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.

Special double feature: Miranda and the bibliothécaire

Today’s post is a special double feature:  Reel Librarians goes international! (Bibliothécaire in the heading’s subtitle is French for librarian.)

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by Mister Pamp from the Notorious Bib site — basically, the French version of my Reel Librarians site — and after some correspondence back and forth, I suggested the idea of analyzing the same film and sharing our perspectives on each other’s sites. He was up for the challenge, and we chose the 2002 indie film, Miranda. Why? Because we both happened to have personal copies of the film, but neither one of us had yet watched it. Simple as that. Sometimes, practicality rules triumphant. It just so happened that we chose a British-made film.

I enjoyed the experience, as well as reading my French colleague’s take on this film. We ended up with similar outlooks on the film, but it’s interesting to read how we took different routes to end up at the same place. Also, Mister Pamp was able to locate the real-life filming location for the library featured in Miranda!

Click below for each perspective, and enjoy! :)


An American librarian’s perspective  |  A French librarian’s perspective


Miranda:  An American librarian’s perspective
Jen @ Reel Librarians

(POSSIBLE SPOILERS THROUGHOUT)

Miranda is a strange woman. And a strange film. It’s a British-made film starring two American actors:  Christina Ricci as the title role and Kyle MacLachlan as a kinky businessman obsessed with Miranda. Although one of the lead characters, Frank (played by British actor John Simm), is (1) a reel librarian, (2) earns second billing in the film’s credits, and (3) whose relationship with Miranda is the film’s central plot, there is NO MENTION of him in the film’s trailer that came as an extra on my dvd copy. John Hurt, in a supporting role, also replaces John Simm above the title on the film’s posters and advertising. Ouch.

Those omissions pretty much sum up how important the reel librarian’s occupation is to this Class II film. As in:  not very. He could have been a bank teller or a pharmacist or any occupation seen to serve behind a counter. I agree with the Movie Librarians’ summation:  “Frank’s character was no doubt made a male librarian so we would instantly accept his mousiness and his need for excitement.”

Even though the opening scene shows Frank at work in the central public library (he’s actually listening to music with his headphones on and creating a self-portrait out of nuts), we are hit with a sign that reads “Library Closing Down” and this self-narration:

Frank. Barracloff. Rock star. Astronaut. Secret agent. Sex god. That was me, wishing my life away, listening to Elvis, munching on nuts. But now I know, you gotta be careful what you wish for. It might come true. Because at 1:05 pm on the 25th of February, my life changed… forever.

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

And what changed this reel librarian’s life forever? You guessed it! Miranda. She is a mysterious character — perhaps a better word is shady — a wide-eyed pixie who dons different outfits and contact lenses depending on what con scheme she’s busy orchestrating. Christina Ricci is hilariously miscast as the wannabe femme fatale, while John Simm as the hapless Frank seems to be the only one taking the script seriously.

Although with clunker lines like:

  • “She hit me like a truck, but with a bit more grace,”
  • “You are my Virgin Mary … coal … thing,” and
  • “Even Jesus came back after three days, and he was dead,”

it probably was a tougher job than he expected.

The first ten minutes of the film rushes through the first week of meeting Miranda, as she visits the library every day as demolition day draws nearer and the library shelves become barer. Even though we see Frank unshelving books to pack into boxes — a reel librarian UNSHELVING books, that’s got to be a cinematic first! — and clearing off the front desk, he seems completely unperturbed at losing his job. Even at the very end, as he straightens the empty brochures bin and the front desk bell, he crosses his arms and smiles as is satisfied. The film’s message is clear:  What a loser.

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

What does Miranda do? She sets fire to the sign that warns the public that the library is closing down for demolition. Right before she goes into the library and introduces herself to Frank. Subtle. As subtle as the shot of the crane later demolishing the library facade. Because that’s all it is. A facade. (Seriously, that personal revelation was deeper than this entire movie. That’s not really a compliment. ;) )

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Fast-forwarding, Frank sums up their love story plotline with more lame-o narration, “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wakes up.” And in a truly terrible song he writes and sings about his beloved, he also foreshadows his quest to find her after she disappears one morning:

And it’s you, Miranda. Wherever I wander, I’ll find her. From New York, to Uganda. Miranda. Got eyes like a Panda. Miranda. If you were a plane, I’d land ya’. Miranda.

