Handy Cuffs

[Vimes] had several pounds of metal on his wrists or, to put it another way, his arms were a hammer.

A cousin to Cardboard Prison. It happens where an antagonist is caught by police/soldiers/the good guys, but is destined to escape. The antagonist will then have handcuffs applied but, to facilitate their later escape, will inexplicably be handcuffed so their hands are in front of them. Obviously, their hands are much more useful when they manage to grab a gun or simply run for it.

Often, the handcuffs will be pressed into service as an Improvised Weapon, usually either a club (with rigid cuffs) or a garotte (with chained cuffs) — never mind that this would probably hurt the attacker more than the victim, any bruising can be quickly massaged away.

In real life, most police departments in the United States require suspects to have their hands cuffed behind them, with the palms facing away from each other and the keyhole facing away from the hands, to make this kind of thing less likely. The only exceptions are when it is physically impossible to do so. In the United Kingdom, handcuffing to the front is common. Sometimes, a particularly nimble character will be handcuffed behind their back and contort themselves between their arms to bring the cuffs in front of them.

People escaping while bound is covered by With My Hands Tied, which is connected to this.

Contrast Bound and Gagged, when the cuffs are not going off so easily. Can lead to Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The entire Gurren Brigade got once handcuffed with good ol' wooden boards, but that didn't deter Simon from digging with his Core Drill until recovering his Lagann.
  • Cowboy Bebop episode "Pierrot le Fou". While Tongpu is being taken along a passageway by two guards his hands are cuffed in front to him. He takes advantage of this to eliminate the guards and escape.

    Comic Books 
  • The Punisher
    • Castle was was captured by a minor gang leader named Machete, who insisted on killing a cuffed Castle in a machete duel. Castle rejects the machete, and kills the guy with his bare hands.
    • In The Punisher: The Cell he was cuffed this way when he was being led to his cell. As soon as a guard taunted him about how the most dangerous inmate was going to kill him Frank elbowed his face, grabbed the other guard's baton and bludgeoned the inmate to death. Then he told them to send the second most dangerous inmate after him.
  • Le Scorpion: In The Mask of Truth, Neoli Trebaldi uses the shackles around his wrists to strangle the warrior monk who is guarding him.

    Film - Animated 
  • Subverted in Tangled where Flynn Rider is shackled with his hands behind him. To facilitate his escape he leaps over the shackles to bring his hands in front of him.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In the movie Predator, the captured rebel Anna had her hands tied in front of her and took advantage of it to escape. Somewhat justified because the team was traveling through steep, rough terrain and she needed her hands in front of her to hold onto things and avoid falling.
  • Happens in X2: X-Men United, where William Stryker has Wolverine handcuffed with special cuffs in the front. Unfortunately it isn't Wolverine but Mystique in his form, and she quickly shapechanges out of the cuffs.
    • This is one relatively rare case where it's justified; Wolverine has retractable claws on the back of his hand that are sharp enough to cut through metal. The cuffs were designed to keep his hands where everyone can see them and he can't cut the cuffs off himself. they're also specially designed to point his hands in such a way that if he were to pop his claws all he would do is stab himself in the chest and neck.
    • In X-Men: The Last Stand Mistique uses her cuffs to choke the interrogator, purely out of spite as this doesn't get her anywhere.
  • In Dick Tracy after being framed for murder Tracy is being moved from the police holding cell to the county lock-up. His fellow police officers handcuff him in the front, Tracy comments on the lapse in procedure. As it turns out the move was a ruse to allow Tracy the time needed to clear his name.
  • In The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne hands another Treadstone agent a flexicuff, then demands that he cuff himself in the front, presumably because he'd rather keep his eyes on his hands.
    • Also because it's notoriously difficult to cuff yourself with a flexicuff in the back, and Bourne certainly wasn't going to approach the agent to cuff him.
  • Total Recall (1990) (1990). When Douglas Quaid is captured in his hotel room on Mars, the bad guys handcuff his hands in front of him. He later takes advantage of this to grab a gun and shoot an opponent.
  • Happens in Pitch Black, where Riddick is blindfolded and handcuffed around a post with his hands behind him. Sensing that the post is not secure at the top, he dislocates both shoulders to get his hands up and over and escape.
  • Averted in No Country for Old Men: Chigurh's hands were cuffed from behind, and he has to switch them to the front when the cop is on the phone.
  • In Three Ten To Yuma the villainous co-protagonist Ben Wade has his hands cuffed this way and kills two of his guards, but his captors still don't find a better way of binding him (granted, it probably wouldn't be that safe to take the cuffs off to fix them....) To be fair, he also helps his captors fight of mutual enemies, so handcuffing his hands in front of him had some benefits.
  • One Abbott and Costello sketch involves one of them getting handcuffed with his hands in front when he points out that he can still swing his hands around. He then asks his captor to show where the cuffs need to go; the captor puts his hands behind his back, gets cuffed, and the good guy escapes.
  • In the Street Fighter movie, Chun-Li has her hands bound in front of her. It takes her about two seconds to snap the leather, leaving her with spiked wrist-guards and Bison's ass to kick.
  • In the True Grit remake, two outlaws having their hands restrained in this way allowed one to kill the other with a knife before he could talk.
  • Dr. No. When James Bond is captured by the crew of Dr. No's "dragon" his hands are cuffed in front of him. This allows him to resist when one of the guards manhandles Honey Rider.
  • A spectacularly silly example in Salt, as Salt had previously just beaten the piss out of several cops and Secret Service agents with her bare hands. Not that it matters. When they cuff her hands behind her back at the end, she still manages to kill Winters.
  • Inverted in The A-Team: Pike is placed in a car with his hands cuffed behind his back, and then explains (and demonstrates) why that can be a bad idea: With his hands where they can't be seen, he is able to pick his cuffs without his guards noticing.

