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Interrogation by Vandalism

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A character needs to get information from someone, but Cold-Blooded Torture or the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique would make him or her seem too nasty, or would simply be ineffective. So instead they threaten to destroy... the priceless Ming vase!

Usually only used by heroes on characters that show a distinct regard for possessions over human life, so it seems a bit like they deserve it. However, when push comes to shove, villains are vastly more likely to actually go through with the threat.

Often Played for Laughs (see Torture for Fun and Information), with a common punchline being the victim's retort that "that wasn't even mine". However, nobody actually does this in real life except for maybe your parents throwing something of yours in the trash. The police especially do not do this - it's illegal to destroy property.


See also Shame If Something Happened, Cool and Unusual Punishment.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ah! My Goddess: In episode 9 of the 2005 series, Sayoko tortures Keiichi by smashing toy cars in front of him with a small hammer. She notes that this technique seems to be particularly effective against him. Note that the toy cars are hers to begin with, and it's implied that she bought them just for this purpose.
  • In Soul Eater, Gopher tortures Kid by vandalizing his body. He plays on Kid's Super OCD by doing things like drawing an asymmetrical pattern on his stomach in permanent marker and scratching one of Kid's body parts and not the other. He only tried this because he noticed Kid's OCD and that the usual "beat him til he talks" technique wasn't working.

    Comic Books 
  • V for Vendetta — the original comic — has V take Lewis Prothero, formerly a death camp commander and currently the "Voice of Fate" for the government's radio broadcasts, hostage and threatens him with the incineration of his collection of priceless dolls unless he tells him everything that happened at Larkhill. And then he does it anyway, driving Prothero insane and depriving Norsefire of its major voice of propaganda. Prothero's concern for the dolls is in stark contrast to his callous disregard for the human beings he disposed of in similar incineration chambers.
  • It wasn't an interrogation, but in X-Statix, Vivisector was tied to a chair and forced to watch as his prized book collection was burned. He had recently been administered the mutant cure, and his powers can be activated by emotional distress; the idea was to see if he had truly been cured (he had).
  • From "Officer Down", Nightwing and Azrael are interrogating a dealer of stolen art at his gallery.
    Owner: Young man, I do not believe even you are enough of a Philistine to destroy my sculptures.
    Nightwing: You're right. But my friend here? He's real Philistine.
  • In Fables: The Wolf Among Us, Bigby uses a cricket bat to smash up Georgie's nightclub till Georgie tells him what he wants to know.
  • Les Innommables: Inverted when Tony is kidnapped by an antiques collector, who clearly loves his treasures (talking about a ceramic figurine that was dipped daily in the blood of a just-killed man to attain its unique color). Tony gets up and swings his chair into the kidnapper's trophy shelf, causing him to faint.

    Films — Animation 
  • Toy Story 3: After Ken refuses to tell her how to turn Buzz Lightyear back to normal, Barbie goes to town on his accessories and wardrobe. He manages to hold out until Barbie threatens his precious Nehru jacket.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Blue Ice (1992): After a humiliating drug interrogation by a member of MI-5, Michael Caine pays a visit to the interrogator at his house and gets him to talk by smashing his irreplaceable jazz recordings — the victim is more concerned about losing the music than the financial damage he's taking.
  • 48 Hrs. (1982). Reggie starts to trash the redneck bar until he gets the information he wants.
  • Fanboys: When caught breaking into Skywalker Ranch, they threaten to destroy an original Millennium Falcon model when cornered by Ray Park. Taken to extremes when one of the guards then threatens to destroy the original Yoda puppet in retaliation. It fails when one of the fans tries to threaten an Ewok head and nobody cares.
  • In Bad Boys II, Marcus and Mike get the location of the Haitian gang's hideout by doing this to Icepick's shop.
  • This is the reason The Dude's rug gets pissed on at the beginning of The Big Lebowski.
  • Walking Tall (2004): Chris and Ray tear Booth's very tricked out pickup truck apart while he watches, ostensibly to search for any drugs he migth have concealed, including cutting bits and pieces of it off with a circular saw. It doesn't work. Booth decides to just laugh it off, figuring that his boss will get back at them for it.
  • In Kiss Me Deadly Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) starts smashing valuable 78 r.p.m discs of classic opera performances treasured by down-on-his-luck opera singer Carmen Trivago (played by real-life opera singer Fortunio Bonanova) in order to extract information from him.
  • In Fort Apache The Bronx, two cops start smashing in the headlights of a pimp's car in order to get some information from him.
  • Nick Carter in Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet manages to get vital information from Irma after he starts cutting off feathers from her fancy hat and slowly destroying her boa.
  • The Frog from Red 2 is extremely fond of wine and an avid collector of old vintages. When the protagonists capture him for information, Katya smashes two of his bottles to pressure him. He's upset, but doesn't break.
  • Gallipoli. One of the diggers finds he's been ripped off when he's sold an expensive souvenir in Cairo that's being sold for a pittance elsewhere. They return to the shop where, despite the shopkeeper protesting that he didn't sell the item, Mel Gibson's character starts 'accidentally' breaking things until the shopkeeper gives back the money just to get rid of them. As they're leaving the shop, the digger who was ripped off belatedly realises it was actually another shopkeeper who was the culprit.

