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Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon
A Murder Mystery trope.

The victim and the attacker are both actors, rehearsing or acting out a scene with a prop weapon. Unbeknownst to either, a third party has switched out the prop weapon for a real weapon, and the attacker kills the victim before realizing the switch.

For the Real Life version of this, please see Fatal Method Acting.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Played straight in the Kindaichi Case Files: One case got kicked off as an actress died from drinking a glass of wine that has been poisoned. Later averted when in the same case, a prop has been switched with a murder weapon that was about to be used but the would-be victim blocked it in time.
  • Toyed with in Detective Conan. An otaku shoots himself in the head with a real gun in public, apparently thinking it was a fake one. For worse, he had just shot a cosplayer under the same belief. This is intentional: the cosplayer who was shot is the one who tricked that otaku into first shooting him (he was wearing protection as a part of his outfit) and then shooting himself, in revenge for having caused the death of his younger brother.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Maze Agency story "The Death of Justice Girl", the actress playing Justice Girl is killed when the murderer swaps out a pistol loaded with blanks for one loaded with live ammo.

    Film 
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little has Bill Murray's character firing what he thinks is a prop gun.
  • In The Clones of Bruce Lee, the gold-smuggling director's yes-man suggests using this to kill the Bruce Lee Clone they suspect to be a secret agent. As Spoony pointed out in his review, this is very badly Harsher in Hindsight, since Bruce's son Brandon was killed on the set of The Crow by a weapons malfunction.
  • Happens in the Elvis Presley film Frankie & Johnny with a prop gun that's been loaded with real bullets.
  • In Shaun of the Dead, not only is the rifle displayed at the Winchester pub real, it's also loaded.
  • In The Prestige, Borden emphasizes that a bullet-catching trick where the (bulletless) gun is fired by an audience member is still dangerous, because the volunteer can slip something down the barrel and fire it for real. Guess what happens.
  • This is the central plot point of Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star.
  • Animal House: As a prank, Bluto and D-Day get Flounder to shoot Marmalard's horse in Dean Wormer's office, the two formers assured that there are blanks in the gun. Flounder doesn't have the heart to shoot the horse so he aims it in the air and fires. The horse promptly dies of a heart attack. Bluto and D-Day panic when they hear the horse fall with a thud and see it dead on the floor (D-Day: "Those were blanks!!")

