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Newspaperthin Disguise

Alice enters the crowded cafe, looking all about her to make sure that she's not being tailed by Bob. Good... seems like she's finally safe. The only people on the premises are an elderly woman, a bunch of businessmen she doesn't recognize, and some fellow whose face she can't see because it's hidden behind the newspaper he's reading. Thank God she's safe.

Alice sits down, assured of her safety. The man lowers his newspaper — gasp! It was Bob all along, cleverly using the newspaper to hide his face!

This is a trope for when someone attempts to hide by covering their face with a newspaper, magazine, book or other printed work. Often combined with a musical sting when the paper is lowered to let the audience know that this man is a villain. This has a surprisingly high rate of success. This is mostly a Dead Horse Trope and, as such, is very often parodied. Two of the most common types of parody are having the character's face on the cover or front page of whatever he's reading, or else having eye holes cut out of the paper.

Compare Highly-Visible Ninja, Highly Conspicuous Uniform and, of course, Paper-Thin Disguise.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • Heroic example: In Full Metal Panic!, Sousuke has a habit of watching out for Kaname behind an old newspaper with a hole cut out; like a lot of things he does, it really makes Sousuke look like a pervert.
    • Of course it would have helped if the cover story on the newspaper wasn't an event that happened several years ago. To be precise, it chronicles the soccer match known as Agony of Doha (Japan 2-2 Iraq, for the 1994 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers), which dates back to October 28, 1993, while FMP is set five years after.
  • Project A-Ko spoofed this in one of the films.
  • Ryo of City Hunter uses this from time to time to check out potential clients. And any hot babes walking past, though there is considerable overlap between the categories.

    Films — Animated 
  • Happens twice in the opening sequence of Bolt, first with Penny, then with Bolt himself. Bolt is a dog. Then again, it happened in the Show Within a Show.
  • The buffoonish burglars in Disney's animated 101 Dalmatians do this.
  • Happens with restaurant menus between Yzma and Kuzco in The Emperor's New Groove. Though to be fair, Kuzco (as a llama) was in drag at the time. It Makes Sense in Context...
  • Used for a Visual Gag in Tintin. Early in the movie, the Thom(p)sons are peering out of holes they cut into a newspaper during a stakeout in the marketplace. Each one has cut his holes in an ad on the paper that feature an item that not only lines up with where their mustaches would be, but matches the shape of said individual mustache (a broom for Thompson and a toilet plunger for Thomson).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 2009 Sherlock Holmes film pulls this with Moriarty in an otherwise empty train car, though in this case it was more a matter of atmosphere and keeping his face hidden from the audience more than any of the characters.
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles has a character briefly hide his face behind a smut novel.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
    • A beautiful subversion is pulled on the audience, however; in the aerodrome we see someone facing the camera directly with his newspaper ostentatiously held up to cover his entire face. Ah-ha, the audience thinks, this is one of the Jones boys! Then, Indiana appears in the background and begins chatting with someone slumped casually against a pillar behind Mr. Newspaper, who turns out to be Henry Jones Sr,; Mr. Newspaper isn't involved at all.
    • Five minutes later Henry does try to use it on the zeppelin. Colonel Vogel isn't fooled for a second. Perhaps it would have worked better if he held it right side up.
    • Also used successfully by Sallah, to disguise his fist.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark: When Indiana Jones is on a seaplane about to leave for Asia, a man lowers the Life magazine he's reading and reveals his face, with ominous music to let the audience know he's a Villain. He later turns out to be a Nazi agent.
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: During the opening credits when everyone is chasing Austin, he hides out by concealing his face behind a copy of Fab! magazine with a distorted view of his face on it. This itself is a parody of a scene from the beginning of A Hard Day's Night where The Beatles are hiding from their fans.
  • Used by Sikes and/or Nancy in various adaptations of Oliver Twist.
  • Steve Martin's version of Clousseau tries this along with his partner in The Pink Panther — while tailing a suspect. It works the first couple of times, but the next time they try it, Clousseau trips down the stairs to the subway station.
  • A plainclothes secret policeman (presumably) in Brazil does this.
  • Two thugs in The Man Who Knew Too Little used a variation. While shooting at Wallace, they used a newspaper to conceal their gun, and to make it look like they were just standing around and reading the paper. Then their paper got torn to shreds as they kept missing.
  • Fatal Instinct. Max Shady (the escaped ex-con stalking Ned Ravine) does this several times. At least once his picture was on the front of the newspaper.
  • Parodied in The Big Lebowski with the detective DaFino. As The Dude discovers his Volkswagen parked outside his house he walks angry towards it and we can see DaFino reaching for a newspaper and very badly pretend to read it.
  • The Master of Disguise has one such example; Pistachio (as a "cow pie" man) somehow hides from Bowman's henchmen in this manner.
  • Thomson and Thompson do this in Tintin. Not only do they have eye-holes, but both newspapers have brush advertisments at moustache-level.
  • In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Lolita, Claire Quilty and his wife do this while spying on Humbert in a hotel lobby. Unlike the usual version of this trope, the camera is behind the newspaper and the man holding it, looking over Quilty's shoulder at Humbert, showing how he's unaware that he's being watched.
  • In The Thieves, Andrew sits at a cafe table holding a newspaper in front of his face while keeping watch on the hotel.

