Librarian by chance

The movie Chances Are (1989) is a romantic comedy about reincarnation. A woman’s (Cybill Shepherd) husband is killed in the 1960s, and in a brief heaven scene — complete with fluffy clouds and angels with clear tablets shaped like the Ten Commandments — we see the husband head off to get reincarnated. The only problem is, he doesn’t get the all-important forgetfulness inoculation. Through the rest of the film, Corinne (Shepherd) believes her husband’s soul has come back in the body of her daughter’s boyfriend, Alex (Robert Downey, Jr.).

As you can imagine, the creep factor is quite high in this film. If Alex is Corinne’s reincarnated husband, then he’s dating his own daughter. If he’s not her reincarnated husband, then Corinne is stealing her daughter’s boyfriend. Oh, and she’s been cooking her dead husband dinners for over 20 years. And her husband’s best friend (Ryan O’Neal) has been in love with Corinne all this time, and has basically helped raised Corinne’s daughter. Like I said, the creep factor is high.

It’s a strange premise for a romantic comedy, and it requires a good half-hour or so of set-up and character introductions. The first time we meet Alex is about fifteen minutes into the film, as he coasts along on a book cart in the Yale University Library. This introduces his personality as boyish and fun-loving — traits at odds in a serious setting like the library.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Coming through!

He then coasts into a scene in which Miranda (Masterson) — whom is later revealed to be Corinne’s daughter — is getting schooled by a librarian called Mrs. Handy (Kathleen Freeman). The librarian is middle-aged, dressed in conservative layers and has short hair — but no glasses!

Let’s listen in as Alex does:

Mrs. Handy:  So you just assumed that nobody at Yale University or Yale Law School had any interest in checking out these 6 books in the last 3 months? You are going to make some lawyer. You owe $87.25.

Miranda:  Can I put that on a credit card?

Mrs. Handy:  This isn’t a boutique. Cash only, or we’re have to hold up your grades.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Alex then swoops into action, coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress.

Alex:  Mrs. Handy. The rare books room. The Shakespeare folios.

Mrs. Handy:  Fooling with the folios?

Alex:  Yes and they’re fiddling, too. Go!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Miranda’s reaction as the librarian rushes off?

God. Is she always that awful?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Interesting to realize that the librarian replaces Miranda as the “damsel in distress.” And she is so worried about people “fiddling” with the folios — and her character name is Mrs. Handy. Such clever screenwriters. ;)

This “meet cute” scene continues as Alex jokes that the librarian is his mother — we are rewarded with a priceless reaction on Miranda’s face! — and then he magically wipes away the fines in the computer:

Uh-oh. This is bad. Worse than I thought. According to this, these books were never legally checked out. So that means I can’t charge you for them. You beat the system.

Alex then introduces himself, and we learn that he’s about to graduate. Miranda rushes off — she’s got a ride waiting, because she just had NO IDEA that it would take very long to return books that were 3 months overdue — but doublechecks that the “awful” librarian isn’t his mother.

This is definitely a scene played for laughs, and the university librarian fulfills the Comic Librarian character type. We laugh at her distress over the folios, which OF COURSE is what she gets for being mean to the pretty young girl with a credit card in one hand and overdue library books in the other. Oh, wait … am I showing my real librarian bias at this reel librarian portrayal? ;)

Another side note:  After rewinding this scene to make sure I had gotten the quotes right, my husband piped up with the information that the library fines turned out to be 15 cents a day. Doesn’t it sound like one of those word problems you had in school:

Your library fines total $87.25. You checked out 6 books, which are 3 months overdue. What then is the daily rate for library fines?

This “meet cute” introductory scene also recalls the “meet cute” scene in the 1970 film Love Story, co-starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, one of the four leads in Chances Are. In Love Story, Ali MacGraw plays a library assistant and is the one who schools Ryan O’Neal.