  • Brotherhood of the Rose, a novel by David Morrell: The heroes force the English member of the Abelard conspiracy to talk by shooting his priceless roses. However he doesn't tell the full truth, as it turns out.
  • In Wolves of the Calla, Enciro Balzar pressures Calvin Tower by threatening to burn Tower's most valuable books.
  • Devil in a Blue Dress, Easy Rawlins bashes the beloved marble countertop owned by his barman friend with a hammer to force him to tell the truth about the job he's been given. Also shows up in The Film of the Book.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in a hilarious moment in The Lost Conspiracy. They get in a massive hostage stand off...
    Character A: I smash this fish!
    Character B: You do that, and I'll burn this valuable scroll!
    Character C: You do that, and I'll cut her throat.
    Character A: Okay, this is just getting ridiculous...
  • In Metagame by Sam Landstrom, D_Light interrogates an Analyst by smashing some of his computer equipment. The Analyst estimates that the destruction of just one monitor will reduce his efficiency by 0.5%, which is a huge blow for someone created to be obsessed with work.
  • A Piece of Resistance, a novel by Clive Egleton set in a Soviet-occupied Britain. The protagonist breaks a landlady's Dresden china heirlooms to get her to reveal where she's hiding the people he's after.
  • In Feet of Clay, Detritus uses this to coerce a troll drug smuggler (and pottery merchant) into assisting the Watch. Though that was more a case of "accidentally" smashing a rather valueless statue, thereby revealing a massive cache of drugs, and using that evidence of trafficking to blackmail said smuggler into cooperating.
  • Happens at least twice in The Dresden Files. In the short story Last Call, Murphey knocks some delicate geodes off a shelf while Harry questions the shop owner. (She gleefully declares herself "the good cop.") In the novel Small Favor, Harry is trying to get past an administrative assistant who is insisting that her boss is out of the building. He asks his vampire friend, Thomas, to "give her a visual." Thomas promptly twists a pair of heavy barbells together, while Harry details what else he can break.
  • Several ancient sources record an anecdote about a dinner party attended by the emperor Augustus, where the host ordered a slow and painful death for a slave who accidentally broke one of a set of valuable drinking cups. In one version of the story, Augustus had his own servants gather up the remaining cups and smash them one by one until the host agreed to let the slave off.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Goodies episode "Scoutrageous", the two renegade Scouts whittle Tim's staves until he relents (they also damage his hat). They also threaten to take a Brillo pad (steel wool) to Tim's shiny shoes. They threatened the shiny shoes.
  • Used in Malcolm in the Middle, where Lois tries to interrogate the boys to find out who lit her dress on fire and put it in the toilet. One of her methods is to go through the room and begin throwing things into the trash, and another threat was to smash the television with the hammer. Does she ever get an answer? No, because it was actually Hal who did that!
  • Used in Neverwhere. The Marquis de Carabas uses an antique vase to guarantee his safety when negotiating with the art-loving Psycho for Hire Mr Croup. The interesting bit? Mr. Croup was genuinely concerned by the threat... He wanted to destroy that beauty, and not let anyone else do it.
  • Angel: Gunn once tortured a guy into handing over a priceless scroll... by juggling a set of priceless orbs.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike got the geek trio to work for him by holding their Boba Fett action figure hostage.
    Spike: Now, are you going to help, or does, uh..." (reads the pedestal the figure is standing on) "... Mister Fett here meet an untimely end?"
    Andrew: "No! He's vintage!"
  • Las Vegas:
    • Ed Deline and Jack Keller do this to get info from an effeminate artist by destroying his paintings, virtually giving the guy a heart attack in the process. Subverted in the same episode when Ed tries this approach with another artist. It's a modern art painting however, leading the guy to quip that it can't actually be ruined.
    • Used by Ed and Danny while questioning an escort service manager.
  • In the Australian series Mission Top Secret, Big Bad Neville Savage uses this to interrogate a museum curator. He was even using fakes, which made stark contrast with his decision to execute the curator and his son (along with the heroes' "mentor") later in the same arc.
  • Parodied on Peep Show:
    Super Hans: Crunchy Nut cornflakes? Very fancy. Be a shame if someone were to... spill em. Whoops!''
  • Pie in the Sky.
    • In "A Matter of Taste", Margaret Crabbe is abducted and locked in a cellar by the villain of the week, who thinks she knows the location of a collection of vintage wines he smuggled into the country. When it looks like things are going to become violent, she grabs a wine bottle to use as a club, and the villain calls his mooks off — because he's worried about the bottle getting damaged. Having found his weak point, Margaret proceeds to take merciless advantage.
    • In "Doggett's Coat and Badge", Henry Crabbe gets increasingly annoyed as the person he's trying to help refuses to tell him what's going on. Eventually, he threatens to break the man's 50,000-pound wine collection one bottle at a time until the man starts cooperating. "I've never seen a puddle worth 50,000 pounds before." The man folds immediately.
  • Downplayed on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Vincent D'Onofrio's character is always walking around grabbing things in the suspect's home, office, etc. Sometimes it leads to Eureka Moments, but usually it just annoys the person.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In the episode "Dolls", the detectives are tracking a mentally unstable man who kidnaps young girls, dresses them up as china dolls, and keeps them locked up until they die of starvation. He's also something of a doll collector, so when they finally track him down, Munch starts smashing his dolls to convince him to reveal where his current captive is.
  • Law & Order: UK: In the episode "Paradise", the detectives and CP Alesha Phillips have arrived at a store that is believed to be a front for a local mobster's operation. When the shop owner feigns ignorance, the detectives begin "accidentally" knocking over the equipment, all the while offering fake apologies, until the guy gets fed up and tells them what they want to know.
  • Blake's 7
    • In "Cygnus Alpha", a cult leader captures Blake with a bagful of teleport bracelets. He doesn't know what they are, but realizes they must be valuable to Blake, so starts crushing them one at a time to encourage Blake to talk. This is a more serious example of this trope because the teleport was Blake's only means of getting off the planet. Blake does talk, but when he refuses to cooperate in other ways he's subjected to more brutal forms of persuasion.
    • In "Bounty", Blake starts destroying Sarkoff's antique collection to make Sarkoff reassume leadership of the planet Lindor. (Sarkoff assumed Blake was a Federation assassin, and was resigned to his death, but not the loss of his antiques.)
    • Subverted in "Games". Federation guards are smashing up Belkov's control room to encourage him to reveal the location of the Mineral MacGuffin. Belkov pleads with them not to touch his computer, the only thing he values. A guard promptly tries yanking out its circuits, only to suffer fatal electrocution. Well he did warn them not to touch it...
  • Boston Legal: A man confessed to a priest after kidnapping a small child. Brad Chase tries to get the priest to betray confidentiality by threatening to damage a priceless wood door with an axe. Then the priest tries to stop him by holding his hand in the way of the swing...
  • In Burn Notice, Michael once did this while pretending to be a criminal.
