23 March 2022

End of Watch

I watched a picture called Crown Vic, from 2019, because it had Thomas Jane.  I know he’s done a lot of stuff, but I didn’t take much notice until The Expanse – my bad.  Crown Vic is pretty good, a series of incidents, really, not a rising narrative arc, about a pair of L.A. patrol cops on a single night shift, the old salt and the rookie kid, Jane of course the lifer, showing the newbie the ropes.  It’s a well-made movie, handsomely shot, with a handful of good cameos, both funny and disturbing, and I liked it enough to look up the writer/director’s credits, Joel Souza.

Souza wrote four pictures before Crown Vic, and directed three of them, but what made me sit up and take notice is that the picture he started work on next was a Western with Alec Baldwin, titled Rust.

This may or may not ring a bell with the rest of you, but Rust was on location right down the road from here, at Bonanza Creek ranch, a few miles south of Santa Fe.  Souza and his cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, were rehearsing a set-up with Baldwin.  At some point, Baldwin drew a prop weapon, and cocked it.  The gun went off.  From later investigation, it turns out there was live round in the gun.  The bullet hit Hutchins, went through her, and hit Souza.  She died; he recovered.  Production shut down, and it’s unlikely to resume.  There’s probably no way to get to the bottom of what actually happened. 

The word “complacency” was used by the Santa Fe county sheriff.  One question is how an assistant director could call out “cold gun,” and then hand Baldwin a loaded one.  Another is how dummy rounds, live ammo, and blanks were all present on the set.  This called attention to the armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, and her level of experience.  Hannah is Thell Reed’s daughter.  Thell Reed is one of the more celebrated gun-handlers in Hollywood, right up there with Arvo Ojala, and it’s hard to imagine Hannah being stupid about guns.  In fact, soon after the shooting, word got out that she’d argued for stricter safety protocols and basic firearms instruction for the cast and crew, and she’d been turned down because it wasn’t in the budget.  The more unsettling thing to me is that neither the AD nor the actor thought to check the weapon for themselves. 

Be this as it may, let’s turn our attention to the gun itself.
  Alec Baldwin has recently said that he didn’t pull the trigger.  This may in fact be true.  The gun he was holding was a replica of a Colt single-action Army.  A lot of these are made in Italy by Uberti, and imported by American distributors like Cimarron.  [See below]  This is by no means a primitive gun.  It was state-of-the-art in 1871.  Granted, there have been a few improvements over the last 150 years, but it’s a proven and reliable design.  It does, on other hand, have safety issues.  The cylinder holds six rounds, but you only load five, and leave the hammer down on an empty chamber.  You cock the gun, and the cylinder rotates.  It’s not a good idea to pull the hammer back with just the ball of your thumb, straight back; you want the joint of your thumb across the hammer, or your thumb could slip off.  And the trigger is very light: it’s seated directly against the hammer, and slides out from under it with a breath of air.  If you’re not familiar with the hardware, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Did it happen
this way?  I have no idea.  And while I don’t know guns upside-down and inside-out like Steve Hunter, I think I know this particular gun fairly well.  I’ve been shooting it for sixty years.  It’s not at all inconceivable that the gun went off, in effect, all by itself.

This, of course, addresses only the mechanical question, and absolves nobody of responsibility.  There was a culture of carelessness on the picture.  It was make-believe. 


  1. Interesting article, David. Thanks.

  2. Sad story, bad that's technically interesting.

  3. David, that brought back emotions. That's the revolver I learned as a kid. In one of several moves around the country, it disappeared, but I considered it the pistol I knew best.

    To be fair, automatics have their own set of issues starting with Glocks that don't have safeties. And then there are people who don't believe in safeties. And those who leave a round chambered.

    A lot can go wrong, very wrong.

    1. Leigh:
      I still have the Frontier Scout my dad let me buy when I was 15. I was tempted to post a picture of it, and the Lawrence buscadero rig I bought to go with it. (No apologies.) Later on, I had the real thing, a black-powder Colt .45 I found in Virginia City, Nevada, for 150 bucks. Present day, I've got an Uberti in .38-40, I admit an eccentric chambering.
      I also have a weakness for the 1911, which of course has its own safety issues. The devil loads empty guns, and there's no cure for stupid.

  4. I admit I'm fascinated by what may or may not be revealed about what truly happened that day. Meanwhile, a lot of movie sets have had serious carelessness, with serious consequences. Remember Twilight Zone: The Movie? Three deaths, Vic Morrow and two child actors...

    1. Eve :
      The stunt guys on TWILIGHT ZONE held John Landis responsible for what happened, but he's kept making pictures. I thought to expand this to talk about dangerous stunts - Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham talked about it often, and didn't make a dent - but I decided to keep the focus specific. You could write a book about directors who didn't give a damn about stuntmen (or horses). Errol Flynn almost came to blows with Michael Curtiz when they were shooting CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, because Curtiz didn't give a rat's ass how many horses went down with broken legs, from the wire pulls, and had to be destroyed.


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