How to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen

For some reason, I had never gotten around to watching the 2006 family film hit Night at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller as a night guard at a museum where history comes alive at night… literally. But it has been on my Master List of films to watch, so I finally got around to watching it recently through my cable’s On Demand program.

Night at the Museum (2006) isn’t that great a film — there are some serious pacing issues, and too many random characters and meandering subplots — and there wasn’t a library or librarian in the film, after all. Wah wahhhhhhh. [Enter sad trombone sound.] Therefore, it ends up a Class V film, with no reel librarians.

But not all is lost. Ben Stiller, as Larry Daley, does do some research to figure out how to cope with all the exhibits and historical figures coming to life at night. About a third of the way through the film, he starts his research quest by first asking museum worker and historical researcher Rebecca (Carla Gugino) about Attila the Hun. The director then cuts to Larry sitting cross-legged, surrounded by books, and his own nose buried in a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

Larry then switches from old-school investigations to searching online, and we are treated to websites about the Easter Island statues, stagecoaches, monkeys, and Roman war strategies. And all of this research DOES pay off in the end, as he saves the day as the main culprit is getting away. How did he know what to do?

“I read up on my history. Thanks for the tip.”

Of course, methinks he would have had an easier time researching if he had asked a librarian for help! ;)

And how do I know that he is reading that book in a bookstore and not in a library? I can see where there might be some confusion, as the camera pans at the end of this brief scene to reveal some kids in the corner and the back of a person who looks to be shelving books, as seen below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

There is one major clue in how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen.

Hint:  Look at the spines of the books on the shelves.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Night at the Museum' (2006)

That’s right, there are no call numbers on those books! A real library will ALWAYS have call numbers and/ or other kinds of labels on whatever materials stock their shelves. It’s how we organize collections, and how users locate the materials. Trust me. I’m a librarian. ;)

Of course, it doesn’t help when propmasters mix up this simple rule of library books needing call numbers and stock non-library books to fill out a library set, like in the movie Urban Legend. [Insert eye roll here.]

Also, the book that Larry is reading, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Attila the Hun? It’s not a real book, either. I suspected as much when I saw that whoever designed that fake book cover capitalized the word “the” between “Attila” and “Hun” in the title — which you can spot, just barely, in the screenshot above. You’re not supposed to capitalize filler words like “the” unless it’s at the beginning of a title, subtitle, or sentence, so it immediately looked strange to me. But I looked it up just to make sure. (FYI, I checked WorldCat, Amazon.com, as well as the Idiot’s Guides site.)

Y’all knew I would look that up, right?

And one last thing… yes, I did watch the 2009 sequel, Night at the Museum:  Battle of the Smithsonian, just in case. No library or librarian in that film, either.

Y’all knew I would be thorough, right? ;)

The Lindgren trilogy

I recently was able to watch the original Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), thus completing the cycle; I have also read the books — translated into English, of course — and watched the 2011 American film version of the first book in the trilogy by Stieg Larsson. I also blogged about the reel librarian character, Lindgren, who shows up in the book, in this post, and in the American film version, here in this post. And now, with this post, I complete the Lindgren trilogy.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo collage

click collage for original image sources

However, Lindgren was nowhere to be found in the Swedish film adaptation, making it a Class V film. No “if looks could kill” librarian glare. No battle of wills between the reel librarian and the researcher/hacker Lisbeth. NO LINDGREN. Imagine my disappointment! :(

(By the way, I am totally going to put her name in all caps from now on. Just because.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Toward the end of the film, we do get the cinematic trick of cutting back and forth between Mikael and Lisbeth as they zero in on the killer’s identity, albeit from two different locations and pathways. Lisbeth figures it out by looking up archives at the Vanger Industry headquarters. This scene is briefly detailed in the book — again, click here for my post where I highlighted the specific book passages — and the scene, as well as Lindgren’s role, is actually expanded in the David Fincher’s American film version. In the Swedish version, however, this scene feels abbreviated, or at least simplified. There is no tension of Lisbeth racing against time and battling Lindgren for access to the locked archive files; instead, Frode provides archives access to Lisbeth up front. The tension is focused solely on Lisbeth tracking down clues from the archive files and receipts and running down the bookcase aisles with loads of books and file boxes in her arms.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

