- True Crime
- Season 1
- Episode 12
Pro Safecracker Fact Checks Safecracking in Movies
Dave's book "Safecracker: A Chronicle of the Coolest Job in the World" is available here.
00:55 'Army of Thieves'
04:30 'The Italian Job'
09:47 'The Thieves'
12:47 'The Score'
17:47 'Fast Five'
Released on 01/24/2022
[dramatic music] [car tires screeching]
It is improbability [jaunty music]
on top of implausibility on top of impossibility.
Just absurd from beginning to end, I'm sorry.
My name is Dave McOmie, I'm a professional safecracker.
I've been in the business since 1972.
I've written 24 technical manuals on safes and vaults,
and one memoir called Safecracker.
I run an international organization
of professional safecrackers, and have since 1992.
[television static crackling]
[police siren blaring]
Lock picking and safecracking are two very different things.
We're not going to see anybody picking a padlock
with a hairpin today.
This scene is from Army of Thieves.
He does it in eight seconds!
That's fun and great on screen,
but it's a total fabrication.
The fastest time ever recorded by a professional
in the Annual Manipulation Contest is three minutes,
That's quite a bit more.
And I believe that record was about 30 years ago.
The manufacturers were horribly embarrassed
and they tightened up their tolerances,
and the times in subsequent years ballooned up to 20,
30, 40 minutes or more.
Army of Thieves isn't technically accurate,
but it is beautifully done.
And the number of dials
on these vaults is a little bit unrealistic.
The overwhelming majority of bank vaults have two dials,
[suspenseful music] [dials clicking]
[whispering in foreign language]
[safe door clangs] [crowd cheering]
And contestant number one is finished!
I love you Neo!
Safecracking competitions are a real thing.
We have an Annual Manipulation Contest
and we crown a new winner every year.
They're different in real life.
We use practice mounts like this,
we don't use whole safes.
Years ago, there was a lot of hoot and holler,
we had a lot of fun with it.
These days, it's a little more subdued.
[MC] Left for the semifinals.
Neo, [crowd cheering]
and Mr. Nervous Guy!
I loved it when the MC called him Mr. Nervous Guy!
Well, that's me.
I get nervous before every super hard job.
Sebastian beautifully captures the mindset,
the passion, of a young safecracker just bitten badly
by the safe and vault bug.
Nice little touch
to have the guy who won the first two competitions,
use an amplifier.
You'll see him stick a device like this on the vault
and slip in an earpiece.
The amplifier helps us hear what's going on
in that lock much better than we can just by touch alone.
Especially if things are spongy inside the lock.
My only criticism of Army of Thieves would be
that Dieter should have been looking at the dial.
He's looking away and he's just sensing.
They're leading you to believe that through touch alone,
you can open a lock.
And while there are rare cases where that is true,
absolutely not true in any of these vaults,
you would have to use your eyes.
The realistic version of manipulation is watching
for contact points to change on the dial.
Contact points are on either side
of the drive cam gate bumping against the fence.
These are the contact points,
where the lever nose is bumping
on either side of the drive cam gate
and here, what the contact point looked like
on the other side,
and we notice those on the dial,
right down to the 10th of a digit.
This is our lever and our fence.
Our gates are up here.
When the gates are properly aligned,
our fence drops in and the lock bolt retracts.
This lock is now open.
Manipulation is the most boring thing on screen to watch.
It's just the person turning the dial back and forth
and back and forth.
The way Army of Thieves did it,
with the manipulator able to feel out the actual numbers
of the combination,
it's much more dramatic and fun to watch.
This scene is from The Italian Job.
[speaking in foreign language]
[speaking in foreign language]
[speaking in foreign language]
[suspenseful music] [water gurgling]
This scene started off being preposterous.
The safe fell several stories into the water,
where Donald Sutherland manipulated it open.
I was initially skeptical.
I thought, Oh, I don't know.
So I took a mounted lock and I put it in my tub underwater,
I was surprised I could feel the contact points no problem.
Where I think it might give Donald greater difficulty,
will be in the murky water.
Remember, actual manipulation isn't just touch,
you've got to be able to see with your eyes.
The indications we're looking for are so tiny.
You just have to have a crystal clear view
of that dial and the numbers,
or there's no way that you can tell the difference.
What I mean is quite literally there's five,
there's five point one, five point two, five point three,
five point four, five point five,
six, seven, eight, nine, six.
Those differences that we're looking for are minute,
but they're essential to real manipulation.
[suspenseful energetic music]
We have another problem, guys!
This isn't the Worthington 1000.
They switched safes on us.
When she turns around and identifies that vault,
even though it was a fabricated make and fabricated model,
I love that she mentioned it,
because it meant that she was doing her research
and being able to identify which make and model you have
and knowing what the internal layout looks like,
helps you create a path to victory.
