Cheers for library education

Reel Librarians  |  DVD cover for 'Cheers for Miss Bishop' (1941)Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) follows the story of Miss Bishop, a college English teacher, as she reflects on her life living and teaching in one small town. The write-up on the back of the case reveals most of the plot:

Tomboy Ella Bishop has blossomed into a smart, sophisticated woman… From a rocky start as a young school teacher to the unexpected adoption of an abandoned child, and finally as the venerated old maid who has inspired scores of her students to achieve greatness, Miss Bishop deserves three cheers!

The film plays like it aspires to be a female version of the 1939 classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Martha Scott plays the title role, from a young woman through middle age to a “venerated old maid.” We first meet Miss Bishop — yes, an educated woman who never marries — when she is an old woman, as seen below. She says to her old friend, Sam (William Gargan) that “looking backward [is a] great waste of time.” Perhaps not the most encouraging way to begin a biopic… ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Cheers for Miss Bishop' (1941)

As a young woman eagerly starting college at the new Midwestern University — graduating as valedictorian in the early 1880s — Ella Bishop’s character is quickly established through this exchange of two admirers:

There’s not another girl in the class that can touch her.

There’s not another girl in the whole world that can touch her.

Ella herself seems quite confident that education will NOT be her entire life, with these early statements:

You don’t think I’m going to spend all my life teaching, do you?”

And don’t worry, I won’t be an old maid. I’ll know when the right man comes along. But now… there’s so much to do.

The DVD cover tries to stir up more drama than is evident in the film with the tagline, “The woman they whispered about…” and the odd central photo of Ella Bishop embracing an older man, as seen below. But it is obvious that when compared to her silly, boy-crazy cousin Amy, Miss Bishop is portrayed in the film as a good girl.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD cover for 'Cheers for Miss Bishop' (1941)

After graduating, the college president Corcoran (Edmund Gwenn) offers Miss Bishop a teaching position at Midwestern to teach Freshman English; her first year of teaching is 1884. Her first year does get off to a shaky start, as when her first student enters the classroom and mistakes her for a fellow student, asking if the teacher has come yet! Also in that first class, she asks her pupils to write a brief essay about their life’s ambitions.

One student, Minna Fields (the cinematic debut of Rosemary DeCamp), nervously recites her speech, “Except to get learning, I ain’t got no special life’s ambition, yet.” In the very next scene, 15 minutes into the film, Miss Bishop advises Minna to be a librarian! Coming right after Minna’s statement that she “ain’t got no special life’s ambition,” this suggestion doesn’t come across as very encouraging!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Cheers for Miss Bishop' (1941)

Miss Bishop: It just occurred to me that with that amazing memory of yours, you might be interested in the librarian’s course. It would be an interesting job, wouldn’t it, Minna?

Minna:  Oh yes, Miss Bishop. But… I have got a life’s ambition now. It’s to be just like you.

So that’s one potential reel librarian down.

Later, Miss Bishop defends Minna in a meeting whether or not to expel her because of a plagiarism charge — but it was a misunderstanding due to Minna’s “amazing memory” mentioned earlier. (By the way, we later find out that the student, Minna, became a “world-famous historian” instead!)

In a scene almost 40 minutes in, Miss Bishop has endured heartbreak in her personal life — her fiance jilted her for her boy-crazy cousin Amy — so she writes a letter to President Corcoran that she’s leaving for New York to become a librarian. However, he convinces her not to go!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Cheers for Miss Bishop' (1941)

President Corcoran:  I’ve just received your letter.

Miss Bishop:  I thought it easier to write. You see, Mother and I are going to New York, President Corcoran. It’s an assistant librarian’s position.

President Corcoran:  Oh I see. Of course, It is a hard job, teaching. It never pays much, and lots of the time it’s a headache, wondering if it’s worthwhile…. You’ve got it, Ella, that magic touch that makes young minds open up and flourish. Of course, Midwestern must accept your resignation. But are you sure your New York public library needs you as much as [we do] here in Midwestern?

So there’s another potential reel librarian down the drain!

