Reel librarian in ‘Evil Under the Sun’

This week is finals week for summer quarter, and then I’m off for a few weeks! (In real life — I am scheduling posts for the blog during my summer break, no worries.)

And on the theme of vacation… I recently rewatched the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun from the long-running series (1989-2013) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. (And in my humble opinion, Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot for all time. Absolute perfection as the little Belgian detective.) The TV movie aired in July 2003, and it’s based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.

Evil Under the Sun is set at a luxury island hotel off the coast of Devon, where Poirot is on holiday. During his stay, a beautiful young woman, Arlena Stuart Marshall — who has been flirting with another guest, a married man, and generally upsetting everyone in her vicinity, including her own husband and stepchild — winds up strangled on a secluded beach. Poirot is ALWAYS going on a busman’s holiday!

Here’s a video review of the book:

EVIL UNDER THE SUN by Agatha Christie | Project Poirot SPOILER FREE Review” by bookslikewhoa is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Fun fact:  The setting for this story was inspired by the Burgh Island Hotel, where Christie actually stayed in real life! And this adaptation was actually filmed at the Burgh Island Hotel!

Librarian connection

So what does this movie adaptation have to do with libraries or librarians? Just a little over one hour into the movie, Poirot visits the mainland and has lunch with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. During lunch, Poirot reels off a list of questions about the murder, including:

“Also I wonder what was in the book that he [Arlena’s stepson, Lionel] was reading.”

Lionel had stated that he went to the mainland the morning of the murder to get a book.

Next stop? The public library!

We hear the librarian stamping in the moment we are introduced to her. Harriet Eastcott plays the Librarian; her character has no name, just the name of her profession.

Screenshot from library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie

Meet the librarian in ‘Evil Under the Sun’ Poirot TV movie

Poirot has asked about the book Lionel has checked out, and the librarian immediately recognizes the name.

LibrarianLionel Marshall, a young man staying on the island. Let me have a look.

She then goes to the card catalog and flips through cards.

Screenshot from library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie

The librarian flips through the patron files

LibrarianHe borrowed a book yesterday morning.

She then looks at the card more closely and has a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face.

LibrarianOh, yes, of course I remember now. I thought it was a rather strange choice, but he said it was for a homework project.

PoirotAnd the name of the book, if you please, madame?

LibrarianDangerous Chemicals and Poisons.

Screenshot from library scene in 'Evil Under the Sun' Poirot TV movie

Backdrop of library shelves in library scene in ‘Evil Under the Sun’ Poirot TV movie

Duh duh dummmmmmm! SUSPICIOUS. This scene lasts only 30 seconds total, but it does move the plot along and serves to establish a potential suspect. The reel librarian serves as an Information Provider.

NOTE:  I have written about this before, but this scene exhibits completely unethical behavior on the part of the librarian. At least here in the United States (although it may be different in the United Kingdom), you need a court order to view patrons’ library records. It may be convenient as a private detective or a police officer to go into a library and ask for a patron’s library records, but it is unlawful without a court order or warrant. And it is certainly unethical for a librarian to give out that information without requesting proof of a court order or warrant! I just had to do my duty in helping protect patrons’ privacy and reiterate that.

A couple of more notes from this short scene:

  • I appreciated how the costume designer matched the color of the librarian’s cardigan to the color of the curtains. This immediately and succinctly ties her visually to the setting of the library.
  • The set designer didn’t need much to establish the library setting, just a row of bookcases behind the librarian, a second row of bookcases (with organizational signs along the top in an Art Deco font, nice touch) behind Poirot, a table with card catalog drawers, and a few props like a stamp, pencils, and a notice board. I don’t know if this scene was filmed in an actual library — I couldn’t see any credits to that effect or anything mentioned online — but it could just as easily have been filmed on a set.

How does this scene compare with the book?


There is a public library mentioned in the book source material, and Arlena’s stepchild does check out a book that elicits suspicion.

