Anatomy of a law library

I recently rewatched the courtroom classic Anatomy of a Murder (1959), as it was on my Master List. I didn’t remember a librarian being in the film, but I did remember a pivotal scene set in a law library. And my memory was correct, there is no actual reel librarian in the movie — landing it in Class V territory — but there is indeed a law library scene in the film that is key to the trial, and therefore the plot of the film itself.

In the early scenes setting up the tone of the film and the main character Paul Biegler, played by James Stewart, we also get treated to Paul’s personal law library. His love of the old law books helps the audience trust him and his actions, as he is shown to be a careful and thoughtful person. Paul and his lawyer friend, Parnell, are settling down for a night in. Let’s listen in:

Paul:  In the evening, I sit around and drink bourbon whisky and read law with Parnell Emmitt McCarthy, one of the world’s great men.

Parnell: That was a kind word, Paulie. You know, I might have been. I look at you and see myself years ago, with the same love for the smell of the old brown books and the dusty office. [Pointing to the bookcase of law books] … The United States Supreme Court reports. Well, what should we read this evening, counselor? How about a little Chief Justice Holmes?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

At that point, the phone rings. It’s a call from Laura Manion (Lee Remick), and her call for Biegler’s legal aid propels the story forward. Her husband, Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is in jail for murdering a local man, Barney Quill; his stated reason for doing so is that he believed Quill had raped his wife. Is this killing legally justified?

By the way, this film was a landmark movie in being open about the issue of rape, at least in a legal setting. It also caused controversy — and bannings in some states — because of its inclusion of such words as “bitch,” “contraceptive,” “panties,” “penetration,” “rape,” “slut,” and “sperm.”

Later, Lt. Manion meets with the army psychologist, Dr. Matthew Smith (Orson Bean), and brings back notes that he’s suffering from “dissociative reaction,” also known as “irresistible impulse.” This is their ticket to a temporary insanity defense.

Paul:  And what did he say about your knowing the difference between right and wrong when you shot Quill?

Manion:  I don’t think he said anything. Why, is that important?

Lt. Manion goes back to jail, and Parnell and Paul strategize:

Parnell:  You ever heard of a Michigan court accepting ‘irresistible impulse’ as insanity? .. Well, tomorrow’s Saturday. We just have the weekend before the trial. When do you want to start working?

Paul:  Tomorrow morning, early.

And, of course, “start working” means … going to the library! :D

Apparently, they research in the law library all weekend, as the next scene dawns on a new day with the judge walking to the courthouse. Judge Weaver, played by legendary real-life lawyer Joseph N. Welch — he went up against and brought down Joseph McCarthy! — introduces himself to the court by saying, “And while I might appear to doze occasionally, you’ll find that I’m easily awakened, particularly if shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” ♥

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Judge Weaver walks up past the door marked “Library” and stops after hearing a book thud. He quietly opens up the door and peeks in on the two lawyers drowning in law books. Judge Weaver smiles and backs out again, unnoticed by Paul and Parnell.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

By the way, the movie’s entry on IMDb.com reveals a fun trivia tidbit about the library set:

Reel Librarians  |  IMDb.com trivia of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

In this double-decker law library, the two lawyers find the precedent they need — at the same time!

Parnell:  Paulie.

PaulHey listen to this, Parn.

Parnell: Never mind that. Just find People v. Durfee, 62, Michigan, 486, Year 1886.

Paul: That’s it. I have it right here in the A.L.R. Listen. “The right and wrong test, though deemed unscientific, is adhered to by most states but the fact that one accused of committing a crime may have been able to comprehend the nature and consequences of this act and to know that it was wrong. Nevertheless … if he was forced to its execution by an impulse — by an impulse which he was powerless to control, he will be excused from punishment.” The Michigan Supreme Court did accept irresistible impulse. This is precedent.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Note:  The A.L.R. stands for American Law Reports, published since 1919, which remain a key resource for legal research. And I looked the case in the LexisNexis library database, and it’s a real case! Here’s a related screenshot of that case and its appeal:

Reel Librarians  |  A snapshot from the LexisNexis database

That piece of precedent does get its day in court — or rather, its day in chambers. About 2 hrs and 15 mins into the film, the prosecution lawyers ask for a recess after the testimony of the army psychologist. Paul is ready and brings his law book to the conference in chambers, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

The Assistant State Attorney Dancer (George C. Scott) and District Attorney Lodwick (Brooks West) ask if the defense wants to change its plea:

Lodwick:  You know a guy’s not considered legally nuts in Michigan unless he didn’t know right from wrong. Why don’t you get this over with?

Paul:  Your Honor, will you turn to page 486?

Lodwick:  What’s that?

Judge:  Appears to be a law book, Mr. Lodwick.

