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I’m blowing off a little steam tonight, watching the SyFy network, with one of their original movies – an updating of the Phantom franchise as what was apparently a two-part miniseries – as the video equivalent of cotton candy (no nutritional value). I’m in the middle of this live-action comic book, when the faithful family retainer tells the 22nd Kit Walker all about his daddy’s guns. “They’re a Colt 1911,” he says, and opens a case to reveal what are clearly marked as Springfield Armory 1911s. (Note to Springfield Armory: next time you boys in P.R. are gonna do a product placement in a movie, you might want to make sure the script doesn’t mention your competitors, even when showing your products.) The faithful retainer goes on to say “custom modified to chamber a 451 Magnum instead of the standard .45 ACP.” Um wait a tick…four fifty ONE Magnum? Whaaa?

Turns out there is such a beast. Or was. A company called Detonics wanted to solve the conundrum of how to get more power out of the venerable .45 Semi-Auto in it’s best Browning form. The problem? With the cartridges stored in grip-enclosed magazine, there’s no room at the inn for a larger/longer round. The brass in that short of a cartridge just can’t handle much extra pressure. That’s where the fine folks at the dearly departed Detonics came in. Note this explanation from The Reload Bench:

451 Detonics

Historical Notes:

Various mechanical features of the Colt M1911 A1 auto pistol have prevented any significant ballistic advantage in the cartridges it chambers. One of these weaknesses is that a portion of the cartridge head is unsupported so operating pressures are dictated by the strength of that portion of the case. The 45 Winchester Magnum has a substantially stronger case head and dimensions identical to the 45 ACP except for greater length. In their search for a more potent 45 caliber round for their 45 caliber pistols, the Detonics Mfg. Co. decided to take advantage of this by trimming the 45 Winchester Magnum from its normal length of 1.198 inches to that of .942 inch. This is still sufficiently longer than the 45 ACP so that the 451 Detonics cartridge will not chamber in handguns intended for the 45 ACP. The newly created case will handle much higher pressures than the original 45 ACP and still function through actions of the same length. Detonics not only chambered their Scoremaster and Combat Master semi-auto pistols for the 451 Detonics, they also offered a conversion kit for the Colt Government, Gold Cup, and Commander pistols. The cartridge was introduced in 1983 and Detonics furnished empty cases headstamped 451 Det/Mag. Alternately, cases can be made from cut down 308 Winchester brass. The Detonics company has since gone out of business. Brass in this caliber is no longer available.

General Comments:

The idea of a more powerful 45 ACP cartridge has long intrigued 45 auto buffs. The 451 Detonics was a viable solution to what has heretofore been an insoluble problem. A 185 grain bullet at 1353 fps and a 200 grain at 1281 fps is a significant boost to the usual 45 ACP performance of a 230 grain at 850 fps. Recoil at this top loading gets rather heavy, so most users of the 451 will want to stay below the top loads. The 451 Detonics is a good self defense or field cartridge for small game or varmint shooting.

Note that the 451 Detonics cartridge ends up about the same size as a .45ACP. Otherwise, it wouldn’t run in the gun. Which makes the next line of dialog seem kinda like…um…I dunno…maybe something some boneheaded writer came up with for “dramatic impact”? Faithful Retainer sez “The only downside is reduced capacity – 6 in the magazine and 1 in the chamber…which is why the Phantom always carries two.” Pistols, I mean. A 451 would be, what, 1/1000th of an inch bigger than a .45? Can’t a modern .38 Special also handle .357 Magnums? Methinks a lazy scriptwriter juiced the truth to add some drama to the scene.

Here’s the problem. I’m far from a ballistics expert. Nor am I a gun nut. But I am a thinker, and the more I learn about guns the less able I am to give movies and TV shows a “willing suspension of disbelief.” I’m not unacquainted with this phenomenon. I’m a musician, and I gotta tell you, going to a symphony orchestra performance is no joy-ride. Once you are hip to things like “intonation,” “phrasing” and “technique,” it opens your eyes to a crapalicious performance that once would have been easy to hear without objection. I used to enjoy action pictures. Now – I’m sitting in the theatre, counting rounds between reloads. But I guess it could be worse. I just hope I don’t end up being that guy writing in to Entertainment Weekly complaining that there’s no difference in capacity between a 1911 designed for .45ACP and one modified to handle the Detonics 451. Oh, wait…

As the movie continues, Our Hero goes out to the range. He finds that he can’t hit the side of a barn with a 451 Magnum-powered 1911. That is, until it takes off his eye and ear protection. Then he’s friggin’ Rob Leatham. He can’t miss. Of course, he can’t hear either, but in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream. Or something.

So I’m not sure…can I take my eyes off this ballistic train wreck of a show, or should I just go to bed and save my brain cells. Decisions, decisions…

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  1. I just got to that scene you described in your article and I had to pause it and Google ‘.451 Magnum’. This whole scene was definitely cringe-worthy. Not just because of what you said but because of the breaking of two of the most important safety practices, finger on the trigger and muzzle discipline. Plus the primer-less round and purple framed 1911’s were a bit annoying too.
    Of course it is a SyFy production and since that abortion of a Flash Gordon TV Series I’ve come to expect nothing from them.

  2. Waiting to get the actual movie from netflix. So I haven’t seen the clip in the actual movie yet. But… Whatever they may be marked, Springfield, Colt. Whatever. The picture of the purple 1911s on imdb is DEFINITELY showing 2 Taurus 1911s. The serrations just didnt look right for Springfields. The pistols in the picture based on slide serrations and picantilly rail are PT 1911s. Why can’t movies just call them 1911s and be done with it. Guys who look at this stuff know IMMEDIATELY when they flub on the manufacturer. The all have their own distinctive marks!

  3. Ok. Finally saw the movie. Vandermaark definitely calls Kit/Chris’s dad’s guns Colt 1911s and then when the camera pans over the box they are Springfield Armory GI 1911s. I thought it was kinda messed up to go hard at describing them as Colt 1911s bored out for .451 Winchester. Why spend that much description on the guns that are seen for like 5 seconds. Then they dont say anthing other than “I always loved your fathers guns but we had to upgrade our arsenal” about the Purple “Movie Gun” Taurus 1911s.

  4. Additionally, after Kit takes off his ear protectors for the rest of the movie he does not miss one shot. What the hell? I get that he is good, but Really? There were just some goofy things that needed to be thought out. Like: Why does the 22nd Phantom Tac Suit not have holsters!? He is the Phantom, that’s part of the costume. Bapp Thap? What does that mean and why even name the organization if youre not going to explain it. I guess with a 4 hour miniseries you would think that they could explain things to make it gel better. Billy Zane’s Phantom was pretty good and I hoped this could come close. Not so.

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