However, there are some key differences, including:

  • Arlena has a stepdaughter in the book, Linda Marshall, which got changed to stepson Lionel in this film adaptation
  • Linda is obsessed with witchcraft and checks out a book on witchcraft, not poisons — still suspicious, but in a totally different way
  • Linda also later attempts suicide, but that is scrubbed entirely from the film adaptation

Final thoughts?

All in all, this short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider. She also looks fairly stereotypical for a reel librarian, being a white, middle-aged woman dressed in conservative clothing. Her demeanor is one of trying to be helpful (although winds up being inadvertently unethical). No glasses, but her hair is pulled back in a low chignon bun.

Are you a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series of episodes and TV movies? Have you seen this particular adaptation of Evil Under the Sun? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:


Birthday break

I (humbly) interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this breaking news… it’s my birthday week!

Therefore, I am taking a quick break from my weekly blog posts to celebrate my birthday, and I should be back next week with another film analysis post.

Stay tuned!

"Please Stand By" by SparkFun Electronics is licensed under a CC BY 2.0 license

Please Stand By” by SparkFun Electronics is licensed under a CC BY 2.0 license


Reel librarians vs. reel archivists

A few years ago, in a 2014 post, I had written about how there are many kinds of librarians in both the real and reel world, and I had included archivists in that list. But I’ve been reading more recently about pop culture analyses and portrayals of reel archivists, and how those portrayals differ from those of reel librarians.

Let’s explore those different perspectives, shall we?

Archivist and librarian poster collage

Poster on left: “Rogue Archivist” by justgrimes is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0  // Poster on right:  “uge librarian party march 2007” by katdandy is licensed under CC BY ND 2.0

Reel Librarian posts including archivists

Below are a few posts/film analyses from my blog that included archivists:

  • Abandon (2002): The credits for this film list Robert Burns in the role of Archivist, but I honestly could not recall seeing or noticing this role while rewatching the film, which has several scenes set in a university library. Regardless, I stated that this role serves as an Information Provider.
  • Agnes of God (1985):  A psychiatrist (Jane Fonda) investigates the mysterious death of a newborn child in a convent. A male archivist librarian (Victor Desy) helps Fonda locate the convent’s blueprints in the National Library Archives of Quebec.
  • Archangel (TV, 2005):  There are two library/archives scenes in this TV film, the second of which takes place in a small-town archives room in Russia. Both scenes are also pivotal in propelling the plot forward, as the rule-bending librarian/archivist provides a crucial bit of info.
  • Citizen Kane (1941):  A brief but memorable scene shows how a female librarian/archivist — a woman in an aggressively gender-neutralized exterior — controls access to the personal papers of a prominent male figure, in this case the archives of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Battle of the Sexes post
  • Enough Said (2013): A quirky slice-of-life glimpse into the budding romance between two middle-aged, single parents: Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a free-spirited masseuse, and Albert (James Gandolfini), a digital archivist at the fictional American Library of Cultural History. In one scene, Albert takes Eva on a tour of the archives, his office, and the public viewing room.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012):  In this American version of the Swedish novel about a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who investigates the 40-year disappearance of a young woman, he is aided in his search by a punk investigator/computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Late in the film, Lisbeth researches records in a company’s archives, disgruntling an older archives librarian.
  • In the Name of the Father (1993): In this Best Picture nominee, Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) is coerced into confessing to an IRA bombing and spends 14 years in prison trying to prove his innocence. His lawyer (Emma Thompson) tries to locate police records, but the chief archivist is not cooperative. She does get records when another archivist is on duty — and the information she gathers eventually leads to Conlon’s release.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001):  This Best Picture nominee, the first in a film trilogy about a hobbit’s quest to destroy a powerful ring. There is a short scene early in the film in which the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) needs some info about the ring, so he visits the archives in Gondor. There is a quick flash of the Gondorian Archivist (Michael Elsworth) leading Gandalf down a winding staircase to the archives.
  • The Monster That Challenged the World (1957):  An earthquake in California unleashes radioactive mollusk monsters. Nearby Naval base officers work to stop the horde of monsters, and a museum archivist appears in three short scenes to help find a map of underground rivers.
  • The Night Strangler (1973):  In this TV sequel to The Night Stalker (1973), Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is back and investigating a series of murders in Seattle, a strangler of women who leaves decaying flesh behind. Wally Cox plays Mr. Berry, a newspaper archives librarian who helps Kolchak crack the case.
  • Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1967):  The third film in the Quatermass series starts off with a discovery of ape-like human skeletons at a subway excavation site. When scientists further discover a missile-like metal shape, the armed forces are called in. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) and an assistant scientist, Barbara (Barbara Shelley) do some digging of their own — in the research archives. This leads them to the Westminster Abbey archives and a short scene with the Abbey Librarian.
  • Rising Sun (1993):  To solve the crime of a young woman found strangled in the L.A. headquarters of a Japanese corporation, Lt. Web Smith (Wesley Snipes) partners with John Connor (Sean Connery), an expert on Japanese culture. In one brief scene halfway through the film, Smith gets a tip that a weaselly investigator is digging up dirt on him at a newspaper library and enlisting the help of “Lilly the Librarian,” a rare portrayal of a newspaper librarian/archivist.
  • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002):  During his talk with the archivist librarian (Alethea McGrath as Madame Jocasta Nu), Obi-Wan discovers that the planet has been removed from the navigation maps of the Jedi archives.