And, of course, Paul just happens to have left a fishing line hook in the book to mark its place. He and Judge Weaver enjoy a brief conversation about catching frogs, which frustrates the two prosecuting attorneys!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Anatomy of a Murder'

Lodwick:  What case is he citing, Judge? What is it, your honor?

Judge:  People vs. Durfee, 1886. Looks like a precedent. Would you like to read it Mr. Dancer?

Dancer:  No, thank you, Your Honor. I think I recall the case. We’re hooked … like the frog.

It’s a relatively subtle moment, but I like that it echoes back to Judge Weaver’s personal introduction that he appreciates being “shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” :)

And if you’d like to see more of a law library — as well as a reel law librarian — click here for my post on the 1988 Gary Oldman legal drama Criminal Law.

A libeled lady and a library

Another week, another William Powell movie. Also, another Class V film, which means no reel librarian. But wait! This classic 1936 film, Libeled Lady, includes an interesting kind of library rarely mentioned in film:  a ship’s library.

First, a little background on film itself. Nominated for Best Picture, Libeled Lady stars Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy. Harlow and Powell were engaged in real life during the filming, and this was their last screen outing before her untimely death in 1937. The plot of this screwball comedy involves a newspaper editor (Spencer Tracy), his long-suffering fiancée (Jean Harlow), and his lawyer (William Powell), who aim to compromise a high-society lady (Myrna Loy) before she can sue the paper for libel.

To this end, lawyer Bill Chandler (Powell) sets sail on an ocean liner to England, to make contact with the high-society lady, Connie (Loy). In an attempt to cozy up to her, he does a little research, first reading newspaper articles about her father and his love of fishing.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Libeled Lady'

Almost a half-hour into the film and after reading the newspaper articles, he rings for the ship’s steward:

Steward:  You rang, sir?

Bill Chandler:  Yes. Steward, do you know if they have any books in the ship’s library on angling?

Steward:  Angling, sir?

Bill:  Yes. You know, trout fishing?

Steward:  Oh, yes. We have several. Shall I fetch you one, sir?

Bill:  Yes, just bring me all of them.

Steward:  All of them, sir? [incredulous]

Bill:  Yes.

The next scene shows Bill rehearsing what he learns from the books, studying up in the bathroom while he shaves. OF COURSE my librarian side mentally shouted out, “Don’t get those books wet!” ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Libeled Lady'

Although this steward does happen to have a useful knowledge of the ship’s library holdings — very convenient indeed! — he sets out only to to fetch the books, in his role as steward, not to research the topic. Therefore, he does not fulfill the role of a reel librarian.

And by the way, sensing that Bill is out for a different kind of angling, Connie tries to avoid him by reading books in her room and on deck. But no ship’s steward this time around! Her personal maid brings Connie a stack of books to read.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'Libeled Lady'

And do the books prove useful for Bill? Yes, indeed! Perhaps a little TOO useful … He does impress Connie’s father, who later says Bill is “the best-informed man on angling I’ver met.” However, Bill later gets roped into going fishing with Connie and her father. And this time, he DOES get the book wet! :(

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshots from 'Libeled Lady'

Libeled Lady only mentions a ship’s library, but the 1962 film Bon Voyage!, actually does feature a ship’s librarian. They are the only two films I’ve come across so far that highlight a ship’s library, which is indeed a special kind of library. Let’s briefly compare the two films:

Libeled Lady (1936) Bon Voyage (1962)
Class V (no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries) Class III (librarian plays a secondary role, with a brief but memorable/significant scene)
No reel librarian mentioned or seen; the ship’s steward seems to have adequate knowledge of ship’s library holdings and good at customer service James Millhollin as Ship’s Librarian (Comic Relief), very knowledgeable about ship’s collection but terrible at customer service
Books are briefly glimpsed in shaving scene, but no actual library set or scene Scene set in the ship’s library, with row of bookshelves and tables visible
Played for laughs (see the shaving scene above), as his self-professed love of fishing leads him into a comedic dilemma later on Reel librarian fulfills Comic Relief role

You can read more about Bon Voyage! (1962) here in this post on the Reel Librarians blog.

Reel Librarians |  Bon voyage to the Ship's Librarian

Have a bon voyage Tuesday!

Kennel clubs and unsolved murders

Reel Librarians  |  'The Kennel Murder Case' collageThe Kennel Murder Case (1933), whose title refers to the initial location of the Long Island Kennel Club, is the fifth film in the Philo Vance series — but the fourth outing for star William Powell as the well-known detective. The author of the Philo Vance mystery series was S. S. Van Dine, who penned 12 books in the series and whose works inspired 15 film adaptations.

This effort is generally considered the best of the films and has been critically well-received, even being hailed as a “masterpiece” in 1984 by film historian William K. Everson.