It is interesting that the film mentions a college librarian course, especially set in the year 1884. This minor plot point — promoting a librarian course for women at a midwestern college in the early 1880s — is stretching history a little. Because it wasn’t until 1887 that Melvil Dewey, often referred to in the U.S. as the “Father of Modern Librarianship,” founded the world’s first library school at Columbia College, now Columbia University in New York (after first proposing the idea in 1883). Dewey also insisted on admitting women as students — against the college’s Regents’ wishes — resulting in 17 female students enrolled in the program that first year. He also helped found the American Library Association, the oldest international library association, in 1876. You can read more about the history of library science education in the U.S. in this article, “History of American Library Science: Its Origins and Early Development,” by John V. Richardson, Jr.

So although this film highlights librarianship and library education — a rarity in cinema! — Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) ends up in the Class V category, as there are no actual reel librarians. I’m a little bit relieved, as Miss Bishop — who DOES become an “old maid” — would definitely have been a stereotypical portrayal.

And what did we learn about desired qualifications or motivations for pursuing a “librarian’s course” or librarian position? Based on this film, you need to either (a) have a good memory, or (b) be unlucky in love.

I’m one for two. ;)

7 faces of a liberated librarian

Thank you to everyone who voted in the second reader poll to choose the next film for me to analyze! And here you have it, a post about your chosen winner, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).

“Here is the mysterious beauty of the far East and the roaring action of the far West!” [from trailer]

This film, based very loosely on the award-winning 1935 novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney, is a showcase for Tony Randall’s skill at comedic timing and accents — as the title suggests, he plays 7 roles in this film, including the title character. Legendary makeup artist William Tuttle also gets to display his mastery at special effects makeup — after all, he created the “7 faces” of the title — and earned an Honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case and title card for '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

It’s a strange, uneven film that combines elements of the fantasy and Western genres; mysterious Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) brings a circus to a Western frontier town in Arizona while local newspaperman Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) woos the local teacher/librarian (Barbara Eden), a widow with a young son. The film plot reads like a mash-up of 1962’s The Music Man (a mysterious, shady character comes to a small town and woos the local librarian) and 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (a mysterious circus comes to town, and the town librarian reconnects with his young son). Interesting that ALL THREE films — 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Music Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes — feature reel librarians in prominent roles. Hmmmmmm…

In 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Barbara Eden — one year from her iconic title role in I Dream of Jeannie — plays the town librarian and widow Angela Benedict. She receives third billing in the film’s trailer (but second billing in the film’s credits), but her profession is not mentioned in the trailer. Rather, the trailer highlights the different roles Tony Randall plays; everyone and everything else comes second — or rather, eighth. ;)

The first library scene begins 10 minutes into the film, as Ed putt-putts up to the library in his motorized bicycle — obviously a clue to his inner rebel! This also helps date the film as early 1900s, as motorized bicycles came to the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The prop master wasted no time in featuring the main feature of the library set:  a big SILENCE sign front and center on the reel librarian’s desk. (Sigh.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Ever the rebel, Ed asks loudly if there’s anything to read, earning an immediate “Shhhhhh!!!” from the reel librarian and dirty looks from the patrons reading at a nearby table. Angela Benedict then directs him to the section on “courtesy and good manners” since he is displaying such bad manners by talking loudly in a library. Then he displays further bad manners by sneaking in a kiss on her neck!!! The librarian shouts in alarm, drawing even more attention. Ed laughs at her reaction, because sexual harassment is soooo funny. :(

Bias alert:  As a librarian who has had to personally deal with sexual harassment while at work — it’s an all-too-common issue for many, many librarians — I found this entire “romance” between Ed and Angela more than a little creepy and disturbing. So fair warning that I’m bound to get all-capsy in this post!

They then settle down to a legitimate reference question, as he wants a book on China (to look up the village Dr. Lao says he’s from), and Angela directs him not only to a particular shelf — “Section on Asia, third shelf from the top” — but also recites a specific book title, The History of China by D. Boulger.

NOTE:  Y’all know I had to look that book up, right? And it turns out, it’s a real book! D. Boulger is Demetrius Charles Boulger, who wrote several volumes about China in the late 1800s, including Volume I of The History of China available to read online here, published in 1881.

