Imagine you are a young boy in 1961, you have just got home from school and have placed your face mere inches away from the screen,whilst munching on a snickers bar, to witness whatever is on at the time. Suddenly the screen goes white and goes to a commercial. This commercial shows what can be described as a noir type scenario, as a man is breaking into a building, as two kids dressed as 1960’s police detectives, one having the Tommy gun and the other with a revolver. The one who is inside shoots at the window, with the bullet that is made of the soft material, causing the blind to lift and the man to fall in comedic fashion. The narrators voice takes over against the wacky music, as it then cuts to the guns in action firing their little projectiles and showing the firing options of the guns before showing the brand logo. You immediately run to the neighboring room where your mother is standing and beg her for the seven dollars it would cost and bolt to the store to buy it.


The Mattel Tommy Burst Detective Set was a cap gun set sold by Mattel Incorporated, released in 1961. After the second World War, and to an extent Korea, a new market had been created as children who watched the live interviews and scenes of battle overseas, now wanted to be courageous war heroes like the men on their tubes. Thus, cap guns were invented, being comprised of materials similar to working firearms, but that only fired low speed projectiles or only made noise through powder packs. This made them highly marketable as children grew to recognise these weapons, making them easy to replicate and to distribute under the guise that they were toys. The way the kids were portrayed in the commercial also helped in making kids think they were police searching out criminals when they dressed like and used the guns like the ones in the commercial.

Children were the largest audience for these commercials, boys for the most part, as they were the ones watching the television with it’s cartoons and animated violence. Noir type TV shows and movies like Casablanca, as well as the constant threat of war during the period, made children experience guns early on in their lives and, with some of them being boys, made them want to be like the men that were on screen. Because of this, it was easy to advertise to boys as they were taught to want to be a certain stereotype of that of the strong working man, and no man should be without a gun, so if a boy were to get a gun early on he would be well on his way into filling his societal seat, while putting money in the pockets of those who gave him the tools to ascend up the ladder of adulthood. Since boys were taught to think this way, they would not question this toy being sold to them and would reach for it at their first chance. Putting the commercial in a noir setting and making the protagonists kids made it seem like kids could do anything if they buy the product of this seller.

At that time in the 1960’s Mattel, was a company that prided itself on the sale of children’s toys. It all started as a way for Elliot Mattel to sell certain objects, created out of his garage until later on in career. It was not until the 1960’s that Mattel became a corporation, which is the time period being looked at. As being new in the whole corporate entity they had to make product that would sell to bring in investors, and that’s what they did. The Tommy Buster commercial appealed to boys . At the same time, Mattel had also released another new product alongside the Tommy Buster, the Barbie Doll, to sell to the girl audience. What better way to make your company look profitable than appeal to both gender demographics, and get the maximum amount of profit to prove that same point.


The guns themselves were based off of weapons that were very heavily used in media, military, and police settings and were chosen for their easy recognition in all of these settings. The Thompson was a sub machine gun created for the US military in 1930 and remained in military use until 1971. This is how the gun works,“The bolt, released by the sear, moves forward under pressure or the recoil spring.”(WAR DEPARTMENT ). Funnily enough, this is the same way that the cap version works, as Tim Forbes says,“ It strove for a sense of realism and authenticity in design, detail, and action. Pull back the spring mounted bolt on the side, squeeze the trigger, and a burst of a dozen or so shots would fire off from a roll of caps that were perforated like movie film and stored in the clip.”(Forbes)This could be attributed to either remaking the gun in “toy” form downgrading it to the point where it can only fire the low velocity projectiles, or just lazily copying the same design as the gun from the war. The other gun was based off of a snub nosed .38 caliber pistol which worked by a hammer hitting the blast cap behind the projectile then switching chambers much like a real revolver. There is very little that distinguishes these from real guns,outside of their slightly odd shape, as they are simply metal casts of the weapons with similar insides. This makes them even more appealing to the young consumer of that day.

The simple design of the commercial made it’s message very clear. The music played is very chipper and silly, being done with what sounds like a xylophone and trumpet, giving it a comedic tone, creating the illusion that police pretend is fun. Even the commercial says it,“ Some fun when snubby guy plays private eye and you can have the fun with Mattel’s Tommy Burst Detective Set.”(Mattel). This shows that they know how to advertise to an audience of boys hyping them up to be detectives, having their amazing adventures, but only if they get their mothers to buy it for them. Children would also put themselves into the places of those kids on screen increasing their want for the product. The way it is shot also attributes to the feelings that are created, in the first 30 seconds, by the quick movement and heavily emphasized shadows of the people with guns, of mystery and intrigue up until the pay off, where the man falls out of the window into the trash can. It shows a lot of thought went into this commercial as they built it up fairly quickly and got to the point keeping the attention of the watching child.