Overlapping interests

The two professions — archivists and librarians — are different and serve different roles, but there is overlap. For example, there was a museum and archives track where I went to graduate school, and I took a preservation course during my graduate library science studies. Archivists and librarians are also included together with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. And many academic libraries, including the one I work at, contain archives in their organizational structures.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine roles, titles, or background for some characters in a lot of films, so I basically have included any onscreen character who works in a library within that “reel librarian” umbrella, and that has included archivists. Do I rail against doing that in real life? Yep. Do I succumb to doing that in reel life? Yep. Mea culpa. For better or for worse (most likely the latter), it’s not a hard “either/or” type of situation for me, so I err on the side of inclusivity when it comes to librarians and archivist portrayals onscreen.

Although I have clearly included and analyzed archivist portrayals on this blog, as I detailed above, I wanted to share perspectives on this pop culture issue from archivists themselves.

Reel archivists research

I found the following articles insightful, and I have pulled out some illuminating passages from each:

Aldred, Tania, Gordon Burr, and Eun Park. “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists.” Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists 66 (Fall 2008): 57–93.

Screenshot of "Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists" article

  • I love the practicality of this research, which includes the checklist used for assessing the films for archivist portrayals!
  • “The stereotypical portrayals of archivists are a minimally researched yet important area of archivy: archivists should be aware of how the media portrays them and how the public perceives their profession.” (p. 59)
  • “Past studies concerning librarians in films have shown a lack of standardization in their terminology, resulting in the selection of films irrelevant to their study. These authors… seemed to be confused as to the definition of a librarian as opposed to that of an archivist. The studies were often attempting to examine information professionals in general, yet were incorrectly terming them ‘librarians.'” (p. 67)
  • “Sometimes the line between a library and an archives can blur. It becomes difficult to distinguish between a library and an archives when dealing with those in medieval or earlier times, or when libraries retain archival material.” (footnote on p. 68)
  • In a footnote on p. 70, this article also included a list of films they discarded from their analysis, which I found interesting (including Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring for the brevity of the role for the Gondorian Archivist!), as well as a bibliography of films of reel archivists that they did analyze. I checked this bibliography with my own Master List and identified several cross-over titles, including:
    • Agnes of God (1985)
    • The Avengers (1998)
    • Blade (1998)
    • Citizen Kane (1941)
    • In the Name of the Father (1993)
    • Just Cause (1995)
    • The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
    • National Treasure (2004)
    • Possession (2002)
    • Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
    • The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
    • The Time Machine (2002)

Buckley, Karen. “‘The Truth is in the Red Files’: An Overview of Archives in Popular Culture.Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists 66 (Fall 2008): 95–123.