At this point, my husband and I were making up stupid rhymes ourselves. 

I came up with, “Your name’s not Amanda, it’s Miranda.

My husband’s best entry, “It’s not a custard, it’s a flan – duh.

We do get to see several shots of Frank’s apartment — it’s always interesting to see glimpses of a reel librarian’s home life. Frank does have a clearly defined sense of style. It’s very … Elvis.

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Time and again, we also witness every.single.character make fun of Frank:

Frank:  It’s the best night I’ve ever had.
Miranda:  You should get out more.

Miranda:  You look like a hedgehog.
Frank: Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid.

Rod (best friend):  Frank, your hair is bad. She is exciting.

We’re supposed to root for this guy? All those mean remarks stacking up, it’s tiring. You might say there are enough verbal slaps to cause a nosebleed. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Even though Frank becomes a hero of sorts at the end, he also is burdened with inane dialogue such as this:

Frank:  I always buy stuff with preservatives in it. Makes you live longer.

[Narration]:  I read this book once. It said 2,000 people disappear every week. They just vanish. By the year 2076 there’ll be no one left. Only me.

Frank [to Miranda]:  I love you. … All I’m asking you to do is say three little words. Three little words. And then I’ll go. Three little words.
Miranda:  Fuck off. Now.

The final frosting on this wilting cake is this conversation between Frank and his best mate, Rod, toward the end of the film. Warning:  I cannot be objective about this. This scene made my blood boil.

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Rod:  She’s beyond exciting. She’s international. Get out there, conquer it.

Frank:  I can’t.

Rod:  Why not?

Frank:  I’m a librarian. 

Rod:  Frank, you cling to the past. You haven’t even got one. You just stayed in.

Frank [narration]:  He was right. That’s all I did. I stayed in. Read books. Until I met her. … In one month with her, I’ve been kidnapped, made 5 million quid from a psychopath. I was alive, electrified by raw, painful, horrible, glorious life.

Riiiiiiiiight.

Reel Librarians  |  'Miranda' screenshot

Frank is a classic Liberated Librarian. His story arc is actually the central one of the film, even though Miranda gets the title role. He starts out the film dreaming of a more exciting life, and he finds that through Miranda. Male liberated librarians usually need outside forces or actions to instigation the “liberation,” and that is true in this case, as well. For all his (awkward) talk of love, Frank can only muster the courage to go after Miranda after (1) he gets drunk and (2) his friend urges him to go after her. And at the end of the film — even after he has saved her TWICE — he cannot experience personal happiness until she tells him that she loves him. The three little words that he actually wanted to hear.

So there you go. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy helps girl. Make 5 million quid from pervert. It just didn’t feel right.

You said it, Frank. You said it.

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Miranda:  A French librarian’s perspective
Mister Pamp @ Notorious Bib

[Please note that the following guest post has been translated into English. Any errors in translation are mine (and maybe Google's, as I used the Google Translate tool). For this post in its original French, click here to visit the Notorious Bib blog.]

The brave film that interests us today is called Miranda and tells the story of a young woman named … Miranda (bravo), but also Frank, a thirty-year-old no-life librarian, who “dreams of a life life beyond his bank loan.” Said in a less literary way: he benefits from a public system and yet could not care less about the public. But it is a strange fact, nobody finds anything wrong with that. Frank doesn’t seem to have any bosses — who are conspicuous by their absence — or users of the library, which also sparks the same absenteeism (with a possible correlation between the two). In short, Frank is called, in the jargon of operational management, a dirty little humbug. However, our kindness will grant a mitigating circumstance. Indeed, in a few weeks , the library where Frank works will definitely close. And closing the public library , except in the minds of some sly students of ENSSIB, we must recognize that this is not the ideal professional perspective to boost the motivation of a librarian. Welcome to …

~~ Miranda (2002)

Unmotivated library workers, we’ve all seen. In general, you recognize them easily. There is Marie-Laure who systematically catches a cold the first day of vacation … in that way, her recovery is also postponed. There is Eric, who recently had the great idea to bring long cigarettes with the aim of prolonging cigarette breaks, or the divine and unconquerable Angelica, who each morning invariably rearranges her book cart with large-print novels because they are easier to shelve, leaving the hard files for her misfortunate colleagues.