Reel Librarians  |  Library scenes in 'Chances Are' and 'Love Story'

And in yet another coincidence, Robert Downey, Jr. starred in another reincarnation comedy a few years later, in the 1993 comedy Heart and Souls. That film also included a reel librarian character, a supporting character named Harrison Winslow, played by Charles Grodin. Harrison in  Heart and Souls turns out to be a Liberated Librarian — as does Alex in Chances Are. The librarian, Mrs. Handy, definitely fulfills the Comic Relief role in this Class II film.

For more examples of Comic Relief portrayals, click here.

And for more about Liberated Librarians, click here and here.

‘The Librarians’ come to Portland

Last week, friends forwarded on exciting news to me:

Reel Librarians  |  Passport for The Librarian

Promotional passport for Flynn Carsen, ‘The Librarian’

  • A spin-off TV series inspired by the Noah Wyle “The Librarian” TV movies has been greenlit by TNT
  • The TV series will start filming this spring in Portland, Oregon

Woo-hoo, this is soooooo exciting! It’s also encouraging that Wyle is executive-producing as well as reprising his role as Flynn Carsen; Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin are also set to reprise their roles.

And how cool would it be if real librarians were cast as extras?! Then real librarians would become reel librarians. ;)

You can read more about the TV series here and here, for starters.

I’ve also featured “The Librarian” TV movies several times before on this blog, including:

Anatomy of a law library

I recently rewatched the courtroom classic Anatomy of a Murder (1959), as it was on my Master List. I didn’t remember a librarian being in the film, but I did remember a pivotal scene set in a law library. And my memory was correct, there is no actual reel librarian in the movie — landing it in Class V territory — but there is indeed a law library scene in the film that is key to the trial, and therefore the plot of the film itself.

In the early scenes setting up the tone of the film and the main character Paul Biegler, played by James Stewart, we also get treated to Paul’s personal law library. His love of the old law books helps the audience trust him and his actions, as he is shown to be a careful and thoughtful person. Paul and his lawyer friend, Parnell, are settling down for a night in. Let’s listen in:

Paul:  In the evening, I sit around and drink bourbon whisky and read law with Parnell Emmitt McCarthy, one of the world’s great men.

Parnell: That was a kind word, Paulie. You know, I might have been. I look at you and see myself years ago, with the same love for the smell of the old brown books and the dusty office. [Pointing to the bookcase of law books] … The United States Supreme Court reports. Well, what should we read this evening, counselor? How about a little Chief Justice Holmes?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

At that point, the phone rings. It’s a call from Laura Manion (Lee Remick), and her call for Biegler’s legal aid propels the story forward. Her husband, Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is in jail for murdering a local man, Barney Quill; his stated reason for doing so is that he believed Quill had raped his wife. Is this killing legally justified?

By the way, this film was a landmark movie in being open about the issue of rape, at least in a legal setting. It also caused controversy — and bannings in some states — because of its inclusion of such words as “bitch,” “contraceptive,” “panties,” “penetration,” “rape,” “slut,” and “sperm.”

Later, Lt. Manion meets with the army psychologist, Dr. Matthew Smith (Orson Bean), and brings back notes that he’s suffering from “dissociative reaction,” also known as “irresistible impulse.” This is their ticket to a temporary insanity defense.

Paul:  And what did he say about your knowing the difference between right and wrong when you shot Quill?

Manion:  I don’t think he said anything. Why, is that important?

Lt. Manion goes back to jail, and Parnell and Paul strategize:

Parnell:  You ever heard of a Michigan court accepting ‘irresistible impulse’ as insanity? .. Well, tomorrow’s Saturday. We just have the weekend before the trial. When do you want to start working?

Paul:  Tomorrow morning, early.

And, of course, “start working” means … going to the library! :D

Apparently, they research in the law library all weekend, as the next scene dawns on a new day with the judge walking to the courthouse. Judge Weaver, played by legendary real-life lawyer Joseph N. Welch — he went up against and brought down Joseph McCarthy! — introduces himself to the court by saying, “And while I might appear to doze occasionally, you’ll find that I’m easily awakened, particularly if shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” ♥

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Judge Weaver walks up past the door marked “Library” and stops after hearing a book thud. He quietly opens up the door and peeks in on the two lawyers drowning in law books. Judge Weaver smiles and backs out again, unnoticed by Paul and Parnell.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

By the way, the movie’s entry on IMDb.com reveals a fun trivia tidbit about the library set:

Reel Librarians  |  IMDb.com trivia of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

In this double-decker law library, the two lawyers find the precedent they need — at the same time!