Screenshot of "The Truth is in the Red Files" article

  • This author used 69 sources for the article, which included 34 movies or TV series
  • The title reference to the “Red Files” comes from a line in the TV series The Pretender (“The Bank” episode, Season 2, airdate May 9, 1998)
  • “[F]our strong common themes readily became apparent… 1) protection of the record is equated with protection of the truth; 2) the archive is a closed space and the archival experience is an interior one for the characters (with all the obstacles and frustrations that that implies); 3) records in an archives are “lost” and “buried,” and characters must spend much time and ef fort “digging” in order to unearth them; and 4) the archival record invariably centres around the search for self or truth.” (pages 97-98)
  • “Despite the essential differences in their purpose, contents and management, popular culture consistently substitutes libraries for archives.” (p. 98)
  • “There are no truly iconic representations of archivists in popular culture, owing to the fact that archivists are rarely principal characters.” (p. 100)
  • “Frequently, popular culture only has the time or the need for the surface elements of the archival experience: an individual sitting passively at a desk surrounded by mountains of boxes and files. However, this simplistic view does not provide any opportunity for narrative tension, nor does it produce plot development or pithy dialogue.” (p. 115)

Daniel, Anne and Oliver, Amanda. “Seeking an Identity: The Portrayal of Archivists in Film.” Western Libraries Staff Presentations, Paper 42, 2014. 

Screenshot from "Seeking an Identity: The Portrayal of Archivists in Film" slides

  • This are slides from a professional presentation, and the authors compiled a list of 77 potential films and narrowed down to what looks like 46 titles
  • One of the guiding questions for the research was, “Is there a lack of distinction between archivists and other information professionals in film?” (p. 4)
  • Identified several reel archivist findings (p. 22-33), including physically isolated archivists; archivists who restrict access (including Jocasta Nu from Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones!); archivists who are liars, vandals, and flirts; and my personal fave, the “All Knowing Archivist.”
  • Concludes that “Although it is positive that archives and archivists are portrayed in a variety of films, the lack of consistent image suggests a lack of professional identity” (p. 36)

Continuing the conversation

I highlighted these examples of reel archivist research in part to demonstrate how there is scholarship in this pop culture arena, and there are different perspectives in that scholarship. Scholarship is, after all, a conversation, and we must be open to how that conversation can shift and change, and even loop back on itself.

I admit that I have my own biases when it comes to portrayals of librarians onscreen, and I want to be transparent about those biases. I can definitely relate to the frustration of archivists who do not see an accurate representation onscreen of what they do in real life, and want to bring attention to these portrayals in order to help bring about change or, at the very least, bring about more awareness of what archivists really do. I felt myself nodding along with a lot of the problems — and ultimate conclusions — that these archivists identified through their film analyses and research.

So what has going down this research rabbit hole done for me? It has helped me be more aware of how archivist roles differ from what librarians do (on and off-screen), and I will take more care in the future when identifying roles that blur the lines between archivists and librarians. I will continue to include archivists in my Reel Librarians research, but I think it’s important to go back through my archives of blog posts and lists and tag roles more clearly with the “archivist” label. I was also inspired by that checklist used for assessing the films for archivist portrayals… perhaps I will be inspired to adapt a version for reel librarians…

What are your thoughts about reel archivist portrayals? Have you thought much about the portrayals of reel archivists versus those of reel librarians? Please leave a comment and share. 🙂

Indiana Jones contradicts himself in ‘Crystal Skull’

Last week, we looked at Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), in which Indiana Jones praised the library, stating, “Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.” This week, let’s take a look at Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and a library scene in which Indiana Jones completely contradicts himself.

