Today, we enter the Think Tank to do battle with guns while holding a baby. Read the entries and vote for your favorite at the end.
Sheely, Battleship Potemkin and The Untouchables
The greatest gunfight (while holding a baby) is actually one in which no one is holding the baby:
Although the famous Odessa Steps scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin is considered a cinematic milestone largely because of Eisenstein’s groundbreaking use of montage techniques, it also deserves special mention for being the first baby-centric-gunfight in the history of film. Of course, to call the (possibly fictional) confrontation between the Tsar’s Cossak troops and the crowd that had gathered for a demonstration on the Odessa steps a “gunfight” is also a misnomer. Rather, the central point of Eisenstein’s depiction of the event is that the soldiers provoked the riot by using deadly force to disperse a peaceful demonstration. As the baby carriage hurtles down the stairs, it is impossible to doubt that this is a regime is willing to pull guns when the citizens challenge its legitimacy at all — because that’s the Odessa way.
If this scene looks eerily familiar, but you aren’t a connoisseur of Soviet propaganda films (or have never taken an intro film studies class), that is probably because a stroller rolling down the stairs is central to another famous filmic gunfight…
Given that I already broke the rules by choosing a gunfight in which no one is holding a baby, why push my luck by picking not one but two scenes? Because Brian De Palma’s famous train station gunfight in The Untouchables is no mere homage; it features a nearly identical situation, but produces the exact opposite meaning. Whereas the role of the baby in Potemkin was to draw attention the unhinged brutality of the Russian government, the presence of the stroller in the shootout in The Untouchables tells us that although Capone’s thugs will willingly endanger a child, the government agents have the restraint necessary to both immobilize the criminals while still ensuring the safety of the child.
Taken together, these two scenes demonstrate the janus-faced nature of the coercive capacity of the state, and the power of this comparison rests on the common element in the two scenes-the helpless baby in a stroller. What these gunfights reveal is that we are all just innocents sliding inexorably to our doom, waiting for Andy Garcia and Kevin Costner to save us at the last possible moment.
Belinkie, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
I will leave it to legal scholars to debate whether a fight in which only one person uses a gun constitutes a gunfight. To me, one gun is enough to qualify. And it definitely qualifies if that gun is perhaps the most powerful handgun ever depicted on film: the Big Baby.
This is a shotgun that fires shells the size of your fist. Plus, it’s probably constructed out of enchanted steel and blessed by the Pope, since this is Hellboy we’re talking about.
Perich, Series 7: The Contenders
Series 7: The Contenders is a 2001 movie that wavers between “just clever enough” and “too clever for its own good.” It stars Brooke Smith, whom most folks recognize as the kidnap victim from Silence of the Lambs. But apparently she’s had recurring roles in Grey’s Anatomy, Weeds and Crossing Jordan, as well.
You can watch Series 7: The Contenders online completely legally – Google hosts it! The gunfight in question is the absolute first scene:
I picked this one for two reasons:
- The woman involved (Brooke Smith) is “holding” a baby in that she’s eight months pregnant. This subverts the traditional trope of “gunfighter holding baby,” which plays up the contrast between a shooter willing to throw themselves in harm’s way and the baby they have to protect. If you’re pregnant, then you protect the unborn child by protecting yourself. There’s no dichotomy anymore. Stay behind cover – or, in this case, ambush someone cleverly – and both you and the baby stay safe.
- The gunfight in question is shockingly brief. It’s a deliberate deconstruction of the Hollywood notion of a gunfight. Rather than people standing in broad daylight plugging away (American-style), or leather-clad assassins flinging themselves across rooms (Hong Kong-style), the attacker stalks up on the victim and puts one in his shirt, followed by one in his face. That’s cold. That’s a convenience store execution worthy of The Wire. And that’s real.
This raises the question: is it strictly fair to label a deconstructionist take on “gunfight with baby” the best gunfight with a baby? It’s a lot like calling Unforgiven the greatest Western or Watchmen the greatest comic book – they only work because they have generations of prior media to reflect on and take apart. I guess it’s up to the voters to decide!
The best gunfight holding a baby has gotta be the final battle in Willow. You’ve got evil queen Bavmorda against Willow Upgood, who until this point in the story has been thoroughly overshadowed by his taller, more powerful friends. Willow, clutching the destined infant Elora Danan, does battle with the wicked queen and brings peace to — whatever bizarre world Willow takes place in.
What, you say the battle in Willow isn’t a gunfight? Well, HA! I’m not holding a baby! It’s just a bunch of rocks! Now, evaporate yourself with lightning! The old disappearing pig trick — works every time.
