Disconnected by Death

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This is what happens when You Know Too Much...


A specific subtrope of the Doomed Appointment, Disconnected by Death is signaling the death of a character by the abrupt end of a phone call they are making.

The basic structure of this trope is that one character has information that they must get to another character (usually the hero, or at least, one of the Good Guys). They make a phone call. They are killed after the phone is answered on the other end, but before they can pass along the information. There may be a Big No or scream for audible over the phone if the victim sees the killer.

Within this structure, the trope has visual and aural variants; the visual versions can use a old-style free-standing phone booth, a land-line telephone not in a phone booth, or a cell phone. The aural version has dial-tone (where the killer hangs up the phone, causing the hero to hear a dial tone) and open-line (where the killer doesn't hang up, and the Hero spends some time yelling "Hello! Hello?" before concluding "Something's happened.") Since either of the aural versions can be combined with any of the visual versions, and all of them can be used alone, there are 11 possible combinations.

For extra points, the victim has said part but not all of his message (or even gasps a few words out as he dies), allowing the heroes to get a clue that will save the day later, but only after they rack their brains to get what the victim was trying to say. Even more bonus points if the informant turns and says "it's you!" before being offed.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Disconnected by Death include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Maes Hughes infamously meets his end in Fullmetal Alchemist while trying to reach Roy Mustang from a pay phone.
  • A variant (pictured above) happens in the first arc of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni to Keiichi Maebara, who claws out his own throat in a phone booth while under the effects of Oyashiro-sama's curse, trying to contact the police about the Town with a Dark Secret. Thanks to his paranoia, his last words to the police - and the audience - indicate someone is coming to kill him, but all the evidence suggests suicide... leaving the existence of the killer in doubt until better answers about Oyashiro-sama come along in later chapters..
  • Subverted in Mnemosyne, where several seconds after he gets shot by a sniper, the victim in question survives long enough to use the last of his strength to give all the needed information.
  • In Godchild, Sheila is killed by Riff while giving Clehadore some information over a phone.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The "scream for mercy" version appeared in The Trigan Empire, during one of the many plots to assasinate Emperor Trigo. The victim was a secret police agent, whose bosses calmly assumed he'd "met his end" as soon as the phone went dead.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Played dead (pun intended) straight in The Cotton Club. A gangster, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, captures an ally of rival gangster Owen Madden and extracts a $35,000 ransom for the hostage's release. In retaliation, Madden pretends to arrange a peace deal that Coll must finalize over the phone, at a certain phone booth - near which a man with a tommy gun is waiting.
  • The movie Phone Booth, but twisted as the man in the booth was talking to the potential killer. Taken to the extreme involving the police trying to save someone in such a situation.
  • The French movie Le Magnifique manages to combine this with Shark Pool.
  • Subverted, along with tons of suspense film tropes, in High Anxiety, when the protagonist, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, calls up Victoria Brisbane and "Braces" attempts to kill him in the phone booth. She mistakes his agonized gasping for an obscene phone call.
  • The opening scene of The Quiller Memorandum has a Bureau agent shot by a sniper rifle as he tries using a phone booth. Quiller is later smart enough to walk past the booth rather than try dialing for help (on both occasions the villains are letting the agent run in an attempt to find their headquarters, but naturally had to kill the agent when he simply tried phoning in his vital information instead).
  • In the Clue movie, it's used along with a Gory Discretion Shot, when the cop is killed. He is seen talking on a phone; cut to the lead pipe being raised, then used to disconnect the call.
  • The man who tries to sell the plans to 007 and XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • A variation in The Matrix: Trinity spends the first minutes of the movie trying to reach a phone booth, and when she finally reaches it and pick up the phone, a truck demolishes the phone booth. Fortunately, since the landline was her exit, Trinity is not injured.
    • This also happens right before Neo and Smith's subway fight, as Smith tries to shoot her before she can leave the Matrix. Once again, she manages to escape in time.
  • In The Three Stooges short "Crime On Their Hands", a henchman calls a newspaper (the phone is answered by the Stooges, janitors with ambitions to be reporters) to snitch on his boss, who just stole a valuable diamond. Just as he gives the vital tip, he is gunned down by another henchman.
  • Subverted in Tremors, albeit over a radio set instead of a phone. Burt Grummer, after being told that the graboids are coming straight for his house, is last heard saying, "Jesus Chr--!" before the line goes dead as a graboid bursts through his wall. As it turned out, that graboid did indeed break into the wrong goddamned rec room.
  • In FX, while the communication had long ended by then, Rollie Tyler is almost gunned down by the guy he used the booth to contact. Fortunately, since he was no longer on the phone, he had relinquished the booth to some random guy, and now knows his employer wants him dead...
  • Incredible city-wide example in Fail Safe. When the hotline to Russia goes dead (or, rather, emits a high shrieking sound—the sound of the phone *melting*), it shows that the bomber wasn't recalled in time, and the US government has to carry out its insane plan to delay full nuclear exchange.
  • Video phone example in the Starship Troopers movie. Rico is talking with his mother and father, who live in Buenos Aires. As they're talking, a shadow comes across the parents' ends of the line. The screen then dissolves into static and a short time later the news shows the destruction of the city.
  • Similar example in The Empire Strikes Back during Darth Vader's teleconference with the captains of the Star Destroyers: one man's hologram image flickers and fades from view after his spacecraft is struck by an asteroid.
  • Naturally this happened in the old Republic Film Serials, and so was spoofed in the Gag Dub movie J-Men Forever!.