First up, a trailer to set the context for this most recent film in the series:

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers,” uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Once again, as in the previous film in the series, we get a scene of Indiana Jones teaching. Twenty years later, he’s still wearing the same three-piece suit, polka-dotted bow-tie, and round glasses:

Screenshot of Indiana Jones teaching in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

20 years later, Indiana Jones still teaching in the same suit and bow tie

A little over a half-hour into the film, Indiana Jones meets with “Mutt” Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a guy with a chip on his shoulder the size of his motorcycle. Indy jumps onto the back of Mutt’s motorcycle to escape from Russian agents who are after him. To finally shake off the agents, they motor into… what else? The library!

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

Why wouldn’t you drive into a library to escape Russian agents?!

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

Interior of the library scene

Although this scene lasts just under a minute total, Spielberg makes the most of it.

This exterior of the library scene was filmed outside Yale University’s iconic Sterling Memorial Library, standing in for Indiana Jones’s fictional Marshall College library. The interior of the library scenes were actually filmed in Yale’s dining hall!

Everyone is stunned to hear a noise in the library, let alone a motorcycle!

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

What’s that noise? A motorcycle in the library, what else?

The two nearly run over a male student with a huge stack of books in his arms:

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

Slow down, save the books!

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

The books go flying, as does the motorcycle

The guy’s books go flying, as does the motorcycle swerving to miss him. Indy, Mutt, and the motorcycle skid under a batch of tables, finally coming to a stop in front of one of Indy’s students. (That is a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

Fun fact:  This student in the library is played by Chet Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

I have a question…

And of course that student, unfazed by loud noises or sliding motorcycles and undeterred in his quest for knowledge (can you tell I think he’s the real hero of this scene?!), has a question for Dr. Jones:

Student in LibraryExcuse me, Dr. Jones? I just had a question on Dr. Hargrove’s normative culture model.

Indiana JonesForget Hargrove. Read Vere Gordon Childe on diffusionism. He spent most of his life in the field. If you want to be a good archeologist, you got to get out of the library!

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008)

… and I have a dumb answer.

BOO. Boo, I say. BOO.

And I am not the only one incensed by this scene and total about-face for Indy’s view of the library and its vital role in research and archeology.

The trivia on the Amazon Prime version of the film also pointed out this contradiction:

Trivia about the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" (2008)

And my overseas counterpart, Colin Higgins from Libraries at the Movies, messaged me this:

Do you like Crystal Skull? I don’t, at all. One of the reasons I feel it must be non-canonical is Indy’s dissing of libraries after his motorbike ride through Yale’s Sterling. The real/reel Indiana Jones would never say ‘If you want to be a good archaeologist, you’ve got to get out of the library’!

I love Colin’s wording here, that (1) this film in the series is non-canonical because of its treatment of libraries, and (2) “dissing of libraries” is totally not in Indy’s character. Agreed on both counts!

I also enjoyed this extra bit of trivia/goofs from Prime, delving into the mention of Vere Gordon Childe in Indiana Jones’s advice to the student:

Trivia about the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" (2008)

Hah! So Vere Gordon Childe, an Australian archeologist (1892-1957), did spend almost his entire career in the library! And OF COURSE I double-checked this. While he did oversee excavation of archaeological sites in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Childe is indeed most well-known for being a “great synthesizer” of archeological research, publishing over 240 articles and 26 books in his lifetime. And Childe was HIMSELF librarian of the Royal Anthropological Institute at one time (!), so I don’t think he would have EVER advised a student to “get out of the library.”

So. Indiana Jones not only contradicts himself — and one of the primary messages and themes from the previous film — he GETS IT WRONG.

I think it’s clear that Indiana needs to get back to the library, stat! (Without the motorcycle this time.) 😉

Trivia about the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" (2008)

Extras in the library scene in ‘Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ends up in the Class V category, as there are no reel librarians identified or distinguishable from all the other people in the library scene.

