BangBang Cinema: Aces ‘n Eights

Is there anything more American than a Western? The open expanse of untamed, lawless country. Self-reliant men [reluctantly] standing up for what’s right. A gun on every hip. And a story line so predictable it makes Little Red Riding Hood seem like a Harold Pinter play. The latest addition to the genre: Aces ‘N Eights. The Western stars Casper Van Dien as Luke Rivers, an ex-gun hand who hung up his nickel plated .45 in exchange for the quiet life of a farmer. Guess how that goes? In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d seen it all before. And? You gotta problem with that?

Working alongside Bruce Boxleitner’s D.C. Cracker, Rivers wants nothing more than to be left alone. Needless to say, the railroad plans to slice through their refuge. When the locals refuse to sell their land for the price on offer, Howard (the heavy) employs a group of malicious gunmen to take up “negotiations.”

Needless to say II, when the locals refuse to be bullied, the lead gun (Tate, played by Jeff Kober) gathers his men and murders the settlers standing in the way. Rivers is not 100 percent with the negotiating technique. He and his best bud gird for battle.

The guns on display are the usual suspects. There are plenty of Colt Single Action Army models there for the ogling, and the famous Colt Peacemaker does what it says on the label. The weapons appear in a variety of grips (walnut and bone) in a number of barrel lengths; the most common looks to be the 5.5in model.

In the climax, Tate wields a short barreled break-top revolver, probably a Schofield. A few of the men interspersed in the crowd carry the popular 1875 Army revolver. On the rifle front, farmhand Noah wields a Sharps Cavalry Carbine. Firearms fans can feast their eyes on a number of Winchester 1873 lever actions – the quintessential “cowboy rifle.”

Early in the film we also see the Henry 1860 Repeating Rifle and it’s successor, the Winchester 1866 Golden Boy. Just in case you’re wondering what the differences are visually, the 1860 lacks a handguard, though otherwise they’re very similar. The differences from the 1866 to the 1873? Ditch the brass receiver and gain a cover over the ejection port.

A double barreled shotgun also plays a prominent role; it has two external hammers. Other than that, all I can tell you is that it starts off a full length piece and ends up smaller and far more manageable.

In terms of weapon handling, Aces N’ Eights is consistent with the time period – lots of one handed shooting. Unfortunately, Casper Van Dien’s Rivers is a fanner.

Fanning—holding the trigger depressed while rapidly slapping the hammer down to fire the weapon—is a stupid idea. Primarily, any thought of accuracy goes out the window. Secondly, the technique is not good for your gun. Messing up your gun is a good way to lose your life.

Both Rivers and his buddy Cracker shoot from the hip. Even with practice, firing from the hip is a particularly lousy way to hit what you’re shooting at. Not that you’d know it. In one scene, RIvers fires his .45 LC (Long Colt, not to be confused with modern ACP ammo) in one hand while shooting the 12 gauge sawn off with his other.

It’s a technique that’s best avoided if you value the bones in your wrist. Or your appearance. Firing big guns with one hand tends to kick the barrel back at your face. As if you didn’t know.

As you’d expect, you never have to wait too long for a gun to come into play. Unfortunately, most of them are of the ‘bad guys murdering civilians’ type. The climactic shoot out involves sixteen or twenty men (you know, in all this excitement . . .).

Much of the shooting in this climax is unsatisfying. All the players are more occupied with looking cool than firing with any degree of accuracy. Real gunman like Wild Bill were known to have made accurate shots at 65 feet (20+ yards) because they took the time to aim.

Another gripe: when a revolver is spent, shooters spin the cylinder. You hear the expended rounds clink to the ground. In the real world, cases tend to expand after being fired and are thus rather snug in the cylinder. Hence the extractor rod.

By the same token, loading, emptying and reloading a single action handgun is a relatively time intensive process. Reloading in a fire fight means you’re not shooting and if you’re not shooting you’re in trouble. That’s why most hired guns carried at least two revolvers. Not so here,

Aces n Eights is a cookie-cutter Western whose main attraction lies in watching new actors do the same old shit. Ditto the gunplay, right down to the mistakes and misrepresentations. I guess asking the producers to try something new while remaining faithful to something old was a bridge too far. Or something along those lines.

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