Hello? Dr. Scholl? Can you hear me?
His watch is really a radio / His gun, a pen...
He knows that it's / all gone, / no mom, / nobody wins.
A classic element of any Spy Drama
or spoof thereof. A spy's Plot Technology
must inevitably be disguised as mundane objects. This can run the gamut from the practical to the ridiculous.
If an episode is to feature a gadget in some way, it will be introduced to the agent and the audience in a scene early on, usually by the Techno Wizard
that built it. This scene has a few stock jokes of its own. They usually include the agent almost setting it off, not realizing it's really a gadget; a lecture by a Q-inspired briefing officer on the proper way to use it, and a stern warning not to play with it or break it as the agent did the last ones he was issued. In addition, nowadays the agent mistaking an actual mundane object for a gadget is practically required by all but the most serious examples.
And, in accordance with the Law of Chekhov's Gun
, every item introduced in the beginning will
be used later in the story, even if it was just an ordinary object (except for Q's lunch, which is used off screen, by Q).
This trope owes its existence mostly to James Bond
, but real-life objects like this have been used by spies since the Revolutionary War or earlier.
Favorite objects to use as hiding places:
The more mundane the object, the better. Can be inverted when an agent assumes that a mundane object is a gadget, when it is really just what it looks like. This appears enough to make it an Undead Horse Trope
Can be inverted
if a gadget (say, a gun or a grappling hook) is modded to be mundane (say, a pen).
A collection of seemingly mundane items that can be assembled into a functional weapon
is called a Scaramanga Special
. See also This Banana Is Armed
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Anime and Manga
- Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot / Giant Robo had a neat little gadget with Unicorn: a little and very powerful emergency communicator hidden in the heel of their standard uniform boot. All the agents has to do is flip open the heel, pull out the device and use it.
- L/R is notable for having just about every one of the titular spies' gadgets built into cigarettes.
- Ah, the old communicator cigarette trick!
- Tatsunoko hero Gold Lightan is called such because it's a giant robot whose Sleep Mode Size is a gold cigarette lighter.
- Not a Spy Drama example, but Conan from Case Closed does a lot of this. Pretty much the only part of his uniform that isn't some kind of gadget is the suit he wears. (And even that had a tracking device disguised as a button.)
- In Gatchaman:
- G-1 had a glass cutter in the heel of his civilian shoe; the heels themselves were used as suction cups to quietly remove the panel.
- G-3 carried explosives in the heel of her civilian shoe. Along with a fuse that needed merely to be tweaked to be lit.
- The series Mortadelo y Filemón, agencia de información (German: Clever & Smart, French: Mortadel et Filemón or Futt et Fil, Dutch: Paling & Ko, English: Mort & Phil) by Spanish artist Francisco Ibáñez, which started in 1958 provides an early example, and heavily parodies the James Bond spy genre. The series is a bizarre slapstick comedy with even more bizarre gadgets in which the two titular agents are constantly surrounded by idiots, explosions and mad scientists and plagued by bad luck and their own semi-competence, not to mention their choleric superior. The series was never translated into English, though.
- The first issue of the G.I. Joe comic books had Cobra operatives disguise cameras as gun parts.
- Spy vs. Spy has several examples of this, as the two spies use these to kill each other. Examples include special shells that disguise their firearms as certain props like hair dryers and cameras. They disguise bombs as harmless items from time to time as well, like books, teeth, and credit cards.
- Jet Dream and her Stunt-Girl Counterspies have a wide array of spy gadgets and weapons, almost invariably disguised as stereotypically "girly" items, from a compact full of "Kayo Powder" to a radio hidden in an earring to Marlene's "Tunic Chute," a skirt that billows out into an emergency parachute.
- In the L.E.G.I.O.N. Elseworld L.E.G.I.O.N. 007: James Lobo in: The Spy Who Fragged Me, Garryn Bek, acting as Q, gives Lobo a golf cart that's a machine gun, a motor scooter that's a rocket launcher, and a cigarette carton that contains a dagger. Lobo's reaction is to "cut out the bull" by pulling them all out of the housings, and just carrying a load of weapons.