Besides these small players is our friend Frank, who wins the prize. At the reception desk, you see him killing time without stopping on a swivel stool that squeaks like a freight train braking, ears plugged into Elvis Presley, and with handfuls of kernels, spreading the shells on the desk to form tribal-inspired frescoes. When the library front door opens, it’s an air current that sweeps away the decoration; then Frank picks up everything and again, until the next visitor.

Of course, all this does not encourage users to respect the place, and you wind up witnessing wastebasket dunks with apples they just swallowed at their desk — or worse , who enjoy burning the library notices posted on the board outside.

Occasionally, one of Frank’s unemployed friends pays him a visit, and then you see how they both change the world:  one butt cheek on the counter, casually shooting the bull about love and its hazards.

You say, this is not possible, such things cannot exist. Alas, Menelaus, and we have not seen everything:  when the pretty girl enters the library and asks Frank where the conference room, he simply leaves his post and accompanies the young woman in the auditorium, where he will “hold his leg” for twenty minutes to yap about the beauty of her eyes and the impact of those eyes on the male. Yes, in addition to being a pretty lousy professional, Frank gives into the most clichéd phrases for the purposes of seduction.

“And here is the room where we organize our shows … although the best show currently, I believe, is being played in front of me”

Leaving for a moment his whimsical and inconsistent attitude, in rare moments is Frank captured by a flash of lucidity. Thus, when yet again he pours his heart out to his friend and when his friend tries to encourage him:

- But what are you waiting for, go find her and seduce her! (…) – I could never … – And why is that? – Well … I’m a librarian …

A beautiful vision, but it is a struggle to appreciate when you see how this young man tries to get a leg up in his career. Especially if you look at the statistics, being a librarian is not so prohibitive. There are plenty who enjoy a healthy social life and even manage to reproduce. It is really sad to see such a lack of confidence in a male librarian; with 75% of women in the profession, it is supposed to be an advantage for heterosexual-level opportunities.

The question of a modern man, when he opted for a career incompatible with reproductive claims …

I reassure you, this is not France that would see such things. In fact, I did not want to mention it because I personally abhor denunciation, but I still need to clarify that the charming librarian of this film is an Englishman. This is also why, if you have some basic insight into that from the beginning I type Frank without the “c”. Specifically, our friend works in the great London suburbs, the main library of the town of Harrow, which seems to have a lateral recruitment policy. In any event, the film reassures us that in a few days the library and its staff will not ever hurt anyone because the property is not ready to be only closed, but also wiped off the map.

What does a public library about to be sprayed look like? Here’s a small glimpse:

Naturally, the books have been removed from shelves. They are in bins that readers can always rummage looking for their happiness. Magnetic gates, meanwhile, are still in use (why worry about flights now?) And record-keeping doesn’t make much sense as they cut the heating. Workers and patrons need only survive by keeping their coats …

Avant de plier boutique, l'équipe essaye de ramasser un peu de maille en revendant les livres de la bibliothèque. A un moment donné, quand le bateau coule, y a plus de déontologie qui compte dirait-on.

Before folding the shop, the team tries to do a little business reselling library books. The money raised will be considered a consolation for the pain and suffering imposed on those workers when they decided to close the library. The business ethics, of course, takes a hit, but at the same time, when the ship is sinking, it is necessary to make concessions. And frankly, with all of these books sold, it will make it less to move.

Apart from its incompetent staff, here is another reason solely sufficient to justify the demolition of the facility:  the front pediment above the main entrance.