Ed then follows up this legitimate reference query by asking Angela on a date, something he has apparently tried several times before:

Angela:  I should think it would be clear by now that I do not wish to go out with you, Mr. Cunningham. Ever.

Ed:  It’s because you’re afraid.

Angela:  Of you?

Ed:  Of falling in love. Of being a woman. That’s what you are, Angela, underneath all those widow’s weeds.

Gross. Especially as Ed pauses to leer and eyeball her up and down before saying the last half of that sentence above, “underneath all those widow’s weeds.”

Angela is properly shocked at this.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Unfortunately, Angela is saddled with a screenplay determined to make her an example of a “Liberated Librarian” character type — with her “liberation” coming at the hands of a man who cannot take NO for an answer. Because Ed obviously knows that secretly, deep down underneath all those widow’s weeds, she desires him. After all, he is apparently the only eligible man in town.

And in the VERY NEXT SCENE, we all get to see what is actually underneath all those widow’s weeds. Right after she kisses her son goodnight, Angela changes clothes in front of an open door as she continues a conversation with her mother-in-law. As you do. The framing device of looking through the door as Angela changes in her bedroom also increases the Peeping Tom creep factor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next scene is a town meeting that takes place in the library, which seems to function also as the City Hall. (Note the two extra SILENCE placards in the library set below.) The scene involves a subplot about a businessman, Mr. Stark, who wants to “save the town” and buy everyone’s land before the water runs out.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

So there are THREE parallel plots going on here about male saviors:

  • Ed, who is trying to save the local librarian;
  • Mr. Stark, who says he’s trying to save the town from going under (but is really a charlatan under his waistcoat of respectability and 10-gallon hat);
  • and the mysterious Dr. Lao, who ends up saving the town from itself (even though everyone suspects he’s a charlatan and a so-called “dirty foreigner”).

During the town meeting, Angela stands up and asks a direct question:  If Abalone is as worthless as Mr. Stark says, why is he so anxious to buy it?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

In Mr. Stark’s response, he also reveals more about Angela’s role in the town: Fair question. I’m glad you asked. Mrs. Benedict, you’re a teacher. A librarian. And as such, you can take a dull boy and make him into a smart boy.

Angela starts to reply and then gets SHUSHED by another lady, who says she ought to be ashamed of herself for doubting Mr. Stark’s integrity! That earns some librarian side eye.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

A majority of the film then focuses on the various sideshow acts — and characters — in Dr. Lao’s circus. One of these characters is Pan, who catches Angela under his musical spell. And OF COURSE, Angela immediately reveals her innermost desires — Ed was right all along! — as she imagines Pan’s face as Ed’s. This results in an unbuttoned blouse, messy hair, and heavy breathing. As you do.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Just as Angela is about to kiss Ed/Pan, a noise distracts her, and she runs away, ashamed of her actions. But her lust lurking “underneath all those widow’s weeds” soon rises again to the top, as we later see Angela in her nightclothes, sweating and unable to sleep.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next night, Angela’s liberation is complete, as she has now cast off her dark, severe widow’s weeds and is bedecked in a feminine, frilly light blue dress and hat with blue flowers. She seems more at ease and flirts openly with Ed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

There are conflicting opinions expressed throughout the film about Angela, the reel librarian. On the one hand, she’s praised — however condescendingly — as a teacher and librarian by Mr. Stark at the town meeting, and Dr. Lao later calls her an “estimable educator.”

On the other hand, we witness her own mother-in-law’s disapproval at Angela’s prim parenting style as well as her loyalty to her dead husband. And we also get this conversation between Angela and Ed, in which Angela criticizes herself — or rather, who she used to be:

Ed:  You remind me of someone. A woman I know. Name’s Angela Benedict… Ever meet her?

Angela:  No. But I’ve heard of her. She’s supposed to be a most unpleasant person.

Ed:  Oh no. Whoever told you, it’s is a lie. Angela’s, well, you see, Angela’s got a problem.

Angela:  What kind of a problem?

Ed:  The worst kind. Same as mine. Loneliness. It’s just about the worst thing that can happen to a person. See, people think Angela’s hard. People think she’s cold. Let me tell you she isn’t hard and she isn’t cold. She’s soft and warm. Only she’s afraid to let anyone know.