Live Action TV
- Mock the Week: Now watch carefully, 007, this may look like an ordinary suitcase, but if you push this button a handle comes out and you can wheel it...
- It's not just a baseball bat, Bond, It's a baseball bat with a nail through it!
- Ingenious Q, a bomb that's also a rucksack!
- This is no ordinary pen, Bond! Turn it upside down, the woman's clothes drop off and you can see her tits.
- Get Smart had a number of ridiculous devices; the most famous is the pre-cellular wireless dress shoe that makes this series the Trope Namer. A full list can be found here.
- The shoe phone was used to hang lampshades as soon as it was introduced in the series pilot: in one famous sequence, the shoe phone went off in a theatre, breaking any cover Max might have had. In the first season, Max is identified at least once by his ringing shoes.
- A Running Gag in the show was whenever Max and Siegfried met face to face, the latter would greet him by clicking his heels and saluting. Max would then do the same, causing an unpleasant "crack" and a loud "DING!" to be heard followed by Max cringing, either from the sound or the fact that he may have broken (another) phone.
- Other spy devices were improvised all the time. In one episode where Max and 99 are undercover as news agents, they are given (a) a camera disguised as a tape recorder and (b) a tape recorder disguised as a camera. When the Q-type is asked why he didn't just give them a camera and a tape recorder, he replies "my mind doesn't work that way".
- In another episode, Max used the cigarette lighter in his car as a phone. He then had to use the car phone to light his cigarette.
- In one episode of the 1990s revival, Max's son is equipped with a gun that's really a flashlight and a flashlight that's really a gun.
- There was also the episode where Smart and 99 had to get in contact with an imprisoned man. They had taken away his shoes, but fortunately the man had a sock phone.
- In "Ship of Spies", Max and 99 have phones in their guns. Needless to say, there were design flaws. ("99, I'm gonna have to hang up now. I may have to fire my phone.")
- There was an episode where Max wakes up when his phone rings, and he picks up various items around his house, starting with his shoe, and including the log on the fireplace before actually answering the real phone which was the one ringing. One wonders why CONTROL had so many phone devices...
- The more one watches this show, the more one becomes convinced that about 90% of CONTROL's R&D budget was allocated to finding new weird places to hide cell phones. Max seems to have at least two dozen hidden phones in his apartment.
- Similarly, "Satan Place" (episode 9 of season 1) features a scene in which Max talks on six hidden phones at once: watch, wallet, tie, garter, belt, and the obligatory shoe.
- You know what's even funnier? The Russians had experimented with a shoe recorder and the show was once investigated by the CIA for their cone of silence.
- Especially funny since one of the Running Gags was that the Cone of Silence never worked (In an amazing variety of different ways).
- We can't forget the Car Phone, which had Max accidentally dialing the operator every time he turned the steering wheel.
- Of course, that item does exist, just as a special software feature you install in your car.
- The 2008 movie shows several of the original gadgets in a museum, including the shoe phone which Max actually uses, routing a call from it through his cellphone to throw off triangulation. And introduces a few new ones such as a Geiger counter watch.
- The Wild Wild West did it during the Reconstruction era.
- Mission: Impossible used it to a lesser degree.
- The Man From UNCLE was one of earliest instances of this trope on television, with many (though not all) of their gadgets disguised as mundane items.
- Such tools were a major part of Joel Hodgson's prop comedy stand-up routine, and therefore made their way into many of the Invention Exchange segments on Mystery Science Theater 3000 The most outlandish was a submachine gun hidden inside a casserole dish, complete with casserole.
- Alias uses this, pretty traditionally, in nearly every episode. However, at least they go to the trouble of designing the gadgets specifically for the mission at hand, or the mission for the gadget, depending on your cynicism. Their "Q" Marshall managed to accidentally set off nearly every one, despite being the one to design them.
