Whether one looks at comic books, fiction or film, firearms play a huge part in geek culture. In fact, there’s an entire web site dedicated to document who carried what.
As alternative to my usual screeds, this feature will take a look at some of these iconic weapons – focusing on their real-world performance rather than in-universe function. If there’s something you want to know more about, be sure to mention it in the comments.
This week we will look at an iconic weapon that nevertheless has no official name: Deckard’s “blaster pistol” from the original Blade Runner.
A Futuristic Detective Special
To properly appreciate Blade Runner, one must understand that it is a sci-fi version of film noir. Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard plays the classic role of a jaded detective reluctantly taking on a tough case. To do that, he needs a trusty sidearm suitable for discrete carry.
In old films, the default choice was a snub-nosed revolver, usually a .38 Special. Of course, Deckard isn’t going against ordinary gunsels, he’s facing super-human replicants. He needs something with a little extra punch.
He needs a Charter Arms Bulldog.
The Bulldog was a response to rising crime rates in the 1970s and the perceived need for increased firepower to combat it. While one can (and some do) fire .357 Magnums out of short revolvers, it is a singularly unpleasant experience. The Charter Arms Bulldog offered a clear increase in stopping power over the .38 Special without the Magnum’s extreme noise and felt recoil (though it is no peach to shoot, as we’ll see below).
Crime experts will note that this was the weapon of choice for the Son of Sam murderer.
The Prop Gun: Lets Add Random Crap
Much of sci-fi prop work is centered around breaking up a familiar outline, and Deckard’s blaster got this on steroids. A second trigger assembly was added, along with a bolted-on barrel shroud and an aggressive new grip. All of this combines to make the resulting prop all but unrecognizable as a 1970s vintage revolver.
In film noir, a detective never idly waves his piece around. He keeps it hidden until he really needs it and then uses it with decisive (and usually fatal) results.
So it is in Blade Runner. When Deckard pulls his gun, either someone’s going to die or we’re about to learn something crucial to the story. To put it another way, Deckard’s gun doesn’t have a name because it doesn’t need a name. It’s Deckard’s gun and that’s all you need to know.
The White Elephant Caliber
The Bulldog is a fairly conventional revolver, and the .44 Special version used by Deckard has a standard 3-inch barrel.
While shooting it is milder than firing a .357 Magnum from a revolver of similar dimensions, it is still unpleasant. The recoil is significant and the muzzle flash is quite impressive. The Bulldog has a formidable bark.
It’s also quite large for a concealed pistol, and when I owned one many years ago, I also opted for a cross-draw carry rig because it was more comfortable.
I eventually got rid of it not only because of its size and weight, but also because .44 Special ammunition is ridiculously expensive. In theory, .44 Special should cost less than .44 Magnum, just as .38 Special is cheaper than .357 Magnum, but that’s not the case. In fact, some versions of .44 Special ammunition actually cost more than the equivalent cartridges in .44 Magnum.
Put simply, the Bulldog is something of a white elephant, particularly in an era where one can readily find smaller, more comfortable sub-compact auto-loaders in .45 ACP.
Charter Arms went out of business, and a successor company revived the name and the pistol, so they are not hard to find nor particularly expensive – though original vintage models in good condition will naturally cost more.
Let us know what you think in the comments!