(An informer is making a secret call to J-Men headquarters when the Lightning Bug bursts in on him)
The Bug: "Ah-HAH! Making personal calls on MY line!"
(The Bug zaps him with his ray-pistol. On the other end of the line, smoke pours from the phone held by the Chief)
The Chief: "Hello? Operator? Listen, we were cut off in the midst of a hot tip. I want to make sure we weren't charged for that call."

  • Implied in We Were Soldiers. A radio operator manages to tune in on frantic radio transmissions from a group of special forces soldiers heavily engaged in combat with the enemy in Vietnam. The signal is lost abruptly, but it is unclear if it was because the special forces troops were killed, or due to more mundane reasons, given the extreme range they picked up the transmission from.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Happens in the Agatha Christie novel After the Funeral, except the victim eventually survives.
  • The last chapter of Cheaper By the Dozen recounts the death of the authors' father, who suffered a massive heart attack while talking to their mother on a pay phone. It's called "The Party Who Called You..." as in, "I'm sorry. The party who called you has hung up."
  • A variation happens in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, where Gordon Way pauses in his rambling monologue to his sister's answering machine to check on a noise and gets shot. The answering machine records the vital information of the time of the murder (Gordon had stated the exact time earlier in the message) and Gordon's first post-death words.
  • Happened to Tycho Celchu in the X Wing Series. He was phoning his family on his birthday, when suddenly the line disconnected. It turned out that the disconnection was caused by the complete destruction of the planet his family was living on (Alderaan).

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Infamous example from the otherwise-forgotten show Murphy's Law:

"I'd like to report a murder..."
"Whose?"
"My own..."

  • The Inspector Morse episode The Wolvercote Tongue had this happen.
  • Long time Dallas recurring character Jordan Lee was killed off in this manner, after having second thoughts during a murky oil scheme that involved kidnapping Bobby's new wife.
  • Get Smart. A woman who tries phoning Maxwell Smart for help is drowned in a KAOS Death Trap which floods the phone booth with water. Later Smart and 99 are trapped in the same booth, but naturally escape.
    • But in the first case Smart is informed by a calm recorded voice "I'm sorry but your party has drowned."
  • The Big No version happened in the TV version of Dick Barton Special Agent. The body was found by Dick just before some other cops came in and arrested Dick for the murder.
  • The first episode of Jericho had Dale listen to a message from his mother on his answering machine. What we hear is the destruction of Atlanta by nuclear bomb, then the line going dead.
  • In the MST3K episode "Earth vs. the Spider", some poor schmoe gets killed by the titular spider while trying to phone the police.

Crow: "Hello? Mr. "Oh My God Crunch Crunch"? Look, spit out whatever you're eating and start again!"

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Accidental variant, and also played for laughs: A Far Side cartoon shows a man in an office falling out the window. Meanwhile, we see a telephone operator talking on the phone, saying "Will you accept a call from a Mr. Aaaaah?"

Theater[edit | hide]

  • In the mystery story Maniac Manor, somebody gets kidnapped in mid sentence, but not killed.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • This happens to some poor sap in the backstory-establishing cutscene in Killer7, courtesy of Harman Smith.
  • In Persona 4's worst ending, Naoto gets killed by Shadows (or possibly turns into one herself) in the middle of calling you.
  • Happens in Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, within the British Liberation of Caen campaign - at the end of Operation Windsor, 3rd Battalion receives a radio transmission from Royal Scots Engineers on Hill 112. As per the trope, the Engineer calling stops talking, and the scene cuts to a man framed in shadow slumped over with a radio in front of him while 3rd Battalion as for him to respond.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Played for rather dark laughs in the Looney Tunes short "The Unmentionables". A civilian tries to call the police from a phone booth during a brutal Prohibition-era gang shoot-out. As soon as he steps inside, the booth is cut cleanly in half by Tommy-Gun fire, prompting the operator to tell the deceased, "Sorry, you've been disconnected."
  • The ultimate parody of this trope comes in the form of Futurama's suicide booths, where people pay to have themselves killed either by being vaporised, or by being gutted by five different objects.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Truth in Television for any number of Mafia hits, given the tendency of the mob to use public telephones to avoid wire-tapping.
    • Probably most famously done to Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll during Prohibition, which may have been the Trope Maker.
  • Major League Baseball pitcher Josh Hancock was talking on his phone (and drunk, and high) when he plowed his car into a tow truck and died in 2007.
  • During the Columbine school massacre, a teacher called 911 from a phone in the library. The teacher then ran as the killers entered the library, without hanging up the phone. The 911 tape recorded the killers shooting all the students in the library, where most of the casualties were.
  • A new series of public service announcements is being run on American TV, each opening with silence and two or three words displayed on the screen. A voiceover then explains that these words were a text someone was trying to send just before they were killed in a driving-while-texting accident. In at least some of the ads the person doing the voiceover is one of the accident victim's parents.