An excruciating sculpture, it seems to include the cross-sectional representation of a small intestine that have suffered the ravages of chili con carne that’s too spicy. It’s just disgusting. To think that the one part of this building that is cultural would appeal only to an intestinal surgeon.

*

Finally, an interesting library graphic. The poster is not very attractive, but it looks roughly official:

Spectacular, and more:

*

A Mercedes S-class parks in front of the library. Can we say the the rich have finally discovered the joys of reading in public? … Nay, this wealthy Japanese comes to examine the library he had just bought with his head full of ideas to build something better once it is destroyed …

Sayonara, library. Instead, we will build a park where dogs can pee, it will be much more useful, and then place the playground next to a weight bench and an expression wall for graffiti artists which may also serve as a urinal if sometimes they do not like their park — and of course a fountain that will fill with the urine and everything that clutters up our pockets with material desires. It will be great and then, finally, we have our third act.

***

Hmm, it is hard to love a film that has such an apocalyptic vision of the reading public. The reality, thankfully, is not quite as described in Miranda as the film chose as its library location the Gayton Library, in Harrow — which was about to be demolished, but the library actually moved elsewhere, in more functional premises. Harrow librarians have also done well, as the allocation of filming locations was done in return for payment against the sum of €25,000, which was used to purchase new books for other libraries in the city. Apart from that, Miranda is not really the film of the year. Neither of the week, or even your evening, in fact: the love story is stupid, the dialogue is heavy, the actors look like actors in commercials for deodorants. Done with more care, the plot of the film could have been fine (the story of a librarian who is tricked by a femme fatale). But as is, the film is a chore that lasts 90 minutes. Bad.

Bad direction of terrible actors: To reclassify these books, the actor looks in the middle of the books instead of checking the spines!

Here is the film’s trailer:

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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. ;)

‘Libraries raised me’

Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990

Ray Bradbury, Miami Book Fair International, 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We woke up today to the news that legendary American author Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91. This is a sad day, but also a day for remembering the contributions a great artist and writer can make in society. Ray Bradbury made some lasting contributions, not least of which the incendiary novel Fahrenheit 451. That novel is so ingrained in our popular culture that you practically cannot have a conversation about censorship without alluding to that book.

And he was a lifelong — and vocal — supporter of libraries and librarians! His personal interviews are featured in the documentary The Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film (read my review here), in which he talks about writing his first works in libraries (a little ironic, eh, to be writing Fahrenheit 451 in a library?!). And in 2009, as he was fighting to raise money for a local public library system, he stated simply:

Libraries raised me.

He also placed a librarian, the quintessential male Liberated Librarian, as the hero in my personal favorite adaptation of his works, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). It is an underrated film, in my opinion, but one that never fails to inspire. I highlighted the librarian character, Charles Holloway (sensitively played by Jason Robards), in my Hall of Fame, and the film earned a spot in my Best Librarian Films by Decade list. Something Wicked This Way Comes was even part of the initial list of films for my undergrad thesis, at the beginning of this journey of analyzing reel librarians. And the film and librarian character are highlighted in posts about reel librarians as moral and intellectual leaders of the community and exploring the male character type of Liberated Librarians. Thank you, Ray Bradbury, for giving us this great tale and a great librarian hero.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie comes with a (mostly civil) confrontation between Charles Holloway and Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce). In his quiet way, Charles defies Mr. Dark by saying:

Sometimes a man can learn more from other men’s dreams than he can from his own. Come visit me, sir, if you wish to improve your education.

Mr. Bradbury, thank you for inviting us into your literary dreams. I have learned a lot.

Male Librarian as a Failure

Harsh and awkward title, I know, the Male Librarian as a Failure, but I never was that good with titles. This is the category I have had the most trouble with, mainly because I used to include the male Liberated Librarians in with them (see this earliest post). Their role is to highlight flaws within the library or even society itself; they are social failures in that only “failures” would choose to — or have to resort to — working in a library. This is not me talking about real librarians — this is what I have observed in films. Don’t shoot the messenger! ;)

Whilst the male Liberated Librarians tend to be younger (they still have time to redeem themselves), the Male Librarian as a Failure are middle-aged or older. They dress rather conservatively, in dark colors, suits, or drab uniforms.