Continue with conversation:

What are your thoughts about this film in the Indiana Jones series and this library scene? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Indiana Jones and the reel librarian

One of my librarian colleagues recently asked me if I had done an analysis post for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), one of her personal favorites. I have included the film in prior posts on this blog — see here in my post about Comic Relief librarians and here in this post in which I likened the reel librarian in the film to Stan Lee’s reel librarian cameo in The Amazing Spider-Man— but I realized I hadn’t done an in-depth analysis yet. So, Heather, this one’s for you! 🙂

I have watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade many times over the years, and goodness, how this film holds up! It’s just a really solid — and really re-watchable — action adventure movie with romance and comedy perfectly mixed in. It’s the third film in the series, and in this installment, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) sets off to find the Holy Grail… and his missing father (Sean Connery), who is also a professor and historian. Such good casting!

Here’s a quick trailer for the film:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Trailer #1,” uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube license

Facts, libraries, and research:

Before we get to the library scene, we first have to visit a pivotal scene that occurs 14 minutes into the film. After the introductory scenes of “Young Indy” and a glimpse of Indiana Jones in full adventurer mode at sea, we swing back to spy on Indiana Jones in the classroom. Instead of wearing a fedora and leather jacket, Indiana is in full professor mode in a three-piece tweedy suit, bow tie, and round glasses. (Put a pin in that, as we will revisit that costume.)

Screenshot from the classroom scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

FACT, Indiana Jones is still very handsome in a three-piece suit and polka-dotted bow tie. FACT.

He writes “FACT” on the chalkboard, underlines the word, and then states what is arguably the most important speech in the entire film:

“Archeology is the search for FACT, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you’ve got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and “X” never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”

Screenshot from the classroom scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

Hurray for libraries!

Why is this speech so important?

Not just because of the focus on the library, researching, and reading — that’s all gravy! — but because this character is setting up the rest of the film’s plot for us. Even though he’s in denial, we viewers know we’re set for lost cities, exotic travel, maps to buried treasure… and libraries!

The library scene:

Flash forward 10 minutes, almost to the half-hour mark of the film, to when Indiana Jones goes to Venice to meet Dr. Elsa Schneider (Allison Doody). She takes him to where his father was last seen, a local library.

Elsa SchneiderI have something to show you. I left your father working in the library. He sent me to the map section to fetch an ancient plan of the city. When I got back to his table, he’d gone, with all his papers, except for that scrap, which I found near his chair. Here is the library.

Indiana JonesThat doesn’t look much like a library.

Marcus BrodyLooks like a converted church.

Elsa SchneiderIn this case, it’s the literal truth.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

A reel library in a converted church

Trivia alert: The exterior is St. Barnaba church in Venice, but it’s actually still a regular church, not a library. (Bummer, right?!) The interiors were filmed elsewhere.

Below, watch a video of the entire library scene, which lasts about four minutes in total:

X Marks the Spot Indiana Jones,” uploaded by elder rod, Standard YouTube license

I love the “X marks the spot” reveal in this scene — harkening back to that pivotal speech in the classroom.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

X marks the spot!

The reel librarian:

And of course the BEST PART of this scene is the reel librarian stamping his books, which exactly syncs up when Indiana Jones hits the floor tiles with the end of a metal post. (Suspension of disbelief? Yep.) It only takes three hits to crack the tile, and the closeups of the reel librarian’s face after each stamp are priceless. He never says a word, yet says SO MUCH through his facial expressions:

Let’s see the reel librarian again in action:

Bad Stamp,” uploaded by Average Joe, Standard YouTube license

My favorite moment of this scene is when the reel librarian — an older man, dressed in a suit, formal collar, and bow tie — stares at the stamp in his hands, then puts the stamp atop the last book softly, in a daze, like he can’t fathom the power he just unleashed. Thus is the power of the library stamp! 😉

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

The power of the library stamp

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

With great power comes great responsibility

Reel librarian as comic relief:

This reel librarian is onscreen for a maximum of 30 seconds in a 4-minute scene (thus landing the film in the Class IV category), and the actor goes unidentified in the film’s credits. Yet he makes such an impact! Literally. 😉

This reel librarian is a prime example of the Comic Relief character type. The purpose of this character type is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, to entertain, but the reel librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.