[Librarian side eye.]

There is one more scene set in the library, after Dr. Lao exposes Mr. Stark’s scheme. The public votes against selling their land to Mr. Stark, and Angela leads the clapping for Dr. Lao.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Angela Benedict as the small-town librarian is a classic Liberated Librarian role:  a young, trapped woman who “discovers herself” with the help of a man or in face of an adventure (or both, in this case). Angela herself explains the transformation:

I woke up, and I found out something. Just that there’s music in the air and that I’m a liar and worse. I’m in love.

So there you have it. Life lessons for us all. Single lady librarians who seem content in their independence and sensible clothing are all liars and need to acknowledge how liberating the love of a good man is. And then change right away into feminine, frilly dresses in pastel shades to demonstrate externally how love has transformed them into real women.

(Sigh.)

After all, we had learned this lesson not 2 years before in 1962’s The Music Man. One of the first things I noted after watching the film was how many similarities there are between the characters of “Marian the Librarian” in The Music Man and Angela Benedict in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Both Class II portrayals. Both Liberated Librarians who started off as uptight prudes with spectacles (or pince nez). Both small-town librarians transformed by love (and a frilly dress and hat).

Reel Librarians  |  The Music Man vs. 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

The Music Man is admittedly a superior film, and Marian Paroo has quite a bit more spunk than the character of Angela Benedict, who comes across as a watered-down, pale imitation of Marian the Librarian. It’s also telling that the character of Angela Benedict — indeed, the entire subplots of Angela and Ed, as well as Mr. Stark’s business proposition — was NOT in the book.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao was not a hit when it was first released, but it has become a kind of cult fantasy classic over the decades, most likely because of its special effects and nostalgic stop-animation sequences. The story, however, does not age well, nor do the numerous jokes at the expense of racism and sexism. The film is equal-opportunity offensive, however, making fun of the Chinese, rednecks, nagging housewives, Native Americans, “dirty foreigners,” and of course, librarians. In a film that features — no, celebrates! — a white man playing a gapped-toothed Chinaman, is it any wonder that is also includes a stereotypical librarian?

And last but not least, the 7 faces (or rather, facial expressions) of a Liberated Librarian:

Reel Librarians  |  7 faces of a Liberated Librarian

Until next time… :)

Reader poll winner

For the second poll winner — click here for the winner of the first reader poll — y’all chose 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) as your next adventure! I was a bit surprised — again — at the ultimate winner. (For some reason, I thought Idiocracy would win, but it garnered only 1 vote.)

Reel Librarians  |  Reader poll winner

So next week I will be back with a film analysis post about 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and Barbara Eden’s portrayal of Angela Benedict, a small-town librarian.

Fun fact:  Legendary makeup artist William Tuttle received an honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film. (And by the way, the Academy Award for Best Makeup was not an official award category until almost 20 years later, in 1981!)

Stay tuned!

 

Reader poll: Choose your next adventure

Almost 6 months ago, I asked readers to vote for the next film for me to analyze. I liked the idea so much, I thought I’d do it again!

If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that the overall goal or mission of this website is to explore portrayals of librarians in film and what these reel librarians represent. I do that on a weekly basis through various kinds of posts, including film analyses. It’s a lifelong research quest to review and analyze librarians film on my Master List, and I have selected 5 more films for you to vote on.

Choose your next adventure!

Reel Librarians  |  Stack of reel librarian DVDs -- choose your own adventure

The following titles are from my personal collection, and I’ve tried to select a wide range of genres and decades for you to choose from. All of the choices have major reel librarian characters and/or minor characters who have a significant role or scene(s) in the film.

  • 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) — fantasy Western
    • Mysterious Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) brings a circus to a Western frontier town. A local newspaperman is in love with the local teacher/librarian, played by Barbara Eden, who resists his advances.
  • Adventure (1945) — romantic drama
    • A sea-going adventurer (Clark Gable) falls for a librarian (Greer Garson), but their relationship is no smooth sailing.
  • After Twilight (2005) — a short film
    • A librarian becomes an unlikely choice to be a freedom fighter. I’m sensing a Liberated Librarian arc! ;)
  • Idiocracy (2006) — comedy
    • An Army librarian (Luke Wilson) wakes up in the future to realize that he’s now the most intelligent person alive.
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994) — prison drama
    • Andy (Tim Robbins) works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks (James Whitmore). Although I’ve referred to this film a number of times on this site, it’s shocking to realize that I haven’t yet written a proper analysis post of this film. (Oh, Brooks, sob!)

