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Handy Cuffs

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"[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. This 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, or when the cuffs are attached to a waist chain (normally during transport) that prevents the cuffs being raised above waist height. 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.

Note that there are some restraints that do allow a prisoner to have their hands in front, or at least at their hips, facilitating them being able to sit a chair for long periods and such. In these cases, it's more than just cuffs, but manacles that attach to the prisoner's beltline, restricting how far they can move their hands, and are in a controlled environment, such as a courtroom.

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.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Cowboy Bebop episode "Pierrot le Fou", while Tongpu is being taken along a passageway by two guards, his hands are cuffed in front of him. He takes advantage of this to eliminate the guards and escape.
  • In the Street Fighter manga Sakura Ganbaru!, when the titular character is captured by a human trafficking ring in Hong Kong, she is handcuffed with her hands in front of her before being thrown with the other captive girls. This places her hands in the perfect position to throw Hadokens at her captors.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of Batman, the Joker of all people is handcuffed with his hands in front of him while being transferred between prisons. He picks the handcuff lock with an ordinary straight nail and then later uses the handcuffs as brass knuckles against police.
  • In Judge Colt #4, a prisoner being transported for trial with his hands shackled in front of him grabs the marshal's gun from his holster and attempts to shoot his way free.
  • The Punisher
    • Castle 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.
  • The Scorpion: In The Mask of Truth, Neoli Trebaldi uses the shackles around his wrists to strangle the warrior monk who is guarding him.
  • In Sensation Comics #6, Baroness Paula von Gunther tricks a prison guard into leaning towards her to light her cigarette. As he does so, she grabs his pistol from his holster with her manacled hands and shoots him.
  • In Weird Western Tales #22, an escaping prisoner strangles a deputy with the manacles shackled around his wrists.

    Fan Works 
  • Zigzagged in Naruto: the Secret Songs of the Ninja, when Kakashi and Naruto are captured by Wabisuke Ryota, who uses specialised restraints to hold expert shinobi- a pair of solid, inflexible metal gauntlets locked around their hands (preventing them from moving their fingers to form seals) which are then locked together behind them. When the breakout happens, Kakashi's gauntlets are separated but not removed before he's forced into battle, allowing him to use them as effectively solid steel boxing gloves capable of breaking bones with a punch. However he's still at a considerable disadvantage, not just because of his inability to use jutsu but also because of their weight, which is a big contribution to him losing.