Parnell:  Paulie.

PaulHey listen to this, Parn.

Parnell: Never mind that. Just find People v. Durfee, 62, Michigan, 486, Year 1886.

Paul: That’s it. I have it right here in the A.L.R. Listen. “The right and wrong test, though deemed unscientific, is adhered to by most states but the fact that one accused of committing a crime may have been able to comprehend the nature and consequences of this act and to know that it was wrong. Nevertheless … if he was forced to its execution by an impulse — by an impulse which he was powerless to control, he will be excused from punishment.” The Michigan Supreme Court did accept irresistible impulse. This is precedent.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Note:  The A.L.R. stands for American Law Reports, published since 1919, which remain a key resource for legal research. And I looked the case in the LexisNexis library database, and it’s a real case! Here’s a related screenshot of that case and its appeal:

Reel Librarians  |  A snapshot from the LexisNexis database

That piece of precedent does get its day in court — or rather, its day in chambers. About 2 hrs and 15 mins into the film, the prosecution lawyers ask for a recess after the testimony of the army psychologist. Paul is ready and brings his law book to the conference in chambers, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

The Assistant State Attorney Dancer (George C. Scott) and District Attorney Lodwick (Brooks West) ask if the defense wants to change its plea:

Lodwick:  You know a guy’s not considered legally nuts in Michigan unless he didn’t know right from wrong. Why don’t you get this over with?

Paul:  Your Honor, will you turn to page 486?

Lodwick:  What’s that?

Judge:  Appears to be a law book, Mr. Lodwick.

And, of course, Paul just happens to have left a fishing line hook in the book to mark its place. He and Judge Weaver enjoy a brief conversation about catching frogs, which frustrates the two prosecuting attorneys!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Lodwick:  What case is he citing, Judge? What is it, your honor?

Judge:  People vs. Durfee, 1886. Looks like a precedent. Would you like to read it Mr. Dancer?

Dancer:  No, thank you, Your Honor. I think I recall the case. We’re hooked … like the frog.

It’s a relatively subtle moment, but I like that it echoes back to Judge Weaver’s personal introduction that he appreciates being “shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” :)

And if you’d like to see more of a law library — as well as a reel law librarian — click here for my post on the 1988 Gary Oldman legal drama Criminal Law.

Starring Vancouver Public Library

Last week, my husband and I traveled to Vancouver, BC, for spring break. It was my first time visiting the city, and it was a lovely trip! Vancouver has a wonderfully low-key vibe, and it is quite walkable and chock full of interesting architecture and public art. You can read a lot more daily details of our trip over on my husband’s blog.

But what does this have to do with my blog about librarians or libraries in film?

Well, the first full day we were in the city, we walked right into a film set outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library — twice! I have read a lot about how Vancouver is a mecca for television and film crews, and boy, is that true. There were quite a few signs around the downtown location where we were staying (right across from the library, in fact) that read something similar to, “Filming taking place in this area. If you do not want to be filmed, find an alternate route.”

The first two days we were in Vancouver, which were also sunny days, they were filming scenes outside the library for a TV pilot called “Proof,” starring Jennifer Beals as a surgeon; Kyra Sedgwick is also serving as producer, and Alex Graves is directing. Apparently, the library is serving as a hospital set for the planned series. You can see more pics of the external — and internal — filming scenes here and here, for starters. Below are some shots we captured of the experience:

Reel Librarians  |  Starring Vancouver Public Library

Scenes from the ‘Proof’ set outside the Vancouver Public Library

It was kind of an bizarre experience watching the second scene from the sidelines. We had just walked out of the library — we always visit a library every new place we travel to! — and accidentally onto the film set. And, yes, we got shooed away from the set for being actual pedestrians — which made me laugh! — so that they could film actors playing pedestrians. Cinéma vérité at its finest? ;) You can read more details about the experience here on my husband’s blog and on his Twitter page.