    Jokes 
  • A gorilla is walking through the jungle when he spots a lion taking a drink from the spring. The lion is bent over and oblivious to anything but getting a drink, so the gorilla thinks he'll play a joke on the lion. The gorilla sneaks up on the lion and pushes him in the water and laughs. Well, the lion doesn't like this at all and starts chasing the gorilla. The gorilla runs and looks for some place to hide. Eventually, he comes upon an abandoned safari camp. The gorilla quickly puts on some clothes and a pith helmet he finds, sits in a deck chair and hides his face behind a newspaper. Soon, the lion pounces in on the scene and growls "Grr...did you see a gorilla go through here?" Without lowering the paper, the gorilla says "You mean the one who tossed the lion in the spring?" Then the lion says "You mean it's in the papers already?"

    Literature 
  • Done in the mystery novel The Secret of the Monster Book, by a bad guy the good guys know is following them. One character lampshades it by saying, "There should be a law against bad people buying newspapers."
  • Played with twice in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Unnatural History. In the first instance, Fitz doesn't seem to be attempting to hide, but came across as shady nonetheless:
    The guy on the sofa was watching them, she suddenly realised. Just wide grey eyes, appearing in the slit between the San Francisco Chronicle and the black [fedora].
    • The second time he does it, this time actually trying to camouflage himself, he realizes that the newspaper is in Chinese, and, unluckily for him, while he does speak Chinese, he can't read it.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione does this with a book (which is upside down) when Professor McGonagall comes in and takes Harry's Firebolt (Hermione having told McGonagall that Harry received it with no card and suspecting it to be from Sirius Black, an assumption that turns out to be Accidentally Accurate, except he hadn't harmed it), to hide her face from Ron and Harry, who round on her as soon as McGonagall is gone and start getting after her for tattling.
  • Ed Foley used this to keep one of his agents from seeing his face during handoffs in the Tom Clancy novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin.
  • Played straight in The Historian. The main character wakes up on a train, and someone is in the room with her (who hadn't been there before she went to sleep). He's hidden behind a newspaper, which she finds creepy and it eventually strikes her that after about five minutes, he hasn't bothered to turn the page.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Pushing Daisies, Chuck's recently resurrected father isn't supposed to leave Ned's apartment, but does so anyway. He hides in plain sight in Ned's restaurant behind a newspaper, only revealing himself to Ned after Chuck had left.
  • In Heroes, Sylar does this during the first season while Hiro and his friends are in the diner.
  • Parodied in the "Monkey-ed Movies" James Bond spoof on TBS' Dinner And A Movie, when Q shows 009 a newspaper. This prompts 009 say "It's just an ordinary tabloid!". But when Q holds it over himself, 009 immediately asks "Where did you go?", and Q puts the newspaper aside and says "Peekaboo, 009!".
  • A lot of modern police shows employ this for one or two officers when they have a large amount of officers staking out a single target. They can play it straight without accidentally invoking parody if those hiding are extras and the camera doesn't single them out for long.
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney spent an entire day spying through one of these in a French restaurant. Subverted in that the woman Robin told him was there wasn't going there; she was just trying to make a point.
  • MacGyver, "Thief of Budapest" has a scene in which McGyver hacks a stoplight control box standing in the middle of main street. His cover? People on both sides with newspapers spread out wide.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Hush" Willow hides behind an open writing pad to spy on Buffy flirting with Riley.
  • An episode of Horrible Histories had Harriet Tubman use a newspaper as a disguise. The man looking for escaped slaves assumed that a woman who knew how to read couldn't possibly be an escaped slave and left her alone. The Talking Rat didn't deny it, so it was maybe Truth in Television.

    Music 
  • The cover of No Use for a Name's album Incognito (The One With their version of "Truth Hits Everybody") is a newspaper sheet with a pair of eyes peeking through holes on it.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies:
    • "Home Tweet Home": Sylvester spies on Tweety by sneaking around the park with newspaper in hand, moving from bench to bench and pretending to read the paper until he gets to his prize. The bird immediately realizes he's being stalked by his ever-present puddy pursuer and rushes to a young woman to protect him.
  • On The Simpsons, Bart goes to a counsellor, where we find Principal Skinner in the waiting room. He doesn't want Bart to see him, so he hides behind a magazine — namely "Principal's World", with his headshot on the cover.
  • Futurama:
    • Subverted in an episode where Flexo (a robot who looks exactly like Bender save for a small metal goatee) disappears along with an expensive atom they were delivering. While looking for him, Leela and Fry find "Bender" first wearing a turtleneck sweater, then a scarf, then holding a newspaper to his face that he refuses to put down. They finally get him to put it down, revealing... that he really is Bender and Flexo left hours ago.
    • Played straight in a later episode, in which Bender finds himself pursued by the New New York police (on whose radar he has fallen due to a previous crime), who attempt to cover their tracks by reading the "Non-Police News" before finally giving up the act and arresting Bender. He gets off clean, which was quite lucky for him—he was carrying data for the Robot Mafia and had just given it to another robot on the street to complete his delivery.
  • Done in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "A Bird in the Hoof" by Philomena the bird. Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy, who are chasing her around, actually do check behind the newspaper, but appear fooled by the fake mustache Philomena wears underneath.
  • One of Gromit's favourite tricks. On one occasion, the headline of the newspaper he's hiding behind is "Dog reads newspaper".

    Real Life 
  • As it happens the Secret Police in many countries actually invert this: If you walk into a cafe and someone is very obviously reading a newspaper and peering over at you every now and then, it's probably because you're being watched, and the Secret Police want you to know.


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