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A Colt Python, Charles Russhon & The Man with the Golden Gun

To my family and friends, it’s no secret that I’m a lifelong fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and the films that followed. I spent many late nights in college riveted to Fleming’s prose when I should have been asleep, and I’ve seen the movies more times than I can count. While Fleming died long before I was born, I have met people who knew the writer. I have shaken hands with people who shook the hand of Ian Fleming!

As Director of Skinner’s Historic Arms & Militaria department, I am fortunate to be able to work with wonderful historic material. My primary historical interests have always centered around the French and Indian War and American Revolution, but as an avid target sports competitor, I appreciate more modern firearms just the same. At Skinner we handle significant quantities of arms from all eras, but one recent consignment piqued my interest like no other.

It all started late one Thursday afternoon when I was contacted by a gentleman who told me that he had a Colt Python revolver connected to the movie The Man with the Golden Gun. My initial reaction was one of cautious skepticism, but I was at the same time excited by the possibility that at long last I might be able to handle a firearm connected in some way with a Bond film. I of course wasted no time in returning the telephone call. What I learned during several subsequent conversations and additional research into the gun’s original owner and how the present owner acquired the Python was astounding.

Colt Python Double-action Revolver Acquired for the James Bond Film, The Man with the Golden Gun. Lot 190 in the October 29, 2021 Historic Arms & Militaria auction with an estimate of $4,000-6,000.

The Colt Python double-action revolver was shipped from the Colt Factory March 25, 1974, to R.C.B.S. Gun Shop, Oroville, California, for “Mr. Roushon [sic].”  “Mr. Roushon” was the legendary military liaison and technical advisor to the James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s, Charles Russhon.  Charles Russhon (March 23, 1911-June 26, 1982) was a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel who served in the China-Burma-India theater of World War II and was the first American to photograph Hiroshima after the atomic bomb attack in 1945. He had a reputation as a man who could accomplish the impossible. In this capacity, using his extensive connections within American and international politics, Russhon served as an indispensable (but usually uncredited) advisor on at least five James Bond films spanning From Russian with Love to Live and let Die. For the 1964 film From Russia with Love, he negotiated with Turkish authorities to arrange permission for the movie’s production team to film several key locations in Istanbul. Using his connections within the United States government and personal connections at the White House, Russhon secured permission from the U.S. Army and four other government agencies to allow key scenes in the movie Goldfinger to be filmed in and around the U.S. Army base at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  In addition, he was able to secure free use of several Piper aircraft that were used by Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus aerial acrobats that planned to release nerve gas over the base to disable the military forces allowing Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) to render useless the gold within the gold depository. As a subtle note of thanks for his extraordinary efforts, the film crew mounted a sign on one of the base’s buildings that read “Welcome to Fort Knox Gen. Russhon” which is visible in a scene prior to the attack. Charles Russhon is credited as a Technical Advisor in the film’s closing credits.

Charles Russhon was one of the most important advisors to the classic James Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s. [Source, Wikipedia]

For the 1965 film Thunderball, Charles Russhon once again used his connections to enable the film makers to produce some of the most iconic scenes in series’ over half-century history. He used his connections in the U.S. Army to secure the use of a Bell Rocket belt that James Bond (Sean Connery) used to escape Jacques Boitier’s (Bob Simon) chateau in the film’s pre-title sequence. Russhon acquired over $90,000 worth of free scuba diving equipment from AMF (American Machine Foundry) for use in the underwater battles. He arranged for U.S. Air Force combat divers to parachute into the sea and the U.S. Coast Guard to participate in the final battle sequences in the film. And in the final scene where James Bond (Sean Connery) and Dominique “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger) are whisked away from the life raft, it was Charles Russhon who arranged for the U.S. Navy’s experimental “Skyhook” rescue system to be used to dramatic effect. Charles Russhon appears in the film (uncredited) as the American Air Force officer seen leaning on a desk in a scene where M (Bernard Lee), Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), and government officials are listening to a recording where Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (voiced by Eric Pohlmann) makes his ransom demand for the return of stolen nuclear missiles.

Russhon used his military connections in Japan to help secure transportation of film crews and equipment to remote locations during the production of You Only Live Twice. He also used his connections to enable Gyrojet firearms into the United Kingdom when filming scenes for the film at Pinewood Studios. And using his connections within the New York City police department Russhon arranged for the department’s cooperation so that important scenes in the 1973 film Live and Let Die could be filmed in Manhattan. Charles Russhon’s ability to make the seemingly impossible possible, earned him the nickname “Mr. Fixit” from James Bond actor Roger Moore.

The consignor first met Charles and Claire Russhon in the late 1960s while working as Secretary of the Air Force’s Office of Public Affairs in New York City.  Charles, a retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel, was a frequent visitor to the office and the two were closely involved in several projects.