    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 3:10 to Yuma (2007) 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 off 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.
  • Apache: The shackles on Massai's wrists when he is being transported have enough length of chain between them that he is able to throw round Weddle during his escape; pinning Weddle's arms to his side. Massai then draws Weddle's gun from his holster and shoots the shotgun guard. He then uses the chain to choke Weddle into unconsciousness.
  • 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.
  • In Avatar: The Way of Water when Jake Sully's kids are kidnapped to be used as hostages against him they are secured to the ship with easily cut straps, allowing them to be rescued easily, rather than metal shackles, which would have ensured their drowning when the ship sank.
  • Avengers: Endgame. The Avengers arrest Loki and cuff his hands in front. When the Tesseract is obligingly knocked right in front of him, Loki doesn't miss his chance to grab it and teleport out of there.
  • 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.
  • In The Criminal, Johnny is shackled with his hands in front of him when he is being transported in the prison van (presumably because he was going to be seated for a long time). This allows him to overpower the warder when the van is forced off the road.
  • 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 Die Hard 2, General Esperanza is cuffed like this while being flown from Val Verde to the US. Between that and the fact that he was only being guarded by one man, he was able to strangle the guard, take the keys, free himself, and then break into the cockpit to hijack the plane.
  • Averted in F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion. Rollie Tyler captures a hitman and ties him up with his hands behind his back, but when he wakes up the hitman fights Rollie With My Hands Tied, jumping into the air and whipping his bound hands under his feet in one swift movement.
  • The Island (1980): When Maynard has his hands manacled in front of him, he is able to reach the padlock and undo the combination lock.
  • James Bond
    • Dr. No. When 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.
    • In the final act of Spectre, Bond is abducted by Blofeld's goons, who not only tie his hands in front of him, but do so with plastic zip ties, perfectly enabling him to not only shoot them both but break free once they're dead. Admittedly not everyone could do this with a black hood over their head.
  • John Doe: Vigilante: During his final interview with Ken Rutherford, John Doe has his hands cuffed in front of him at the table. After faking a suicide attempt, he wraps the chain between the cuffs around Ken's neck and kills him.
  • The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines have the hero, Merong, taking on a huge, scimitar-wielding fighter some five times his size while his hands are in chains. However, Merong tricks his opponent to swing his weapon into a wooden pillar, and after his opponent is Left Stuck After Attack Merong then leaps on his opponent, choking the brute unconscious.
  • In Man of Steel, Superman is handcuffed this way after he hands himself over to the military. When your "prisoner" can juggle tanks and is only there of his own free will, how you choose to cuff him is pretty academic (to prove this point, Superman pops off his cuffs with no visible effort on his part whatsoever).
  • In The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the Gypsy takes advantage of the fact that his hands are cuffed in front of him to choke one of the policemen and take control of the police car.
  • Subverted in No Country for Old Men: Chigurh strangles a police officer with his own handcuffs, but he was cuffed from behind, and he has to switch them to the front when the cop is on the phone.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow uses the chain on his cuffs to threaten Elizabeth with strangulation, and later as an Improvised Zipline.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Justified in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Dr. Isaacs captures Alice and makes her run behind his tank while cuffed to a rope, with a horde of ravenous zombies growling at her heels. It's quite difficult to run with your hands behind your back, and he wants her alive long enough to reveal information or at least act as zombie bait. Alice of course has other ideas...
  • Revolver (1973): After kidnapping Milo Ruiz, Vito handcuffs his hands in front. After Vito brings him back to his apartment, Ruiz grabs a floor ashtray and attempts to clobber Vito with it.
  • 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 by jumping off a balcony and using her body and the cuff chains to garrote him.
  • Towards the end of the action film She Shoots Straight, the main villain, already handcuffed, was suddenly saved by his subordinate who's on a motorcycle. At which point the villain chokes the police superintendent, Lau, who is nearby with his cuffs before leaping on his subordinate's bike which speeds off, dragging Lau to death in the process.
  • Slave Girls Frombeyond Infinity: When escaping from the space gulag, Tisa uses the chains of her shackles to choke one of the guards.
  • 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.
  • Averted in The Terminator where Kyle Reese has his hands cuffed behind his back. When the policeman guarding him is distracted by gunfire as the Terminator tears up the police station, Kyle knees him in the stomach, kicks away his gun, and takes the keys off his belt.
  • Total Recall (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.
  • In Tower of London, John Wyatt uses the shackles still locked to his wrists to knock out a guard as he escapes the Tower.
  • 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.
  • In Vicki, Lt. Cornell cuffs Steve's hands in front when he arrests him. This allows Steve to cut himself free by locking a hacksaw in a vise after he escapes.
  • In What's the Worst That Could Happen?, the Rock Shore police handcuff Kevin with his hands in front of him. This allows him to unscrew the window handle in the police car and escape.
  • Happens in X2: X-Men United, where William Stryker has Wolverine's hands cuffed in front of him — with special cuffs that press his knuckles into his chest so he will stab his heart if he extends his claws. Unfortunately it isn't Wolverine but Mystique in his form, and she quickly shapechanges out of the cuffs.
  • In X-Men: The Last Stand Mystique (pictured above) uses her cuffs to choke the interrogator, purely out of spite as this doesn't get her anywhere while flashing a Slasher Smile.

