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.

Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

This post was inspired by my mother, who was reading recently about legendary character actress Mary Wickes, a biography called Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before (Hollywood Legends). She came across an entry that she quickly emailed me about:

It mentioned that she played a librarian in the movie Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954).  This is the quote from the book:

Mary is the town’s helpful librarian, but she is quickly dismissed by Ma as “a maiden lady librarian who knows all about books but nothing about cooking.”

And then she was sweet enough to track down a copy of the film and sent it my way. ♥

Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954) was the 7th in a series of 10 “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, starting with The Egg and I in 1947. It was also the last film of the series starring Percy Kilbride as Pa. Mary Wickes — who was 44 at the time of filming — gets 7th billing as Miss Wetter, definitely a supporting character in the film.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The distinctive profile of character actress Mary Wickes, here playing lady librarian Miss Wetter in ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

What of the film itself? If you are nostalgic for the “Ma and Pa Kettle” films, then you might enjoy it. Not ever having seen any of the series — although I was familiar with lead actress Marjorie Main, who has quite a distinctive voice — I found the film quite tedious, and it felt way longer than its 80-minute running time. My husband summed it up as equal-opportunity offensive, poking fun at Native Americans, big city snobs, intellectuals, country folk — as well as maiden lady librarians!

The plot, such as it is, kicks into gear when an essay about the “perfect, modern farm” written by their eldest son, Elwin, gets chosen as a finalist for a 4H college scholarship. The problem? The family farm is in terrible disrepair. Ma and Pa Kettle have to set off cleaning up the place before the “big city judges” come out to judge the finalists. Elwin — who got them all in this mess to begin with — just seems to laze around and moon over his misfortune. Like father, like son? ;)

The head judge, Alphonsus Mannering (Alan Mowbray), is portrayed as very effeminate, fussing about his plants, eating a special diet, pouring bath salts into the tub, and wearing a sleeping mask. And guess who Ma wants to set him up with? Of course, the maiden lady librarian! (Neither one would be too picky, right?)

Almost 45 minutes into the film, the librarian first gets a mention. One of the judges wants to photograph Ma, but she says she has to hurry because she has to pack a basket of bread for Miss Wetter, “a maiden lady librarian, [who] knows all about books but nothing about cooking.”

Cue scene to visually introduce Miss Wetter, who soon drives up — in the library bookmobile! — to drop off a book about successful fruit growing for Elwin.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The bookmobile serves as the visual representation of the library in this film, as Miss Wetter is never seen inside an actual library.

Miss Wetter is more than happy to meet the contest judges, especially Mr. Mannering. Here’s how their “Meet Cute” goes:

Ma:  Miss Wetter’s our lady librarian.

Miss Wetter:  Oh, Mr. Mowbray. I’m just simply thrilled to meet a literary figure of your stature. I’m a devoted fan of yours. I read your beautiful column every month. Honored to have your colleague, too, of course. Through you, culture has come to Cape Lattery (?), and I for one am speechless with delight. Now you must tell me what’s happening with the theater and the dance in New York this season?

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

Ma:  Here’s your bread, honey. Now don’t forget to come to the Christmas Eve party. As you’re both interested in literature, it might be right nice of you to be partners at the party.

Mr. Mannering:  It would be a pleasure.

Miss Wetter:  It would? I’ll be dreaming of Christmas Eve. Bye.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

“It would?” A sweet moment between the lady librarian and the big city judge

Although it’s kind of sweet to see how excited Miss Wetter is to attend the party with Mr. Mannering (that quick look up and catch in her voice when she says, “It would?” is just one example of how Mary Wickes could do so much with so little), it comes across as kind of condescending how she sees her role as bringing culture to this hick town. And she obviously dreams of bigger and better things than the County Library in which she works. Also, I do have to mention their character names:  Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. Goodness, could we be more obvious about how hot-to-trot the maiden lady librarian is for Mr. Fussy Britches?!

The film culminates in the Christmas party scene, and Miss Wetter (putting pay to her name!) pounces on Mr. Mannering when he enters the house — even taking his hand!

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Maiden Lady Librarian

When I said “pounces,” I wasn’t exaggerating. Miss Wetter was definitely on the prowl for Mr. Mannering!

Miss Wetter:  I’ve been waiting for you. I’m so excited about tonight. It’s probably because you’re going to be my partner at supper.

Mr. Mannering:  I’d not forgotten. I, too, was looking forward to it, too.

Miss Wetter:  Can I get you some refreshments? [ever so helpful, that librarian!]

A few minutes later, Ma reads a Christmas poem, which includes one  stanza about Miss Wetter:

Our wish to Miss Wetter, who knows all about books,
Is she marries the right man and becomes a good cook.

Cue sweetly awkward look between Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. Miss Wetter titters and puts her hair behind her ear and looks embarrassed — but also hopeful.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

The big city judge and the librarian serve as the butt of jokes in the reading of the Christmas poem at the end of ‘Ma and Pa Kettle at Home’ (1954)

A few minutes later, as the Kettle children are singing carols, Miss Wetter sees Mr. Mannering under the mistletoe and boldly plants a kiss on his cheek. They both smile and look quickly away and then back; they look a little dazed at their own forwardness! ;)

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady Librarian

I like the juxtaposition of the younger couple in the background and the older couple in the foreground, both at the beginning stages of romance.

There is a happy ending, of course, and I liked that the happy ending included the promise of romance between Miss Wetter and Mr. Mannering. It would have been so easy to drop the “maiden lady librarian” character after that first scene. And although they kept poking fun at how she couldn’t cook — obviously less of a woman for any normal man, but she would do for a fussy fellow like Mr. Mannering — their budding romance actually came off as rather sweet in the end. I think this has more to do with the acting abilities of Mary Wickes and Alan Mowbray, who are easily the best actors in the entire movie.

Reel Librarians:  Ma and Pa Kettle and the Lady LibrarianSo what role does maiden lady librarian Miss Wetter serve? She is a supporting character, which lands her in the Class III category. As she does serve as the butt of several jabs and jokes about her book sense — and no cooking skills — her primary role is that of Comic Relief. But she also deserves honorable mention as an Information Provider, as she is quite helpful in several ways. First, she brings a book for their eldest son, and at the end of the film, she relays information about 4H clubs and how they “have all sorts of money-raising projects, where the members can learn by doing.”

One IMDB.com reviewer laments about Wickes’s role in the film: “Sadly, she hardly gets any dialog, and none of the brittle wisecracks she would become famous for.”  But I was pleasantly surprised about how much screen time she actually got — and Wickes was a genius at grabbing each second she had on screen and making it her own!

And if you ever do watch this film, it would probably go over better if you make a drinking game out of it. I would suggest taking a drink whenever the phrase “lady librarian” gets uttered — and feel free to do so when reading this post, as well. ;)

First impressions: Monsters University

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how two members of my family had tipped me off to a reel librarian featured in the recent release, Monsters University (2013). Since that post went live, I have had five additional friends recommend I watch the movie, which I did over the Independence Day long weekend.

And once again, here’s the film trailer that features the librarian:

First impressions? I loved it! Yes, it is VERY over-the-top, but as my fellow reel librarian blogger Maria states over at her Pop! Goes the Librarian blog, “I just can’t bring myself to roll my eyes. Sometimes you just have to laugh.” :D

Monsters University serves as a prequel to the 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., and has shades of the creation story in it, specifically about the wee monster, Mike (Billy Crystal). He’s thrown out of the School of Scaring because he’s… well, not scary. But to get back into the program, he assembles a team out of fellow rejects, including Sullivan (John Goodman) to enter the Scare Games, a series of trials to crown the top scarer at the university.

So where does the library come into the story? It’s the setting for the second challenge of the Scare Games, and the challenge is… wait for it… “Don’t Wake the Parent.” And standing in for the parents — at 40+ feet tall! — is the ugliest monster librarian EVER on screen. I think I can state that with confidence.

From the trailer, you only get the front view, but from the side, there’s the additional bonus of a grey bun perched on the back of her head.

Monsters Librarian screenshot

And SPOILER ALERT, what is this university librarian’s monster power? The ability to hear noises at twenty paces or less — and the ability to make the offenders feel her wrath by scooping them up with her squid-like tentacles and throwing them out the roof into the nearby lake. Another point in the “scaring pros” column is her shushing power.

But an obvious weakness? Her poor eyesight. Ahhh, the bane of almost every librarian. ;) But I kind of loved how she didn’t wear glasses on a lanyard, but instead carried the horn-rimmed spectacles around on a stick, like they were opera glasses, or like a masque at a fancy ball. YES.

Click image for source

Side note:  The end credits featured rookie cards for each monster, and I was so wishing there had been one for the librarian. Like when she retired, she became the resident scarer at the university library. She WAS scary, so she was fulfilling her monstrous destiny.

I also liked how she unfolded herself from the desk; at first glance, she may look meek and small, but when angered, she turns out to be almost as big as the library! Also, her tentacles make her the best shelver EVER. ;)

The only downer for me was that while the challenge seemed to be about who could be the quietest, it turned out to be a challenge for who was able to not get caught. SIGH. Mayyyyyyybe not such a great lesson in the end. The ends do not always justify the means.

Fun tidbits about the Monsters University library and librarian:

Untitled #150

And, parting quote, courtesy of Mike:

“What are you afraid of? You just angered a 40-foot librarian!”

;)

The hand that rocks the school

In The New Guy (2002), one of the opening monologue’s lines succinctly sums up the basic plot of this Grade C high school comedy:

In high school, popularity ain’t a contest, it’s a war, and Dizzy Harrison is its greatest casualty.”

At the start of his senior year — and start of the film — Dizzy (DJ Qualls) is humiliated at his old high school, and tries to start over as the cool “new guy” at another school. The scene immediately after the opening credits — a mere five minutes into the film — is a memorable one, showcasing perhaps the crassest, most twisted behavior ever from a reel librarian!

*SPOILER ALERT*

And on that note, I must warn you that about very sexually frank words and descriptions below, which may not be suitable for work.

And… now back to the humiliation. It’s the first day at school, and there are multiple tables along the main foyer, most likely set up for school orientation. After Dizzy starts flirting with a high school cheerleader, a couple of jocks horn in to point out his “pup tent” and proceed to pull Dizzy’s underpants over his head and spin him around toward an older lady sitting at a nearby table.

The old lady (Justine Johnston), dressed in pearls and a vest, screams “What is this?!” and reaches out her hands toward Dizzy and grabs at what is closest to her.

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

Take note of the student on the left who is filming this scene of humiliation at the hands — literally — of the school librarian.

Dizzy, understandably in shock, stammers out, “Mrs. Whitman! It’s my…”

Grabbing his penis, Mrs. Whitman screams, “It’s mine now!” and “You can’t bring loaded weapons to school!”

Pushing Dizzy backwards while she moves forward on her rolling chair, she ends the short scene by standing up and proclaiming, “I’m showing this to Principal Zaylor.”

CRUNCH.

And here is Dizzy’s blood-curdling reaction, screaming in pain and humiliation at this living nightmare:

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

You really do feel for the guy, don’t you?

Although less than a minute long, that scene packs quite a punch. And in some ways, it’s quite clever. (Not classy, to be sure, but clever.) For example, the start of the film likens high school to a war. And in that shot above, one is reminded of a gladiator scene. After such a debilitating beginning, will Dizzy be able to rise up (ahem) and become a hero?

However, in that opening scene, it’s clearly Mrs. Whitman who emerges as the victor. And she knows it.

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

School librarian showdown in ‘The New Guy’

But how do we know Mrs. Whitman’s a librarian?

The next couple of scenes help illustrate that. First up is a scene at the doctor’s, where Dizzy reveals that he “can pee around a corner.” Hopped up on pain meds, he then creates a disturbance at the local mall and wakes up in jail next to Luther (Eddie Griffin), who begins describing how similar high school is to jail.

Luther:  I seen terrible things.

Dizzy:  Yesterday, an 80-year-old librarian broke my penis.

Luther:  [Pause.] You win.

Personally, I don’t think anyone wins watching this film. :(

Dizzy also gets to utter this oh-so-eloquent phrase, “If you break your dick in front of the whole school, they remember.”

And remember they do. After a state football championship, the jock football player from his old school replays the video of the librarian incident at Dizzy’s new school. On the big screen. At the Homecoming dance. And being teenagers, everyone starts shouting, “Broke dick. Broke dick.” Just in case we had missed that point earlier.

Ah, the legacy of an 80-year-old reel librarian.

Reel Librarians  |  The New Guy screenshot

Gimme, gimme!

In real life, Justine Johnston, who played Mrs. Whitman, was 85 years old at the making of this film. She also played a blink-and-you’ll-miss-that-librarian in Running on Empty (1988) — see also this post about repeat offenders — but she makes a more, shall we say, lasting impression in this film. Her turn as Mrs. Whitman effectively sets in motion the impetus for the entire film. (I know, that line sounded kind of dirty, but it’s not!)

She serves the role of Comic Relief — we the audience are invited to laugh both at her AND her unwitting victim, Dizzy — and her memorable performance, although only a minute long, lands her in the Class III category. After all, her actions set up the plot for the rest of the movie! Her reel librarian, Mrs. Whitman, also joins other librarians on the loose, i.e. reel librarians never seen in libraries but only referred to as librarians by other characters.

And now, go put some ice on that. ;)

Waitress! Librarian! Action!

You know by the exclamation point in the title that this is a classy movie, right?! Oh, how I wish that were true. Actually, that’s not true. I did not enjoy this movie, not even for the camp factor of a raunchy comedy as only the ’80s could make ‘em. Waitress! (aka Soup to Nuts, 1981) is a film by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Hertz of Troma Entertainment, the creators of those craptastic “Toxic Avenger” B-movie series. I remember reading a few years ago how “Toxie” keeps intoxicating Cannes (see what I did there?!). This movie even premiered at Cannes in 1981, with its American release over a year later, in September 1982 (hence the discrepancy in release dates).

My Facebook status documenting my personal reaction to this movie? “I feel violated.”

On that positive note ;)… The plot revolves around different young women working as waitresses, including one woman trying to make it as an actress and another trying to make it as a writer in New York City. Both work at the WORST restaurant ever, which was filmed after hours at an actual restaurant in Manhattan called Marty’s (the worst advertising I can think of, really, as the sign is clearly visible throughout the restaurant scenes). The “comedy” bits include sight gags, vaudeville schtick, slapstick comedy, anything to elicit a laugh… or a groan. There are also tons of cameos and bit parts, including Chris Noth (!) and Anthony John Denison, who plays Lt. Flynn on The Closer TV series.

Almost a half-hour into the film, Jennifer (Carol Bevar), the girl who wants to be a writer, goes to the library to follow the advice of a teen magazine article on how to find guys. The narration illuminates her mission:

Remember, the mature teen goes for a man with a mind not just a body. Do some browsing at the public library. That’s where you’ll find your cosmopolitan intellectual.

She immediately heads on over to the wall o’ card catalogs, and meets a boy with a finger up his nose. (NOT kidding, see below). There’s your typical “cosmopolitan intellectual” at the library, eh? Sigh.

Jennifer starts asking him questions, which irritates the guy — until the light bulb comes on — and he asks if she’s making a pass at him. “I can’t believe it! I’ve never had a lady come up to me before!” Of course, all of this highly excitable babbling occurs right underneath the sign atop the card catalog, with “QUIET” in huge black letters (see above). He’s so loud that the other patrons start shushing him and telling him to be quiet, and we see Jennifer booking it out of there (I am on fire with the puns today!). And you guessed it… here comes the librarian, played by Lola Ross.

Librarian:  Young man , you should be more quiet.

Dorky guy: I know, I’m just very happy. This young lady she just made a pass at me.

Librarian:  What young lady? [puts on huge glasses handing on a lanyard and pokes his shoulder with her pencil]

Dorky guy:  What do you mean what young lady? This young lady. Oh my god, I’ve lost her! Wait!

And turning in panic, the guy runs into a book cart (supplied by the librarian, no doubt), flips over it in spectacular gymnastic fashion, then runs straight into another patron. He scampers off as the librarian puts a hand to her chest. This is obviously the most excitement she’s seen in the library in a long time!

So Jennifer the wannabe writer was NOT successful in finding a cosmopolitan intellectual guy at the library. Sigh.

And Lola Ross, the actress playing the librarian — in stereotypically buttoned-up, lanyard-wearing fashion — looked so similar to the librarian in The Last American Virgin (1982) that I had to look both movies up again. Don’t they look similar at first glance, right down to the extreme winged collars?

 ‘The Last American Virgin’ librarian  ‘Waitress!’ librarian

As the librarian character is used to contrast with the younger woman and to set up the slapstick comedy in this scene, I would argue she best fulfills a combination of the Spinster Librarian and Comic Relief character types. She, her lanyard, and her pencil also join the other librarians in bit part roles over in the Class IV listing of films.

Below are the opening credits, which is pretty much all you EVER need to watch from Waitress! (1981):