What should I watch next? You decide!

The poll will stay open through this week, and I will reveal the winner next week. Click here if you’d like an insider’s look at what goes into a film analysis post. And if you’re interested, click here to see what films were part of the first reader poll, and here to read my analysis of the winning film.

Librarians in horror films

Reel librarians appear in every kind of genre, from romances to comedies to sci-fi to horror films. In fact, the horror/thriller genre is quite a popular one for reel librarians, particularly for lead roles. It comes as no surprise, then, that I’ve written several posts the past three years about reel librarian portrayals in horror/thriller/mystery films.

So if you’re still seeking a scary movie to watch this Halloween, perhaps the following round-up of posts will help you select one. Explore… if you dare! ;)

Librarians in horror films

Click collage for image sources


Film round-up posts:

  • The “Killer librarians” post shines a flashlight into the dark corner of killer librarians, including Chainsaw Sally (2004), The Church (1989), and Personals (TV, 1990).
  • Are librarians usually victims or villains in horror films? I explore that question in the “Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films & thrillers” post.
  • The “Librarian as Nightmare” post explores how librarian roles fulfill the “librarian as nightmare” image in pop culture. Films featured include It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) a classic Christmas tale that also includes a pretty horrifying “nightmare” sequence in its second half; Chainsaw Sally (2004); Wilderness (TV movie, 1996); The Killing Kind (1973); and All About Evil (2010).

Class I film posts:

The Class I category has films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation is integral to the plot.

  • The Attic (1980) features the nightmarish hallucinations of a reel librarian, who dreams of murder and burning books. I explore this character in two posts:
  • Chainsaw Sally (2004), a chainsaw-wielding serial killer explored in my “Little miss serial killer librarian” post
  • It, aka Stephen King’s It (TV, 1990), includes a main character, Mike Hanlon (Reid), the town librarian and the one who contacts his friends to return to the town and fight “It” once more. Mike is a classic Liberated Librarian, explored in the “The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)” post.
  • Personals (TV, 1990) features a serial killer librarian. “A meek librarian by day, a killer by night!” Featured in my “Naughty Librarians (ladies, take it away)” post.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury novel, features a hero librarian character, another Liberated Librarian featured in the “The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)” post.
  • Tale of a Vampire (1992), a gothic tale featuring a gothic library set, analyzed in the “Tale of a gothic library” post.
  • Weird Woman (1944) — “Hell hath no fury… like a librarian scorned!” Read all about it in the “A Weird librarian” post.

Class II film posts:

Similar to Class I in that the Class II category features librarians as major characters, but the librarian’s occupation does NOT directly affect the plot.

  • The Tell-Tale Heart (1960), an adaptation of the classic Poe tale, changes the story to include a reel librarian as the main character. The many dramatic facial expressions of this lead character are highlighted in the recent post “A librarian’s tell-tale heart.”
  • Twisted Nerve (1968) focuses on a man’s twisted obsession of a reel librarian, analyzed in my “Twisted librarian love” post.

Class III film posts:

These are films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.

