The Bodeo Model 1889 was to the Italian army what an old bird dog is to a hunter. It was gray around the muzzle, deaf, arthritic, and the Italians figured it was about time to get themselves a new pup, or a new service revolver, in this case. But puppies tend to be unreliable, and this dopey looking old revolver—like a hunter’s standby hound—stepped up long after it’d been put out to pasture, staying in service for a staggering 54 years and seeing Italian soldiers through the colonization of Africa, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the conquest of Libya, and two world wars.
Where you’ve seen it:
Even if you don’t care for westerns, you’re bound to have at least heard about The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, starring the indefatigable Clint Eastwood. When Tuco (right), the drunken gunslinger goes looking for a gun, he briefly examines a Bodeo before proclaiming it junk and sweeping it off the table in disgust. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of European revolvers.
Produced by a veritable medley of manufacturers between 1889 and 1925 to the tune of approximately 200,000 guns total, the Bodeo—maintaining a distinction between the enlisted men and the commissioned officers—came in two variants: the former with an octagonal barrel and folding trigger, the latter produced with a rounded barrel, trigger guard, and fixed trigger. (As far as I can tell, there’s no perceptible advantage of one over the other.) Referring back to my analogy about old dogs and young puppies, the Italians planned to replace the steadfast Bodeo with the semi-automatic Glisenti Model 1910 (right)—a new gun for a new century. But the Glisenti was damned from the onset by having a too-stout caliber for its comparatively weak and complex receiver, and the Italians soon found themselves dragging their Bodeos back into the field. They were old, but they were reliable. The two guns served side-by-side for much of World War I and II before finally being replaced by the Beretta M1934. In fact, the manufacturing life of the Bodeo actually outlasted that of the Glisenti—the gun meant to replace it—by ten years!
Based in part on the design of the 1873 Chamelot Delvigne French Service Revolver, the Bodeo offered a few modifications over the French design while maintaining similarly simple internal components. First, the enlisted man’s variant had a folding trigger (right). Purpose? Unknown. Someone in the design meetings probably thought they were making the gun more streamlined or easier to carry. Other cool design elements of the Bodeo include a take-down knob which allows you to remove the revolver’s sideplate without any extra tools, and this really cool trick: With the loading gate open, pulling the trigger doesn’t engage the hammer as it would if the gate were closed, it just bumps the cylinder over to the next chamber, making loading the gun surprisingly easy.
The Bodeo shoots the 10.35mm Ordinanza Italiana blackpowder round. Dimensionally, it’s essentially a necked-down .44 Special cartridge, and let me tell you folks, for a 125-year-old gun, it’s got plenty of snort. There’s something deeply exhilarating about that big sulphuric cloud pouring out of the barrel with each shot…
The Bodeo represents a universal truth: Though it’s easy to become enthralled by the newest, coolest thing, sometimes that “old dog” in the back corner of the gun safe is the one we turn to when we need something reliable, tried and true.