  • On Mystery Science Theater 3000, Crow is inspired by the episode's movie to torture Mike by pouring beer all over his most precious possession. Since Mike's most precious possession is an antique beer stein, he's not too upset. He then takes it further by noting that Crow himself is a precious possession, and Crow immediately demands that beer be poured all over him.
  • In one episode of Rescue Me, Tommy begins dropping Sheila's expensive house decorations on the floor until she tells him what happened when he was unconscious. She still doesn't tell him, but she makes up a pretty believable lie.
  • Yeralash has an episode where a few boys come to a girl who refuses to do their homework for them, and punish her by tying her up and starting to cut up her posters of actors and music bands. She actually whimpers as if she's being tortured... until the boys get to one that proves to be a Berserk Button. Then, she breaks free and literally throws them out.
  • Person of Interest: Reese interrogates a gang courier by taking a blowtorch to... the money the courier was supposed to be delivering. Both he and the courier know that the courier's boss will assume that the burned money was stolen by the courier rather than destroyed.
  • Justified: In "Hammer" Raylan questions the clerk in a smoke shop. He keeps picking and dropping bongs till the man tells him what he wants to know (he does pay for what he broke before he leaves the store).
  • Employed in an episode of Battlestar Galactica (2003), when Kara and Lee are interrogating a would be assassin, ripping the wad of banknotes they found on him while pointing out that paper money is worthless now. In a somewhat realistic application of this trope, this turns out to be just the opener and they gradually upgrade to To the Pain and Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
  • In one episode of House, House tries to blackmail Wilson by taking one of his patients, who was confined to a hospital bed. Wilson retaliated by taking House's guitar. Hilariously, throughout the entire episode, the patient is referred to as being "stolen" while the guitar is referred to as being "kidnapped."
  • In one episode of Kenan & Kel, when Kel refuses to Kenan a secret he knows, Kenan simply takes out a bottle of Kel's Trademark Favorite Drink orange soda and starts pouring it on the floor.
    Kel: "What did orange soda ever do to YOU?!"
  • Longmire: In "The Cancer", Branch interrogates some teenagers by confiscating the case of beer they had bought illegally and starting to empty each can on to the ground till they tell him what he wants to know.
  • Witchblade: When crooked cops within the department are looking for Sara, they interrogate her friend Gabriel by destroying his antique merchandise.
  • The 1985 TV movie Operation Julie. The operation has been a success except there's a massive stash of LSD hidden somewhere in a forty acre forest. So Detective Inspector Lee takes the ringleaders to the forest and revs up the bulldozers.
    Lee: Now you may not care about destroying kids' brains, but ecology freaks like you don't want trees damaged, do you? Either you tell me where you buried it, or this lot comes down!
  • The fastest way to make Rumplestiltskin / Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time comply? Threaten his beloved chipped cup. Sure enough, it gets smashed and magically repaired so many times it becomes redundant, but when there is no magic to fix it, that's Serious Business: in season one Regina forces Gold to admit he remembers his true identity, and in season five Merida gets him to fight, all by threatening to casually drop the cup.
  • The Professionals. In "Killer With A Long Arm", Doyle is interrogating a Greek restaurant owner, and decides to carry out the Greek tradition of plate-smashing.
  • A more serious version in Altered Carbon. Kovacs finds that the body he's been downloaded into belonged to a cop called Ryker. He starts to slice his body up with a knife until Detective Ortega breaks down and admits that Ryker used to be her lover.

