Continuing my picks for best librarian films per decade…
Like I said in my Part I post, my criteria is two-fold: quality of the films themselves (differing from my Hall of Fame list, although there are some overlaps) and the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films. The reel librarian depictions aren’t necessarily flattering in my following choices, but they are noteworthy and/or influential. As you’ll see, I haven’t limited my choices to just one per decade (it’s just too difficult!).
The Music Man (1962), a classic musical, includes one of the most indelible reel librarian roles (and songs) in Marian the Librarian. Includes a young Ron Howard!
A quirky and sensitive film, I like Goodbye, Columbus (1969) better each time I see it. A lot of it has to do with Richard Benjamin’s leading man portrayal of Neil Klugman (and let’s be honest, Ali MacGraw’s entire wardrobe). The film is refreshingly honest — even about his uncertain attitude about his future working in the public library (included in the trailer below).
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) is a tense, dramatic, stylish film in black and white. Yet nothing in this film is so clear-cut — especially not Richard Burton’s role as Alec Leamas, a spy who falls from grace (and into a library job). The film also boasts the excellent Claire Boom as fellow librarian Nan.
Foul Play (1978) boasts a glowing Goldie Hawn as public librarian Gloria Mundy. This screwball comedy is cheerfully fun and tongue-in-cheek, with charming performances by the whole cast (Dudley Moore is HILARIOUS in a small role). And Goldie Hawn is so resourceful with an umbrella! (see below)
Again with Ali MacGraw and a fantastic wardrobe — this time, she’s a student library worker (although not for long) in Love Story (1970). Although never as deep or significant as it thinks it is, the film still has an enduring charm with effective performances by the lead actors and a stirring theme song. Seriously, once that melody gets in my head, it takes a day or two to get it out.
Soylent Green (1973) takes a totally different direction into a dystopian future. Sure, it’s slightly cheesy and grainy, but it all kind of works. The future of libraries and librarians (called Books) — literally the last-standing guardians of history and knowledge — is bleak yet stirring in its own way. This movie makes you think.
Major League (1989) still stands up, minus the dated ’80s hair and wardrobe — it’s addictively rewatchable! And bless Bob Uecker. Although in a slightly minor role, I always enjoy Rene Russo’s turn as special collections librarian Lynn Wells — smart, beautiful, sassy, and a former world-class athlete. A winning combo.
Ghostbusters (1984) features less-than-desirable librarian roles — a frumpy librarian scared out of her wits by a spinsterish librarian ghost and an uncaring boss — but that opening scene in the New York Public Library sure is memorable! And it’s a good movie. The comedic timing, Sigourney Weaver, the soundtrack, the tagline, and the final villain? Classic.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) didn’t really impress when it came out. Maybe the expectations were too high. To succeed, this kind of story has to rely on tone and atmosphere — and this film has that in spades. It is a genuinely scary scene when the evil Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) threatens town librarian — and eventual hero — Charles Halloway (Jason Robards). See their final confrontation, set in the public library, below.
I know, it seems I can’t make up my mind, as I keep picking more and more films for each decade. But looking back, the ’90s were uncommonly deep in significant reel librarian roles!
One of my all-time faves, of course, is Party Girl (1995). It’s so unique in so many ways, with its insider look into and hilariously tongue-in-cheek frustrations about libraries and librarians (see clip below). I could quote from this film for days. And Parker Posey in the title role is a joy to behold, so sassy and fearless.
I appreciate genre films that revel in its genre and have fun with it. The Mummy (1999) is an adventure film with lots of humor — and damn proud of it! (Not so much the sequels.) And Rachel Weisz makes me smile every time in her drunken “I’m a librarian” campfire scene.
You may not be familiar with this British TV movie, but it’s a real gem. Shooting the Past (TV, 1999) is about a special collections library — with priceless photo archives — and its oddball librarians who fight to save it. A suspenseful and intriguing film, it boasts one of the most complex reel librarian roles ever, Lindsay Duncan as head librarian Marilyn Truman.
Ah, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Another totally rewatchable film that never gets old. Although it’s a bit long — that’s probably why it’s such a popular move to air on TV during any kind of holiday — I can watch it at any point and get caught up in the story, as well as the universally excellent acting. And I tear up each time I think of Brooks, the old prison librarian.
They’re cheesy, I know, but the TV movies of The Librarian trilogy (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, 2004; The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines, 2006; The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice, 2009) are so much fun! Although the plots are pretty predictable, and the special effects not-so-great in places, Noah Wyle’s performance (as the Liberated Librarian male prototype, Flynn Carsen) is worth the effort.
In an Oscar-nominated role, Javier Bardem stars as real-life poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000). He gets his start by winning a writing contest sponsored by the National Library — the prize is a job at the library! A beautiful and complex film — but be warned, it’s a wrenching journey.
The Station Agent (2003) is a quiet film, heartfelt and quirky. It’s about a man born with dwarfism (Peter Dinklage, always a first-rate actor) who just wants to be alone. But of course, that’s just not possible in a small town. Starting with this film, Michelle Williams — although in a minor role as public library assistant Emily — really began her quest to break out of Dawson’s Creek and develop into a serious actress.