02 July 2023

Time Warped: How Not to Write a Historical

No excuses, this comes far too late to be an acceptable movie review, but this article has another purpose— how not to write historicals. Although I wrote this long ago, I pushed it aside as other articles took priority. It dates back to one of John Floyd’s articles, where we found ourselves among the tens of people who kinda, sorta liked the movie, Django Unchained, which I watched with my friend, Sharon. She agreed with the rest of the world that the film was, to put it gently, flawed.

3 Django Unchained cast members

Both Sharon and I were distracted by a staggering number of errors and anachronisms in the movie, especially items from the wrong century. To our disbelief, the DVD came with a Tarantino interview in which he bragged about the historical research. That was, pardon the pun, djarring.

Anachronisms leaped off the screen. They included wrong period clothing, wrong period guns (multiple), wrong period props and accessories, and very wrong period verbal expressions (mother-ƒer? Seriously?). When non-experts notice 20+ errors in a film, that celluloid is in trouble.

Except for two pieces of incidental music, I won’t address the soundtrack beyond saying the modern cuts djangled the nerves. It felt like an amateur YouTube video where contributors slip in unrelated cuts of music and images, without regard to the story. David Frost called out-of-context media the Lord Privy Seal effect.

Likewise, accidental appearances of modern devices aren’t included here. For example, some sharp-eyed viewer noticed a security camera high on the veranda of the antebellum mansion.

Time Warped

  1. The movie contained the famous bust of Nefertiti, incorrectly referred to as Cleopatra. It wasn’t discovered until 1907. (I learned of Nefertiti as a child. My mother gave my father a bust for his birthday. I mean she gave him a statuette.)
  2. Teddy Bears, associated with President Teddy Roosevelt, wouldn't appear until the 1900s.
  3. Thousand-dollar bills weren’t issued until 1861.
  4. The Confederacy had not been formed and the Civil War had not begun, so Confederate uniforms wouldn't have existed in 1858.
  5. Likewise, the Ku Klux Klan didn’t group until the end of the Civil War.
  6. The town of Lubbock didn't exist until 1890, well after the American Civil War.
  7. The word malarkey came out of the 1920-1930s.
  8. Für Elise famously wasn’t discovered until 1867, four decades after Beethoven’s death and nine years after the movie’s period.
  9. The song ‘In the Sweet By and By’ was published in 1868, a decade after the movie.
  10. Flip-top beer bottles may or may not have been a German innovation, but at least in the US, they weren’t patented until 1875.
  11. Beer pumps were first noted in the UK in 1691 and patented a century later in 1785, but this methodology of draught beer only became popular in the mid 1900s.
  12. Drinking straws made of paper were invented in 1888.
  13. While cigarette holders were introduced in the 1700s, they didn’t become popular until the flapper era through the 1970s.
  14. Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel in 1864 and patented in 1867.
  15. Hearing aids weren’t invented until the 1900’s and miniature aids didn’t appear until the latter half of the 20th century.
  16. Attendant to the previous, the first primitive plastics weren’t introduced until 1907 and materials suitable for hearing aids and chin straps took another half century to come about.
  17. Even some guns were out of place and time.
    1. The Remington New Model Army revolver, used by Django and Billy Crash, weren’t manufactured until 1860.
    2. The Remington double-barreled Derringer, used by Django and Dr. Shultz, weren’t manufactured until 1866.

    Bonus Points

    Sharon caught most of the following:

  18. Cool looking sunglasses and contacts weren’t available in 1858.
  19. Hats with cord locks and eyelets were a 20th century invention.
  20. Likewise, trousers with belt loops weren’t an 1850s convenience.

I can’t think of another movie that flooded the screen with historical inaccuracies. What about you? Do you have such a film in mind?


  1. Well, it sounds like that one makes the top 10. "Gladiator" ranks - for one thing, Commodus did not die in the ring fighting a gladiator.

    1. Eve, if the movie hadn't had so many errors, we could forgive one or two that were close. Perhaps Nobel had shared his secret blow-up formula or one of the slaves invented hand-pullled beer bumps. But to miss by centuries? That's not forgivable. Perhaps we should have a Commodus award for most egregious anachronism abuse.

  2. Elizabeth Dearborn02 July, 2023 11:04

    A couple of nights ago we watched "In the Name of the King" made in 2007, but we saw it on YouTube (I think) under another name. I'm not sure what time period it was supposed to take place in, but I did hear a phone ringing in the movie although didn't see a single phone, TV, car, or anything from even close to modern times.

    1. A phone! Wow, Elizabeth, and no one on the set noticed? Or cared? That's wild.

      In one of John Wayne's movies, someone wears a wristwatch and I think another showed a car in the background. In a Lee Van Cleef Western, supposedly modern electrical poles are visible. I didn't notice them myself.

    2. I think the classic is the jet trail going over Matt Dillon's head in 'Gunsmoke'. But that's on the Cinematographer, not the writer.

  3. Reading this, I'm just thinking how an author would be crucified for making errors like that! I remember when my first book was published, I was very careful to be accurate about the Roman legion I was describing in Britain, and lo and behold, a prof/scholar did contact me to confirm that I was in the right ballpark, and he was pleased about that. Readers will correct you every time!

    1. Excellent, Melodie. Referring to my friend Sharon again, she reads/writes romance. She caught a problem by one of her favorite authors about a 1950s/1960s car she was very familiar with. (No, I don't know if she spent a lot of time in front seats or back seats.) If I'm not confusing this with another incident, I believe she found the author highly defensive about it.

      In my first published story, I wrote of Seminole chickees, an Indian swamp hut built on stilts. Not long after, I saw a commentary by Partricia Cornwell that some people didn't know how to spell chikee. Hmm.You say tipi, I say teepee.

  4. Loved this, Leigh! And I agree with you and Sharon. Distracting!

    1. Thanks, John. I found some of the errors oddly amusing. You can't have Civil War uniforms until you've had a Civil War. You can't have a post-war Klan until the war has ended. Those errors remind me of mystery stories where a will or artifact dated prior to 1939 refers to World War I. Oops.

  5. I know, Leigh, and it's not like you couldn't look it up in 2 minutes, tops!

  6. I'll mention my favorite again, bar stools were not invented until late nineteenth century and not common until the 1920s. I don't remember if "Django Unchained" had bar stools in circa 1860, but many movies do and far too many newbie "historical" novels. I seriously need to watch it again, just to look for these!


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