Inside the door between Charlize
and her target, which is the lock,
there's a sheet of glass
and if her drill bit goes through the glass,
it will release a bunch of re-lockers inside the door
and make it much more difficult to open.
[dramatic music] [drill whirring]
One thing that I really did like is,
she's using an actual industry drill rig.
I've had three or four of
that exact model drill rig in my career.
The reason for using what we call a fixed rig,
is to keep the drill nice and straight.
If you try to do it by hand,
you're likely to veer off.
Here she's using a vacuum base,
keeps your hole nice and straight.
It sticks on by suction
and stays on with the help of a compressor.
I think I just cracked the glass.
I've had a few that stayed together,
where the glass wasn't tempered properly,
but the rule is you hit it with a drill bit,
it's breaking into little bitty pieces.
And when the glass breaks even a deaf technician like me,
you can hear it, you can hear the tinkling of the glass
as it hits the bottom of the door pan.
Yeah, the standard is to try to manipulate first,
and if you fail, then go to drilling.
She does the reverse here.
I can't drill it again.
I have to do it by touch.
I suspect the reason was
because she didn't wanna be under the pressure,
the time pressure of trying to manipulate.
It's a known thing when we drill,
we know how long it's gonna take.
Manipulation is often hard to know in advance.
Hollywood loves the clicking dial.
It's a complete fabrication.
Only a couple of low end safes
that you could buy at Office Max
or Home Depot have the clicking dial,
and there's nothing functional about the click,
it's just an add-on.
A good working safe lock doesn't click,
it doesn't make any noise at all.
Except for those contact points that we like to hear.
[suspenseful music] [mechanism clicking]
She's taking notes while she's manipulating.
If you wanna keep track of your contact points
and you wanna keep track of the numbers that look good.
So any numbers that she wrote on there,
presumably, are numbers that she thought were candidates
for actual numbers in the combination,
in the field, on a difficult lock,
we're running an actual graph,
we'll record every reading that we get
to try to find a pattern.
[vault door creaking]
You'll notice that Charlize often closes her eyes.
You can't close your eyes and manipulate a safe lock.
You have to be watching the dial.
It's a very indirect, inferential process,
where we glean clues from the dial.
It's not a direct process at all
like it appears in the film.
The way she opened the vault isn't quite accurate.
In technical terms, she didn't quite open the lock.
She stopped on a number,
but forgot to retract the lock bolt.
Then she turned the vault handling and it opened.
In the real world that never would have happened.
Charlize got this to happen,
the fence fell, that's it.
She never retracted the lock bolt.
Retracting the lock bolt is as simple
as taking your dial and turning it to a stop.
It doesn't go any further.
She failed to turn the dial to the stop.
That vault would not have opened.
Here's a scene from The Thieves.
Well, the set up here is fantastic.
I love that they have one lady manipulating
and one lady drilling.
And isn't that the guy from Squid Game?
In the first place,
she knows the safe has a glass plate in it.
We don't wanna break the glass plate
because off go the re-lockers.
So what does she do?
[speaks in foreign language]
Well, she drills a hole
to put in a wire with a hook on the end,
and she's gonna grab the cable.
She did attack the door,
which I wouldn't have done,
I would have gone through the side or through the top,
into the door pan and scoped the lock open
and never touch the glass.
But that would have been a much less interesting opening
than what she pulled off.
I liked that she's using a very high-end,
articulating flexible scope.
She's using an Everest and you'll see the little tip,
she's controlling it.
It's a real tool, it really does exist
and it makes safecrackers life, much easier.
The industry standard version
of this doesn't have an articulating tip,
but it's nice to be able to move it around
inside the safe.
Scopes are the most expensive component
of any safecracker's arsenal.
If I had to replace all of my scopes,
it'd be over a hundred thousand dollars.
[speaking in foreign language]
She ties it off to a chair,
okay, that's goofy, but it works.
They've changed a few things inside the safe.
That's not the stock safe that you would buy.
If you were to do what she does
and drill at those locations on that safe,
you wouldn't open it.
But this doctored safe is probably the closest
to reality I've ever seen, but what she did,
wouldn't actually work.
All the tools and the techniques
that she used were 100% real.
The only difference here would be,
she's using a pneumatic drill,
it's a little bitty, low-torque motor.
In the real world, I don't know anybody
that uses pneumatics to open safes,
we use high powered, high torque, electric motors.
The job of any drill motor is to turn the drill bit
and a high-torque electric motor does a much better job
than a low-torque pneumatic.
As to why they have one lady safecracker manipulating
and the other one drilling, I don't know.
To see them in competition
with each other was just fascinating in this film.
And I'm kinda glad the driller won,
I tend to favor drilling over manipulation these days.
It's just faster.