  • Discworld: Happens with Vimes in Night Watch as part of the "Were we ever really that bad?" sequence. Vimes' internal monologue points out how stupid this is.
    "He had several pounds of metal on his wrists or, to put it another way, his arms were a hammer."
    • He also points out that it pays to be cooperative and stick your arms out for the jailer because when that way you're more likely to have your arms cuffed in front of you, and you have quite a bit of freedom that way.
  • What's the Worst That Could Happen?: John Dortmunder convinces the police to cuff him in front, even though the cop knows better, just by his "hounddog" look. Naturally, he manages to escape because of this.
  • In the Continental Op short story "$106,000 Blood Money" by Dashiell Hammett, a crook with his hands handcuffed in front of him is able to grab a cop's gun from its holster and shoot one of his accomplices. Justified as it was written in the 1920s before handcuffing procedures were standardised.
  • In Desmond Bagley's The Tightrope Men, enemies trying to interrogate Giles Denison made this mistake. Denison only played along until he realized they didn't have a hostage for his good behavior; then he attacked and used the link connecting the cuffs to choke the interrogator.
  • At one point in Ice Station, Shane Schofield has his hands cuffed behind him — and gets thrown into a small room by the bad guys to fight with The Mole in his group (not on the same side as the guys that threw them in) to determine which will die first. After knocking his opponent to the ground, the first thing he does is bring his cuffed hands beneath his feet to be able to fight better. The bad guys don't fix this after the fight, making it easier for him to escape later.
  • The Shadow: In at least one of the pulp novels, the police arrest a stage magician and cuff him with his hands in front. And yes, they know the guy's a professional stage magician. He doesn't stay cuffed for very long.
  • In All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson, mystical assassin Konrad is bought in wearing handcuffs. It is implied that the rush to bring him in is the end for his captors — because his hands are cuffed in front of him.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime Lannister winds up in a sword fight with his hands chained in front of him (as his captor had to let him ride a horse). It slows him up a little, because he has to use a two-handed grip on a sword that isn't really long enough to be a two-handed sword. It doesn't slow him up very much. (The bigger problem is that he's spent the past six months or so locked in a dungeon, eating crummy food and getting exercise only in the form of the occasional beating).
  • In the Michael Connelly book Trunk Music, Officer Powers has his handcuffs moved to the front during a break in his interrogation so that he can relieve himself. He takes advantage of this to make his escape from Bosch and Edgar.