    Literature 
  • The Polish book Dwie "Kobry". A character in a TV show is supposed to be killed by a faulty electrical socket, but the socket turns out to be a real one and the actor is actually electrocuted.
  • The initial murder in Witness in Death is accomplished in this manner during a stage production of Witness for the Prosecution. It's subverted when it turns out that the actress who did the stabbing was the one who switched the prop knife with the real one, and knew very well what she was doing when she stabbed him.
  • Caroline Graham's novel Death of a Hollow Man has the actor playing Salieri in a performance of Amadeus fatally injured when someone removes the protective tape from the blade of the prop razor that the character cuts his throat with. This stayed the same when the story was adapted into an episode of the Midsomer Murders TV show.
    • An episode that was written by author Caroline Graham. Hence why the episode follows the book so closely.
  • Ngaio Marsh used this trope several times:
    • In Enter A Murderer has a prop gun used for an on-stage killing loaded without the actors' knowledge.note 
    • Swing Brother Swing uses a sneaky variation of this. It's suggested that a musician was murdered during an on-stage gangster routine by a dart, not a bullet, being loaded into a blank-firing pistol. But actually he acted the death as planned but was surreptitiously stabbed to death afterwards while playing dead before the scene ended, so everyone thought the on-stage killing had been real.
    • Light Thickens has a loose variation, in which the fake severed head of Macbeth is replaced on the end of a pole with the head of the decapitated murder victim.
  • Happens in the Joanne Fluke/Hannah Swenson mystery Cherry Cheesecake Murder, when the director of a movie shoots himself with a supposed-to-be-not-loaded prop gun, to attempt to demonstrate the emotion required in the scene to the actors.
  • Inverted in Wyrd Sisters, when the Duke loses his mind and begins stabbing people, including himself, with a prop knife. No one is hurt, but he's convinced that everyone he strikes is dead, and even insists he's now a ghost to Death himself. The discrepancy is soon resolved, when he attempts to use his ghostly powers to fly.
  • In There Was an Old Woman by Ellery Queen, one man challenges his brother to a pistol duel, so friends replace all the bullets with blanks, but somebody else puts bullets back in the gun before the duel.
  • John Dickson Carr's The Peacock Feather Murders involves a person being badly burned by a blank fired at close range.
  • Done by accident in a Selby the Talking Dog short story, where Selby accidentally glues up a retracting knife and then has to save Mrs. Trifle from it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Psych has used this plot, during a telenovela episode. Until Shawn is able to prove otherwise, everyone is convinced that the actor with the knife was obviously completely responsible (and dumb enough to stab someone in the chest on live television). In true Psych fashion, proving his hypothesis almost resulted in Shawn's own death by not-fake prop weapon, this time a nail gun.
  • Monk also did it. The weapon was switched after the victim had already collapsed, due to peanut oil on the apple he had eaten. The actress accused of murder rightly points out that she would have been able to feel the difference in weight and balance between the prop knife and the real one.
  • Done in Oz during the prison production of Macbeth, though with a shank.
  • In the new Twilight Zone episode "Yellow," a soldier caught deserting is told by the general (who is his father), that the firing squad will use blanks, the soldier can play dead, and escape when the army leaves. At the last minute, when the soldier sees his father look away, he finds out this trope is in effect.
  • In the 1980s version of the series V, when an alien member of La Résistance is sword dueling with a human, the leader Diana turns on the plasma swords, making them lethal.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • Happens in the episode "Death of a Hollow Man".
    • And in "The Magician's Nephew", where the spikes inside a illusionist's 'Cabinet of Death' are coated with a fast acting poison.
  • Black Adder: The Black Adder tries this one, but changes his mind when he learns the victim has information he thinks can prove he's the real heir. The information ends up proving the opposite.
  • An episode of The Professionals centered around a gun used in a crime being dumped in the prop bin of a theater company.
  • Diagnosis: Murder featured a morning show staging a shooting between the hosts as a publicity stunt. Someone switched the real bullets for blanks and the cohost gets shot.
  • Ellery Queen: A movie is being filmed based on Ellery and the man playing Ellery is killed by a gun that was supposed to be filled with blanks.
  • Castle had two variants:
    • While the two guns used by the victim and the "murderer" were both real, they were so wildly inaccurate (as a disgruntled cop and a laser sight would attest) that there was no chance of one party hitting the other. The third party hid in a tree nearby.
      • Another time this is played with when the murderer modifies an actual prop gun to fire bullets.
    • And another one earlier in the series, also with a real gun but the shooter didn't know there was a bullet in the barrel.
  • An episode of Bonanza has Hoss get framed for murder when the blank rounds from a prop gun get switched for real bullets and the blanks turn up in his saddle bag.
  • A Smallville episode had someone put live ammo into a gun that was going to used to "shoot" the lead actress in a movie filmed in the town. The would-be murderer learned about Clark's powers when he somehow saw him catch the bullet.
  • One 1000 Ways to Die clip has a magician killed this way while performing the bullet catch illusion.
  • Used in an episode of the 1994 revival of Burkes Law, entitled "Who Killed the Starlet?" A woman is the bath while listening to some music, when a killer sneaks in and drops her boombox into the bathtub, killing her. It turns out that the killer and lady are merely actors on a movie set, and they're filming a murder scene. Then it turns out the boombox had been plugged into a live outlet by an unknown party, and the actress in the bathtub really is dead. But the boom box was plugged in after the murder; the victim was actually poisoned.
  • CSI NY had a case that bore a few similarities to the Real Life John-Erik Hexum case. A mysterious game was going on around New York in which people eliminated each other from said game with water guns/balloons. One guy got extremely annoyed because the eliminator used a fake casting agency setup and made him go through the whole interview, thus humiliating him. He got back at the guy by hoping to scare him with a gun loaded with blanks. He didn't know that a blank gun fired at point blank range can be as lethal as a gun with real bullets.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "No More Drama in My Life", the Victim of the Week is an amateur actor killed when the killer packs ball bearings into the blank round being used in a prop gun during rehearsal.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Framed for Murder", the killer swaps the prop knife being used in a movie for the real knife used for taking stills. When the director demonstrates to the actress how he wants her to stab the leading man, he stabs himself in the heart.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Honky Tonk Man almost killed Jake Roberts when the prop guy got a real guitar instead of a prop.