This scene is from The Score.
[dramatic music] [torch cracking]
You want to be careful with a burning bar,
especially on a cut like that.
Because once the flame popped through into the safe,
it's gonna destroy anything in its path.
That's where the diamonds are or whatever the goodies are
and cash, of course, is going up in flames.
The burning bar came out in a portable version in the 1980s.
Many of us professionals we're all over it
and I used one for many years
until I burned up pile of money at an Albertsons store
in Hillsboro, Oregon.
I haven't used it since.
The burning bar is for underwater demolition,
where the illegal amateurs use it to chop big holes
We use it just
to get through tiny hole through a hard plate,
and it works well for that.
And the tip by the way,
it burns north of 8,000 degrees.
The interesting thing here is that this attack is real.
Decades ago, safes
in the Northeastern United States were attacked,
with what came to be known as the water bomb,
drill a hole on the top, seal the safe so it's waterproof,
fill up with water, put a charge in there and detonate.
That force has to go somewhere
and that is the door being blown across the room.
It was used for several summers in a row and never again.
Some people speculate it was MIT grad students, who knows?
it's an iconic method, even though we would never use it.
Professional safecrackers are not fans
of brute force methods that caused extensive damage.
Our clients want to reuse the safe
once we get it open and repaired.
There's no repairing a safe that's been water bombed.
Hollywood very much likes the brute force method.
It looks great on screen.
The iconic scenes would probably be,
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, also a real story,
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
where they used a little bit too much dynamite.
Cradle to the Grave.
There's no chance this would work.
In Ant-Man, Paul Rudd uses water and liquid nitrogen
to blow the vault door off.
In For a Few Dollars More,
they use acid down the keyway to open the key lock.
And it actually was a method that was used.
Manufacturers had to respond by putting holes
in their key locks, usually on the bottom and in the back,
so that acid or gunpowder would simply run out of the lock.
Amateur attacks run the gamut,
but they usually focus on the visible things
on the front of a safe or a vault.
They'll cut the hinges,
they'll knock the dial off, knock the handle off,
damage that does not have any chance
of opening a real safe,
it just locks it up even tighter.
And we have to come behind them as professionals
and clean up their mess.
That's the real world.
This is a scene from Thief.
[suspenseful electronic music]
This is quite realistic with real safecracker tools.
It was one of the first really good safecracker films.
Here, he's using a real magnetic drill press made
I've used the same make and model myself.
It's quite heavy.
We still use magnetic drill presses today,
but the ones we use are much lighter, much smaller.
The advantage of a drill press or any fixed rig is
that it keeps your hole nice and straight,
which is important if your target is far away
and you don't wanna miss.
What Caan has different here,
is he's using an enormous bit.
It's got to be an inch and a quarter or so.
No pro safecracker would ever draw a hole that big,
except in extremely rare circumstances,
certainly this isn't that.
Where he drills this enormous hole,
we wouldn't drill there.
You see tumblers where you wouldn't see tumblers
on the actual safe if you drilled there,
but let's assume that you did.
A pro safecracker at this point would line up those notches.
What does Caan do?
He's just takes a punch in the hole
and he knocks those wheels into the safe.
That's a Mosler cast iron, fire safe, a double door.
Chances are very good it has the number 10 lock in it
and if you punch the wheels out on a number 10,
you just fired a re-locker.
Realistically, he wouldn't have gotten that safe open,
at least not using the technique that he did.
[static crackling] [gun firing]
Here's a scene from Fast Five.
[car tires screeching] [engines revving]
When they pulled out a modular vault, I was shocked.
I expected it to be a vault made of concrete walls.
Most of the vaults like that are made of poured concrete,
very odd for a vault that large to come out the way it did.
First thing that would have broken
would have been the little bolt heads holding the brackets
on that are holding the bar on that they attach to.
And then those two little sports cars are gonna
fling this thing around downtown Rio de Janeiro
like a battering ram?
The door alone probably weighs between 10 and 12 tons.
You stack the rest of the room on top of that,
there's zero chance those little cars could drag that thing.
It's not on wheels.
I don't care how supercharged they are.
[vault door creaking]
And they end up in a warehouse,
where the battering ram is pristine!
This is preposterous!
And then on the door is this high-tech thingamabob
that we're supposed to believe is a hand print reader
and they use some magic woo woo to open it.
This is just ridiculous!
From beginning to end.
Safecrackers love safecracking in movies.
It's kind of funny, really.
If it gets too close to being real,
we're like, [gasps] They shouldn't be showing that!
But if it's too unrealistic,
you know, we dismiss it.
The most realistic, definitely The Thieves
and thank goodness they made a few things different.
You know, you couldn't follow her blueprint
and open that safe and that one's scary close.
This has been a blast!
Thanks for watching!
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