  • The Changeling (1980), featuring a house with a mysterious — and murderous — past, includes a library scene with microfilm. The microfilm clerk is the highlight of “The fastest librarian in the West!” post.
  • From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring, 1987) features four short tales about a town’s “long history of violence.” In one of his last roles, Vincent Price plays the town’s librarian/historian. Read more in the recent “Welcome to Oldfield” post.
  • Ghostbusters (1984) features not one, but three, librarian characters, as revealed in the “Who you gonna call?” post.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), the American remake, provides more scope for the Lindgren librarian character, as featured in the “If looks could kill” post.
  • The Killing Kind (1973) and its reel librarian character gets the compare-and-contrast treatment in my “The Killing Kind vs. The Attic” post.
  • The Last Supper (1995), a pitch-black comedy, includes a reel librarian murder victim. Read how she dies in “Not your typical Last Supper” post.
  • The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), a film noir, has a brief scene in an archives library. You can read all about the archives librarian’s theory of organization in “The mask of organization” post.
  • Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), featuring three short tales from H.P. Lovecraft’s work, is analyzed in my “Necronomicon: Dead on arrival” post.
  • Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1967), a sci-fi Hammer cult classic, includes an archives scene at Westminster Abbey. Pics and more in the “Quatermass and the librarian” post.
  • The Seventh Victim (1943) is the first horror film to feature a librarian, analyzed in “The horror of an unethical librarian” post.
  • Shadow of a Doubt (1943), a slow-burning Hitchcock thriller, features a strictly-by-the-rules librarian. Check it out for yourself in the “Closing time” post.

Class IV films:

The following list of posts are about Class IV films with librarians who play a cameo role with little or no dialogue.

  • Brainstorm (1983) is a futuristic, mind-bending thriller, and Natalie Wood’s final film. In my “Brainstorming” post, I highlight the end of the film that features the Tape Library and its technicians.
  • The TV remake of Carrie (2002) and its school library scenes are featured in my “Getting carried away” post.
  • The legal thriller Criminal Law (1988) includes a brief scene in a law library, analyzed in the “Criminal law librarian” post.
  • The drama Gods and Monsters (1998) is all about famed horror film director James Whale. Explored in the “I got your Information Provider right here” post.
  • I Love You to Death (1990), another murderous, pitch-black comedy, gets the voyeuristic treatment in “Love in the stacks” post.
  • Killer Movie (2008) features a memorable scary librarian cameo, featured in the “Killer Movie, Scary librarian” post.
  • The Night Strangler (1973) is the sequel to the 1972 cult classic The Night Stalker. I dig deep in the “The Night Strangler and the underground librarian” post.
  • Marathon Man (1976), a dramatic thriller, includes a brief college library scene. Read more in the “‘Meet cute’ marathon” post.
  • Pickup on South Street (1953), a film noir minor classic, features the first African-American librarian portrayal on film. Featured in the “South Street librarian” post.
  • Scream Blacula Scream (1973), the sequel to the 1972 cult classic Blacula, includes an oddly organized library set and paisley-clad librarian. See more in the recent “Scream librarian scream” post.

Class V film posts:

No librarians, but these Class V films might mention librarians or include scenes in libraries.

  • An early Hitchcock thriller, Blackmail (1929), climaxes atop the Round Reading Room of the British Museum. Read more about my theories why in the “Blackmail and the British Museum” post.
  • The original Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) scrubs out the Lindgren librarian character. More about my thoughts in “The Lindgren trilogy” post.
  • If a classic murder mystery is more your speed, then The Kennel Murder Case (1933) would be a good choice. No librarian, but a book called Unsolved Murders is central to the mystery plot. Read more about murders, both solved and unsolved, in the “Kennel clubs and unsolved murders” post.
  • Red Dragon (2002), part of the Hannibal films, features a knowledgeable bookseller. Highlighted in the “Identity crisis in Red Dragon” post.
  • More mistaken identity in the Hitchcock classic thriller Spellbound (1945), as explored in the “Mistaken identity” post.
  • Urban Legend (1998) features a gothic library set, highlighted in the “Striking out in ‘Urban Legend’” post.

TV series posts:


Welcome to Oldfield

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case for 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories to a nosy reporter — stories that reveal the town’s “long history of violence.” The library and its records serve as a framing device for the other stories in From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring, 1987), similar to the structure of the 1993 film Necronomicon, Book of the DeadThat film is based on a series of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories; this film raises a glass — literally — to Lovecraft, as well as Poe, “those two masters of horror.”

A classic tale, this is not. The most frustrating thing about the film is that you can see how it could have been a decent film, had its production values been higher and the different stories bound more closely together. The film’s fatal flaw is that for a film whose premise is based entirely on place, its stories have a total lack of place. The stories, although set in different time periods, could be set almost anywhere:

  • The first tale is modern-day, and its only sense of location is that it’s a town with some kind of factory or shipping business.
  • The second story takes place in a swamp filled with voodoo magic (more like Louisiana than Tennessee).
  • The third story takes place in the 1930s at a creepy carnival.
  • The fourth and final story could be anywhere in the U.S. South at the end of the Civil War.