That also got me thinking about other films and TV series that have used the Vancouver Public Library as a backdrop or set. It is a very distinctive building, kind of an architectural cross between the Coliseum and a snail shell. The curved walls, windows, and atrium combine for a really stunning effect. The public referendum for the building was passed in November 1990, and the public also voted on proposed building designs. The winning design was by Moshe Safdie, and the building was completed in 1995.

Reel Librarians  |  Starring Vancouver Public Library

The central branch of the Vancouver Public Library

Reel Librarians  |  Starring Vancouver Public Library

(Clockwise): Me outside the VPL; the VPL atrium; curved-wall interior of the library

Taking a quick look through Wikipedia articles (click here and here), below is at least a partial list of films that feature the library:

  • The 6th Day (library was headquarters for the cloning company)
  • 88 Minutes
  • Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (shoot-out scene filmed inside and outside the building)
  • Battle in Seattle
  • Battlestar Galactica (TV series)
  • Caprica (TV series, spin-off of Battlestar Galactica)
  • The Dead Zone (TV series)
  • Double Jeopardy
  • Fringe (TV series)
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (closing sequence filmed in entrance hall)
  • Mr. Magoo (museum scenes filmed in the Central Branch entrance hall)
  • Smallville (TV series)
  • Stargate SG-1 (TV series)
  • This Means War (the library square)
  • Tru Calling (TV series, Season 2, Episode 5:  “Enough”)
  • (TV series, library square as seen here)

Do you know of any more titles to add to the list? If so, please leave a comment and let me know!


Note:  All of the pictures on this post were taken by either me or my husband.

A libeled lady and a library

Another week, another William Powell movie. Also, another Class V film, which means no reel librarian. But wait! This classic 1936 film, Libeled Lady, includes an interesting kind of library rarely mentioned in film:  a ship’s library.

First, a little background on film itself. Nominated for Best Picture, Libeled Lady stars Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy. Harlow and Powell were engaged in real life during the filming, and this was their last screen outing before her untimely death in 1937. The plot of this screwball comedy involves a newspaper editor (Spencer Tracy), his long-suffering fiancée (Jean Harlow), and his lawyer (William Powell), who aim to compromise a high-society lady (Myrna Loy) before she can sue the paper for libel.

To this end, lawyer Bill Chandler (Powell) sets sail on an ocean liner to England, to make contact with the high-society lady, Connie (Loy). In an attempt to cozy up to her, he does a little research, first reading newspaper articles about her father and his love of fishing.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Libeled Lady'

Almost a half-hour into the film and after reading the newspaper articles, he rings for the ship’s steward:

Steward:  You rang, sir?

Bill Chandler:  Yes. Steward, do you know if they have any books in the ship’s library on angling?

Steward:  Angling, sir?

Bill:  Yes. You know, trout fishing?

Steward:  Oh, yes. We have several. Shall I fetch you one, sir?

Bill:  Yes, just bring me all of them.

Steward:  All of them, sir? [incredulous]

Bill:  Yes.

The next scene shows Bill rehearsing what he learns from the books, studying up in the bathroom while he shaves. OF COURSE my librarian side mentally shouted out, “Don’t get those books wet!” ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Libeled Lady'

Although this steward does happen to have a useful knowledge of the ship’s library holdings — very convenient indeed! — he sets out only to to fetch the books, in his role as steward, not to research the topic. Therefore, he does not fulfill the role of a reel librarian.

And by the way, sensing that Bill is out for a different kind of angling, Connie tries to avoid him by reading books in her room and on deck. But no ship’s steward this time around! Her personal maid brings Connie a stack of books to read.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Libeled Lady'

And do the books prove useful for Bill? Yes, indeed! Perhaps a little TOO useful … He does impress Connie’s father, who later says Bill is “the best-informed man on angling I’ver met.” However, Bill later gets roped into going fishing with Connie and her father. And this time, he DOES get the book wet! :(

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Libeled Lady'