    Live Action TV 
  • Monk, "Mr. Monk Gets Jury Duty". When the SFPD hands off a "most wanted" fugitive to the feds, they considerately cuff him with his hands in front of him, making his escape attempt easier to accomplish.
  • Babylon 5
    • "Quality of Mercy". The crack security staff cuffed a prisoner with his hands in front on his way to his execution (and thus with nothing to lose). He ended up holding an old woman at gunpoint.
    • In her final episode, Lyta is cuffed in front. As the Trope Namer for Touched by Vorlons, she eventually demonstrates that she could pop open the cuffs (regardless of location) whenever she liked. She explained that the only reason she left them on as long as she did was to calm everybody else's fears and because she kind of liked it.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger: Happened in at least one episode. The bad guy doesn't escape, but this allows him to have a big throw-down with Walker.
  • Firefly:
    • Sort of inverted where Mal is taking point and being relatively cooperative with the Alliance types, but they've still got him cuffed from behind. He asks to be released, so they..."compromise", by cuffing him in front. Being Malcolm Reynolds, he later turns this to his advantage.
  • In an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, they handcuff an Affably Evil Manipulative Bastard in the front.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent:
    • Played very straight. A former military suspect asks to be cuffed in front out of respect for his family. He grabs a gun off one of the officers and kills himself. This immediately after attempting to kill himself and being stopped by the officers who arrested him. One wonders why they thought that was a good idea.
    • The police handcuff a deaf man with his hands in front since handcuffing him with his hands behind his back would be akin to gagging him.
  • Battlestar Galactica. While on Kobol, Athena is triple-cuffed with her hands in front of her — though it's just as well, as she's able to fire a grenade launcher at the Centurions attacking them.
  • In The Flash, the Trickster was handcuffed with his hands in front of him. While sitting in the middle of a police car with 3 officers, he grabbed a gun fron one officer and shot all 3 dead. Oh and Trickster is also an escape artist so he was out of the handcuffs seconds later.
  • Person of Interest: John Reese is a recipient of this trope to an almost absurd degree. You'd think the bad guys would be a little more Genre Savvy. The guy's a former CIA operative who admits to being very good at killing people, after all.
    • Dirty cops cuff his hands in front of him and take him on a scenic drive to a remote location by the lake in the back of their squad car. He manages to blow up the car with a flash grenade, kick his way out of the shattered back window, get Fusco's keys out his pocket and unlock his wrists before shooting Fusco in the back repeatedly with his own gun. (He's wearing a bulletproof vest, but still. Ouch.) Doubles with With My Hands Tied.
    • Fusco sells John out to drug dealers as a down payment on some cocaine he owes them. John ends up on a chair with his hands ziptied in front of him, and somehow ends up beating up three men and delivering a speech outing his would-be killer as a traitor to the gang and warning him that he'll literally lose his head if he tries to come after John again. In fluent Spanish. He then borrows Fusco's knife, frees himself, and tells him that he doesn't have time for any more of such silly shenanigans.
    "Don't do this again."
    • During The Crossing this finally happens to Fusco. When he is caught by HR, his captors are quite thorough, tieing him to a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. Unfortunately for them, this means when he is tortured within an inch of his life, they don't notice when he breaks his own thumb in order to slip it through the handcuffs and finally garottes the guy who was supposed to kill him.
  • The Pretender: "Once in a Blue Moon" has an instance of handy-cuffs-as-improvised-weapon. The prisoner starts the scene with his hands properly cuffed behind him, but talks his way into getting them re-cuffed in front. (Jarod is too smart to fall for that usually, but in this case letting the prisoner get away is part of the plan.)
  • Supernatural: Dean has been cuffed more than a few times and always manages to get out of them.
  • Played with in Star Trek: Enterprise with Dr. Arik Soong, who's in Captain Archer's custody. When Soong tries to escape, Archer activates his magnetic cuffs, making it harder for Soong to run. Soong then tries using his cuffs to help himself climb a wall until Archer deactivates the cuffs, causing Soong to fall to the ground so Archer can recapture him.
  • CSI: NY: In "Vacation Getaway", Shane Casey uses the shackles around his wrists and ankles to strangle a guard and escape.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Joker of all people was handcuffed with his hands in front of him while being transferred between prisons. He picked the handcuff lock with an ordinary straight nail and then later used the handcuffs as brass knuckles against police.

  • In The Bat, this mistake is performed twice on the same person. The second case, in which the character manages to seize a gun with his cuffed hands, is egregious because the cuffs were put on by the real detective.

    Video Games 
  • In the first Police Quest game: while handcuffing a drunk driver, he'll say he's not feeling good and that he wants to be handcuffed from the front. If you do it that way, he'll hit you over the head at a later time, ending the game.
  • Tales of Symphonia: Regal Bryant spends the entirety of his time handcuffed in front. However, he swore to never fight with his arms again (though he's fine with use them to cook or bust out of jail with a good Kamehame Hadoken) and judging by the other prisoners him wearing cuffs at all was probably by choice.
  • Cody from Final Fight is put into a pair of cuffs when he gets jailed in Street Fighter Alpha 3. This however doesn't stop him from breaking out and still being a competent brawler in both Alpha 3 and Super Street Fighter IV.
  • Justified in the Interactive Fiction game The Weapon. The Player Character is purposely handcuffed in the front to allow him to work with the large device his captors want him to, yet still be controlled.
  • Joker is cuffed with his hands in front of him as he's being taken to his cell at the beginning of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The moment he's far enough away from Batman to keep the Dark Knight from interfering in time, he strangles his escort with the chain, slips the cuffs, and runs off.
  • Bruce Wayne is cuffed with his hands in front of him at the beginning of Batman: Arkham City. It doesn't stop him from clubbing a number of mooks with his bound hands (Although he can't fight quite as well as he does once he manages to break the cuffs off).
  • Resident Evil 6: : after being captured by Neo-Umbrella for half a year, Jake is transported with his hands cuffed in front. When he desides he wants out, he leaps back onto a guy holding him at gunpoint and catches the latter's gun under his arm, causing a spray of bullets and making other guards cover, then kills the guy with his knees and quickly loots the handcuff key from him.

  • Tainted: A variation with plain ropes happened in this strip.
  • Vaela in Drowtales here, but she doesn't try to escape: On the contrary, she takes her new bodyguard "job" very seriously (having fought alongside her in the arena probably helped).

    Western Animation 
  • Gargoyles: Lampshaded and played with. A villain disguises herself as a cop. She handcuffed her partner's hands in front of him, prompting actual cops seeing this to say "Must be a rookie... who else would handcuff a guy that big with his hands in front of him?!" Elisa stumbles on the villain's plot when she follows said "rookie" to correct the mistake.