Shortly after Charles Russhon’s death in late June 1982, his wife, Claire, reached out to the consignor, a close friend of the Russhons, to help her disperse a large collection of firearms he had amassed during his career. In appreciation for his efforts, Claire offered the consignor any firearm he wished as a gift. He chose a Colt Python revolver since he did not have an example of that caliber firearm in his collection to which Clair replied “oh, Charlie told me he got that one specifically for The Man with the Golden Gun.”

Man with the Golden Gun movie poster
[Source, IMDB/Eon Productions]

While no official printed or online sources mention Charles Russhon’s involvement with the filming of The Man with the Golden Gun, his intimate connection to numerous James Bond films is well documented, including The Man with the Golden Gun’s predecessor, Live and Let Die. His work to obtain firearms for the films is also documented through his efforts to bring Gyrojet arms into England for You Only Live Twice.

The Man with the Golden Gun, released December 19, 1974, is the ninth film in the Bond series and centers around James Bond’s (Roger Moore) assignment to retrieve a highly efficient device for transforming sunlight into useable energy that has the potential to solve a world-wide energy crisis. The device is controlled by classic Bond villain, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). Principal filming began in early April 1974 at locations in Thailand and Hong Kong. Filming moved to Pinewood Studios in England in late June. In late July the interior scenes of Scaramanga’s island were filmed. While there were a large number makes and models of firearm used throughout the film, the only scene where a Colt Python revolver is seen is in Francisco Scaramanga’s “Fun House” where he would hire professional killers to come to his island lair to attempt to kill him as a way of keeping himself trained as a keen shot. In the pre-title sequence, Scaramanga enters his home to find a Chicago-style gangster (Mark Lawrence) waiting in ambush to kill him and collected a sizeable reward. Just as the gangster is about to shoot Scaramanga, Scaramanga’s servant, Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), turns off the lights in the room forcing the gangster and Scaramanga to search for each other in a darkened room. Soon Scaramanga tosses a weight to distract the gangster and then leaps toward a built-in wall cabinet holding a large collection of handguns mounted horizontally inside. A brief close up shot of the cabinet at approximately 4 minutes, 8 to 9 seconds into the film reveals through a wire mesh door a view of three revolvers above two ornately decorated flintlock pistols. The revolvers are a nickel-plated Colt Detective Special, a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Model 29, and partially obscured by the frames of the opposing closed doors, a Colt Python. In the scene the Python’s walnut grip is plainly recognizable with the thumb recess at the top, the gold Colt medallion, grip screw hole, and outline of the checkering all visible. The frame and cylinder are visible up to just forward of the trigger guard. The hammer appears to be bright, and the rear sight is visible. The closed door frame obscures most of the barrel, but the muzzle and underlug can be seen projecting just beyond nearly touching the butt of the Detective Special. The Python appears to have a 6-inch barrel.

Still from the Man with the Golden Gun showing the close up of the three revolvers in Scaramanga’s cabinet.  The Colt Python is partially obscured by the door frames.
[Source, Internet Movie Firearms Database]

The Colt Detective Special and Python revolvers are both pointing to the left. The lighting in the scene is filtered red, subdued and moderately strong shadows are evident. In such lighting, the position of the handgun with respect to the direction of the light source has a great impact on the gun’s surface appearance. While most of the Detective Special’s surface appears quite dark, it is clear from highlights on some of the rounded areas of the cylinder and barrel that the gun has a nickel-plated surface. The Python, also orientated in the same direction and further blocked by the door frames, also appears to have a generally dark surface, but brighter highlights appear on the trigger guard, cylinder, top of the frame and muzzle. The Smith & Wesson, on the other hand, which is pointed to the right, catches the light in an entirely different way and virtually every surface of the firearm is bright.

Even minor changes in angle and intensity of auction studio lighting have dramatic effects on the surface appearance of the revolver.

This brief two-second sequence is the only time a Colt Python revolver is visible in The Man with the Golden Gun. Admittedly, I can’t state with certainty that the Python seen in the film and the one that belonged to Mr. Russhon is one and the same. Regardless of how one interprets the lighting and its effect on the Python in the film, the history of the revolver offered as Lot 190 of Skinner’s October 29 Historic Arms & Militaria auction as described by Russhon’s wife is tantalizing. The date it was acquired by Russhon corresponds well with the movie’s filming timeline. The fact that Charles Russhon was a person whom the series producers could rely upon to acquire unique items and get them to locations is well documented. Above all, the Python was owned by one of the most influential advisors to the classic James Bond films of the 1960s and early 1970s. Were it not for Russhon’s connections, many of the most iconic sequences in the entire film series may have never happened. For me at least, I’m thrilled to have made another tangible connection to the fantastic world of James Bond.

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