Richard Burton and Claire Bloom in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

Variations include males who fail as a plot device, and male librarians who only appear to be failures to other characters. An example of this is Richard Burton as Leamus in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965). His character, a British spy during the Cold War, seemingly gets fired and works in a library in order to fool the German spies that he’s hit rock bottom. Of course, it does the trick! When the enemy later confronts him in a pseudo-trial, he identifies himself as “assistant librarian” to continue the failed-spy image.

Quite a few of the films in this category involve prison librarians, including The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Gideon’s Trumpet (TV, 1980), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), and Escape from Alcatraz (1979). I’ve often debated with myself to make prison librarians a separate category, but I’ve kept them here because they do serve the main purpose of this role — in the eyes of society, they are considered failures. That’s why they’re in prison. But these characters have a unique twist:  they often become prison librarians because they exhibit good behavior while in prison! Inside the prison world, they are (or make believe to be) model citizens; in the outside world, however, they are, at the very least, uncomfortable in social situations.

Take Brooks (James Whitmore), the prison librarian in The Shawshank Redemption. In one scene, Red (Morgan Freeman) astutely sums up why Brooks is so scared to go on parole (see clip above):

The man’s been in here 50 years. … This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. outside, he’s nothing. Just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn’t get a library card if he tried.

And how did “Doc” (Sam Jaffe) get to be prison librarian in The Asphalt Jungle? He very considerately tells us (see clip below):

I cause no trouble. The prison authorities appreciate that. They made me assistant librarian.

Click to view clip from The Asphalt Jungle

There are quite a few minor characters who fulfill the Male Librarian as a Failure type, characters used to contrast with other reel librarians, usually Liberated Librarians. This is exemplified in the aforementioned The Shawshank Redemption, as well as in Off Beat (1986), Fast and Loose (1939), Goodbye, Columbus (1969), Shooting the Past (TV, 1999), and Only Two Can Play (1962).

Next week, we’ll continue our peek inside the dysfunctional world of male reel librarians with the Anti-Social Male Librarian character type.

The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)

In my original undergraduate thesis, I had identified only four male character types. The more films I have seen, I have since added two categories, or rather, divided two existing categories. The first of these is the Male Librarian as a Failure — sorry, never was that good with catchy titles — which I later split into two, giving full credence to the male version of the Liberated Librarian.

Rereading my thesis, I can see the idea there:

The films in this category demonstrate that any male who chooses (or perhaps does not choose) to work as a librarian must have something wrong with him. However, variations do exist [...] most of the men are relatively young (with one notable exception), perhaps showing the audience that they have time to redeem themselves and find a better job. Interestingly, most of the males in these films triumph, in some way, in the end.

Noah Wyle as Flynn Carsen in The Librarian TV movies

And that’s the major difference. The male Liberated Librarians may begin as failures, but they grow in character throughout the film, just like their female counterparts; their latent skills and talents find a way to rise to the forefront — but only through the instigation of an outside force, action, or other person. (I’ll delve into the Male Librarian as a Failure later. They’re not going anywhere.) ;)

The male Liberated Librarian, as I mentioned, is usually young. Their physical appearance may or may not improve (compare this with their female counterparts, whose makeovers are practically a requirement!), but their wardrobes tend to get better. Personality-wise, they become more masculine and assertive. For major male librarian roles, the most common character type is the Liberated Librarian, with their liberation comprising the main plot.

This is evident in several films, including You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), Off Beat (1986), The Librarian TV movie trilogy (2004-2009), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), Goodbye, Columbus (1969), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983).