Libeled Lady only mentions a ship’s library, but the 1962 film Bon Voyage!, actually does feature a ship’s librarian. They are the only two films I’ve come across so far that highlight a ship’s library, which is indeed a special kind of library. Let’s briefly compare the two films:

Libeled Lady (1936) Bon Voyage (1962)
Class V (no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries) Class III (librarian plays a secondary role, with a brief but memorable/significant scene)
No reel librarian mentioned or seen; the ship’s steward seems to have adequate knowledge of ship’s library holdings and good at customer service James Millhollin as Ship’s Librarian (Comic Relief), very knowledgeable about ship’s collection but terrible at customer service
Books are briefly glimpsed in shaving scene, but no actual library set or scene Scene set in the ship’s library, with row of bookshelves and tables visible
Played for laughs (see the shaving scene above), as his self-professed love of fishing leads him into a comedic dilemma later on Reel librarian fulfills Comic Relief role

You can read more about Bon Voyage! (1962) here in this post on the Reel Librarians blog.

Reel Librarians |  Bon voyage to the Ship's Librarian

Have a bon voyage Tuesday!

Kennel clubs and unsolved murders

Reel Librarians  |  'The Kennel Murder Case' collageThe Kennel Murder Case (1933), whose title refers to the initial location of the Long Island Kennel Club, is the fifth film in the Philo Vance series — but the fourth outing for star William Powell as the well-known detective. The author of the Philo Vance mystery series was S. S. Van Dine, who penned 12 books in the series and whose works inspired 15 film adaptations.

This effort is generally considered the best of the films and has been critically well-received, even being hailed as a “masterpiece” in 1984 by film historian William K. Everson.

The film showcases a classic locked-room mystery, and of course, only Philo Vance and his trusty Scottish terrier can sniff out the truth. (And if you’re thinking this sounds awfully familiar to William Powell’s other famous detective and mystery series, The Thin Man, you’re not alone.) Powell’s legendary portrayals as Nick Charles in The Thin Man are not that different from his portrayals of Philo Vance, as both detectives are witty, well-dressed, and urbane. Both detectives have a canine sideback, as well. However, The Thin Man series boasts Powell’s chemistry with leading lady Myrna Loy as Nora Charles.

For all its good points, The Kennel Murder Case does not, alas, feature a reel librarian. It therefore ends up in the Class V category, which are films that may feature libraries but not librarians. So why continue this post? In the first five minutes of the film, we are introduced to a private library, as well as a book called Unsolved Murders that becomes central to the mystery plot.

The private library in question belongs to Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy), who employs a private secretary, Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan). Five minutes into the film, we are treated to a classic cinematic shot of a bookshelf, revealing a close-up of Brisbane’s face. The bookshelves serve as a natural framing device. Brisbane grabs a book entitled Unsolved Murders, places it in an overnight bag, and prepares to leave on a trip.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Here’s the conversation between Brisbane and his secretary:

Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy): Now, let’s see here. Where did I put that? Ah, here it is. Unsolved Murders. Hah! You know, I almost forgot it. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink tonight. Wondering who murdered who and why.

Raymond Wrede, the Secretary (Ralph Morgan):  How any intelligent man can read that drivel is beyond me, Brisbane.

The next morning, His brother, Archer Coe, who has a contentious relationship with his entire family, is found dead upstairs. The police declare it an apparent suicide … enter Philo Vance and his dog! While they’re searching the dead man’s room — which features another shot from the closet and behind a line of suit jackets, mirroring the earlier shot through the bookshelf — Philo gathers clues that his brother, Brisbane, had returned home from the train station. But the question remains, “What did he do with his bag?”

A little over a half-hour into the film, Philo leads the detectives to Grand Central Station, where they locate Brisbane’s bag. Philo takes out the Unsolved Murders book, which has a bookmark opening up to a chapter that includes a description just like the murder scene of his brother.