Stokes, Hard Boiled
The best gunfight while holding a baby comes from John Woo’s Hard Boiled. Of course, it helps that Hard Boiled isn’t just some middling action movie that they tarted up by throwing in a shootout with a baby: it was already the greatest action movie of all time before they tarted it up by throwing in a shootout with a baby. In the 90 second clip below, John Woo offers a master class in the cinema of badass:
The lessons I draw from this are three:
- Set your movie in a hospital. While Eisenstein (that hack) forces his audience to accept that a baby carriage just happens
to be perched at the top of that particular staircase, the presence of the baby in Hard Boiled is completely justified. And hospitals have more to offer a budding auteur than just babies alone! Perhaps your climactic fight scene will require a defibrillator, or a cylinder of oxygen, or a stack of year-old magazines. Perhaps it will even require a baby to climb around on any one of these three objects! Either way, the hospital has you covered.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of proper ear protection. Before Inspector “Tequila” Yuen commences to blasting fools, he carefully packs the baby’s ears with gauze. As a result, the child’s delicate inner ear is protected from irreversible hearing damage. It’s this attention to detail that sets John Woo apart from other filmmakers. (Attention to detail… and hospitals. Because where did he get the gauze? That’s right.) Now compare that to the other movies on this list: The baby in Potemkin totally dies, and with her surrogate father treating her like a pig, Elora Danan is going to grow up with an eating disorder.
- Always link to the German language version of the youtube video. German makes everything more badass.
Shana, Children of Men
Here’s the scene. Unfortunately, there’s no embedding allowed, so just click through to youtube to watch.
Though I haven’t seen all of the other films on this list, I’m pretty confident that Alfonso Cuaron’s epic Children of Men has the best baby-related gunfight by far. Why?
1. The fight is realistic.
Although Children of Men takes place in a postapocalyptic future in which the world’s women are infertile, Cuaron went out of his way to film the movie in a super-naturalistic manner. Many scenes have no cuts and are filmed with only one hand-held camera, and the special effects are, for the most part, done without computer animation. Cuaron and his art director and cinematographer went out of their way to create a world that was slightly different from ours but wholly believable.
Which brings us to our baby fight scene. The seven and a half minute scene is done with no cuts. The setting is obviously meant to bring to mind urban fighting in, oh, I don’t know, Baghdad. And in this film, unlike some of the others, the baby is mostly obscured from view, because its mother is realistically shielding her head from all the bullets. In fact the whole thing is so realistic I must assume Cuaron gave a baby to a Marine in Iraq and filmed the ensuing battle in preparation for this film.
2. The baby is important.
In Children of Men, unlike some of the other movies we’ve been discussing today, the baby is vital to the plot. She is the MacGuffin, if you will. Also, she is the “child” in the title. (She’s actually the child of a woman, though.) This is some important baby.
3. The baby wins.
So after surviving seven and a half minutes of gun fighting and grenade pitching, our little baby starts crying for some reason. When the soldiers and terrorists hear that sound and see that–holy crap!–there’s a baby, they stop shooting and look on in awe. In other words, the baby won the battle. Baby 1, Army Men 0. Beat that, Battleship Potemkin Baby!
Shechner, Shoot ‘Em Up
Lawdy-loo, Shoot ‘Em Up. If the late Chuck Heston had somehow gotten into an 80′s-style grandpa/grandson mind-swap comedy with David Lee Roth, this movie is what would be going on in that hybrid’s head at all times. To set the tone for you, here’re the closing credits, which do an adequate job of summarizing the film a bit..er… more discretely than the piece itself:
The bullet-holes-to-boobs thing is probably a puberty metaphor of some sort.
Years ago I heard this bit of industry lore–maybe you’ve heard it too–though it’s almost certainly apocrypha. Apparently, in its first drafts Good Will Hunting was an action-packed spy movie. The Matt Damon character remained the everyman-cum-superman with which we’re all familiar, but in this version he allegedly uses his photographic memory and indefatigable mathematical mind to foil international terror plots and rapidly ascend the ranks of the CIA. In the final script, all that remains of this purported earlier effort is the scene where Will is recruited by a government agency, and turns them down with rough-and-tumble Bostonian street-wit. One can only imagine what the original would look like: Matt Damon a covert op, the only man alive with the skills to take out an international conspiracy. They’re probably call it something stupid.
Anyway, I’m pretty much dead certain that this is exactly how Shoot ‘Em Up came to be, except the final product into which it matured is called Children of Men. Can’t you just see it? Some stupidly ambitious screen-writer loves the book, but decides that he wants to move into a bold, new artistic direction with it:
Clive Owen has to reluctantly shepherd a baby through a firefight?
Cool, we’ll keep that, but replace post-apocalytpic military factions with countless mafioso assasins.
The baby’s of profound phiosophical and political importance?
Um, drop the philosophy, but yeah, that’ll do. Oh, and now baby likes bitchin’ Heavy Metal!
The film conjures basic questions about the meaning of parenthood and society?
Paul Giamatti: master assassin. Ponder as you like.
Clive Owen is compelled to act through entanglements with a lost love?
Kinda’, but let’s also have him get it on with a lactating hooker. In a firefight.
I’m sorry, what?
Yep. Ooh, let’s make the baby’s mom a hooker, too!
You’ve replaced the moral, social and philosophical implications of the text with hookers?
There are assassins, too. In my philosophy, it’s basically hookers and assassins, all the way down.
Somewhere along the line, the writer was inevitably grief-stricken enough to make amends, or killed and replaced with a Replicate capable of following orders. Hence the film we know as Children of Men. But somehow, somewhere, that original draft remained, and either as the result of a lost bar bet, or some weird inter-dimensional transporter accident, it was birthed onto the world stage for all to view in abject, awe-stricken wonderment.
…and then to shuttle it to safety amidst a hellfire of bullets.
And now… vote!