It is nice to know, however, that Lisbeth is as equally dismissive of Frode in the Swedish version as she was of LINDGREN in the American version. ;)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Funnily enough, there is an additional library scene in the Swedish version, when Lisbeth and Mikael research newspaper reports of earlier murders; the scene occurs a little more than halfway through the 2 1/2 hour running time. The library in that scene is obviously a public library, but alas, no librarian appears — not even in the background. It’s interesting to note that in the American version, the research of earlier murders is handled remotely, as Lisbeth gets to show off her research skills — and mastery of Boolean logic! — to track down online police and newspaper accounts of earlier murders.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (2009)

Although I bemoan the lost opportunity of another LINDGREN glare, I can understand why the character was dropped. The plot doesn’t lose anything major by axing the reel librarian character, although it was useful to know in the book (and American film version) that Martin Vangar was using LINDGREN as a way to keep tabs on Lisbeth’s whereabouts; this added another layer of awareness as the net tightened. However, the shorter and simpler archives scene in the Swedish version helps to amp up the pace toward the final third of the film. (By contrast, David Fincher spun out the archives scene in his version to add tension, which also worked.)

American version (2011) The Book (2005) Swedish Version (2009)
Librarian character name: Lindgren Bodil Lindgren — we get her first name! N/A
Archives access: Lindgren tries to lock up. When Lisbeth resists and requires access to locked records, she tells Lindgren to “call Frode.” Lindgren is unhappy about giving Lisbeth access, “but Herr Frode had given her instructions that could not be misinterpreted. This slip of a girl was to be free to look at anything she pleased.” Frode, Henrik Vangar’s lawyer, personally introduces Lisbeth to the archives.
Martin Vangar reference: “archives manager” “archives manager” N/A

I quite enjoyed the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, especially the fearless performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. I found it interesting to mentally compare the Swedish and American versions — even beyond their choice to include LINDGREN or not! — and I honestly cannot choose a favorite. They are both done so well, and the lead actresses both so well cast, that the two films are equally good in my mind. One can enjoy both and appreciate them for the distinct expressions of artistic creativity they are.

The Swedish version gains points by being Swedish, of course, but the American version gains that ground back by including LINDGREN and that classic librarian glare.

If looks could kill

If looks could kill

And we end with that chill-worthy parting shot of LINDGREN from the 2011 American film version. You’re welcome. ;)

LINDGREN.

Three days of the researcher

I confess:  I have a soft spot for intelligent spy/action films. (One of my all-time faves is the addictively rewatchable 1968 classic Where Eagles Dare, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. I dare you to not enjoy that film! ;) )

Another film I highly enjoy is the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, both in their primes, as well as the always excellent Max von Sydow. It was directed by Sydney Pollack, whose specialty was directing smart, well-acted movies, including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), The Way We Were (1973), Absence of Malice (1981), Tootsie (1983), Out of Africa (1985), and The Firm (1993).

This film ages surprisingly well, and it’s almost scary how prevalent and relevant the central mystery still is. I won’t give it away — it’s the MacGuffin! The only aspect that doesn’t age that well is the kidnapping-turned-love-story side plot involving the two main stars. This unnecessary subplot also provided the basis of the entire ad campaign for this film, also referenced in the DVD menu. [Insert eye rolls here.]

Reel Librarians  |  DVD menu for 'Three Days of the Condor'

Also, this film does NOT include an actual reel librarian. But there are good reasons I’m including it here on this blog, even though it is technically a Class V film (which means no librarian on screen).

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

The film opens on a close-up of a book scanning machine, with rows of books behind a bank of technology. If you thought you were seeing a library — complete with librarian wearing glasses — you would be forgiven. We also get a peek at book archives a bit later:

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

As Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) rides up in a bicycle, there’s also a close-up of the building’s sign that reads “American Literary Historical Society.” So one might reasonably assume now that this a story featuring archivists, right?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

Wrong.

The whole building is a front. Literally. It’s actually a base for CIA agents who analyze books and other materials for codes and terrorist activities. Robert Redford is one of those agents, a researcher, and “Condor” is his code name. As he later describes his job:

I work for the CIA. I am not a spy. I just read books. We read everything that’s published in the world, and we feed the plots — dirty tricks, codes — into a computer. And the computer checks against actual CIA plans and operations. I look for leaks, I look for new ideas. We read adventures and novels and journals. Who’d invent a job like that?

