Welcome to Oldfield

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case for 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories to a nosy reporter — stories that reveal the town’s “long history of violence.” The library and its records serve as a framing device for the other stories in From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring, 1987), similar to the structure of the 1993 film Necronomicon, Book of the DeadThat film is based on a series of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories; this film raises a glass — literally — to Lovecraft, as well as Poe, “those two masters of horror.”

A classic tale, this is not. The most frustrating thing about the film is that you can see how it could have been a decent film, had its production values been higher and the different stories bound more closely together. The film’s fatal flaw is that for a film whose premise is based entirely on place, its stories have a total lack of place. The stories, although set in different time periods, could be set almost anywhere:

  • The first tale is modern-day, and its only sense of location is that it’s a town with some kind of factory or shipping business.
  • The second story takes place in a swamp filled with voodoo magic (more like Louisiana than Tennessee).
  • The third story takes place in the 1930s at a creepy carnival.
  • The fourth and final story could be anywhere in the U.S. South at the end of the Civil War.

The films opens on a woman being executed by lethal injection (we later find out she’s a serial killer who’s been murdering people since she was seven years old). A reporter present at the execution (Susan Tyrrell) then drives to Oldfield to interview the woman’s uncle, Julian White (Vincent Price).

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

She walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire. His more formal, professorial attire — a tweed coat, shirt and tie, pocket square — blends in with the shabby library interior. In an amusing review from the Movie Librarians website, A. G. Graham states, “I found the library fascinating — it looks like an antique store threw up to create a set,” and concludes, “If nothing else, watching this film will make you itch to go dust your books.” :D

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Julian White is not pleased at this late visitor, stating, “The library is closed, and I want to be alone right now.” But as she continues to ask questions, both about the town and about his niece, he relents and starts providing information and stories about the town’s history.

  • “You could read the whole history here yourself.”
  • “I have something I want to show you. These are the original town records. If you read these, you’d find out what kind of people settled here, what kind of lives they chose to live. It goes back to the Civil War.”
  • “Oldfield’s history is written in blood.”

He is a classic Information Provider, a supporting but necessary role; therefore, his portrayal joins the Class III category of reel librarian films.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

The reporter also gets in a few choice zingers in reference to the library:

  • “The atmosphere of this library is getting to me, but I don’t think it would drive me to commit murder.”
  • “Tonight, your niece becomes another sickening entry in your library.”

The librarian reveals the history of the librarian before him, who used to bring young girls to back room for “romantic interludes” — until one night, a husband “dealt with their indiscretions with an axe” and buried both of them under the floorboards. “At night, I swear, you can sometimes hear the lovers’ screams.” Too bad there are no flashbacks to that Naughty Librarian. ;)

There is not much scope or depth to this reel librarian, but Vincent Price manages to inject what dignity he can into the role. Julian is a watcher of history, not a participant in life. As he states late in the film, he “was lucky enough to sit back and watch the murderous parade pass by” from the (seemingly) safe walls of his library. But is that safety an illusion?

The films ends on a twist — but one could also argue the film ends where it begins. “Welcome to Oldfield” indeed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

And now I have to go dust my books… ;)

A librarian’s tell-tale heart

This 1960 version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart stars Laurence Payne as Edgar Marsh, who is described on the back of the DVD case as “a mentally unstable librarian.” If you’re familiar with Poe’s classic short story, then you might be asking yourself right now, “I don’t remember that story including a librarian.” And you would be RIGHT.

The plot is summed up on the back of the DVD case. So no spoilers that the DVD case doesn’t already reveal:

A mentally unstable librarian discovers that the woman he is infatuated with has dumped him for another man. In a fit of rage, he murders his rival, burying the body under the floorboards in his home.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD cover of 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

As film critic Roman Martel wrote in his review on DVD Verdict, “Poe purists will not like any of the changes made to the story.” Also, I noted that in the opening credits, Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name is misspelled as Allen, as seen below. The main character — also named Edgar, subtle — also lives on Rue Morgue. So this film starts out as a hodgepodge of random Poe references.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Given this context, I was not really looking forward to watching The Tell-Tale Heart (1960). I do, however, have to give credit to the director, Ernest Morris, for crafting a slow-burning, moody tale, with plenty of shadows and dramatic film angles. The film’s look harkens back to the 1944 classic Gaslight, especially given the period film setting. The acting by the leads also elevates this melodramatic tale, even if Laurence Payne tends to go over-the-top in his lead role.

