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Hooking the Keys

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Sweet freedom.note 

When a character is locked up, traditionally his captors will place the keys to the cell hanging on a peg on the wall directly opposite the cell, and then leave. The keys will be just out of reach of the character who will have to fashion some way of reaching the keys (rod, wire, etc.) from the resources available in the cell. Alternatively, the character can lob things at the keys, hoping to knock them off the wall so they land in a reachable position.

Alternatively, the jailer may not leave, but instead hang the ring of keys on their belt and then obligingly stand with their back to the cell. In this case, the prisoner will have to surreptitiously lift the keys off the belt without being noticed.

Sister Trope to Pet Gets the Keys, Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing, and Within Arm's Reach (when this occurs in a Fight Scene and not in captivity).


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    Comic Books 
  • Batman: In Batman #25: "Knights of Knavery", The Joker and The Penguin are locked up in the same jail cell. A guard unwisely gives them a broom to clean their cell. They unwind the wire holding the straw together and fashion it into a hook which they use to lift the keys off the guard's belt. They unlock the cell door, knock the guard unconscious with his own keys, and escape.
  • In The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #3, Indy is arrested as a saboteur and locked up in an army camp. Having had his bullwhip confiscated, Indy uses his belt as an improvised whip to hook the keys off the wall and bring them to him.
  • In DC's Star Trek, Kirk is locked in a cell with RJ Blaise, with the guard standing outside the energy bars. Kirk spends their time in confinement humming an innocuous tune, which eventually gets on RJ's nerves. Kirk points out that it's because she's not an Andorian, like their guard, who has been lulled to sleep by the melody. It's subverted when Kirk slips his hand between the bars to snatch the key card, and the guard (who was not quite as asleep as it seems) grabs him and chastises him over trying to pull such a simple trick. Double Subverted when Kirk simply grabs the guard and yanks him into the bars, shorting them out.
  • Superman story The Life Story of Superman: After locking Superman up, Lex Luthor hangs the cell keys on a peg on the wall, only two meters away from the cage, and then he turns around to watch over a monitor. As Luthor is distracted, Superman removes his belt, ties his suit's tie to an end, and uses his makeshift rope to snag the keys.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Amazing Maurice: Averted. When the rats are locked up in separate cages, Darktan keeps struggling to reach the key that is hanging on the wall just out of his reach. After watching him do this for a while, Maurice just shoves his cage close enough to the wall for him to grab it.
  • The Rescuers Down Under: Cody and the other animals trapped by McLeach make a long hook to get the key. They successfully hook the key when McLeach's pet goanna Joanna bursts in and breaks the hook apart, then puts the key back in its peg.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Bravados: When The Sheriff is killed, he drops the keys to the cell out of reach of the door. The prisoners try desperately to stretch for them, before one of them gets the bright idea of using a blanket to snag them and drag them to the cell.
  • Played with in The Great Escape; Hilts is being led to "the cooler" (a solitary-confinement cell) by a guard, who closes Hilts' cell door and then opens it a second later because Hilts lifted his keys. In this case, it seems to be less about Hilts having any expectation of getting free this way and moreso him just yanking the guard's chain.
  • Lampshaded in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. When Kumar helps spring Harold out of prison, he sees the keys hanging on a hook, saying "Sweet! I was hoping it would be one of these big ring of keys.".
  • In Herbie Goes Bananas, Herbie must retrieve the keys hanging on the wall hook to give to Paco so he can free himself. Since Herbie must use his antenna as a "hand", there's a certain amount of implied strain involved to bend the thing enough to hook the keys. Watch here.
  • Hot Shots! Part Deux: When Topper Harley has to rescue Colonel Walters from a jail cell, he uses a broom to lift the keys from a table next to the sleeping jailer. Played for Laughs when Topper falls short tossing the keys to Walters... and Walters steps completely out of his cell between the bars, retrieves them, and slips back into his cell to let himself out.
  • Pinocchio (2022, Disney): The titular wooden puppet is locked in a cage by Stromboli, and eventually Jiminy Cricket catches up to him. When Pinocchio lies to Jiminy about what happened, his nose grows. Pinocchio continues lying so that his nose will be long enough to hook the key to his cage that Stromboli has hung on a hook on the wall. When Pinocchio finally hooks the key, he tells the truth to shrink his nose so he can unlock the cage.
  • In Robin Hood: The Rebellion, Robin tries to open the armoury door by using his belt to hook the latch from the outside. This fails, but Will is able to open the door by using a sword hilt to do the same thing.

