Aaaaahhh, the Comic Relief librarians. I’m combining both male and female versions of the Comic Relief librarians because they serve the same function and role, no matter the gender. In my undergraduate thesis, “A Glimpse Through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film” (read more about that here), I had included both the Comic Relief and Information Provider types into one type. My reasoning at the time?
I fit both of them into one category because the librarians are there only to provide necessary points of plot or supply scenes for comedic effect that highlight basic stereotypes — and sometimes, the librarians supply both plot and humor.
If you’ve been following this series of posts (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), you know my penchant for awkward titles. The original moniker behind the merger was “The Librarian who Provides Information or Humor.” And THUD. Yikes, that was such a clunker. I remember wanting to do something akin to “Good Humor Man” but never got anywhere on that track.
Anyways, now it’s the Comic Relief librarian. So much better-sounding, no? The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes, save for perhaps the Spinster Librarian and her male counterpart, the Anti-Social Librarian. Why? Because they are more caricatures than characters. They are the most extreme physically — ranging from rail-thin (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989, see above) to buff beyond belief (UHF, 1989).
The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.
The female of the Comic Relief species include Hilda Plowright‘s Quaker librarian in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Jimmy Stewart pokes (gentle) fun by mocking her thee‘s and thou‘s (included in the “Funny Library Montage” below).
The tiny bit part of the blonde librarian in That Touch of Mink (1962) highlights the film’s comedy in the case of mistaken identity, and Alice Drummond in Ghostbusters (1984) survives the fright of her life and mumbles incoherently while lying on a library desk.
Marian Seldes in The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992) plays head librarian Margaret Armstrong, and when the title character suggests food at a library fundraiser, a look of absolute horror crosses her face as she gasps, “Books near finger foods?”
And I’m sure that reel librarian could relate to Elvia Allman’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), who freaks out at Paul Varjak (George Peppard) “defacing public property” by autographing his book.
In Chances Are (1989), Yale University library assistant Alex (Robert Downey, Jr.) stops a middle-aged librarian from yelling at a student by telling her that some students are “fooling around with the [Shakespeare] folios.” This prompts the hapless librarian to scurry away in a panic to save the precious books.
And in yet another film from 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade provides a scene in which Indiana (Harrison Ford) breaks a marble floor tile, and the film cuts to an old male librarian stamping books each time Indiana breaks the tile (see above). Marveling at his unknown strength (!), the male librarian does not realize that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.
The 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman to the personal librarian to Lady Catherine de Burgh. Melville Cooper, as Mr. Collins, plays a perfectly ridiculous man (see above), one who bounces on his toes and manages to unintentionally offend everyone he intends to flatter.
And in another supporting role, James Millhollin draws in some laughs as the Ship’s Librarian in Bon Voyage! (1962). He also manages to unintentionally offend in his overly solicitous, uptight, and oily hair kind of way. You can read all about it in this post.
So a fond farewell now to our Comic Relief librarians – who take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ — and up next week, our trusty Information Providers.