“… the door was locked from the inside…”

KennelMurderCaseChapter2

Philo Vance, after following the book’s description, demonstrates to the police how the lock was locked from the outside. He then gathers clues that the murder was actually committed downstairs in the library, not upstairs where the body was discovered! A series of witness statements follow, featuring more shots of the library and its distinctive double doors, as seen below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Gathering statements and clues like a dog sniffing in the garden for a bone, Philo Vance uncovers a double murder, canine abuse (!), and a case of mistaken identity. The film also concludes in the library, where it all began. So although the film does not feature a reel librarian, a library and a specific book provide both the central setting — and catalyst — for the central murder mystery.

Thrilling indeed!

War films and reel librarians

This past week, I read the statement issued by the Ukrainian Library Association, available here online, and was undone by the simple acts of bravery shown by these librarians literally on the front lines of the conflict in and around Kiev. What really brought tears to my eyes was the news that the Maidan civil movement opened a free public library at Maidan, with the goal of donating all the collected books to village libraries across Ukraine. In the midst of everything, the spirit of community and sharing of news, resources, and information remains. It is inspiring, and I encourage all to read the ULA statement.

And that got me thinking … there are other tales of such bravery of hometown heroes, librarians amongst them, in real-life conflicts, as exemplified recently in the Ukraine. Oh, and read the children’s book The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, if you haven’t already. Real-life inspiration, y’all.

But what about in movies? In the midst of war and conflict, how are reel librarians represented? Below is a round-up of reel librarian portrayals in war films. Going through my Master List, I compiled film titles and realized there are three main war eras represented, including World War II, the Cold War, and Futuristic Wars.

Reel Librarians |  War films and reel librarians

left / middle / top right / bottom right


World War II


Borstal Boy (2000)

This first film on the list kicks off a theme in these war films, that most of them are focused on events taking place off the battlefield. This WWII film is based upon the autobiography of (in)famous Irish writer and activist Brendan Behan, and focuses on his time in a borstal, a kind of youth prison/labor camp in the UK.

A prison librarian (Arthur Riordan) shows up periodically throughout the film — including one time in drag during a play — and introduces Brendan to the works of Oscar Wilde, a “fellow Irishman, a fellow jailbird and rebel.” Interesting that he likens himself to a rebel, and ultimately he is an inspirational one to Brendan.

[click here for an analysis post of the film]

Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)

In this 1939 WWII propaganda film, a G-Man (Edward G. Robinson) investigates a Nazi spy ring in the U.S. It was a controversial film, as it was the first major Hollywood production to have “Nazi” in the title, while also promoting American participation in World War II.

Alas, there isn’t much scope for a reel librarian in this film. In a very brief scene about seven minutes into the film, one of the Nazi spies, Schneider (Francis Lederer), goes to the New York Public Library. We get a brief side glimpse of a young male librarian at a reference desk, who points Schneider toward the periodicals room, where he proceeds to read a German newspaper. So instead of a reel librarian hero during the “war on the homefront,” we get a reel librarian who unknowingly helps a Nazi spy.

[click to read an analysis post of this film]

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Another war-time film that is set at the homefront, namely of the experiences of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. Because of an ear injury sustained at an early age, he cannot enlist — unlike his brother, who becomes s decorated hero — but that doesn’t stop George from doing all he can at home for the war effort.

When George falls on hard times and is granted the wish to experience life as if he’d never been born, the film turns in an alternate reality nightmare. In that nightmare, his lovely wife, Mary (Donna Reed), becomes an old maid librarian. (SIGH.) The short scene in which George sees Mary as a librarian serves as the catalyst for wanting to return to his life.

[click here for an analysis post of the film]

The Man Who Never Was (1956)

Based on a true story of a successful WWII British tactic to divert the enemy’s forces in Sicily. A British intelligence team uses a dead man as a decoy — hence the title of the film — complete with faked documents that suggest an alternate British attack. Gloria Grahame plays Lucy Sherwood, a librarian who helps convince the enemy that the man’s identity is real. A low-key kind of heroine, to be sure, but one who plays a vital role in a real-life spy operation.

[click here for more info about the film]

Sophie’s Choice (1982)

A majority of this drama is set in the aftermath of WWII, but the choice referred to in the title is one Sophie makes during the war. The film is told from the perspective of a Southern writer (Peter MacNicol) who moves to New York City, where he meets Sophie (Streep), a Holocaust survivor with a troubling past.

