The Guns Of Hawaii Five-0, Then And Now

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Some pieces of pop culture are enormous enough to make craters, not just impacts. Even kindergarteners and Kalahari Bushmen recognize “Book ‘em, Danno.” and The Ventures driving theme song of drums and horns from CBS’s landmark television show Hawaii Five-O. Debuting in 1968, the series raised the standard for what audiences expected from their weekly serving of police procedural. Building on the formula established by 1930s radio serials and the earlier Dragnet series, Hawaii Five-O not only set the story in a more exotic and glamorous location but by inventing an elite statewide police squad to investigate a variety of crimes (inspired by an actual unit that existed in the territorial martial law environment of the war years) the writers were free to explore a wide variety of crimes, criminals, victims and issues, including international crime syndicates and foreign espionage rings.

Jack Lord starred as veteran Detective Captain Steve McGarrett, backed up by his younger State Police proteges Danny Williams (initially Tim O’Kelly in the pilot episode, but replaced by James MacArthur when the series entered production) and Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong Chun). The series was undoubtedly Jack Lord’s show, indeed, CBS retitled reruns of Hawaii Five-O as simply McGarrett when syndication reruns were scheduled to run overlapping the current seasons. Lord was an actor’s who took the job seriously, and earned a reputation as a demanding and uncompromising presence on set, but the cast and crew of the show all agreed that Lord’s relentless drive for excellence brought out the best in the team.

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In fact, Hawaii Five-O built the Hawaiian television and movie industry from scratch. Literally none of the commercial infrastructure that made Los Angeles a hotbed of media creation existed on the islands, and it all had to be bootstrapped from humble beginnings. The first few seasons saw soundstages built in a leaky Quonset hut, but eventually expanded into studios at Fort Ruger and Diamond Head.

As a cops versus criminals show, the gun props featured made up a delightful cross section of the state of the small arms world of the time. There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of onscreen violence, but plenty of guns were pointed at plenty of people, and the variety of types and uses was a cut above what audiences were used to.

For most of the series run, the Five-O detectives relied on the Smith & Wesson model 36 “Chief’s Special” 5-shot revolver as their duty sidearm. Designed in the immediate post war era, S&W decided there was a slot in the market for a revolver smaller than a short barreled K-frame and yet strong enough to handle hot .38 Special loads that the old I-frame couldn’t. The Model 36 debuted at the 1950 International Chiefs of Police convention and thus earned the nickname “Chief’s Special” and immediately became a hit with plainclothes detectives as a duty gun and ordinary citizens as a pocket gun.

Colt SP-1
Colt SP-1

Around the eighth season, McGarrett switched out his 36 for a Colt Detective Special revolver. Introduced in 1927, the D-frame Colt was slightly larger and heavier than the S&W 36 that later competed with it, but compared to other duty revolvers of the era it was significantly smaller and still offered six rounds in a cylinder. McGarrett’s Colt appears to be a series one, which saw production from 1927 to around 1946, with an exposed ejector rod and a slightly narrower frame. The Detective Special remained in production until 1986, with a second run from 1993 to 1995.

The officers of the Honolulu Police Department are generally seen with S&W Model 15 revolvers, as were most American law enforcement agencies until finally conquered by semi-automatics in the 1980s. Introduced as the K-38 Combat Masterpiece, the model became the 15 when put into series production in 1957. It had an interrupted production run until 1999, and was resurrected in 2011 to enjoy a place in S&W’s Classic Revolver catalog.

The crooks and criminals in the series were portrayed with a wide variety of small arms, generally tending towards the small and concealable. One interesting piece that makes a quite a few appearances is the Colt 1908 “Vest Pocket”, an adorable little .25 ACP pocket automatic that was designed by John Moses Browning. The 13 ounce pocket popper featured a six round magazine, a safety lever that immobilized the slide when locked on safe, and a grip safety, making the gun remarkably pocket friendly for an early automatic.The gun shows up both in the hands of criminals and as Williams’ hideout piece, a chromed model with pearl grips.