    Video Games 
  • One of the first Thieves' Guild quests in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has you threaten shopkeepers to break items they're fond of (A Dwemer urn and a goddess' statue respectively) to get them to pay their protection money.
  • An option in The Godfather: The Game, where the player can extort shop owners by smashing up their stores.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Kasumi's loyalty mission has a combination of this and Shut Up, Hannibal!, where Shepard can interrupt the villain's ranting by casually shooting one of his priceless statues.
  • Action Doom 2: Urban Brawl: An informant gives you a lead, but he's not being entirely sincere, and the only way to get him to tell you the truth (and get the best ending) is to smash his priceless car.
  • The Wolf Among Us: In episode 2 Bigby threatens to destroy several items in Georgies club with a baseball bat. Whether or not he does is up to the player.
  • In Late Shift, the protagonist may interrogate someone by smashing their valuables with a golf club.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Collect Her", Lenny Baxter is a collector of Powerpuff Girls merchandise who eventually captures the girls themselves. To get him to tell where he has them stored, the Professor and some kids start tearing open all the collectibles he has, ruining the collectors' value.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • SpongeBob and Squidward think that Mr. Krabs is a robot. They destroy Mr. Krabs' stuff, because they think that they are his robot friends and that would make him confess that he's a robot.
    • In "New Leaf", Krabs tries to prove that Plankton's new knick-knack store is a front for his patty-stealing by breaking some of the merchandise.
  • Freakazoid!
    • Happens when The Lobe coerces Norm Abrahms into helping with his evil scheme using a block of precious wood and a nasty-looking, rusty, rugged chainsaw. And it wasn't even Norm's block of wood: it was one that The Lobe bought himself. Norm just has a deep respect for carpentry. And it really was a very nice block of wood.
    • Arms Akimbo sells "Oops Insurance" — he moves around the room, destroys something and then goes "Oops" until the proprietor pays him off. Later in the episode, he apparently blows up a building this way.
  • A related trope shows its head in the Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? episode "Scavenger Hunt" where Carmen correctly predicts that apparently chucking a Fabergé egg into the river where Zack and Ivy have cornered her will distract Ivy enough to let her make her escape. The player calls Carmen out on this afterward, and Carmen claims that since both Carmen and the player both knew that Ivy would undoubtedly save the egg it was never really in any danger.
  • The Simpsons
    • Parodied, as always, with a private eye visiting Skinner. When he doesn't get any information, he reshuffles the pages on Skinner's desk. When Skinner blandly says he can reorganise them, the private eye uses a stapler. Cue the Big "NO!".
    • Homer attempts this technique during "Hungry, Hungry Homer". He razzes Marge's hairdresser by unscrewing caps and dropping a hairnet on the floor (only to get a confused reply from the hairdresser). He tries again to the owner of the local baseball team but is immediately intimidated into undoing his vandalism.
    • A parody came when Homer was utilizing Shame If Something Happened on Mister Burns, coupling it with Poke the Poodle when that "something" is setting a glass on his desk without a coaster. Naturally, it gets the desired reaction.
  • Kim Possible, "Oh No, Yono": Monkeyfist manages to escape the museum by having his monkey ninjas pitch priceless pottery so that Kim and Ron have to catch them.
  • In Sonic Sat AM, Snively tortures Antoine by cooking escargot in margarine.
  • In Regular Show, Mordecai & Rigby are plagued by a park vandal who keeps spray painting all over the park. When they track him down and end up going into his dimension, everything is pure white, making it impossible for the two to even tell that they were in the vandal's living room, much less where everything was. After bumping into a few things, they take a can of spray paint and start spraying all over the place to highlight everything, much to the vandal's annoyance. When the vandal refuses to talk, Mordecai tells Rigby to keep spraying.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "The Unnatural", Tina threatens to break Linda's collection of porcelain babies if she doesn't tell the truth about her hocking Bob's new espresso machine to pay for Gene's baseball lessons.
  • Almost Naked Animals: Bunny forces Howie to tell Duck to turn off the machine that is speeding up the earth's rotation (It Makes Sense in Context) by threatening his Dirk Danger doll.
  • In the Family Guy episode "A Lot Going on Upstairs", Lois traps Peter and his friends in the attic, and they try to get her to let them out by threatening to poop on her wedding dress.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: When the Rogues Gallery put Batman on trial, the District Attorney hired to "defend" him makes Poison Ivy crack on the witness stand by ripping the petals off a flower.
  • In Adventures of the Gummi Bears series finale, Duke Igthorn finally gets Grammi to give him the real Gummiberry Juice formula by threatening to burn the Great Book of Gummi.
  • Zuko pulls a successful Blackmail By Vandalism ploy in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Waterbending Scroll," getting the pirates to help him find Aang by threatening to burn their valuable scroll.
    Zuko: (lighting a flame under it) I wonder how much money this is worth... (pirates all gasp in horror) A lot, apparently.


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