Much like falling in love, driving a car without watching the road or surviving gunshot wounds, picking locks always looks easier in the movies. We could argue all day whether or not Hollywood makes the rules, or simply perpetuates them, but a realistic portrayal of the skills utilized by locksmiths rarely makes it to the projection room. Lock-picking, in overall cinematic history, is usually done with something like a paperclip, bobby pin, or tweezers. It also generally takes less than ten seconds. Actors clearly have the most dexterous fingers of any profession and great luck, to boot. Jokes aside, I consider films like this as a form of advertising for locksmiths. A few examples…
The Great Train Robbery
No, not the revolutionary short from 1903 put out by the Edison company, but the 1978 movie of the same name starring Sean Connery and directed by Michael Crichton (yeah, as in the Jurassic Park dude). Roughly based on an actual crime that took place during the Crimean War, this film has a strange, slow pace for a “gold robbers” film. The plot revolves around an excruciatingly detailed railroad caper and includes a variety of heist devices employed in order to procure a series of keys. Lock-picking and key-copying are both utilized during certain crucial story twists. Most notable for the scene with Connery performing his own stunts atop a moving train (allegedly at speeds up to 55 mph and even cooler than it sounds), this movie doesn’t just feature some bombshell actress who can pick a lock faster than you can pick your nose – the storyline is about locks, safes and keys from top to bottom.
Silence of the Lambs
Surely this movie needs no introduction, as it’s one of the best dramatic thrillers to come out of the 1990’s and still a widely-used reference in pop culture. The scene with Hannibal Lecter picking the lock of his handcuffs with nothing more than mysterious pen parts, concealed in his mouth for an indefinite amount of time, is crucial to the third act of the movie and constant fodder for escape-artist aficionados. When Anthony Hopkins kicks off his leg irons and goes to town creating his gruesome tableau, minds start reeling about how feasible his behind-the-back dexterity really was. Handcuff escapes are nothing new to celluloid, but this movie perpetuates the “genius glamour” that follows folks like Houdini, or Hannibal Lecter, around to this day.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This movie brings forth a wise lesson to be learned by every generation: cool it on the dynamite. Perhaps the most famous scene in 1969’s nonfiction-but-totally-made-up Western is the overly obnoxious bicycle-riding montage to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”. But the runner-up is definitely the safe cracking bit. When faced with a new safe featuring novel security devices during a stick-up, the underprepared duo decide instead to blow it up. They use far too much dynamite, destroying the train and the cash in the process. Too bad they didn’t have a locksmith buddy riding with them. Newman and Redford were known to do no wrong, cinematically, but this movie, though popular, is awful. Gather up your nickels and dimes and go invest in a copy of The Sting instead. For a few more examples, check out Killing Zoe, Daredevil, The Italian Job, Die Hard, Our Man Flint and a whole slew of Bond movies. And most importantly – don’t try this at home.