The films opens on a woman being executed by lethal injection (we later find out she’s a serial killer who’s been murdering people since she was seven years old). A reporter present at the execution (Susan Tyrrell) then drives to Oldfield to interview the woman’s uncle, Julian White (Vincent Price).

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

She walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire. His more formal, professorial attire — a tweed coat, shirt and tie, pocket square — blends in with the shabby library interior. In an amusing review from the Movie Librarians website, A. G. Graham states, “I found the library fascinating — it looks like an antique store threw up to create a set,” and concludes, “If nothing else, watching this film will make you itch to go dust your books.” :D

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Julian White is not pleased at this late visitor, stating, “The library is closed, and I want to be alone right now.” But as she continues to ask questions, both about the town and about his niece, he relents and starts providing information and stories about the town’s history.

  • “You could read the whole history here yourself.”
  • “I have something I want to show you. These are the original town records. If you read these, you’d find out what kind of people settled here, what kind of lives they chose to live. It goes back to the Civil War.”
  • “Oldfield’s history is written in blood.”

He is a classic Information Provider, a supporting but necessary role; therefore, his portrayal joins the Class III category of reel librarian films.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

The reporter also gets in a few choice zingers in reference to the library:

  • “The atmosphere of this library is getting to me, but I don’t think it would drive me to commit murder.”
  • “Tonight, your niece becomes another sickening entry in your library.”

The librarian reveals the history of the librarian before him, who used to bring young girls to back room for “romantic interludes” — until one night, a husband “dealt with their indiscretions with an axe” and buried both of them under the floorboards. “At night, I swear, you can sometimes hear the lovers’ screams.” Too bad there are no flashbacks to that Naughty Librarian. ;)

There is not much scope or depth to this reel librarian, but Vincent Price manages to inject what dignity he can into the role. Julian is a watcher of history, not a participant in life. As he states late in the film, he “was lucky enough to sit back and watch the murderous parade pass by” from the (seemingly) safe walls of his library. But is that safety an illusion?

The films ends on a twist — but one could also argue the film ends where it begins. “Welcome to Oldfield” indeed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'From a Whisper to a Scream' (1987)

And now I have to go dust my books… ;)

A librarian’s tell-tale heart

This 1960 version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart stars Laurence Payne as Edgar Marsh, who is described on the back of the DVD case as “a mentally unstable librarian.” If you’re familiar with Poe’s classic short story, then you might be asking yourself right now, “I don’t remember that story including a librarian.” And you would be RIGHT.

The plot is summed up on the back of the DVD case. So no spoilers that the DVD case doesn’t already reveal:

A mentally unstable librarian discovers that the woman he is infatuated with has dumped him for another man. In a fit of rage, he murders his rival, burying the body under the floorboards in his home.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD cover of 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

As film critic Roman Martel wrote in his review on DVD Verdict, “Poe purists will not like any of the changes made to the story.” Also, I noted that in the opening credits, Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name is misspelled as Allen, as seen below. The main character — also named Edgar, subtle — also lives on Rue Morgue. So this film starts out as a hodgepodge of random Poe references.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Given this context, I was not really looking forward to watching The Tell-Tale Heart (1960). I do, however, have to give credit to the director, Ernest Morris, for crafting a slow-burning, moody tale, with plenty of shadows and dramatic film angles. The film’s look harkens back to the 1944 classic Gaslight, especially given the period film setting. The acting by the leads also elevates this melodramatic tale, even if Laurence Payne tends to go over-the-top in his lead role.