The film showcases a classic locked-room mystery, and of course, only Philo Vance and his trusty Scottish terrier can sniff out the truth. (And if you’re thinking this sounds awfully familiar to William Powell’s other famous detective and mystery series, The Thin Man, you’re not alone.) Powell’s legendary portrayals as Nick Charles in The Thin Man are not that different from his portrayals of Philo Vance, as both detectives are witty, well-dressed, and urbane. Both detectives have a canine sideback, as well. However, The Thin Man series boasts Powell’s chemistry with leading lady Myrna Loy as Nora Charles.

For all its good points, The Kennel Murder Case does not, alas, feature a reel librarian. It therefore ends up in the Class V category, which are films that may feature libraries but not librarians. So why continue this post? In the first five minutes of the film, we are introduced to a private library, as well as a book called Unsolved Murders that becomes central to the mystery plot.

The private library in question belongs to Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy), who employs a private secretary, Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan). Five minutes into the film, we are treated to a classic cinematic shot of a bookshelf, revealing a close-up of Brisbane’s face. The bookshelves serve as a natural framing device. Brisbane grabs a book entitled Unsolved Murders, places it in an overnight bag, and prepares to leave on a trip.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Here’s the conversation between Brisbane and his secretary:

Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy): Now, let’s see here. Where did I put that? Ah, here it is. Unsolved Murders. Hah! You know, I almost forgot it. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink tonight. Wondering who murdered who and why.

Raymond Wrede, the Secretary (Ralph Morgan):  How any intelligent man can read that drivel is beyond me, Brisbane.

The next morning, His brother, Archer Coe, who has a contentious relationship with his entire family, is found dead upstairs. The police declare it an apparent suicide … enter Philo Vance and his dog! While they’re searching the dead man’s room — which features another shot from the closet and behind a line of suit jackets, mirroring the earlier shot through the bookshelf — Philo gathers clues that his brother, Brisbane, had returned home from the train station. But the question remains, “What did he do with his bag?”

A little over a half-hour into the film, Philo leads the detectives to Grand Central Station, where they locate Brisbane’s bag. Philo takes out the Unsolved Murders book, which has a bookmark opening up to a chapter that includes a description just like the murder scene of his brother.

“… the door was locked from the inside…”

KennelMurderCaseChapter2

Philo Vance, after following the book’s description, demonstrates to the police how the lock was locked from the outside. He then gathers clues that the murder was actually committed downstairs in the library, not upstairs where the body was discovered! A series of witness statements follow, featuring more shots of the library and its distinctive double doors, as seen below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot of 'The Kennel Murder Case'

Gathering statements and clues like a dog sniffing in the garden for a bone, Philo Vance uncovers a double murder, canine abuse (!), and a case of mistaken identity. The film also concludes in the library, where it all began. So although the film does not feature a reel librarian, a library and a specific book provide both the central setting — and catalyst — for the central murder mystery.

Thrilling indeed!

Striking out in ‘Urban Legend’

Click to view a copy of ‘Urban Legend’


Kicking off the first of four horror film posts this month, I caught the late ’90s teen horror flick Urban Legend (1998) recently on TV. I had never watched the film when it came out, because it felt like it was cashing in on the post-Scream spat of teen horror films. I wasn’t mistaken about that. ;) The plot, such as it is, is about college students getting killed off in scenarios based on urban legends. Does that mean these urban legends are, gulp, real?!

No suspense in that rhetorical question, is there? Plus, there’s also no reel librarian in it. Strike one.

But there is a library scene in the film, so it ends up in the Class V category. It’s a short scene, a little over a half-hour into the film, when the main star (Alicia Witt, as Natalie) has finally made a connection with two recent deaths of her college classmates and visits the college librarian to research urban legends. OF COURSE Natalie doesn’t bother asking a librarian for help; instead, she randomly wanders around the bookshelves and happens upon The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. As you do.

Reel Librarians  |  'Urban Legend' screenshot

I also found it HILARIOUS that the prop manager didn’t even bother stocking the shelves with real library books. How can I tell? There are no call numbers on the spines or edges of the books! Strike two.

Reel Librarians  |  'Urban Legend' screenshot

Natalie runs into — literally — a classmate, Sasha, in the stacks. It seems suspicious that Sasha (Tara Reid) is in the library, as she is a character who has her own sex talk campus radio show — I’m not even making that up — and whose lacy bras keeps photobombing her scenes. Until, of course, she reveals that she’s there for an illustrated edition of the Kama Sutra.  OF COURSE.

Natalie and Sasha then look through The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends together, highlighting for the audience various urban legend-related deaths featured in the movie, including large black-and-white sketches illustrating the roommate’s death, the boyfriend’s death, and the gang high-beam initiation. After Sasha leaves — to do her Kama Sutra-related homework, natch — Natalie gains a clue by checking out the book’s check-out slip.