- Ultraman went one better with the Science Patrol having a standard communicator pin that was even smaller than the type in Star Trek: The Next Generation. All the agents have to do is pull up a tiny antenna to activate it and send a message.
- Stephen Colbert once had a shoe phone on The Colbert Report. It was just a telephone receiver glued to the bottom of a shoe, complete with trailing cord. "Just looking at it, you wouldn't know it was a phone! ... And just wearing it, you wouldn't know it was a shoe."
- In Kamen Rider Kiva, it's revealed that the IXA Riser used to access IXA's Super Mode was, in fact, his mouthpiece the whole time.
- Almost all the weapons used by the Riders in Kamen Rider Faiz resemble ordinary objects like cellphones or cameras.
- Kamen Rider Double has an interesting variation, where the main character's gadgets can turn into robot animals to improve their function, such as a camera that turns into a bat and can capture images/video autonomously, or a wristwatch that turns into a spider, making it a "smart" Grappling-Hook Pistol.
- Subverted in the Spooks episode "Nest of Angels". An Algerian agent listens politely as MI-5 show him a number of disguised communication and bugging devices for his mission to infiltrate a radical Islamic group. The next scene shows him dumping this highly compromising equipment into a canal.
- The Equalizer always used spy gadgets that could be bought commercially in real life.
- MI High has communicator pencils and various 'gadgets of the week' that are invariably disguised as innocuous pieces of school paraphenalia.
- In the original live action version of Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot/Giant Robo, Johnny gave orders to the titular robot via a communicator hidden in his wristwatch.
- Darnell from My Name Is Earl has been shown to have several pieces of his hair turn out to be phones - they self destruct after use.
- Chuck has a phone in his wristwatch. He keeps on expecting other gadgets to have hidden uses, but they never do.
- In the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "The Bishop", the Bishop has a phone embedded in his crosier (that is, his staff of bishopishness).
- In The Sarah Jane Adventures, Sarah Jane Smith carried a sonic device similar to the Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver, concealed in a lipstick.
- The Prisoner episode "The Girl Who Was Death" shows Potter, one of Number 6's fellow spies, undercover as a shoe-shine man. He communicates with HQ via a phone disguised as a polishing brush. Almost a literal Shoe Phone.
- The game song styles on Whose Line Is It Anyway? gives us the aptly titled My Shoe Is A Phone.
- The Mythbusters once successfully chased a myth about an umbrella that hides a gun. they made a replica that was fully functional and could have fatally wounded someone, and they actually needed special permission to make that kind of disguised weapon.
- Mash had an inversion of the "it's exactly what it appears to be" sense, even though the case it was inverting wasn't exactly an example:
Major Winchester: (looking at various medicinal herbs) What does this cure?
Traditional Korean doctor: Hunger. That's my lunch.
- In Power Rangers Zeo, Bulk and Skull seemed to have their jobs as cops confused with spies as they once used a shoe phone that was in the form of a shoe.
- Similarly in Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger Season 2/Tsu a corporate spy took her job name too literally and had a shoe phone that also looked like a shoe.
- Spitting Image. A spoof of the Spycatcher scandal had Peter Wright being equipped with some retirement gadgets after being booted out of MI5.
Q: This little device looks like a harmless flamethrower. In fact, it's a pen.
Peter Wright: Ingenious. And what other devilish ideas have you got for me, eh?
Q: A book. Cunningly disguised as a sensational story, but when you open the pages, you find it's a load of whinging self-pity from a rather suspect right-wing snooper, droning on about his pension rights.
- An Australian radio skit about the scandal had a bookseller being exposed as an MI-5 assassin when his shoe started ringing, though the fact that he was selling copies of Spycatcher written in invisible ink should have given him away earlier.
- Kurt Weill's music-theatre piece The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken (Der Zar lässt sich photographieren) is about a group of revolutionaries' attempt to assassinate the Tsar using a gun hidden in a studio camera. Their plan falls through as the female "photographer" develops Unresolved Sexual Tension with her prospective victim.