In a flashback scene, Sophie goes to a library to look up works by Emily Dickinson; she faints after an unpleasant exchange with the librarian. A hero this reel librarian is most certainly NOT; rather, he makes for one of the most unpleasant reel librarian portrayals ever onscreen.

[click here for a post featuring this reel librarian portrayal]

[click here for more "Hall of Shame" reel librarian films]


The Cold War


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Based on the John le Carré novel, this Cold War classic stars Richard Burton as Alec Leamus, a British spy who pretends to quit the Secret Service and defect to the Communists. As part of his cover as a failed spy, he starts work as a librarian at the Institute of Psychical Research. (OF COURSE.) Another librarian, Nan (Bloom), befriends him and joins in his defection.

I like to think of Alec Leamus — who is very much on the front lines of the Cold War — as the ultimate anti-hero. He is a fake librarian who ends up inspiring other reel librarians. Also, Burton is a rare reel librarian Oscar nominee, earning a nomination for Best Actor for this film.

[click here for more info about the film]

[click here for more Oscar-nominated reel librarians]

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Another adaptation of a work by John le Carré, this time of his 1974 novel of the same name and remake of the 1979 British miniseries starring Alec Guinness. In this version, Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, the aging agent forced out of MI6 but called back in to investigate a mole, and he is fascinating to watch even when he doesn’t appear to be doing anything onscreen.

Smiley recruits agent Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), and one mission has Peter off to the lion’s den — ahem, the library archives — where he heads off the attention of a female librarian (Laura Carmichael, who plays Edith on Downton Abbey). He also retrieves some vital records while wandering unsupervised in the library’s closed stacks. How very lax of those reel librarians.

[click here for a "first impressions" review of this film]


Mexican Revolution


Old Gringo (1989)

A schoolteacher (Jane Fonda) goes to Mexico in 1913 to teach and gets kidnapped by General Arroyo (Jimmy Smits) and his revolutionaries during the Mexican Revolution.

Although referred to as a spinster by her own mother, Fonda is not the reel librarian in this film. That (dis)honor belongs to Laurel Lyle, who gets shushed by Fonda in the film’s opening scene.

[click here for an analysis post on the film]


Futuristic Wars


Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

In a dystopian film based on the classic Ray Bradbury novel, a fireman whose job is to destroy all books begins to question his so-called duty. No librarians — who probably were the first to go in this futuristic state — but the central message of censorship is close to all librarians’ hearts. Guy Montag (played by Oskar Werner) is another classic anti-hero, a fireman who creates fires instead of putting them out, who has to decide for himself what the true cost is for sacrificing the freedom to read.

[click here for a post about Ray Bradbury]

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

In this dystopian tale, fertility is rare; fertile young women, trained as Handmaids, are treated as slaves in assigned households. Natasha Richardson plays a Handmaid, and we learn in one scene that she used to be a librarian.

There are no scenes of the battles raging on the outskirts of the central town setting, but it is obvious they are living in a military-controlled state. Kate/Offred (Richardson) is a Handmaid to a high-ranking military official (Robert Duvall). Although her profession really does not make a difference in this Class II film, she is intelligent and harbors an independent spirit.

[click here for more info about the film]

Library Wars (2013)

This futuristic film — set in the not-too-distant future of 2019 — is based on a series of Japanese novels called Toshokan Sensō by Hiro Arikawa, published in 2006-2007. These novels have inspired a manga, an anime TV series plus an animated feature released last year.

This write-up on IMDb.com does make it sound like a more modern Fahrenheit 451. Librarians as the ultimate freedom fighters!

Reel Librarians  |  'Library War' plot summary on IMDb.com

[click here for a post on the Library Wars film]

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Martians invade Earth in this sci-fi classic! Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), who teaches library science courses, teams up with the hero-scientist (Gene Barry) in order to defeat the aliens. It sounds very exciting, but onscreen, she doesn’t get the opportunity to do much more than scream.

[click here for more info about the film]


I’m sure I’ve missed a few titles in this round-up. Any war movie titles to add? Please leave a comment and let me know.