Colt Special
Colt Special

Season 7’s episode 23 “Diary of A Gun” focuses on the crimes committed with a FIE Titan .25 ACP pistol. A cheaply made knockoff of several better designs, the Titan is a good example of the kind of poor quality but inexpensive imports that used to be common in the low end of the pistol market until banned by the 1968 Gun Control Act.

In season 3, McGarrett and Williams raid the drug warehouse of arch-nemesis Wo Fat, and equip themselves with rarely seen J&R Engineering M80 pistol caliber carbines. A distinctive compact design, the carbine featured a conical flash hider and an extended magazine that loaded through the grip. The M80 enjoyed little commercial success and was later reintroduced as the Wilkinson Arms “Linda” pistol, but it too went nowhere.

Five-O and the regular police are regularly seen with long guns, most commonly military surplus M1 Carbines and Remington 870 or Ithaca 37 12 gauge shotguns. Around season five, these wooden stocked stalwarts begin to be supplanted by the now familiar Colt SP-1 AR-15 derivative, but in those days the black rifle was a fairly exotic sight in the hands of civilian policemen.

In the series finale, McGarrett has finally traded in his small frame revolvers and makes the final raid on Wo Fat’s criminal operation with a Colt Government model 1911. The prop used in the episode appears to be a blued Series 70 Commercial model leading to speculation that it is the same prop that later starred in CBS’ immediate followup, Magnum PI (see our April 2014 issue), but there’s no solid evidence either way.

The series ran from 1968 to 1980, a then unheard of 12 years, from the LBJ era to the dawn of the Reagan age. Even today the show echos on in reruns, syndication and internet streaming.

With such a success, is it any wonder CBS was eager to have another bite at the apple? I know we’re all supposed to tut-tut in disapproval at remakes, reboots and sequels these days, but the freshly reimagined Hawaii Five-0 is a prime example of why revisiting established fiction is occasionally a great thing. If the idea worked so well in the past, why shouldn’t studios revamp it for an audience that hasn’t seen it before?

P226 Nitron
P226 Nitron

CBS took its first shot at a remake in 1997 with a single, unaired pilot episode of a new series that featured Gary Busey and Russell Wong as the lead detectives of a revised Five-O squad, but executives demurred on the effort and it was never released from the vault.

The second attempt in 2010 was far more successful and benefited from a decade of studios wearing out the CSI formula of following an investigation via deductive forensics. Audiences were hungry for a weekly serving of good ol’ fashioned police procedural and the time was right. CBS went with a young, good looking cast that had obvious chemistry on screen, and also made it more of an ensemble cast instead of centering the series around a single lead. The writers also kicked the pacing and action into overdrive, with tightly written plots punctuated with frequent gunplay and car chases. Apparently Hawaii has become quite a dangerous place!

But at the same time the creators were careful to include respectful references and allusions to the previous series. The 2010 opening theme was a remixed version of the Ventures tune, but was quickly replaced with the original rendition.

Alex O’Laughlin stars as 2010’s Steve McGarrett, who like 1968’s McGarrett, is also a US Naval Reserve officer, but this time a former SEAL. As such McGarrett is most often seen carrying and using a 9x19mm Para SIG Sauer P226. Initially a classic rail-less 226 for the first few episodes, McGarrett soon upgrades to an E2 model with an underbarrel rail and a SIG STL-900L combination laser and flashlight. Designed in the 1980s to compete for the contract to replace the 1911 in US military service that was eventually won by the Beretta 92, the SIG 226 was developed from the earlier 225 by adding a double column magazine and western style magazine button to replace the European heel release. While not enjoying the sheer numbers that a multi-service contract brought the 92, the 226 was quickly favored by the special operations teams of the US Navy for its durability and reliability.