- Secret Sam...a briefcase with hidden camera gun and missile launcher inside, and Six Finger, basicly the old toy gun and real pen in the extra finger trick.
- Transformers!!! Think back to G1: even if the robots that turn into cars and jets don't count, the ones that turn into a radio (Blaster and Soundwave), cassette tapes (dozens of little buggers), and a microscope (Perceptor ((and in the recent movie, Scalpel))). The original Megatron deserves mention since he's an interstellar despot disguised as a Walther P-38 — oddly enough, original James Bond's favorite gun.
- The all-time winner has to be Ejector, also from the Revenge of the Fallen toyline. He transformers in a freaking toaster. (He's also an Ascended Meme, having first appeared in a really funny Mountain Dew commercial which also exemplifies this trope.)
- Music Label Soundwave has a fully functional Mp3 player integrated into his torso, and he maintains his full transforming functionality. Other such Device Label Transformers include Ravage, who becomes a flash drive, Rumble and Frenzy, who become a set of earphones, and one other who is also a fully functional USB hub.
- Movie-toyline Real Gear Transformers become surprisingly realistic devices, including a camera, an mp3 player, a handheld gaming console shaped vaguely like the Wonderswan, a camcorder, a set of electronically enhanced binoculars, and a flip-phone.
- Mattel produced the ZeroM line of toys to cash in on the '60s superspy craze. They included a transistor radio that unfolded into a rifle, a 35mm camera that unfolded into a pistol, a Super 8 movie camera that unfolded into another gun, and even a Briefcase Blaster... and all of which are now illustrations of Zeerust.
- No One Lives Forever gives Cate Archer a wide array of girly themed destructive items (Mascara laser, hairspray flamethrower, and the like) one could conceal in one's purse.
- The Spy in Team Fortress 2 has, fittingly enough, a disguise kit built into his cigarette case and a cloaking device for a wristwatch.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3 you can pickup a knockout-gas cigarette case, one of the only weapons that can be used when Snake is disguised as an enemy soldier or scientist. It's also strangely effective against two immune-to-bullets bosses near the end of the game.
- Also lampshaded during a discussion between Snake and Major Zero about James Bond, in which Snake comments that (for example) a gun-pen would make him look stupid in the jungle, at which point Zero insists they could build him a gun shaped like a snake, that "folds up into an attache case." In which Snake then replied that it was even sillier (then Zero gets upset at Snake for "Bashing" Bond).
- Perfect Dark has a laptop that can turn into a machine gun and a heat-seeking, wall-sticking turret gun. Apparently it has basic computer functions, too.
- 007: Agent Under Fire has a cell phone that also comes with a laser, a password cracker, a switch activator, and a grapple hook that can somehow extend for 10 meters or more. In Goldeneye, Bond's wristwatch serves as the game menu and health/armor indicator and contains a built-in magnet and laser that are used to get out of certain level-specific death traps in a Shout Out to the movies.
- Splinter Cell has Sam's wristwatch. Dear God, what can't it do? It can hack computers, disarm bombs, pick locks, scan eyeballs, get fingerprints from a surface, playback voices for getting into voice-locks, show a map with the locations of bad guys, and operate as a standalone computer for storing files and the like. In a goddamn watch. Granted, you are the best spy the NSA has.
- These compose Clank's armaments in Secret Agent Clank, including shuriken bowties, an umbrella that shoots electricity, and a briefcase/flamethrower, to name a few.
- Truth in Television: Several gadgets used by World War II spies. A camera hidden in a match box, playing cards that had hidden maps, an actual pen gun (good for one shot), and shoes that looked like feet (when landing on beaches, foot prints with toes were less conspicuous than combat boots, which would draw attention). When in the business of being a spy, you don't want to draw attention to yourself, and these toys did just that. All saw action with a moderate reported success rate.
- This technique was also used to smuggle supplies to POWs to aid in escapes, with things like hacksaw blades hidden in pencils, radio components in chess pieces, and Monopoly sets with secret maps, compasses, files, and (real) money.
