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The Role Of Locks in Films

1st March 2020

I don’t know if you saw the Oscars a few weeks back – you may remember that the best Picture Award went to Parasite, beating off competition from the likes of 1917 and Jojo Rabbit. Parasite is an excellent film, by the way, and as its victory has annoyed Donald Trump, that’s another facet in its favour. 

Without giving away too many spoilers, there is a plot point in Parasite surrounding a locked passageway, and this got me thinking about the role that locks and keys have played in films. Right from the beginnings of cinema they’ve played a pivotal role. You only have to travel 8 years into cinema’s history to find Edwin S Porter’s The Great Train Robbery in 1903. The gang there didn’t really bother with keys, instead preferring to use dynamite to blow the safe on the train and steal the valuables within. 

Breaking into safes has, of course, been a staple of cinema over the last 120+ years. There was a famous homage to The Great Train Robbery in the fabulous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, although in that 1969 film, the bandits use just a touch too much dynamite, blowing the safe, and indeed the whole baggage car to smithereens, sending hundreds of banknotes flying through the air. Sorting out locks isn’t always as easy as you think it may be. 

More up to date, and the David Fincher-directed film Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart was released in 2002. That involved intruders breaking into Foster’s home, forcing her and her daughter to take refuge in the titular Panic Room – a room fortified with steel and concrete, and with a thick steel door locked from the inside. Throw in an extensive CCTV system, and there you have enough security that would even pass muster with me. The trouble in the film occurs because there are millions of dollars’ worth of bonds in the same room in which Foster and her daughter are hiding, so the burglars don’t give up easily. And then her diabetic daughter urgently needs medication that is outside the panic room, necessitating one of them to venture outside – nothing ever goes smoothly in these films, does it. 

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors who ever lived, and many of his films involved keys or locks. Remember Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll being handcuffed together in The 39 Steps for half the film, unable to unlock the cuffs. Rumour has it that as a practical joke, Hitchcock kept them cuffed together when filming stopped, claiming the keys had been lost. Another Hitch film, Dial M For Murder prominently features a plot point involving the hiding and swapping of keys – I won’t give away the spoiler if you haven’t seen it – but it certainly shows the benefits of being fully aware of the location of your keys at all time. 

In a more light-hearted fashion, A Fish Called Wanda also revolves around the location of a key to a safe deposit box in which valuable stolen diamonds are hidden. This finds its way, via Jamie Lee Curtis’s pendant, into Michael Palin’s fish tank, where it is scooped up by the villainous Kevin Kline, hoping to make away with all the loot. It may not end totally successfully for him but, whatever you do, don’t call him an idiot! 

The big movie of the 1990s, Titanic, divided opinion between those that thought it was a masterpiece deserving of all the Oscars, and those that were correct in thinking the opposite. Regardless of your feelings (and really, only the second opinion is valid), they dared to use keys and locks in that plot too. There is the necklace within a locked safe, handcuffs are used at one point, and then tragically (or not, depending on your feelings about the film), characters drown because they are trapped behind a locked gate on the ship as it sinks. Slight spoiler there, but I think we’re all aware by now what happened to the Titanic. 

For your fix of all manner of security excitement – CCTV, sensors, locks and alarms, the whole shebang – I’d direct you to the Steven Soderbergh version of Ocean’s Eleven staring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and all manner of Hollywood royalty. The gang plan to simultaneously break into 3 casinos in Las Vegas and steal the small matter of 150 million dollars. The stylish thriller is a remake of a Rat Pack movie of the same name, but this one has all the modern security equipment which certainly appealed to me as a locksmith. And Julia Roberts pops up too which was another box ticked. 

These are just a few of a much wider bunch – which films did I miss that are your favourites? And where would cinema be without locks and keys? So many heist and kidnap films ruined. Another reason to give thanks for home security and I suspect the relationship between the two will continue for many years to come. Although don’t me started on the film Locke – that was advertising by false pretences and no mistake – 90 minutes of a chap in a car, and not a single lock was picked for the whole journey. The cheek of it!

For information on any aspect of home security in Barnsley , but perhaps not about the Academy Awards, please call 07990573857. 

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