Cue the dramatic facial expressions:

Reel Librarians  |  Facial expressions of the lead actor in 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Our first look at the lead character is shot from below, as Edgar descends a staircase in his bathrobe, peering down the banister. A heart is beating faintly in the background. Is he fearful… or is he the one we should fear? It’s also telling that we get a shot, all askew, of the portrait of his dead mother.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Edgar’s naughty librarian ways are revealed early on. In one early scene, he leers through the window at a lively restaurant, and is caught staring at a woman’s legs (seen below). When she makes an advance and touches his hand, he reacts violently and runs away. Returning home — pausing to rub the cheek of his dead mother’s portrait, as you do — he takes out a collection of pornographic photos secreted in the back of his closet. But rather than getting excited by the photos, he seems sad and resigned instead, his hand falling limply by his side.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

The next morning, Edgar looks out his bedroom window and sees Betty for the first time and finds himself instantly obsessed. He becomes a peeping Tom, watching her undress night after night (it is annoying that Betty remains clueless about her uncovered window throughout the film). The director also consistently places the camera behind Edgar as he looks at women, which heightens the creep factor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Edgar finally works up the nerve to ask Betty to dinner, and she accepts because, as she says later, “I suppose I felt sorry for him.” On their first outing, he reveals his occupation:

Betty:  Now it’s your turn.

Edgar:  I work as a librarian. I’m in charge of the reference section in the main library. [pauses]

Betty:  Is that all?

Edgar:  I can’t think of anything else to say.

Escorting her home, he then sexually assaults Betty, putting his arms around her and trying to kiss her (below left). He gets a door slammed in his face (rightfully so). He apologizes the next morning, and Betty takes yet more pity on him. This leads to yet more sexual harassment (below right).

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Edgar is the one who ends up introducing Betty to his friend, Carl; Edgar seems oblivious to their immediate attraction to each other. Until that is, his voyeuristic activities reveal Betty’s and Carl’s affair… which leads to him later beating Carl to death in a jealous rage. Of course, Edgar didn’t realize at the time that he was also killing his own soul while he was killing his only friend.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Ironically, Carl is the only one in the film who says anything nice about Edgar. He says to Betty at one point that “He’s a decent sort. He’s helped me out of a spot more than once,” and in another scene, “He’s an intelligent man.”

Why a librarian? This is not part of the original short story, so why did the screenwriters make such a point of mentioning it? The library itself is shown briefly in one scene, pictured below, when Betty comes to ask him about Carl’s disappearance.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Ironically, Edgar appears at his most confident while in his “natural habitat,” the library. He is smooth and even flirtatious with Betty, cupping her chin with his fingers. The shot of Edgar’s tidy desk at the library also contrasts with his untidy desk at home, as seen in the pictures below. He plays the role of a respectable citizen when he is at the library; at home, he is a mess.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

The fact that Edgar is a librarian is not that important to the plot (landing the film in the Class II category), except for a scene later in the film when Betty goes to the police to voice her suspicions about Edgar’s involvement in Carl’s disappearance. The policeman’s reaction?

Edgar Marsh has worked quietly as chief librarian in this town for many years. A thoroughly respectable citizen. No, no, no. I don’t want to persecute an innocent man.

His being a librarian provides him respectability, although it is a “damning with faint praise” kind of respectability. Edgar is a sad, frustrated, lonely man, one who lacks confidence and shows obvious discomfort in social situations.

You know how I’m usually like around women. Petrified as such to do to the wrong thing.

Betty:  You live all alone in that big house?  Edgar:  I prefer it that way.

A classic Male Librarian as Failure. His actions and violent reactions are motivated by fear.

Edgar also fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type. He is obsessed with sex, as evidenced by his collection of pornographic photos, but he doesn’t know what to do when he has the opportunity (like when he runs away from the woman in the bar). He is sexually frustrated, which feeds into his violent overreactions; the film also hints at some kind of unnatural past sexual relationship with his mother.

It doesn’t come as a surprise then, when sexual fantasies of Betty quickly turn into nightmares of Carl’s last dying moments. Sex and violence are irrevocably linked in this reel librarian’s mind. It is also no coincidence that the only time we see Edgar in bed, he is physically ill.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Laurence Payne gives it his all, and then some, as troubled reel librarian Edgar Marsh. However, as you can tell, this is not the most flattering of male librarian portrayals!

To counteract all the creepiness, I will end on a funny note. My husband did NOT like the film — he is a Poe purist — and after the scene in which Edgar kills Carl and hides his body, he joked:

“When he stores you under the floorboards, I’m sure he’ll catalog you, too!” :D

Scream librarian scream

In Scream Blacula Scream (1973), the sequel to the 1972 cult classic Blacula, an ex-policeman investigates a series of suspicious deaths. William Marshall reprises his role as Blacula, and Pam Grier joins the cheesy thrill ride as a voodoo priestess. Predictably, with the return of Blacula, (undead) bodies begin to pile up…

Coming two-thirds into the film, clocking in at a little over an hour, ex-policeman Justin Carter (Don Mitchell) learns about bat hairs present at the scene of a crime. His next step? A library, of course!

