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Case Number 12077: Small Claims Court

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The History Of The Machine Gun

FocusFilm Entertainment // 2007 // 140 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // September 19th, 2007

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The Charge

This is the story of technological innovation, of industrial revolution and political power.

The Case

The History of the Machine Gun is much, much more than the story of one of the world's deadliest inventions. It's a virtual timeline of man's history of violence from the mid-19th century to the present, which makes this DVD's 9/11 street date conspicuous but no less eerie.

For more than 140 years, semiautomatic weapons have been reshaping the strategies of war both abroad and at home. The Gatling gun, invented in 1861, is widely regarded as the first machine gun. The six-barreled, hand-cranked weapon designed by Dr. Richard Gatling could fire 200 rounds per minute, impressive for its time.

The weapon was advanced by engineer Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, founder of the Maxim Gun Company, who invented the belt feed to continually feed ammunition to the gun, and later by John Moses Browning, who developed the first gas-operated machine gun. His M2 Browning is still used today.

This exhaustive documentary from The Discovery Channel tracks the weapon from its Civil War beginnings and follows it as it gains widespread use in Europe. With the machine gun, Britain took over North India, Burma, and Tibet; Russia took over the Caucasus, Siberia, and Central Asia; and the United States took over Cuba and the Philippines. Later, during the Vietnam War, the machine gun was mounted on aircraft, firing 5,800 rounds per minute on unsuspecting people below, including many civilians.

Meanwhile, the first hand-held machine gun, the Thompson submachine gun ("Tommy gun") was invented by General John T. Thompson. The gun was popularized by Al Capone and became known as a gangster's gun. In 1926, it was issued to Chicago police as a way of beating the gangsters at their own game.

If all this makes The History of the Machine Gun sound like a clinical study, please understand that it is not. In three impeccably researched, 47-minute episodes ("White Smoking Devil," "The Gun Comes Home," and "The Age of the A.K."), the documentary captures the weapon's entire violent story. Each episode contains interviews both expected (university scholars, noted historians, weapons experts) and unexpected (writer/director John Milius, Soldier of Fortune writer Peter Kokalis), and the weapon's sprawling history comes to life through an astonishing trove of vintage film footage, contemporary news clips, and stills.

The producers have interviewed tearful war veterans and Vietnamese and Somalian civilians—firsthand witnesses to the destruction these weapons are capable of wreaking. In doing so, they have uncovered the humanity in what could have been a cold look at one of the deadliest weapons of all time. The stories their subjects share are compelling and frightening reminders of how pulling one trigger can change the world.

Never flashy, but always vastly informative, this documentary will be a rewarding purchase for weapons enthusiasts and history buffs.

The History of the Machine Gun is presented in its original full-frame format with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio. The package does not include subtitles and has no extra features.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: FocusFilm Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• Discovery Channel

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