They are also the most extreme physically — note how the reel librarian in this film is rail-thin, which is emphasized by the slightly oversize nature of his suit. And these physical characteristics are part of the humor; marveling at this heretofore unseen and unknown strength (!), this reel librarian could not fathom that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.

Now for a few additional things I noted while rewatching this film…

Library organization:

First up, I enjoyed the peek at the signs at the end of each bookcase, which give hints about the organization and classification system for this part of the library collection. They’re obviously in the Arts & Literature section of the library, including literature, dramatic arts, and music.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

I love getting peeks of reel library organization!

Reel library goof:

I watched this film on Amazon Prime, which also provides trivia and goofs. I had never noticed this goof before, that when Indiana Jones gets to the top of the spiral staircase, you can tell the backdrop is made up of book spines glued on a black background, rather than real books. Wow!

Trivia about the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

Reel library goof!

You can click the screenshot below to view a larger image of it in a new tab. Tip: Look for the shadows on the shelf behind Indiana’s elbow, which reveal that the books are really just book spines.

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

I love this facial and body expression, like Indiana Jones is apologizing for the book spines glued onto the backdrop.

A tale of two personal libraries:

The two Dr. Joneses like to think they’re so different — yet they’re so alike! And this goes to the state of their personal spaces, as well.

For example, here’s a screenshot of Dr. Jones, Sr., in his personal library at home, in the film’s introductory scenes. The room is lined with bookcases, but none of the items in the bookshelves — books, artifacts, scrolls — look to be very well organized or neatly arranged. Quite disheveled! And the father is dismissive of his own son.

Screenshot from an early scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

A messy private library for the father…

But the younger Dr. Jones is equally dismissive of his own students — he escapes by his office window! — plus his own office, full of bookcases and artifacts, is equally messy.

Screenshot from an early scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

… a messy private office for the son

Attention to detail:

I also appreciate the attention to detail in this film. In that same scene I mentioned above, when Young Indy tries to enlist his father’s help, we see a closeup of his father’s hands sketching a stained glass window in a small book.

We see that drawing again in the library scene, when Indiana Jones takes out his dad’s diary and flips to the page with the stained glass drawing.

Screenshot from 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

Drafting the library stained glass window…

Screenshot from the library scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989)

… and a peek at the finished drawing of the stained glass window and accompanying notes. Love that attention to detail!

A tale of two suits:

And here’s one final thing I noted this time around while rewatching this film. Remember when I said put a pin in the costume Indiana Jones wore while teaching? Let’s revisit that. And I used the word “costume” very deliberately, as Indiana Jones only looks truly comfortable when he’s in his leather jacket and fedora. His entire being — posture, manner, etc. — gets stiff when he’s wearing the three-piece suit and bow tie.

And notice just how similar that costume is to what the reel librarian is wearing:

Collage of Indiana Jones and the reel librarian

Tales of two suits, the adventurer and the reel librarian

Both of them are wearing a three-piece suit, a bow tie, and round eyeglasses. There are differences, of course:  Indiana Jones’s suit is lighter in color, and a different texture, while the librarian’s suit looks shabbier, and his collar is more old-fashioned. Both bow ties have polka dot patterns, however, and it’s the same outfit formula. It’s like they’re wearing a uniform to do research!

Ultimately, this subtle bit of costume design sartorially links the theme of the library throughout this first part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Continue the conversation:

Do you remember the library scene from this film? If so, what were your thoughts in revisiting this memorable scene? Did it make you laugh? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used: