A magical librarian

A couple of years ago, when I started this blog, I received a reader comment adding the TV movie The Color of Magic (2008) to my Master List. The TV movie is adapted from two of Terry Pratchett’s books, the 1983 work of the same name (although it is spelled in the English way, The Colour of Magic, the first in his famous Discworld series) and the second book in the series, The Light Fantastic. About a year ago, a work colleague recommended Terry Pratchett’s book Men at Arms to me, as it is another book in the series that features the librarian character. I haven’t read The Colour of Magic yet, but I did enjoy Men at Arms, especially Pratchett’s sense of humor. So when on a recent trip to the public library I spied a DVD of The Color of Magic, I checked it out.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case of 'The Color of Magic'

I had been warned that this TV movie was bad — even my work colleague, who loves the Discworld series, said it wasn’t very good. It is overlong, as it was conceived and developed as a two-parter. It’s also very cheesy in execution and special effects. Where the tone of the books is funny and whimsical, the movie feels silly and belabored; the filmsuffers from a lack of charm that is evident in Terry Pratchett’s writing. So, yes, this was another instance in which I watched this film so YOU DON’T HAVE TO. ;)

I also did not understand the general plot — this TV movie suffers from too.much.plot. — until I read this very detailed synopsis entry of the film in the Discworld Wiki site. This entry is SO detailed, but if you are unfamiliar with the Discworld books, suffice to say that (SPOILER ALERTS):

  • The Octavo is the greatest of all spell books and very dangerous, and it lives in the cellars of Unseen University.
  • Wizards keep killing — or attempting to kill — each other, because that’s what wizards do.
  • Tim Curry plays an evil-minded wizard named Trymon (no big casting stretch there) and wants to rule with help from the Octavo’s spells.
  • One wizard, Rincewind (played by David Jason), is the worst of the wizards because he can’t remember any basic spells or even to show up on time to wizard meetings.
  • Rincewind is therefore expelled at the beginning of the movie, which wreaks havoc because his mind inadvertently contains a spell from the Octavo. (This is also why he’s the worst wizard and can’t remember any other spells.)
  • Sean Astin ambles cluelessly through the movie as Twoflower, a rich tourist who hires Rincewind as his guide. They go on adventures outside the city but eventually come back for the final showdown against Trymon.
  • The Head Librarian starts out in human form… and then gets turned into an orangutan. Yes, an orangutan. Even in primate form, he continues to be Head Librarian of Unseen University.

The Librarian is played in human form by Nicholas Tennant, and in “Orang Utan” form by actor Richard da Costa, who also plays the Luggage. (That is a very strange sentence to write.)

Books also lead other, secret lives in the L-Space in the Discworld series — and as a member of the Librarians of Time and Space, the Librarian of Unseen University has an understanding of L-Space and its powers. It is no wonder that this TV movie highlights the Octavo, as Brian Cox (!) narrates that the “greatest of all spell books, locked and chained deep in the cellars of the Unseen University, the spells imprisoned in its pages lead a secret life of their own. And Rincewind’s departure … has left them deeply troubled…”

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The next scene involves the Head Librarian, deep in conversation with the Arch Chancellor. The Head Librarian reveals a lot of plot in this scene — and indeed, provides plot details throughout to several characters — so his primary role in this TV movie is that of an Information Provider.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The Librarian also reflects the fear others have of Trymon, who is power-hungry and trying to bump off any wizard in his way to the “room at the top.”

Librarian:  … I’m just glad he doesn’t want to be Head Librarian.

Trymon [who’s been eavesdropping and bursts into the room]:  Perish the thought, Horace. And I am looking for a book.

The next shot reveals the Unseen University Library in all its dusty, disorganized glory. The Librarian retrieves the book Room at the Top:  How to Succeed at Wizardry! (first chapter:  “Knife in the Back”) for Trymon and continues the theme of the previous conversation.

Librarian:  The position of Head Librarian isn’t one that really appeals to you, sir?

Trymon:  No. [smirks]

Librarian:  Oh, good.

Trymon:  It is quite possible that the next Arch Chancellor may well smile upon those who understand the importance of things being well organized.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

A rumbling, creaking sound from the cellars — the groans of the Octavo — interrupt this conversation.

Trymon:  Is everything in order down there?

Librarian:  Oh, yes, absolutely. Everything is in alphabetical order, in fact.

GROAN.

The Librarian, at least while in human form, comes off as quite cowardly and sniveling. He reacts in fear, and I don’t think it’s an accident that camera angles play up his diminutive form. (For more on the Librarian character in the books, click here.)

Reel Librarians  | Screenshots from 'The Color of Magic'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

In fact, I grew so tired of the Librarian cowering in and around Trymon — all the while supplying him with the information he needed to move forward with his evil plan — that almost halfway through the TV movie, I shouted out, “I am SO READY for the Librarian to turn into an orangutan!” And, yes, that is another strange sentence to say out loud and write.

The movie complied, as at the end of the first half, the Librarian gets accidentally gets turned into a primate by a spell released by the Octavo. The Arch Chancellor and the other wizard rush to the library, to be greeted with the Librarian sitting on his desk. Not at his desk, but ON his desk.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Even if I hadn’t know the Librarian got turned into an orangutan — he’s already in his primate form in Men at Arms — I could have guessed where the plot was going, based on the number of bad puns he slips in before the accident:

  • Better not monkey around with it [the Octavo], or who knows what will happen.
  • It’s the Octavo. It’s going really ape.

I was relieved that after he got turned into an orangutan, his vocabulary became limited to variations of “Ooook!”

The Librarian does not have as many scenes in the second half of the TV movie, but he does help Trymon find another book in the library. Trymon threatens him and also gives him a banana for his troubles (“it’s not as if bananas grow on trees”) — which proves to be his own downfall. Literally.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

At the end of the film, Trymon holds all the spells but the final spell in the Octavo and is engaged in a battle with Rincewind and the bumbling tourist, Twoflower, at the top of the tower. The camera then cuts to a close-up of the Librarian with a banana in his mouth (oook?), and then we get a lovely wide shot of the tower in silhouette. And who in the world would be able to scale a tower like this… but an orangutan librarian?!

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

And that banana? Well, a banana peel just HAPPENS to find its way underneath Trymon’s foot as he prepares to send one final spell toward Rincewind. Trymon is then blasted by his own ricocheted spell!

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

Although Rincewind gets all the glory, it’s the Librarian who actually ended up saving the day! (Typical.) At the end, as Rincewind and Twoflower make their way out of the tower, the Librarian drops over the side of the wall and toward Rincewind. (Apparently, Richard da Costa studied real orangutans in a zoo to learn how they moved — not that it helped.) Rincewind hands the Librarian a banana and tells him to “Go on, you sort this all out.”

I think HE ALREADY DID. Ungrateful wizard. Ooook, indeed.

Reel Librarians  | Screenshot from 'The Color of Magic'

The Head Librarian is a minor character who appears in short scenes throughout The Color of Magic (2008), and therefore winds up in the Class III category of reel librarians. I’ve already mentioned how he fulfilled the role of Information Provider, and considering the bad puns and overly crude portrayals — both in human and ape form — he also serves as Comic Relief. We are definitely laughing AT him, even if that laughter could be characterized as nervous laughter. Plus, his last trick with the banana peel is the oldest, broadest slapstick humor there is, right?

Until next week … and make sure you look where you step! And be nice to librarians while you’re at it. Bananas optional. ;)

Pride and Prejudice and librarians

This week’s post is about a film version of one of the classic romantic novels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, featuring the central love story between Elizabeth Bennet, a gentleman’s daughter, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a gentleman of the gentry.

But wait! There’s no librarian in Pride and Prejudice.

If you’ve read the classic novel, or seen one of a handful of more modern adaptations, such as the seminal 1995 miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy and Colin Firth as Darcy or the Oscar-nominated 2005 version with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, then you are correct. There is no librarian in Pride and Prejudice.

From the church to the library

However, in the very first film adaptation of any Jane Austen work, the 1940 MGM adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the vocation of Mr. Collins is changed from clergyman to … you guessed it, a librarian. (Sigh.) Pride and prejudice indeed.

As portrayed by well-known comedic character actor Melville Cooper, all the hallmarks of the bumbling, fussy, socially awkward Mr. Collins are still present. One of the Bennet sisters describes him early on as “a pudding face,” and our first visual introduction is one of him bouncing down the stairs and nearly overturning a vase. Cooper plays Mr. Collins as a perfectly ridiculous man, a fop who bounces on his toes and manages to offend everyone he intends to flatter.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots of Mr. Collins in the 1940 'Pride and Prejudice'

image sources:  top / bottom left  /  bottom right

When we first meet Mr. Collins in this 1940 screen adaptation, he rushes to explain his lowly, humble position:

Although I act as her ladyship’s librarian, she has always spoken to me as she would to any other gentleman.

By his own admission, a librarian is not on par with a gentleman; instead, the implication is that a librarian is beneath a gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) notice or concern. Forehead, hand, slap, repeat.

Mr. Collins is a clergyman in the book, earning some of Jane Austen’s sharpest wit and scathing commentary. As a clergyman’s daughter herself, it is perhaps surprising how little difference religion makes in Jane Austen’s novels. Pastors and reverends in Austen’s novels are either well-meaning (and a little boring), like Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park , or on the other spectrum, they are socially tone-deaf, like Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Elton in Emma.

As stated in The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen:

[T]here are two types of pastors — those who make things worse and those who, in their own bumbling way, make things better. (35)

So why DID they change Mr. Collins’s profession for the movie?

There are a couple of theories that I have gathered through a little research.

Screwball comedy influence

Reel Librarians  |  Posters for 'Pride and Prejudice'

Posters for 1940’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’

First, as mentioned in Sue Parill’s work, Jane Austen on Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Adaptations, the feel and pace of the 1940 adaptation is influenced by the screwball comedy genre, which was popular at the time. Events were changed or added to highlight comedic elements, and storylines — such as the Lydia and Wickham elopement — were rushed over.

True to the screwball comedy genre, the minor roles are played for broad humor. Since MGM has a large stable of well-known contract players, these roles were played by actors who were familiar to audiences from other screwball and romantic comedies. (50)

This roster of contract players included Cooper, who had played buffoonish characters in such films as 1934’s The Scarlet Pimpernel and in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, as a decidedly clownish Sheriff of Nottingham.

As Parill further elaborates:

It uses them [characters] solely for comedy. Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper) has been changed from clergyman to Lady Catherine’s librarian, but he is still the same ingratiating and officious today that he is in the novel. (52)

The Hays Code

Another highly likely theory is that the role was changed to a librarian due to the overly comedic, and disparaging, portrayal of a clergyman. This was during a high point in the Motion Picture Production Code, commonly known as the Hays Code, which demanded censorship and sanitization of so-called “risqué” or “immoral” elements. On the Don’ts list of the Hays Code, “ridicule of the clergy” is ranked as #10!

In her book Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, author Claudia L. Johnson counts Mr. Collins’s character change as one of the “ludicrous” changes in the 1940 film:

…a good deal of ludicrousness — antebellum costumes, Mr. Collins’s metamorphosis into a librarian (the Hollywood production forbidding irreverent representations of the clergy)… (p. 88)

It is quite telling that while clergyman were a protected class in early Hollywood, the same could NOT be said for librarians. (Double sigh.)

So the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman to a personal librarian. The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.

It is also interesting to note that we, the audience, never actually get to see the inside of the library that Collins curates for Lady Catherine; his profession is mentioned once at the beginning and never referred to again. And it is quite revealing on retrospect that Mr. Bennet, who has his own personal library which serves as an important personal retreat, does not mention libraries or books at all with Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet does not take the opportunity of using an apparently mutual love of libraries to bond with his cousin and heir. Curious, no?

Writing credits

In addition to the source novel by Jane Austen — who probably would opt not to take credit for this film adaptation — the film’s writing credits are lengthy:  Aldous Huxley (!) and Jane Murfin are credited as co-authors of the screenplay, which also borrowed heavily from Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. I haven’t obtained a copy of the play — and only bits of it are available to read for free online — to check if the character of Mr. Collins was turned into a librarian in Jerome’s version. I doubt it, but it would be nice to close that loop.

However, critic Andrew Wright does state that “Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennett, and Lady Catherine were always played farcically in the Jerome play” (as quoted in Parrill, p. 50). When the play was first performed in New York in 1936, the stage actor Harold Scott (1891-1964) played the role of Mr. Collins.

Reel Librarians  |  Excerpts from the 'Pride and Prejudice' stage play

Cover and insert of the play when it opened in New York, 1936.

There are quite a few other major shifts in the 1940 adaptation, including a time period pushed forward to allow for puffy sleeves and ridiculous hoop skirts (again, to heighten broad comedic moments), a total reversal of Lady Catherine’s character at the end of the film, and completely made-up bits shoehorned in, like an archery scene. (Elizabeth Bennet gets to take aim in more ways than one!) The pacing is also different from the book. Lizzy’s refusal of Darcy’s initial marriage proposal comes in the middle of the novel, a stroke of genius on Austen’s part. We then get to witness Lizzy’s change of heart and deepening maturity throughout the book’s second half. However, in the play, as well as in the 1940 film, the proposal comes at the end of the second of three acts. This rapid-paced ending is also indicative of screwball comedies.

The ads for the film also highlighted the screwball elements, with taglines such as:

Five love hungry beauties in search of husbands!!

The Gayest Comedy Hit of the Screen! Five Gorgeous Beauties on a Mad-Cap Manhunt!

When pretty girls t-e-a-s-e-d men into marriage…

Film’s reception

How was the film received when it was released in July, 1940? It was a crowd-pleaser and broke attendance records at Radio City Music Hall. The film was a hit with audiences and earned the Oscar for Best Black-and-White Art Direction.

And I have to admit, this film was my own personal introduction to Jane Austen, as well! I have quite fond memories of this film; I loooooooooved watching, and rewatching, this movie as a child. I didn’t read the novel until junior high, when I was shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to learn that Lady Catherine de Burgh did not, in the end, approve of Darcy’s choice to marry Lizzy.

The film also earned mostly positive reviews from critics. For example, Bosley Crowther’s film review in The New York Times praised the film’s “cast of such uniform perfection,” with notable exceptions:

Only Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins and Marsha Hunt as Mary Bennet permit their characterizations to degenerate into burlesque.

Ouch. A reel librarian portrayal that also manages to draw comparison to burlesque? (Triple sigh.)

All in all, odious Mr. Collins’s role as a reel librarian in the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice does not help the reel librarian’s cause in any way. It’s also notable that this film is not even included in the round-up of librarian films in The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999. As a minor character, our Mr. Collins winds up a Class III reel librarian, fulfilling the character role of Comic Relief.

No surprise there, right? ;)


Works Cited (and Consulted):

In addition to the 1940 film itself, I consulted the following works:

Adams, Carol, Douglas Buchanan, and Kelly Gesch. The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen. New York:  Continuum, 2008. Print.

Crowther, Bosley. “Pride and Prejudice (1940).” The New York Times Review. 9 August 1940. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Johnson, Claudia L. Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2012. Google Book Search. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Parrill, Sue. Jane Austen on Film and Television: A Critical Study of the AdaptationsJefferson, NC:  McFarland & Co., 2002. Print.

Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley, 2006. Print.

Travelin’ librarians

Good morning! Y’all know how I love a themed list (see here, here, and here), and this post’s theme, travel, correlates with my personal life. We will be on vacation for a couple of weeks, and I have some fantastic guest posts scheduled, from fellow librarians and library enthusiasts around the world. Stay tuned…

But first, onto travel movies featuring librarians. I’ve arranged them by initial release year (for a bit of time travel?). ;)


Forbidden (1932)

Lulu Smith (Barbara Stanwyck), a lonely young librarian taunted by children calling her “old lady four eyes,” quits her library job and sets sail for Havana. Romantic melodrama ensues, including an illegitimate child, a lifelong adulterous affair, murder, and a deathbed pardon — a Liberated Librarian indeed!


Bon Voyage! (1962)

A Disney comedy about a typical, all-American family (Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman as the parents) on a “dream” vacation to Europe. A couple of memorable scenes take place in the ship’s library, including one in which the father becomes a bit annoyed with the ship’s librarian over-solicitous manner — and clueless social skills.

You can also read my extended write-up of the film by clicking here.


Rome Adventure (1962)

A quintessential Liberated Librarian role, school librarian Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette) quits her job at a stuffy women’s’ college after being reprimanding for recommending a “too adult” book to a student. Prudence goes to Italy in search of adventure and love. Does she find it? With Troy Donahue and Rossano Brazzi in the cast, you bet!

You can view the film’s original theatrical trailer and read my extended write-up of the film by clicking here.


Joe Vs. the Volcano (1990)

In a quintessential male Liberated Librarian role, title character Joe (Tom Hanks) is stuck in a thankless job as an advertising librarian for a medical supply company. After learning he has only weeks to live, he embarks on an adventure to sacrifice himself in an island volcano. As you do.

Meg Ryan — in 3 different roles — also comes along for the ride.


Flight of the Intruder (1991)

Another ship’s librarian, but this one isn’t about recreational travel. Set during the Vietnam War, a young pilot questions bombing missions after his partner is killed. In one short scene, a young officer in the ship’s library allows the pilot to check out a non-circulating issue of National Geographic (rule-breaker!) that contains maps of North Vietnam.


Scent of a Woman (1992)

More of a coming-of-age story, this movie focuses on a young prep school boy (Chris O’Donnell), a student library assistant at a New England private school. To pay for a flight home for Christmas, he agrees to be temporary caretaker for an alcoholic blind man (Al Pacino), who takes him on an adventure-filled Thanksgiving weekend in New York City.


The Mummy trilogy (1999, 2001, 2008)

Another major Liberated Librarian role, this time involving Egyptologist and librarian Evelyn Carnahan (played by Rachel Weisz in the first two films, and by Maria Bello in the dreadful third fim). In the first — and best — adventure tale, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life, and wreaks some pretty major havoc in the desert. As you do. Evie, her scheming yet lovable brother, and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop him — and get to race some camels along the way. Of course the librarian wins! ;)


Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

In this (terrible) fantasy film, a young queen (Thora Birch) is threatened by the villainous Profion (Jeremy Irons), who plots to turn the dragons into his personal weapons. A young mage, Marina (Zoe McLellan), who works in the library of the Magic School, goes on the run with two thieves after the old mage librarian is murdered. The pen is mightier than the sword, but that doesn’t stop Marina from learning some fight skills along the way. Another typical Liberated Librarian role for this reel librarian.


The Time Machine (2002)

In this remake, a disillusioned inventor (Guy Pearce) builds a time machine and travels 800,000 years into the future. He encounters Vox (Orlando Jones), a holographic librarian who supplies him with information about time travel and the history and evolution of the planet and its population.

Even though this film is all about time travel, Vox never actually goes anywhere; instead, he is the sole witness to the continuous collapse and rebuilding of civilizations throughout centuries. A quintessential Information Provider, and I would argue, the holographic heart of this film.


The Librarian TV trilogy (2004, 2006, 2009)

Ah, another trilogy, this time with a male Liberated Librarian at its center. In the first, the Librarian for the Metropolitan Public Library’s archives (Noah Wyle as Flynn Carson) sets off in an adventure to return a stolen artifact. In the second of the TV movies, Flynn searches for King Solomon’s mines, and also finds time for romance with an archaeologist (Gabrielle Anwar). The third (and final?) installment involves a philosopher’s stone, the Judas Chalice, and vampires.

Just a typical day’s work for a travelin’ librarian. ;)

First impressions: The Amazing Spider-Man

In an earlier post, I had highlighted a clip of Stan Lee revealing his cameo as a librarian in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Earlier this week, the hubby and I got to see the film at a local drive-in movie theater, along with The Dark Knight Rises. A loooong night (and early morning), but worth it!

If you haven’t seen the film yet, then there are minor SPOILERS ahead.

To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting much from this latest Spider-Man film, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Andrew Garfield (as Peter Parker) and the ever-adorable Emma Stone (as Parker’s first love, Gwen Stacy) have chemistry to spare, and the supporting cast members, including Denis Leary, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, and Campbell Scott, were all quite solid. (Martin Sheen, I ♥ you.) And yes, I teared up when the construction crews lined up the cranes to clear a path for Spider-Man. Ah, teamwork and selfless acts, they get me every time.

Stan Lee cameo in The Amazing Spider-Man. Click image for source info.

Stan Lee has a cameo in just about every film adaptation of his stories and characters (see here for a detailed list of his cameos), and this one is quite memorable. I carried a tape recorder with me to the film, as I didn’t want to put on a light and distract from the other drive-in moviegoers. Here’s a transcript of what I noted while watching the scene:

Stan Lee plays a school librarian who’s listening to classical music, and it’s like an hour and forty minutes into the film. He’s wearing a black sweater vest and chinos and — [Sam interjects, “bow tie”] — bow tie, white button-down. Oblivious. Kind of like the [librarian in] Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Comic relief. That was like, what, 2-3 seconds? Ok, and they’re in the high school. So, that’s that.

What is Stan Lee’s librarian oblivious about? The fact that Spider-Man and the Lizard are fighting right behind him — and tearing the school library apart! The contrast of the classical music choice is very funny, and Stan Lee as the oblivious School Librarian definitely joins the Comic Relief librarians.

And if you’re wondering about the librarian in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and other Comic Relief librarians, read more by clicking here.

And for as long as this clip stays online, here’s a look at the scene and Stan Lee’s librarian cameo:

Hey! Mr. Book Man, find a book for me

It’s always interesting for me to view early Denzel Washington films, like this decidedly minor action thriller, Ricochet (1991). Denzel plays hotshot detective-turned-district-attorney Nick Styles, while John Lithgow plays his badass, butt-kicking nemesis, Earl Talbot Blake (?!). I know, I just typed that sentence and I had to do a mental double-take. Although spectacularly miscast, Lithgow nonetheless enjoys chewing the scenery with crazy-eyed relish. (For a believably badass Lithgow villain, see his Emmy-winning turn in the 4th season of Dexter).

*SPOILERS BELOW*

About a quarter hour into the film, Lithgow gets to flex his teeth-gnashing skills opposite a reel librarian billed as the “Book Man” (Don Perry). While Earl is seething revenge in a prison hospital bed — he had just gotten shot in the kneecaps by Nick the Cop — an older white male pushing a cart of books shuffles into view.

Decked out in so-nerdy-it’s-almost-stylish-again duds such as a newsboy cap, plaid shirt and cardigan (but alas, no bow tie!), he bends over Earl to say:

Young fella? Look at you! Lying there like a lump on a log. So what if you’ve made a few mistakes? You can change your life for the better. Don’t you have anything to live for?

Mr. Book Man’s bedside manner

Earl has no reaction to this inspirational message. Or maybe he was pissed at being called “young fella” (being over 45 in real life by this point).  Either way, he seems unmoved. But after viewing a TV news bit about the stylin’ Nick Styles, he calls out, “Hey you! Book Man!”

Pleased as punch, this Information Provider and Comic Relief reel librarian pushes the cart of books back over. Here is the oddest, and darkly comedic, bit of cinematic reader’s advisory you’ll ever witness:

Earl: You know what? I just thought of something I could change. A whole life. A whole future. It’s all in my hands.

Book Man:  Wonderful. Would you like something uplifting to read? Maybe motivational?

Earl:  Something heavy.

Book Man:  How about Tolstoy? Anna Karenina.

Earl: It’s not heavy enough.

Book Man:  Well, it was his first book. Ok. War and Peace.

Earl:  Yeah, that’s perfect. [Book Man puts his hands on his hips, looking mighty proud of himself, see above.] I’ll take that big Bible there, too.

Book Man: God bless you. Fine young man. When you start reading the right things, go down the right road.

Earl’s ulterior motive:  binding the heavy books with tape to use as a splint for his messed-up leg! And he continues to honor the true value of books by using them in prison as body armor. (Not kidding.) And later, the ex-cons use a bookstore that poses as an Aryan front for fake passports. Sigh.

Hey there, young fella

So even though I was thinking that was it for the Book Man — I totally thought he was going to die with War and Peace literally imprinted on the side of his head at the end of that hospital scene — but no, wrong again! Earl meets up with Book Man again on his breakout escape from prison. See, for years, Earl has been planning this escape and plotting revenge on Nick, and he’s none too pleased to meet up with Mr. Book Man in the prison parking lot. Although the Book Man sure seems happy (see right).

Outside his bookmobile, the Book Man calls out to Earl (in disguise as a fancy pants lawyer), “Hey there, young fella. Do you remember me? The books in the hospital?”

Is the pen mightier than the sword in this scenario?

Not impressed with the old guy’s memory — or the lack of aging process on ANYONE in this film — Earl shoots him in the chest and steals his bookmobile to use as the getaway vehicle. Worst. Library. Patron. EVER.

You can see the prison escape scene below, but be prepared for graphic violence toward reel librarians and others:

And the poor bookmobile meets a grisly end, as well. Sigh. A cart bites the dust on the highway, splattering books everywhere, and Earl and his sidekick conspirator light up the bookmobile and push it off a cliff. To add insult to injury (and murder), we even get a closeup of it as the bookmobile blows up!

Bookmobile or bust

“I always wanted a Viking funeral.”

Go in peace, Correctional Facilities Bookmobile and Mr. Book Man, go in peace.

Comic Relief librarians

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.

The librarian in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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.

Shall we?

Ladies First

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.

The Guys

Another film from 1989, UHF, contains a sketch in the form of a commercial for the show “Conan the Librarian.” Read all about that hilarity here in this post.

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.

Redefining the fop… Mr. Collins in the 1940 version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

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.

A borstal kind of librarian

Borstal Boy (2000) is based upon the autobiography of (in)famous Irish writer and activist Brendan Behan, and it focuses on his time in a borstal (a kind of youth prison/labor camp in the UK) during WWII. I didn’t personally know anything about Behan before watching this film… and after watching the film? I still didn’t know much about him. So I looked up a little bit about him on the interwebs. His works are Irish classics, as are his spirited appearances on talk shows. He died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 41. None of this is apparent in this tame-by-numbers biopic.

Inviting, no?

About twenty-three minutes into the film, we spy the prison library. Which looks like, from the outside, a combination of outhouse and shed (see right).

The camera quickly cuts to a male librarian (Arthur Riordan), sitting down behind a makeshift Circulation desk. He wearily asks two young lads, including Behan (Shawn Hatosy), “What are you looking for?” The boys mumble something about pictures, so the librarian points and says, “Comic books over there.” He looks puzzled as the boys scurry off. (And he has reason to be puzzled — the boys are trying to find resources to help plot an escape.)

He’s a white, middle-aged male, with thinning brownish grey hair, no glasses. He dresses quite well, although conservatively, with a dark blazer, tan waistcoat, white button-down. The only bit of flash about him is his polka-dot bow tie.

Borstal Boy librarian

We then see a wider shot of the library, a small room with faded white painted walls, with a few low shelves and pieces of furniture with books stacked up. There’s a hexagonal table in the middle — looks like a card table — with some chairs. Most of the windows are painted over or blocked in some way (because of blackout regulations during the war?), so the light inside the room is relatively dim. In one wide angle, a large ledger is visible on the shelf behind the librarian, most likely the ledger where he records what’s checked out. There are a few bookcases filed with books behind the Circulation desk. Despite the bookcases, it still looks like a converted store room.

A borstal library

At this point, I thought this was going to be it for the prison librarian. I was thinking he would turn out to be your standard Male Librarian as a Failure character type (who else would work in this makeshift prison library?). But I was wrong! Surprise to me, the librarian continues to pop up throughout the film.

In this first library scene, he starts a conversation with Behan:

“And you are an Irish rebel, am I right?” the librarian asks as he stands up

“Only one, as far as I know.”

“Very thing for you.” The librarian turns to a tall bookcase beside his desk. “Life of Oscar Wilde, by Frank Harris.” (Note: The Life and Confessions of Oscar Wilde by Frank Harris was published in 1914)

“Not interested in Oscar Wilde.”

The librarian responds: “Blasphemy. A fellow Irishman, a fellow jailbird and rebel.”

“You know what he was down for, don’t you?”

“He was put in jail for buggering the son of the Marquis of Queensbury. Shocking.”

“No Irishman if he was a black caper.” (Aside: Is this a reference to The Black Cap, a famous gay pub in London, dating back to the 1700s?)

What is the librarian’s aim in this exchange? He was definitely smirking at Behan during this little talk (see screenshot below). The issue of homosexuality — and Behan’s evolving response to it — is a theme explored throughout the film.

Borstal Boy librarian

Behan then starts putting his escape plan into action and asks the librarian, “What do you got in local history?” The librarian tosses his head, “Ah… let’s see” and turns back to the shelves.

A few minutes later, Behan is using a book about local history to trace a map for an escape route. Using a flashlight to shine down on the book, he’s obviously doing this in secret, after lights out.

The warden’s daughter makes a stir upon her arrival — and Behan immediately sets his sights on her. When the girl quotes Oscar Wilde to him and recommends, “You should read it,” Behan immediately (!) gets a copy of the book. This is, of course, based on the girl’s suggestion, NOT the librarian’s. He even steals lines from the librarian:  “He’s a jailbird like myself.”

Apparently, bonding with the fellow Irish jailbird agrees with him, as he decides to put on an Oscar Wilde play for the benefit of the camp. The play in question? The Importance of Being Earnest, of course! The film then cuts to the auditions. And who is there? The librarian, of course! He’s there to provide copies of the play, most likely, but he’s also the one Behan confers with about casting. Behan asks who they’re going to get to play the girls.

The librarian — maroon bow tie quite erect and legs crossed — gives him a sidelong glance. “Well, frankly, I’ve always felt I was born to play a great lady… So perhaps I could be your Lady Bracknell.”

Dude looks like a lady

We then are treated to a close-up of the librarian in drag (see left), along with a fellow gay Borstal boy playing the role of Gwendolyn. When introduced, the audience members laugh uproariously. The librarian — indeed, born to play a great lady — talks in a suitably high-pitched voice and properly haughty demeanor.

Apparently, the play is a hit. And in the joyous after-party, the librarian is seen complimenting the boy who played the butler.

Toward the end of film, about an hour and fifteen minutes in, another scene takes place in the library. Behan (obviously reformed, by the looks of his turtleneck sweater and earnest expression, which has replaced his usual sullen expression) is helping another boy read. The book in question is about “the man that I loved” (another Oscar Wilde tome?). The boy asks how a man can love another man.

A lasting impression of the Borstal librarian

The librarian, standing behind them at the tall bookcase, turns to join the conversation.

“You love your father?”

“I love my wee brother.”

“You love a man then, don’t you?” the librarian sums up, hands on hips, with a scornful gaze. He then turns back to reshelving books.

This reel librarian ultimately serves two main roles, primarily as an Information Provider, and in the play scene, as Comic Relief.

At the end of this film — which feels much longer than its 93 minutes — Behan seems to be on his way to being a writer. All due to Oscar Wilde’s — and the librarian’s — influence!