  • 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 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.
  • 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; you're more likely to have your arms cuffed in front of you, and you have quite a bit of freedom that way.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5
    • In "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 explains 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.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): 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.
  • Batwoman (2019): When supervillain Alice is arrested by the Crows, she has her hands cuffed to the desk in front of her during her interrogation. She's able to pick the lock and escape, so when Sophie tries to arrest her in Season 2, she makes of point of telling Alice (whom she's holding at gunpoint) to cuff her own hands behind her back.
  • In the finale of Breaking Bad, Jesse uses his cuffs to strangle Todd, who has been keeping him as a slave to cook meth. Justified of course in this instance, as a slave with his hands cuffed behind his back wouldn't be able to cook.
  • Played with in Burn Notice. Usually when someone's tied up, they're held at gunpoint and forced to zip-tie their hands together (make a loop, stick your hands in, pull it tight with your teeth) and so wind up with their hands in front of them. However, the one time we do see metal handcuffs, it's on Simon, who had his hands bound in front of him. He's worn down the metal on the handcuffs and breaks them, then attacks Michael so he can pass him some information.
  • CSI: NY: In "Vacation Getaway," Shane Casey uses the shackles around his wrists and ankles to strangle a guard and escape.
  • Daredevil (2015): Wilson Fisk is shown with his hands being cuffed in front of him as Ray Nadeem is having him moved from Rikers to the Presidential Hotel. Since he's a Play-Along Prisoner (the Presidential being a hotel he secretly owns, and all the FBI agents save for Nadeem actively working for him), he doesn't make any escape attempt.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Bucky is briefly arrested in the second episode, and is cuffed hands in front. While very much not procedure, he's a cyborg supersoldier with a vibranium arm- the cuffs are a polite suggestion at best.
  • The F.B.I.: In "A Mouthful of Dust", Cloud has his hands cuffed in front of him when the marshals arrive to transport him to court. He tricks the sheriff into loosening the cuffs for the trip. As the cuffs are loosened, Cloud yanks one hand free and shoves the sheriff away, and uses the cuffs on his other wrist to slug the marshal, fracturing his skull.
  • Firefly:
    • Sort of inverted when 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 "Ariel", Jayne is cuffed behind his back, but works around it through judicious application of knees, elbows, shoulders, and forehead.
  • In The Flash (1990), 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 from one officer and shot all 3 dead. Oh and Trickster is also an escape artist so he was out of the handcuffs seconds later.
  • The Flash (2014): In "Crazy For You," Cisco lets Hartley out of the Pipeline with his hands cuffed in front of him. Hartley clobbers Cisco and attempts to escape, although Cisco stops him.
  • Flower of Evil: Ji-won is a police detective so she should know better, but she still handcuffs one of the suspects in the human trafficking ring with her hands in the front. That allows the suspect to escape by climbing off the balcony—which soon after results in the suspect's death when she falls off said balcony.
  • 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.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Death in a Chocolate Box," Tom for some reason—possibly lingering respect as the murderer was someone he had once looked up to—handcuffs the murderer with their hands in front of them. The murderer feigns sickness, then whacks Tom in the face and then dashes away, on to the Railroad Tracks of Doom.
  • Monk: In "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.
  • Person of Interest: During "The Crossing", Fusco is caught by HR, and his captors tie 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 garrotes 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.)
  • 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.
  • Supernatural: Dean has been cuffed more than a few times and always manages to get out of them.
  • 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.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Hulk Hogan: A protagonist example in his feud with the Big Boss Man. Several matches in late 1988 and early 1989 included a spot where Boss Man and his manager, Slick, would handcuff Hogan and beat him down. Eventually, the Hulkster would break the cuffs (while hulking up) and, after busting the cuffs – and at least at one untelevised house show ripping off the metal wrist irons – manage to get a few late blows on the bad guys (usually Slick), sometimes using the chain of the now-broken cuffs to belt his foes as they tried to flee.

  • 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 
  • 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. Batman later finds out Joker has a mole inside the asylum.
  • 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).
  • Jodie can get arrested three different times during the "hunted" level from Beyond: Two Souls, if the player messes up during the chase scenes. The first time, she ends up with her hands cuffed behind her back and locked up in a small room whose door is being watched over by a policemen, thus making her escape complicate and downright impossible without resorting to help from Aiden, the supernatural entity that is linked to Jodie. However, if she gets recaptured later, the police will simply handcuff her hands in front of her, allowing the girl to easily strangle an officer. One has to wonder why they decided to get sloppy with precautions only after she managed to escape her restraints the first time.
  • 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.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist and PAYDAY 2 have security guards that can handcuff players if caught by surprise. Although the handcuffed player are shown with their arms behind them, their arms are actually in front of them in their view. It takes several seconds for a cuffed player to uncuff themselves, but the heist fails if everyone else gets handcuffed or taken into custody.
  • In the first Police Quest 1: In Pursuit of the Death Angel: 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.
  • Resident Evil 6: After being captured by Neo-Umbrella for half a year, Jake is transported with his hands cuffed in front. When he decides 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.
  • 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 using 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.
  • 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.

  • 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).
  • Tainted: A variation with plain ropes happened in this strip.

    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.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars"The Gungan General": When Jar Jar drives rams one of the pirate tanks into the power lines Dooku takes the opportunity to escape from his cell using the force now that the power to the door is cut, and chokes/burns the guard outside the door using the electricity binding his cuffs together.
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?: In "The Tigress", Zack and Ivy use a very clever plan to capture Carmen but make the mistake of cuffing her hands in front of her, thus allowing her to grab some rocket-powered boots and make a quick getaway. However, this trope is averted the two other times that Carmen is captured.


Video Example(s):


Anton Chigurh

While a police offer is making a report, a handcuffed Anton Chigurh makes his move undetected and then uses his cuffs to violently strangle the officer to death, with a deranged smile on his face.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / HandyCuffs

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