- At the Pencil Museum in Keswick, there are a few examples of pencils in which had been hidden a tiny compass and a rolled-up map of Germany, again for POWs.
- Also in WWII, the OSI developed a plastic explosive that looked just like Aunt Jemima pancake mix for use by resistance groups. It was even edible.
- Related: the CIA's explosive flour that, when baked into cakes and bread, could be smuggled in then kneaded into plastic explosive as required.
- One can easily find sandals that have bottle openers on the sole. Not quite as cool as a phone or bomb, but much more practical.
- So long as one keeps careful track of where one has stepped before popping open a cold one...
- Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov was killed in London by a poisoned pellet hidden in an umbrella. "Bulgarian Umbrellas" are still occasionally used as a British Unusual Euphemism to describe unorthodox means of murder.
- The mobile phone zip gun used to be an increasing security risk. Then came the smartphone, and a few years later carrying a brick-phone with a physical keyboard no longer makes one inconspicuous.
- The non-fiction doorstopper Spycraft by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton tells the history of the CIA's Office of Technical Services. It not only details the numerous gadgets, but has a large section detailing the philosophy and tactics behind their deployment. One interesting fact is how fictional spy gadgets spurred the creation of real life devices, as agents in the field began demanding the miraculous do-anything devices they saw in the movies and TV.
- Everything on this page. This one too.
- Back in the 60s, the KGB really did have a radio transmitter that fit in the heel of a shoe.
- Also back in the 60s, the CIA reportedly went to elaborate lengths to fit a microphone and a radio inside a... cat. A live one. It got run over by a taxi almost immediately after it was first deployed in the field. The program was scrapped shortly after that.
- While it will probably become mainstream pretty quickly, for now most people will assume you are insane when they say you talking to your watch, and will be amazed to realize it's actually a phone.
- A taser that looks like a cell phone.
- Eff-in Science showed a hand-phone. Well, actually a glove phone. They disassembled a Bluetooth earpiece, attached the speaker portion to the tip of the thumb of a glove and the microphone to the tip of the pinky. The demonstrator could hold his hand up with his thumb near his ear and his pinky near his mouth and talk over the cell-phone. "Add voice dialing," they said, "and you'd have a fully functional hand phone."
- Alternatively, they could just use the pad from the watch-phone above to the same effect. A glove and a watch are very inconspicuous, while going hand-in-hand with each other.
- Although speaking to one's hand is much more suspicious that using laryngophone/earpiece combo, not to mention you cannot use your hand while speaking. It looks cool though.
- The International Spy Museum in Washington DC has all sorts of obsolete spy devices such as lipstick guns. Some of these devices make one wonder what modern intelligence agencies really have.
- A partial subversion is the gun knife that was used by the KGB. It looks like a combat knife and it is one, but it also able to fire the knife portion using gunpowder hidden in the base. As you can imagine, it has very limited uses unless you are not able to shoot someone who might shoot a hostile or you somehow lost all your guns. That's not saying it won't save your life.
- Russian Special Forces also allegedly have a combat knife with a single-shot derringer built into the handle, firing a 5.45mm rifle round. It's not clear whether or not they actually use this feature, however, as the shot fires from the pommel of the gun; anyone brave or foolhardy enough to fire the thing has to point the blade directly at themselves in order to aim it, and the recoil is said to be formidable. There's a similar weapon purported to be of Chinese origin that can fire three .22 bullets, which lacks the aforementioned design flaw of its Russian counterpart. Video footage of at least one example in private hands can be seen on the Internet, so it's quite possible that it's being made and sold as a (probably highly illegal) novelty somewhere in East Asia rather than a military-issue weapon.
- NRS-2 (Scout Knife, Shooting, Mk.2) is an actual Spetsnaz weapon. However, it is chambered for a PSS silent pistol round, not a 5.45 rifle round.
- Various spring-loaded blades have been disguised as innocuous items like matchboxes or lipsticks for concealed carry.