A while back I wrote a piece about my childhood memories of trying to learn how to throw a knife like guys in movies. At the risk of sounding like someone who is spending way too much time thinking about sharply pointed objects, I thought I’d pass along the fact that I’ve now recalled another knife fascination from those days. And I don’t think I’m the only one who was intrigued by this particular variety, judging from how often it appeared in movies. That’s right, I’m talking about the switchblade, the steel implement that became so notorious and was so wickedly evil-appearing that it was eventually outlawed.
Although there have been a lot of different kinds of knives that flip or spring open in various ways, the term ‘switchblade’ has usually been used to describe the classic push-button Italian stiletto. The weapon became popular in the post-WWII years, after returning servicemen brought a large number of them home from Europe. It didn’t take long for the nifty knives to begin showing up in the movies, and the distinctive ‘click’ of the opening blade seemed to accompany the appearance of every shifty character. The knives were especially prevalent among sneering gang members, who always flicked their knives open in preparation for a rumble with rival gangs. (In the video below, be sure to watch to the end for a classic Woody Allen scene.)
All of this made the knives irresistibly cool for impressionable kids like me, which also meant that they also drew a lot of attention from parents and other responsible adults. It wasn’t long before politicians jumped on board and began to pass laws restricting the sale and possession of the knives, and many of those laws are still on the books although there are some exceptions. Also, ingenious newer designs have sometimes worked around the restrictions while still retaining a quick-opening feature.
As for me, as near as I can recall I never had a real switchblade, although I do seem to remember having a tiny, keychain-sized one. At least I didn’t buy one of those phoney switchblade combs that came along later — although I was tempted.