The next scene cuts to a shot of bookcases and a white hand slowly reaching out…

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

… which belongs to a reel librarian.

Played by Sybil Scotford, the librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds in this brief scene. She is decked out in typical early ’70s clothes — plenty of polyester and orange paisley on display — with her long brown hair pulled back in a bouffant and low ponytail. Her character has no name in the credits, only “Librarian,” listed below Pimp #1 and Pimp #2. As you do. ;)

After she locates the hand-lettered “OCCULT” sign on the bookcase, she says, “Let’s see. This is it. This whole shelf. Black arts, occult. That should keep you busy for awhile.” She smiles (a little coyly?) at Justin and takes off her glasses as she leaves.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Already interested in the books on the shelves, Justin answers back, “Yeah. Mmm hmmm” before turning back to the shelf. He picks out a thick book and goes to a chair beside the last bookcase. Time passes as we see multiple books stacked up on the chair beside him.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

The entire library scene lasts just over a minute, with the reel librarian onscreen for merely seconds. Therefore, it lands in the Class IV category of librarian films, and the librarian fulfills the typical Information Provider role. Justin obviously found some information to help him in the case, as in the next scene, he tries to convince the police supervisor that they need to investigate vampires.

The most notable aspect of the scene is how badly this library is organized. It is obviously a set — all you need are bookcases, books, a chair or two, hand-lettered signs, and a woman in glasses! — but not a very well-thought-out set. The three signs we see on the bookcases are all placed where they hang OVER the books — highly inconvenient for anyone to see or reach the books shelved behind the signs.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Also, the signs that are visible go from “GRAPHICS” to the “OCCULT” to “FICTION.” Huh? What kind of library system or collection is this?! You guessed it — the fake kind! Also, NO CALL NUMBERS on the books!

Those screams you hear in the background? They’re from real librarians watching this scene! ;)

The Quotable Librarian

bss-613.QuotationMarksIt’s time for another “Quotable Librarian” round-up! This time, the quotes are generalizations about theoretical, or would-be, librarians.

The emphases in the quotations below are mine. (Also, the films in question may not actually include a reel librarian, just a description of a librarian.)


Juno (2007)


Juno MacGuff: The funny thing is that Steve Rendazo secretly wants me. Jocks like him always want freaky girls. Girls with horn-rimmed glasses and vegan footwear and Goth makeup. Girls who play the cello and wear Converse All-Stars and want to be children’s librarians when they grow up. Oh yeah, jocks eat that shit up.


Beautiful Girls (1996)


Gina: At first, after the breakup, you’ll have these visions. Of you alone, 57,58, walking around, wearing a nightgown, your hair in a bun, maybe you’re a librarian, heating up a can of soup for one, and worrying about the cobwebs that are growing in your womb.

[click here for more about this film]

[click here for my analysis post about this film]


Motherhood (2009)


Woman in Bakery Line: You have to admit it’s your own fault. If you have named her Sophie or Ella you wouldn’t be having this problem. But you gave her an Edna name.

Eliza: A what?

Woman in Bakery Line: You know, an Edna name? Like Mabel or Agnes or Velma…

Bakery Clerk: Yeah, like lesbian librarian names.

[click here for a post about reel librarian character names]

[click here for a post about anonymous librarian characters]


The Ugly Truth (2009)


Mike Chadway: [to Abby, on how to attract a guy] You have to be two people. The saint and the sinner. The librarian and the stripper.


The mask of organization

In the film noir-style drama, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), a mystery writer becomes obsessed with Dimitrios, a master criminal. In the opening scene, Dimitrios appears to have washed up dead on a beach. Is he dead? Has he faked his death? Just how dangerous is Dimitrios?

Peter Lorre stars as Leyden, the mystery writer — he gets to play a good guy for once! Sydney Greenstreet plays a smuggler with his own agenda, and Zachary Scott plays the shadowy Dimitrios. The story structure consists of a series of flashbacks, in which we witness the ruthlessness and cunning of the mysterious Dimitrios.