Tim Reid as Mike Hanlon in Stephen King's It

There are some more minor characters fulfilling the male Liberated Librarian role. The male librarian (James Frain) in Where the Heart Is (2000) is a supporting character, but the arc of his liberation mirrors the liberation of the lead role, played by Natalie Portman. And Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid) in the TV movie Stephen King’s It (1990), is the only one of the seven lead characters to stay behind in Derry, Maine, a town that hides an inherent evil manifesting as Pennywise the Clown (a chilling Tim Curry). Hanlon, the town librarian, sarcastically referred to as “the answer man,” eventually unites everyone to fight against that evil.

Jason Robards in Something Wicked This Way Comes

The notable exception to the age characteristic I mentioned above is Jason Robards in Something Wicked This Way Comes. He plays the aging librarian Charles Halloway, who has a bad heart and professes that he never takes risks — risking his son’s respect in the process. However, he is motivated by the evil carnival owner, Mr. Dark (a deliciously evil Jonathan Pryce), to take a risk to save his son and, consequently, saves the entire town.

Several of my personal favorites showcase this category, including The Librarian TV movie trilogy, Goodbye, Columbus (1969), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). For these and other favorites, see my lists for Hall of FameHonorable Mention, and Best Librarian Films by Decade, Parts I and II.

Stay tuned for next week for a deeper look into the Spirited Young Girl character type.

What’s in a name?

The analysis in the “One of the Invisible Professions on Screen” article about the character of library science professor Sylvia Van Buren (played by Ann Robinson) is spot-on, and I agree that “Sylvia Van Buren” is a fantastic name for a librarian! So that got me thinking… what are some other great character names for reel librarians? Here are some of my picks:

Sylvia Marpole, the Head College Librarian in An Extremely Goofy Movie

Bebe Neuwirth as Sylvia Marpole in An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000, animated) — another Sylvia, but this one is way more fun

Goldie Hawn as Gloria Mundy in Foul Play (1978) — one of my favorite reel librarian characters, with a name that winks at her “Girl Monday” characteristics

Selina Cadell as Miss Battersby in Prick Up Your Ears (1987) — a very descriptive surname for this uptight public librarian

Valerie Curtin as Miss Ophelia Sheffer in Maxie (1985) — an innocent-sounding name for this Naughty Librarian

Judi Dench as Marcia Pilborough in Wetherby (1985) — an imperial name for this imperious librarian

Emilia Fox as Spig in Shooting the Past (TV, 1999) — a wonderfully quirky name for this Spirited Young Girl character

Frances Sternhagen as Charlotte Wolf in Up the Down Staircase (1967) — another (unfortunately) descriptive name for this school librarian

Lulu Smith in Forbidden

Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu Smith in Forbidden (1932) — the quintessential name for a Liberated Librarian! Her surname sounds so generic and blah, seemingly perfect for a small-town, mild-mannered librarian, but the fanciful first name hints at what lies beneath the surface (see right)

James Frain as Forney Hull in Where the Heart Is (2000) — Southern names are kind of endearing, aren’t they? You just want to root for a guy saddled with a name like “Forney”

Claudia Wilkens as Iona Hildebrandt in Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) — a lot of name for this librarian cameo, but with a name like that, she manages to get in a few zingers

Katharine Hepburn as Bunny Watson in Desk Set (1957) — you’ve got to have a female librarian named Bunny at some point, and Katharine Hepburn pulls it off in matter-of-fact fashion

Can YOU spot the librarian in Heart and Souls?

Charles Grodin as Harrison Winslow in Heart and Souls (1993) — can’t you just SEE the bow tie and buttoned-up demeanor in this name yearning to break loose for this Liberated Librarian? (see screenshot above)

Morgan Farley, John Barclay, Belle Mitchell, and Cyril Delevanti as The Books in Soylent Green (1973) — in this dystopian tale, the librarians are known simply as “Books” — appropriate yet a bit forbidding, as this utilitarian moniker strips away their personal identities

Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo in The Music Man

Peter Kastner as Bernard Chanticleer and Rip Torn as I. H. Chanticleer in You’re a Big Boy Now (1966) — I just like repeating the surname. Chanticleer. Chanticleer. Try it! It’s fun.

Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo in The Music Man (1962) — a reel librarian list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Marian the Librarian, right?!