And he is SO GOOD at this job that he uncovers a terrorist organization that unwittingly hits too close to home. This begins a chain reaction that ends up leaving his co-workers dead; by accident, Joseph is “literally out to lunch” when the assassins hit his workplace. No spoilers — all of this happens in the first 15 minutes of the film! For the remaining 100 minutes, Joseph is on the run to both (a) stay alive and (b) find out why he and his co-workers were targeted. Along the way, he kidnaps Kathy (Faye Dunaway), and they eventually end up in bed together. As you do. (See also 2002’s The Bourne Identity, which is another personal spy/action favorite. But they did the whole female-sidekick-turned-lover angle MUCH better.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

By the way, while Turner/Condor is out at a neighborhood deli getting lunch orders, we get to listen in on his conversation with the cook and another regular customer:

Deli guy:  Hey, Shakespeare. How’s it going?

[As they converse, Joseph rattles off a few facts about Van Gogh and Mozart.]

Another guy at the counter interjects:  Where am I? The New York Public Library?

Deli guy:  Hey, that’s a very bright man.

Other guy:  It’s very educational. That’s why I come in here.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

We also “listen in” on several scenes in which CIA operatives — all men, of course, including Cliff Robertson as Higgins and John Houseman as Mr. Wabash — discuss the situation. There is suspicion that Condor himself is a double agent. Although their scenes basically serve as exposition, the background info we learn about Joseph Turner/Condor is very interesting, revealing that he is smart, motivated, resourceful, and lucky.

  • “Condor. Researcher, tide pool. Likes to read comic strips.”
  • “Two years military service. Signal corps. Telephone line and longline Switchboard maintenance, six months overseas. Worked at Bell Labs Communication Research. College on the G.I. Bill.”
  • “Don’t expect too many mistakes from his man. True, he does seem rather more interesting than just another of our reader researchers.”

In a beginning scene, Turner/Condor solves a mysterious death by referencing a Dick Tracy story. Toward the end discussing another incident, he confesses, “I read about it in a story.”

In a scene where the CIA operatives discuss Condor, there’s this revealing sideline:

CIA agent:  Where did he learn evasive moves?

Higgins:  He reads.

CIA agent:  What the hell does that mean?

Higgins:  It means, sir, that he reads everything.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

Turner/Condor also earns that Shakespeare monikor, as evidenced by this back-and-forth with Higgins:

Higgins:  I’m not armed.

Joseph:  They could be df-ing us if you have a transmitter hidden somewhere in your clothes. What’s this?

Higgins:  DF? You do read everything, don’t you?

Joseph:  This is no goddamned book. Somebody or something is rotten in the company.

That last line, of course, is a reference to the line “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

Three Days of the Condor also explores themes of the power of mixing both human brain power and technology, although the lines to “book some computer time” to analyze text elicit a chuckle or two. This is the central theme of several reel librarian films, including the 1957 comedic classic Desk Set. (Hint:  It’s an either/or fallacy, the conflict between humans and computers. You benefit from having BOTH.)

There are also a few similarities in tone and subject matter with the Cold War drama, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), starring Richard Burton. In that film, spy Alec Leamus (Burton) pretends to quit the Secret Service and defect to the Communists. As part of his cover as a failed spy, he starts work as a librarian at the Institute of Psychical Research. In Three Days of the Condor, Joseph Turner pretends to work as a literary society archivist, but is in actuality a CIA agent and researcher. Also, the library in the 1965 film is real — we meet other librarians — but in the 1975 spy film, the literary society is fake.

All in all, there is much to appreciate in Three Days of the Condor (1975), a highly intelligent and engaging spy thriller. Too bad there isn’t an actual reel librarian, but I think we can all agree that Joseph Turner would have been an EXCELLENT librarian if he had so chosen to be, yes?

And I will leave you with shots of Robert Redford in his prime, wearing glasses and a shirt unbuttoned to his chest.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'
Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Three Days of the Condor'

You’re welcome. ;)

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.