In one early scene almost 20 minutes in, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and seeks help from an archives clerk. The scene is short, only 2 minutes long, landing the film in the Class III category. However, the archives clerk makes a distinct impression as an Anti-Social Librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

A white male archives clerk (30s?, extremely thin, dark suit and tie, thick glasses, dark hair, starting to go bald) looks up records in this uncredited role. The clerk seems very anal-retentive, and spouts off phrases like, “Organization is the secret of modern statecraft, but patience is necessary” and “This is organization.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

 

At first, he does not find the file and gives up easily, until Leyden asks him to look under another name (Talat, an alias used by Dimitrios). Ironic, then, that the clerk had emphasized patience! But obviously, that patience is one-sided in his mind.

The clerk becomes agitated when another man (Greenstreet, seen in the screenshot below) enters the office and then leaves. He sputters, “I have no assistance in my work of organization here. The whole burden falls on my shoulders. People have no patience. If I am engaged for a moment, they cannot wait. A man can do his duty, no more, no less.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

The clerk appears frustrated by people and their requests  — answering inquiries seems to be more about showing off his organizational skills than anything else — and he becomes extremely agitated when his methods are not successful or are called into question. This display of poor social skills, elitist attitude about rules and organization, and general dislike of the public, are all hallmarks of the Anti-Social Male Librarian character type. The archives clerk also plays a secondary role as Information Provider, as he is helpful in the end in confirming Dimitrios’s identity and alias.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less. ;)

It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out… you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)

Leyden’s reaction to the clerk’s system of organization? “Very clever.” So clever that Leyden takes the opportunity to leave as the archives clerk turns away to boast, yet again, “You see? That is organization!”

Reel Librarians blog turns 3!

This week, the Reel Librarians blog celebrates its third anniversary — can’t believe it’s been three years already!

Three cheers to everyone who enjoys reading this blog! What have YOU enjoyed so far? Please let me know and leave a comment while you’re here.

Reel Librarians | Lego Librarian giveaway winner

Quick stats:

  • Almost 70,000 total views
  • Over 3,000 shares
  • 358 comments total
  • 262 posts (not including this one) + 21 pages
  • 76 visits daily average
  • 166 followers via the blog, email, Pinterest, and Bloglovin
Reel Librarians  |  Reel Librarians blog turns 3

Reel Librarians — Year 3 stats

Top 10 most popular posts & pages

For a trip down memory lane, check out the blog’s first and second anniversaries! :)

South Street librarian

Pickup on South Street (1953), a film noir minor classic starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter, includes a brief library scene that combines microfilm, a pickpocket, and the first African-American librarian portrayal on film — all in less than a minute!

A well-known pickpocket, Skip McCoy (Widmark), picks the wrong purse one day on the subway, accidentally stealing a roll of microfilm a lady (Peters) was on her way to deliver. As you do. This leads to a clash between the police and a Communist gang — OF COURSE — while Skip schemes amongst all the chaos.

Skip discovers the microfilm in his stash and has the idea to visit the public library in order to get a close look at the microfilm. Very clever! About 25 minutes in, he skips (har har) up the stairs to the New York Public Library, where we get a shot of a sign that reads, “Newspapers on Microfilm — Apply Here.”

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'

The camera then pans over two white gentlemen behind a library counter, both in white shirts and ties. The older gentleman is flipping through a book with a male patron, as seen above. Skip moves down the counter to a African-American male, also outfitted in the standard white shirt and tie.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'

Microfilm Library Clerk:  May I help you?

Skip:  Yes. I’d like to see a copy of the New York Times, January 5, 1947.

Microfilm Library Clerk [hands him a card and pencil]:  Fill this out, please.

The microfilm library clerk, played by Jaye Loft-Lyn, is portrayed as friendly and competent, a classic Information Provider. No fuss, no muss. The scene lasts only seconds, ending up in the Class IV category. Although the length of the scene is short, it is significant, as I mentioned before, in that it is the earliest film I have come across so far to include an African-American reel librarian. Too bad the role is uncredited.

The next scene cuts to Skip rolling the stolen microfilm onto the library microfilm reader, looking TOTALLY nonchalant and unsuspicious while doing so.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Pickup on South Street'

Although the public machine is used for illicit reasons, Skip did end up a satisfied library patron! ;)

I also watched the remake ofPickup on South Street (1953) — I am NOTHING if not thorough, and it’s all for you, dear readers!  —  a tedious 1967 affair called The Cape Town Affair, which changed the locale from New York to Cape Town, South Africa, and starred James Brolin as pickpocket Skip McCoy. Instead of going to a local library, Skip goes to a fellow thief (one who has ripped off a camera store) to view the microfilm. A decidedly inferior remake in every way, including in its decision to nix the opportunity of showcasing a library onscreen.

Pickup on South Street vs. Remake

Click collage for image sources