  • Nick Velvet: In "The Theft of Cinderella's Slipper", Nick gets locked in coat closet by the killer. He unwinds a wire coat hanger and is eventually able to use it to hook the latch on the outside of the door and unlatch it. However, because he has to use the wire to chip a hole in the door first in order to do so, this takes him hours rather than the usual minutes.
  • Averted in Thud!, with Fred Colon being established as a particularly good jailer for, among other reasons, keeping the cell keys in a little tin box on the bottom drawer of his desk, where no one can reach them this way.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A variation in Arrow. In "The Return", Slade Wilson has locked Oliver Queen and his little sister Thea in a cell. Oliver has to dislocate Thea's arm so she has the flexibility to reach around the corner and push the button to open the cell door.
  • In The Brady Bunch episode "Ghost Town USA", the Bradys are visiting a ghost town on the way to the Grand Canyon, and a crooked gold prospector locks them in a jail cell. He places the keys on a nail and leaves; the Bradys figure out a way to retrieve them per this trope.
  • The Crystal Maze: In the game "Key Collection", contestants must use a hook on the end of a long pole to collect keys through a grill, and then find the correct key to open a chest.
  • Hardball: After Kevin's failed trial of digital locks puts the school into Lockdown in "The Odd Cpuple", Mikey and Tiffany work together to fashion a fishing rod, a tennis racquet, wire hangers and duct tape to fashion a reaching device to lift the key to the override box from the caretaker's storeroom so they can shut the system off.
  • A variation shows up in the NCIS episode "Missing". Tony DiNozzo ends up getting drugged, captured, and trapped in the same room as the missing marine NCIS is searching for by the same Serial Killer who kidnapped him in the first place. Tony uses a knife he had hidden in his belt and a shoelace to get the piece of wood bolting the cell door shut out of the way so the both of them can escape.

    Video Games 
  • Early on in Pajama Sam 3, Sam is locked in a candy-themed jail cell, with the key hung on a hook on the opposite wall. Sam's method of escape combines two versions of this trope: first he knocks the key off the hook by throwing a Bon Bon at it, and then he hooks the key with a giant candy cane once it's on the floor. (Neither method by itself puts the key within reach.)
  • In Poptropica, Episode 4 of Survival Island has you stuck in the cabin of Egomaniac Hunter Myron van Buren. One of the keys you need to escape is in Myron's room, hanging by his bed, and you have to use a spear from his trophy room to hook the keys.

    Web Comics 
  • In Curvy, while being held in prison in Candy World Anaiis reaches through the bars of her cell to grab keys while the guards are ...distracted. She then realizes her cell is easily escapable and busts out.
  • Jailbreak: A number of variants for this Adventure Game-style comic about breaking out of jail:
    • One of the guys already has a key, but it doesn't work on his door, so he attempts to use a broken ladder to give it to one of the other prisoners who has a window into his cell. It doesn't exactly work...
    • One of the other prisoners attempts to use the unconscious prison guard's belt to thread through the window of his cell to retrieve the keys that are lying on the floor outside. This also fails, and he just drops the belt.
  • Defied in a brief gag in The Order of the Stick. One of the tips on a guide to prison guards written by their Genre Savvy Evil Overlord says: "Do not keep big dangly key rings fastened to your belt in plain sight"

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: When Scratch and Grounder are arrested and thrown in jail in "Untouchable Sonic", Scratch spots the keys to their cell hanging on a hook in the warden's office. Grounder then extends his arm to grab the keys.
  • Apple & Onion: In "Falafel's in Jail", Apple tries to used static electricity to get the key across from the cell. Unfortunately, the key flies into Falafel's mouth, and as he coughs it back up, it falls onto the hook again.
  • Big City Greens: In "Shark Objects", Alice and a seagull she was fighting are handcuffed together and put in beach jail. Alice is able to swing the gull at the desk to retrieve the key.
  • Inspector Gadget: Penny does a high-tech version of this in "Weather in Tibet": using a small powerful electromagnet to pull the keys of the hook on the wall and across the room to her cell.
  • Rugrats (1991): In "Cuffed", Angelica swipes some toy handcuffs intended for donation and handcuffs herself to Chuckie when the latter comes over to visit. Angelica loses the key to the handcuffs, so she has to find a key that will unlock them without Drew noticing. At one point, Angelica uses a broom handle to push some keys hanging on some hooks on the wall off them. None of the keys she uses fit the lock to the handcuffs.
  • The Transformers: In the first episode, the Autobots catch Ravage and lock him in a cage. Hound hooks the keys to a protrusion sticking out of his hip but accidentally drops them when he's not paying attention, enabling Ravage to reach out and grab them after extending a hook from his paw.

    Real Life 
  • The Soviet primatologist Leonid Firsov describes a case when two chimps had the keys to their cage left about three meters away, and managed to get them. First, they broke off a tables edge to obtain a stick, then used the stick to snag a curtain, then threw the curtain until it snagged the keys. All in all, it took them about half an hour.