to the Blondie conversion. Notice the frame is steel, whereas many G&G frames were made out of brass. Notice the octogonal barrel shank
Tuco loading his gun

So the remaining issue is the following :

  • Historically G&G are .36 caliber and no cartridge conversions have been manufactured (officially)
  • Blondie’s cartridge conversion frame and cylinder is made for .38 special

So how does the .36 round G&G barrel fit the cartridge conversion .38SP cylinder? As I am no gunsmithing expert I cannot really answer but it seems possible to assemble the G&G barrel to a 1851 Navy cartridge conversion frame. As the actors were shooting blanks it’s probably less a problem as no bullet is going from the cylinder to the barrel and out.

Comments are welcome on this topic!

In the end, the important question is: Which of the two guns is Tuco’s gun? I would say definitely the second. Firstly it’s a combination of different guns – which makes sense relatively to the shop scene. Also, I personally like the fact that each protagonist has a specific gun/rig/holster setup, which is quite classic in terms of character attributes. Blondie uses 1851 Navy cartridge conversion that he holds in his specific Andy Anderson rig, Angel Eyes has a Remington with a front holster across the belt, and Tuco only uses a leather rope around his neck to hold his gun. In the movie, even the sound a gun produces is different for each character. So why shouldn’t Tuco also have his signature gun? Angel Eyes’s triangular shaped Remington somehow matches his cruel face and very recognizable nose. Blondie’s rattlesnakes on the grips symbolize his quickness and lethality on the draw; in this movie his octogonal barrel has straight angles – referring to his straight morality (although this is open for debate) or to his stiffness and coldness – key for his survival. Tuco on his side can easily switch behavior and opinion based on his interest or the situation, has a warmer personality despite his bandit side and rolls in a second from considering Blondie as a foe to a friend or even a fellow orphan, which, I believe, fits quite well with having a round barrel. We can see how guns nicely echo with personalities in this movie 🙂

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