Reel Librarians  |  'Urban Legend' screenshot

The closeup of the card lists an author — Breen, Charles S.? — and includes the main subject terms mythsfolklorelegends.

By the way, the more accurate Library of Congress subject heading would be urban folklore. And no, there doesn’t seem to be an actual book by this title/author combo. (Yes, I checked. But you already knew that. ;) )

And FYI, if you’d like a good intro into the more common urban legends, I’d recommend Snopes.com, especially their section on ‘Murdering Madmen.’

Although there is no reel librarian, this scene does fulfill a common goal for movie scenes featuring libraries:  to find background info that will propel the plot forward. It’s a oft-used cinematic trick to fill in those expositional details. And although Urban Legend is not that memorable, the director does employ some interesting camera angles in this short library scene. First, the camera takes a bird’s-eye view as Natalie climbs the library steps, an angle also employed above the library bookcases as she wanders the stacks.

Reel Librarians  |  'Urban Legend' screenshot

There are also interesting wide-angle shots with strong horizontal lines, as Natalie and Sasha browse through the encyclopedia.

Reel Librarians  |  'Urban Legend' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Urban Legend' screenshot

The library setting, with its candelabra and classical statues as seen above, seems to be in an older building, or at least one with a nod to classical architecture. I’m not sure exactly where the library scenes were shot, but the IMDB.com page includes Trent University and Trinity College School, both located in Ontario, Canada, as film locations.

And by the way, later on in the film, Natalie teams up with the campus newspaper editor (Jared Leto), who reveals copies of the campus yearbooks in an alcove upstairs from the newspaper office. She remarks, “This is where you research all your lurid articles?” And, gasp!, the 1973 yearbook is missing — the key to the university’s own urban legend, the Stanley Hall Massacre. Do they return to the library to search for the missing yearbook volume, or for other clues relating to this major incident in the university’s archives? OF COURSE NOT. Instead, they sneak into the private office of a professor — the professor who teaches the folklore class, played by horror film veteran Robert Englund, wink wink — and nearly get expelled when they are inevitably caught.

Strike three.

Blackmail and the British Museum

My Irish counterpart, Colin @ Libraries at the Movies, posted some thoughts on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 film Blackmail a little over a year ago — and I’m just now getting around to rewatching this early Hitchcock film. Admittedly not his best film, it was a big commercial hit and was the first British sound film as well as the first example of sound dubbing. Blackmail also includes quite a few experimental touches and echoes of what would become Hitchcock trademarks, and the film features the Round Reading Room of the British Museum. The Round Reading Room — which, alas, was relocated in 1997 — was also the model for the Library of Congress Reading Room.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The final chase scene takes place in the British Museum, culminating in the Round Reading Room.

BlackmailBritishMuseumSign

Although no librarian is featured, landing this film in the Class V category, there are several shots of the library. These shots include a birds-eye view overlooking the famous vista, as well as some behind-the-bookcase chase scenes.

BlackmailBritishLibrary

BlackmailLibraryChase1

The finale is atop the library dome, and Hitchcock gets to show off his amazing visual style, silhouetting the blackmailer and the policemen scurrying across the dome. Finally, in his panic, the blackmailer falls through the dome. The policemen rush up and look over the shattered glass, where one can make out shapes of the round bookshelves far below.

BlackmailLibraryChase2

As a librarian, I did gasp out loud and shout at the screen, “No! He’s ruined the library!” Perhaps only a librarian would be so horrified at the thought of a body crashing through a library ceiling. I mean, imagine the gore and mess below with the library resources and furniture!

But that’s the genius of a good director. At his best, Hitchcock created suspense and horror by what he didn’t show.

BlackmailLibraryChase3

So why did Hitchcock feature the British Museum and the Round Reading Room? Colin makes a good case that:

“The library is significant because of where it is — the only way out is up, and up is where Hitchcock characters go to fall or jump off things. The director cares nothing for the library qua library.”

I agree, Hitchcock chose the library because of its visual impact — but what an impact! It’s a pretty powerful statement that the British audience watching this film would have felt immediately connected to the Round Reading Room — and even those American audience members who would have recognized the design behind the Library of Congress. It’s also a study in contrasts; the library’s history of tradition and conservatism is emphasized even more by being tainted by the blackmailer and the indignity of a police chase.

Although based on a play of the same title by Charles Bennett — who also penned some of Hitchcock’s best British films, including 1934′s The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1935′s The 39 Steps, and 1936′s Secret Agent — I have not been able to locate a full-text version of the original play to doublecheck the setting of the final act. The play, which according to Bennett himself was based on real life events, was a commercial flop in 1928 and starred Tallulah Bankhead. If you’re able to locate a copy of the original play, please let me know!