Cue the dramatic facial expressions:

Reel Librarians  |  Facial expressions of the lead actor in 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Our first look at the lead character is shot from below, as Edgar descends a staircase in his bathrobe, peering down the banister. A heart is beating faintly in the background. Is he fearful… or is he the one we should fear? It’s also telling that we get a shot, all askew, of the portrait of his dead mother.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Edgar’s naughty librarian ways are revealed early on. In one early scene, he leers through the window at a lively restaurant, and is caught staring at a woman’s legs (seen below). When she makes an advance and touches his hand, he reacts violently and runs away. Returning home — pausing to rub the cheek of his dead mother’s portrait, as you do — he takes out a collection of pornographic photos secreted in the back of his closet. But rather than getting excited by the photos, he seems sad and resigned instead, his hand falling limply by his side.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

The next morning, Edgar looks out his bedroom window and sees Betty for the first time and finds himself instantly obsessed. He becomes a peeping Tom, watching her undress night after night (it is annoying that Betty remains clueless about her uncovered window throughout the film). The director also consistently places the camera behind Edgar as he looks at women, which heightens the creep factor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Edgar finally works up the nerve to ask Betty to dinner, and she accepts because, as she says later, “I suppose I felt sorry for him.” On their first outing, he reveals his occupation:

Betty:  Now it’s your turn.

Edgar:  I work as a librarian. I’m in charge of the reference section in the main library. [pauses]

Betty:  Is that all?

Edgar:  I can’t think of anything else to say.

Escorting her home, he then sexually assaults Betty, putting his arms around her and trying to kiss her (below left). He gets a door slammed in his face (rightfully so). He apologizes the next morning, and Betty takes yet more pity on him. This leads to yet more sexual harassment (below right).

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Edgar is the one who ends up introducing Betty to his friend, Carl; Edgar seems oblivious to their immediate attraction to each other. Until that is, his voyeuristic activities reveal Betty’s and Carl’s affair… which leads to him later beating Carl to death in a jealous rage. Of course, Edgar didn’t realize at the time that he was also killing his own soul while he was killing his only friend.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Ironically, Carl is the only one in the film who says anything nice about Edgar. He says to Betty at one point that “He’s a decent sort. He’s helped me out of a spot more than once,” and in another scene, “He’s an intelligent man.”

Why a librarian? This is not part of the original short story, so why did the screenwriters make such a point of mentioning it? The library itself is shown briefly in one scene, pictured below, when Betty comes to ask him about Carl’s disappearance.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Ironically, Edgar appears at his most confident while in his “natural habitat,” the library. He is smooth and even flirtatious with Betty, cupping her chin with his fingers. The shot of Edgar’s tidy desk at the library also contrasts with his untidy desk at home, as seen in the pictures below. He plays the role of a respectable citizen when he is at the library; at home, he is a mess.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

The fact that Edgar is a librarian is not that important to the plot (landing the film in the Class II category), except for a scene later in the film when Betty goes to the police to voice her suspicions about Edgar’s involvement in Carl’s disappearance. The policeman’s reaction?

Edgar Marsh has worked quietly as chief librarian in this town for many years. A thoroughly respectable citizen. No, no, no. I don’t want to persecute an innocent man.

His being a librarian provides him respectability, although it is a “damning with faint praise” kind of respectability. Edgar is a sad, frustrated, lonely man, one who lacks confidence and shows obvious discomfort in social situations.

You know how I’m usually like around women. Petrified as such to do to the wrong thing.

Betty:  You live all alone in that big house?  Edgar:  I prefer it that way.

A classic Male Librarian as Failure. His actions and violent reactions are motivated by fear.

Edgar also fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type. He is obsessed with sex, as evidenced by his collection of pornographic photos, but he doesn’t know what to do when he has the opportunity (like when he runs away from the woman in the bar). He is sexually frustrated, which feeds into his violent overreactions; the film also hints at some kind of unnatural past sexual relationship with his mother.

It doesn’t come as a surprise then, when sexual fantasies of Betty quickly turn into nightmares of Carl’s last dying moments. Sex and violence are irrevocably linked in this reel librarian’s mind. It is also no coincidence that the only time we see Edgar in bed, he is physically ill.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Laurence Payne gives it his all, and then some, as troubled reel librarian Edgar Marsh. However, as you can tell, this is not the most flattering of male librarian portrayals!

To counteract all the creepiness, I will end on a funny note. My husband did NOT like the film — he is a Poe purist — and after the scene in which Edgar kills Carl and hides his body, he joked:

“When he stores you under the floorboards, I’m sure he’ll catalog you, too!” :D