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Locks and Films

1st March 2020

Let’s face it, the weather has been pretty awful for the last month or two with the biting cold wind, rain, storms Ciara and Dennis, Jorge and who knows what next, all of which has left fence manufacturers rubbing their hands together with glee at the damage wreaked across the country. 

As it’s not really been the month for outdoor pursuits, there’s not a lot else to do in any spare time except get comfy, settle down and watch a good film or two. Hot on the heels of the film award season there has been a lot to catch up on, whether it be old classics, new releases on DVD, or even an award winner at the cinema such as the Oscar winner Parasite, or the immersive 1917. With my Barry Norman head on, I should inform you that both of these are very fine films, by the way. 

Whilst watching movies, my mind sometimes wanders to my day job. Cinema would have a lot fewer plots to choose from were it not for the existence of locks and keys. This dates right back to the very early days of cinema. After the first showing of a motion picture in 1895, it was only another 8 years until one of early cinema’s most pioneering films, The Great Train Robbery was released. This was one of the first proper narrative films, and wouldn’t you know it, it involved a locked safe on a train. The gang of outlaws in the film didn’t trouble themselves with finding a key though – instead they blew up the lock with dynamite to steal the wares and make their escape. They were the locksnappers of their day – it just caused a bit more mess back then. 

Safe-breaking has been a rich seam of material for filmmakers to mine over the years. One of my personal favourites comes in the 1969 film, The Italian Job where the bumbling gang practice breaking into a security van using explosives, only to blow up the whole vehicle, prompting Michael Caine’s immortal utterance of “You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” A similar situation is played for laughs in a film that was released the same year. In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the gang again slightly overestimates the level of explosives required, not only blowing the safe door up, but also all the safe and half the carriage, resulting in a shower of bank notes falling from the sky. 

In a more domestic and contemporary setting, a modern favourite is Panic Room. This film, from the director of Se7en and Fight Club, was released in 2002 and starred Jodie Foster and a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart. Foster is the mother who, with her daughter, hides in a purpose-built panic room when burglars break into their home. This panic room is the height of modern security – the whole room encased in steel and concrete, with the thickest of steel doors, only lockable from the inside. It also has screens inside from which the occupants can view CCTV of the goings-on in the wider house. You really couldn’t get much more secure, so surely Foster and Stewart are safe inside? Well, that wouldn’t be much of a film, would it, and the crooks know there are bonds worth millions of dollars kept in the panic room. Worse than that, Stewart’s character falls ill with her diabetes and requires medication to save her life. Medication that is kept outside of this secure panic room. Nothing is ever easy in Hollywood! 

Britain’s own Alfred Hitchcock is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest ever directors. Many of his films featured locks or keys – in fact he always said one of his earliest memories was being briefly locked in a police cell after being slightly naughty, and this memory stayed with him all through his career. Look at The 39 Steps where our hero and leading lady spend most of the film handcuffed together – Hitchcock even carried this on when filming stopped, pretending he’d lost the keys to the cuffs. The marvellous Notorious contains one of the most famous tracking shots of cinema – lasting nearly a minute, the single shot travels across a party scene, ending up focusing tightly on Ingrid Bergman’s hand clutching a key. This key, to a wine cellar, is integral to the plot, making this very much a key scene in both senses of the word. 


From drama to comedy, and I’m sure you recall the 1980’s film, A Fish Called Wanda, starring John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis, amongst others. Again, following a theft, the plot heavily concerns the whereabouts of a key for a safe deposit box. The stolen diamonds are stored here to be divided amongst the thieves, so the key becomes quite attractive. At one point it finds itself in a pendant round Jamie Lee Curtis’ neck, before finishing up in a fish tank where it is found by pantomime baddie, Kevin Kline who intends to steal the proceeds of the crime for himself. Fortunately, he gets his just desserts, especially seeing as he’s been so mean to lovely Michael Palin throughout the film. 

The film that really gets the security juices flowing is the Ocean’s Eleven remake with George Clooney leading an all star cast as the leader of the gang plotting to rob 3 Vegas casinos simultaneously. With 150 million dollars up for grabs, it’s no surprise the casinos do not just have your regular anti snap locks and security lights. Nope, this is the 21st century and sensors, complex locks, alarm systems and CCTV abound, seemingly making the heist an impossible job. But of course, it’s George Clooney and Brad Pitt… so no job is impossible, and whilst their success may make one regret the failure of all that security equipment, it’s undoubtedly damn fine entertainment. 

That’s just a few films I could think of that contain keys, locks and safes – I’m sure there are many more and you’ll have your favourites. Just beware if you go and see Key Largo – not a single frame of that is devoted to Yale keys, so that was entirely false advertising! 

For information on any aspect of home security, or perhaps just for a chat about which lock-related films are your favourites (damn, I forgot Home Alone!), please call 07990573857 and ask for SF Locksmith in Rotherham. 

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