McGarrett recruits Honolulu Police Department detective Danny Williams (Scott Caan, son of famed actor James Caan) into his team, and Williams is also initially seen with a SIG, the polymer framed SIG PRO 2009. The first attempt at SIG to offer a less expensive but still high quality plastic framed alternative to its aluminium framed classic line, the SIG PRO won a few police contracts but was unable to achieve wide success and eventually was replaced in the SIG catalog by the P250 and P320.

Around the middle of the first season, and for the rest of the series, Williams switches his sidearm to a Heckler and Koch P30L. A significantly evolved pistol from the polymer framed USP of the late 1980s, the P30L offered traditional DA/SA controls and legendary H&K reliability in a lightweight polymer package with an ergonomically excellent but visually questionable grip. Williams’ and McGarrett’s gun handling through the show is uniformly excellent, showcasing good tactics, reloads, and light and laser use. A show where I don’t have to yell at the characters to use their guns smarter is a good show.

Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) also favors a double action SIG Sauer, carrying a P229R (usually with an underbarrel weapon light) for most of the series. A development of the 226, the 229 is a more compact pistol that features a milled steel slide instead of a folded and stamped slide to better contain the pressures of hot .40 S&W and .357 SIG ammunition. In 9x19mm, the gun is also soft shooting, and a popular alternative to the 226 for shooters looking for something more concealable yet not giving up magazine capacity.

P30L
P30L

The fourth member of Five-0 is Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park), who is first seen carrying a S&W 3913 “Ladysmith”. A slim single column 9×19 pistol, the 3913 was one of the best carry-friendly versions of the famous S&W 3rd Generation of automatic pistols. The Ladysmith version featured a 2 tone slide and frame combination and a dehorn job to smooth out some of the hard edges of the gun to reduce snags on clothing during the draw.

Kono is later seen carrying a polymer S&W M&P, the replacement for the 3rd Generation in the service and civilian market. Introduced in 2005, the M&P finally gave S&W a pistol that could compete with Glock on price and weight. Available first in the common police calibers of 9×19 and .40 S&W, .357 SIG and .45 ACP versions followed shortly after, as well as both compact and competition ready long-slide models.

True to life, Honolulu Police officers are seen carrying the S&W 5906 in early seasons, and later we see those pistols replaced by the Glock 17. While the 3rd Gen S&W was a high quality, durable, all steel pistol with minimal recoil and a smooth double action trigger, there was simply no competing with Glock’s lighter weight, simplified controls and armorer friendly design. Today 5906s are common on the used trade in market and are a delight to shoot and still have good aftermarket support.

A neat oddball to look out for is the Serbu Super Shorty 12 gauge shotgun, which shows up in a few episodes. A pistol gripped Mossberg 500, the Super Shorty is cut down to its absolute smallest dimensions and operated with folding pistol grip. While difficult to aim beyond contact distance, it sure looks intimidating and is fun to shoot.
When the situation calls for a long arm, McGarrett and Williams agree, it’s time for a Mk18. A development of the US Navy’s special warfare project, the Mk18 was a response to requests for a smaller, more maneuverable M4 Carbine suited for up close work. The Mk18 features a flat top receiver with a 10” barrel and an enlarged gas port, and has seen action in all theaters since its introduction in 2000. McGarrett’s Mk18 is notable for adding and removing accessories as the series progresses, but is most often seen with a quad-rail handguard, a vertical foregrip, a collapsable stock and an EO Tech holographic sight. In later seasons, his Mk18 can be seen loaded with a 40 round Magpul PMAG or a 60 round Surefire quad-stack magazine, because nobody ever complained about having too much ammunition in a gunfight.

This really only scratches the surface of the quality and variety of guns used in the 2010 series, as every single episode seems to have something interesting or unique to watch out for. Fans of gunfight television (and why else are you reading this magazine) are well advised to tune on for the premier of the sixth season on September 25th, and if you haven’t checked out the previous five seasons on Netflix, get to it.

By Peter Barrett. Originally published in the October 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.