The language used is the quick New York style in this commercial adding to the noir vibe. This is likely to add a little bit of connection to the police detective scene that was viewed on the television to create more realism. The things that said are what would be called police banter, to make it sound similar to the banter heard in shows like Perry Mason, as shows were relatively short and allowed for more commercials like this one to air if they got through dialog quicker. It is mostly kept with the overall tone of the commercial with very little dialog outside of the narrator speaking of the product, as he is the only dialog in the commercial. However his ability to get his point across in such a short amount of time makes it seem like he knows what he is talking about, making first time viewers trust his information, convincing them instantly.

This was a commercial that came out in a time where the US, although not at war, was still in conflict, so exposing children to these things early would help in getting them use to the coming conflicts of the Cold War. Ever since the second World War, says Tom Engelhardt, media has portrayed Americans as the underdog with defeat by the enemy being followed by victory over them(4-8 Engelhardt). This shows that media has always portrayed Americans as being defeated and rising from the ashes of failure, against insurmountable odds, win victories could be won by any Joe Schmoe, maybe even you. In the commercial two kid cops take down the villain with relative ease, despite their age, and is intended to make kids feel like they can accomplish impossible deed, with imagination, making them feel amazing. Well that is if they buy Mattel’s product.

 In conclusion, the use of knowledge towards the young male demographic, clever use of cliches from noir media of the time, and manipulation of emotions by making children imagine themselves in those situations, created a commercial that does its job and creates a mental image of adventure in the crime ridden streets of Manhattan, New York or Chicago, Illinois, with a toy sure to last dozens of hours before the invention of the million other toys used to appease the Baby Boomers. Either way this commercial did it’s job selling millions of units, and is still a well remembered product to this day.



Annotated Bibliography


This is an instruction manual for the Thomson Sub machine gun created in 1942. It goes over the proper maintenance and mechanics of the Thomson.I am using this as an example of how the Thomson’s design is very close to its toy counterpart. This was a handbook made by the US War Department for the soldiers of the second world war, so it is a credible source made by the government.

Mattel Inc. “Mattel Inc. – About Us – History.” Mattel Inc. – About Us – History, Mattel Inc., 2018,

This is a brief history on the company of Mattel Incorporated. It goes from Elliot Mattel’s early life to it’s corporate releases a a fully fledged company. This will be used to explain Mattel’s history as a company as well as looking at toys that were released at the same time as the Tommy Burst. This is not the most credible source as it is made by Mattel and there could possibly be a bias, however since it only shows release dates of products and it’s events in becoming a corporate empire.

Engelhardt, Tom. “The End of Victory Culture.” Google Books, University of Massachusetts Press, 1995,

This is a book on how the Cold War disillusioned a generation, however showing that this disillusionment had existed since the birth of the nation. It goes off of the basis that media evolves to touch the youngest of our society that although we will loose some battles we will win the war. I can use this to show how media of the time lead everyone to believe that victory was always possible with the underdog, or in this case the youthful boys, Taking down the villain with despite their age.The credibility of this author lies more in his analysis of media dating from World War One, to the end of the Cold War, with the fall of the Berlin wall.

Forbes, Tim. “‘You Can Tell It’s Mattel… It’s Swell!’.” American Heritage, vol. 52, no. 8, Dec. 2001, p. 58. EBSCOhost,

This is an article made by a man reminiscing about toys that were sold by Mattel in the good old days. He manly talks about the Tommy Burst Detective set. This can be used as he descriptively talks about the usage of the toy, which can be compared to the mechanics in the US Army Thompson Manual to show the similarities. Not much credit can be give in to this article and the main reason it was used was because there are few if any articles on this toy.

Video Cited

haikarate4. “Mattel Tommy Burst Toy Gun Commercial From The 60’s – Vintage Advertising.”YouTube, YouTube, 21 Mar. 2013\

Pictures cited

zamda68. “Toy Commercial Advertising a Realistic Tommy Gun and Sub Nose.” Explore 1960s Toys, The Scream, and More!, Pinterest,

holdawa. “Image Result for 1960 TOY BELT FED MACHINE GUN.” Explore Submachine Gun, Machine Guns, and More!, Pinterest,–submachine-gun-machine-guns.jpg.

Dell. “Barbie and Ken (1962) #1.” Barbie and Ken (1962) Comic Books 1960-1962,, May 1962,

bydusk. “Film Noir.” Cigarettes and Shadows (Film Noir), Listal, 26 Sept. 2011,