Thell Reed, Hollywood's Fastest Hand

By Gregg Kilday
Updated February 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

The Quick and the Dead

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  • Movie
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Greased lightning has nothing on the quick-draw artists who populate The Quick and the Dead — why, they’re so fast the camera can’t keep up-yet the very best, the certified genuine ”Fastest Gun Alive,” doesn’t show his stuff in Sam Raimi’s jokey ode to the six-shooter. Thell Reed, who first claimed the title in 1958, worked behind the scenes as the movie’s armorer and gun coach.

For Reed, 52, happiness truly is a warm gun, and The Quick and the Dead, whose title decribes the only two varieties of gunslinger, well, ”It’s the ultimate dream movie,” he says.

Reed’s first task was to round up an arsenal fit for close-ups of killers cleaning their weapons. ”It was Sam’s vision,” says Reed. ”He did a lot of research himself and he allowed me to get guns from the era, 1878.” Some are antiques, others Italian-made replicas engraved to Reed’s specifications. The palm-size revolver with which Sharon Stone arms herself for a date with Gene Hackman is known as a Knuckleduster. ”I found it at a Las Vegas gun show. It’s very rare,” says Reed, who’s seen them go for $3,000. ”It has a hole in its grip, so you can turn it around and smack someone. Gamblers liked them because they could drop them in their vest pockets.”

Having toured with Gene Autry, worked on classic TV oaters like Gunsmoke, and served as a police instructor, Reed has been back in demand in Hollywood ever since 1992’s Unforgiven triggered a new burst of Westerns. He coached Val Kilmer and Michael Biehn on Tombstone and Jeff Bridges on the upcoming Wild Bill. For Sharon Stone and company, Reed taught that most gunfighters wore their holsters high on their hip rather than strapped to a leg as so many TV cowpokes have done. He then walked the actors through a series of martial arts-like moves. ”I teach smoothness and style,” he says, ”and the speed comes by itself.”

Episode Recaps

Stone began her lessons three months prior to filming. According to Reed, ”with her hips and stuff, she’d complain that things got in the way,” but in the end she made the grade. ”The scene where she fans off three shots, she did that in one take and that’s hard to do.” He tactfully refuses to rank the cast on speed. ”There was talk (of) a fast-draw contest. But they decided no, because somebody might get mad and they might have to work together again sometime.”

The Quick and the Dead

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  • Movie
genre
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