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Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon

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"This one ain't rubber!"
The Conductor, A Hat in Time

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.

Sub-Trope of Accidental Murder. For the accidental version of this, please see Fatal Method Acting.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Played straight in the 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Man Who Knew Too Little, Wallace gets embroiled in a political assassination plot, but thinks it's all experimental, interactive theatre. Plenty of Black Comedy comes from him casually threatening people with a real gun which he thinks is just a prop. He actually does shoot a wall and a phone, and mistakes the bullet holes for really good special effects.
  • 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 Neidermeyer'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.
    Bluto: Holy shit!
    D-Day: There were blanks in that gun!
    Flounder: I didn't even point the gun at him!
    Bluto: Holy shit!
    D-Day: [checks the chamber] They were blanks!
    Flounder: He must have had a heart attack!
    Bluto: Holy shit!
    [all scream and run away]
  • In The Show, the Greek's plan to murder Robin involves sneaking into Robin's performance—a staging of the Salome story—and replace the prop sword with a real sword, thus lopping off Robin's head. The actress playing Salome notices this at the last second when she sees the Greek's dress shoes.
  • The Uncanny: In 1936, in Hollywood, the actor Valentine De'ath replaces the blade of a fake pendulum to kill his actress wife, and give his young mistress and aspiring actress a chance. The cat of his wife avenges her.
  • In Get Over It Kelly playfully brandishes a crossbow found in a high school prop room, which turns out to be a functional weapon, as she learns the hard way when she accidentally shoots Berke in the arm.
  • In Sisters of Death, the murderer swaps the dummy bullet used in the Initiation Ceremony for a live round.
  • A variation in the Soviet comedy "Deja Vu". The prop guns are fake, but the assassin shoots the actor with a silent gun from the box at the exact moment he's "shot" by the firing squad on the scene. This way the assassin has enough time to leave before anyone realises the actor is acutally dead, and then, hopefully, the investigation would assume that one of the prop guns was to blame and waste time checking that version.

  • 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.
  • The Polish book Dwie "Kobry". A character in a live TV production is supposed to be killed by a faulty electrical socket, but someone had the socket secretly connected to the electrical grid 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 also written by Caroline Graham.
  • 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 Swensen 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.
  • 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.
  • A Noodle Incident in the The Thirteen Problems has former police commissioner Sir Henry describe a case where someone pulled an antique pistol off the wall and jokingly pointed it at someone else and pulled the trigger. It was fully repaired and loaded. The investigation had to look at who had the opportunity to tamper with the weapon, and who brought the conversation round to the point where this seemed like a good idea.

    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. It's implied Keller replaced Beecher's prop weapon with a real shank to kill Schillinger.
  • In the Tales from the Crypt 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 (1983), 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", based on the novel above under Literature.
    • 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 Burke's 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. An Assassin-esque game was going on around New York in which people eliminated each other from said game with water guns/balloons. One player, an aspiring actor, 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.
  • Law & Order had a similar case, where an actor in a web video series is shot for real while filming an episode. The police investigate how the blanks could have been replaced with real bullets, and who would have done it. It turns out the gun really was loaded with blanks, and the death was just from poor gun safety: no one in the studio realized that blanks can still be deadly from that close.
  • 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.
    • In "Death Defying Feats", the killer sabotages the prop guillotine being used in a magic act to turn it into a real one.
  • New Tricks: In "Final Curtain", the UCOS team looks into the death of an actor who was shot dead during a performance of a play. The gun was loaded with blanks, but a piece of metal lodged in the barrel killed him. The death was originally ruled an accident, but new evidence makes the team reopen the case.
  • Magnum, P.I.: Happens during a shoot for the In-Universe film adaptation of Tahiti Kill.
  • Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators:
    • In "Exit, Pursued by a Bear", someone laces the poison chalice in a production of Romeo and Juliet with actual poison in an attempt to kill the actress playing Juliet.
    • In "The Play's the Thing", someone switches LARP arrows with real ones.

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

  • 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.

  • The climax Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy centres on a play within a play, acted by the loved ones of a murdered man, as well as the murderers. The former stab the latter to death with real daggers instead of prop daggers.

    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.)
  • A case in a CSI 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.
  • In the bonus chapter of Mystery Trackers 7: Blackrow's Secret it's revealed that director Alfred Richardson was in unrequited love with actress Emily Lockwood. Growing frustrated with her refusal of his advances, he switched the prop revolver with a real one, resulting in the fatal shooting of her fiance Jeffrey Dean.
  • In one mission in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Cesare plans to have his Dragon kill an actor who is having an relationship with his sister by using a real spear instead of a fake one to kill him during a play. Ezio and his assassins take the place of the actors and stop the plan.
  • In Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, at the end of the mission "Final Cut" an actor playing a serial killer is peppered with shots by the actress playing his victim. It's then heavily implied that the gun was real (somehow) and the actor has really died, as he doesn't get up once the filming finishes.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Subverted in the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 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. The giveaway is that the only possible suspects aren't strong enough to have shoved the prop into the victim's chest with any sort of force, ruling it out as a murder weapon.
    • Subverted again in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, as the whole plot is kicked by a fake stand-off shooting between two men with a woman in the middle, with her supposedly killed, and Phoenix losing his badge in the ensuing trial. Turns out she only sustained completely unrelated illnesses. Even better, Phoenix meets with her in the game's Stinger.
    • Yet another subversion occurs in the second case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. The prosecution's case is that the defendant murdered the victim with a real sword that had been swapped with a prop one. The real sword is the murder weapon, but the defendant didn't use it.

    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 were incapable of firing. Played with, since Gordito originally believed that he accidentally killed his father by forgetting to load his gun, and made up the story about PETA in order to sound badass. But then it turns out that PETA really did sabotage his father's gun, and he didn't notice for the reasons listed above.
  • In a strip of Savestate, Kade dresses up as a Power Rangers S.P.D. character, complete with a prop sword. The sword is plastic, but Riley notices it's still got a sharp point. When Kade tries to demonstrate it's fake by drawing the point across his arm, he ends up cutting himself.
    Nicole: Did you just cut yourself?
    Kade: No.
    Nicole: Are you going to leave the sword in the car?
    Kade: Yes.
    Nicole: Do you need a bandage for your arm?
    Kade: Maybe...

    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 a huge pile of lead shot.
    Daffy: "Blanks," he says. Here. Have a handful of blanks! [tosses them in the air] Sheesh!

    Real Life 
  • While performing a suicide scene in a production of Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller in Vienna, actor Daniel Hoevels accidentally slit his own neck, as the theatre company's order for the originally sharp knife to be dulled for the stage was overlooked; it is unknown whether this was negligence or a conspiracy. The wound was almost fatal, but Hoevels quickly returned to the stage after an emergency treatment in the hospital.


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