    Radio 
  • The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: In "The Adventure of the Notorious Canary Trainer", a criminal plans to fake his suicide so he can disappear. However, his partner double-crosses him and replaces the blanks in his revolver with real bullets.

    Real Life 
  • The stringent safety protocols employed on most productions when using firearms were largely developed in response to famous real life examples of this trope. On the other hand, it's very hard to have a real life example using a weapon other than a firearm - the action required to stab someone with a knife is totally different from the action used by an actor to stimulate a stabbing with a fake weapon for example. Stabs, slashes and blows with weapons are generally faked in the same way and for the same reason as punches, slaps and other bare-fisted stage combat. After all - you can't really hit someone forty takes in a row, and the bruises wreck havok with continuity.
  • A Real Life tragedy without the malice. On October 12, 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum was filming a scene for the CBS TV series Cover Up. In the scene, he had a .44 magnum revolver loaded with blanks. After several takes, filming of the scene was delayed. As the cast and crew became more annoyed, Hexum decided to relieve the tension by performing a little joke. He grabbed the prop gun, put it to his temple and squeezed off a round. (People on the set later said that they believed that Hexum had assumed that the prop master had unloaded the gun between takes.) The blank — which was made up of a standard bullet casing and a standard powder charge, but with a "projectile" that had the consistency of a piece of blackboard chalk — crushed Hexum's temple. The blunt-force trauma was similar to that of being hit by a baseball bat swung by the hardest-hitting Major League-level home run slugger. Six days later, the 26-year-old actor was declared brain dead and, following to the wishes of his mother, his organs were harvested for transplant.
  • Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee died during the shooting of The Crow, when he was shot with a real gun. The gun was loaded with blanks, but a previous scene had seen the use of improvised dummy rounds by the second unit crew - real cartridges with the powder poured out - allowing for a shot of bullets in the revolver's cylinders when the weapon was aimed at the camera. The primer had just enough force to push the bullet into the barrel, but nobody checked the weapon properly before loading blank rounds for the actual murder scene. The blank round pushed the stuck bullet out of the barrel and Lee was really shot in the chest.
  • This trope can also apply to blunt instruments. In the non-fiction book The Art of Coarse Acting by Michael Green, which sounds like it ought to be a guidebook for starring in an Awful British Sex Comedy but is actually a combination memoir and Affectionate Parody of amateur dramatics tropes, author Michael Green expounds on the importance of viewing realistic-looking coshes and blackjacks supplied by the props department with grave suspicion.

    Video Games 
  • In the Hitman: Blood Money mission "Curtains Down", Agent 47 has the option of switching a prop World War I pistol for a genuine one in working condition to kill a target, who is to be executed in the play Tosca. (At the time you first gain access to the level, this will be the only method of completing the mission with a Silent Assassin rating, since you won't have access to a suppressor for your rifle yet.)
  • Subverted in the first Phoenix Wright game, done to distract the player. The victim is killed with a large prop used for the TV show he co-starred in. Phoenix tries to argue that if it's a prop, it shouldn't have worked, but we realize that the blade itself is actually reasonably sharp. Subverted further in that the prop wasn't the murder weapon, it was a really sharp fence the victim fell on.
  • A case in a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation game involves an actress being killed on stage, supposedly by a prop gun. However, there are several inconsistencies: the man in charge of all props made the bullets and loaded them himself; the actress firing the prop weapon never actually pointed at the murder victim. It turns out the killer was the dead woman's husband, who found out that she was having an affair with the other actress. He fired a rifle from a balcony at the moment the prop gun was to go off.

    Web Comics 
  • Inversion: In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Gordito's father is killed during his gunslinger circus act because PETA sabotaged his guns before the performance. Had the PETA assassin UNLOADED Gordito's father's guns, the veteran shooter would have noticed the weight difference and presumably halted the act or loaded them. He sabotaged the guns so they were fully loaded, but incapable of discharging.

    Western Animation 
  • The Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoon "People Are Bunny" ends with a passel of hunters in a TV studio opening fire on Daffy. Bugs assures us that they always shoot blanks on TV. Daffy shows up afterwards, his bill swiss-cheesed as he spits out the rifle ammo.
    Daffy: Blanks, he says. Here. Have a handful of blanks! (tosses them in the air) Sheesh!


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