There are quite a few main characters who are reel librarians — see my Class I and II categories — but what about title characters? Film posters and taglines hardly ever mention the librarian occupation (see my “Advertising the Reel Librarian” post), but there are a few reel librarians who serve as title characters, however obscure the connection might appear at first glance.
Let’s explore, shall we? 😉
Desk Set (1957):
The “desk set” in this classic comedy refer to the librarians in a TV network’s research department, headed by Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn).
The title spy in question is Alec Leamus (Richard Burton), who actually pretends to quit the British Secret Service and defect in this slow burning Cold War drama. As part of his cover as a failed spy, Alec starts work as a librarian at the Institute of Psychical Research. This title role is also one of the few Oscar-nominated reel librarian roles.
You’re a Big Boy Now (1966):
The “big boy” of the title is Bernard Chanticleer (Peter Kastner), a young man who works as a page at the New York Public Library and falls for a go-go dancer (Hartman). A charming, if odd, coming-of-age story that was director Francis Ford Coppola’s master’s thesis from UCLA film school.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990):
In this dystopian tale, fertile young women are trained as Handmaids and treated as slaves in their assigned households. Natasha Richardson plays the title’s Handmaid, and we learn in one scene that she used to be a librarian before the war and resulting strict social order.
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990):
The “Joe” of the title is Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), an “average Joe” stuck in a thankless job as an advertising librarian for a medical supply company. After learning he has only weeks to live, he embarks on an adventure to sacrifice himself in an island volcano. A typical male Liberated Librarian role.
The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992):
In order to get attention and add some excitement to her dull life, a small-town public librarian (Penelope Ann Miller) — the Betty Lou in the film’s title — finds a gun and confesses to a murder she did not commit. The quintessential female Liberated Librarian role.
The Pagemaster (1994):
Scaredy-cat kid Richie (Macaulay Culkin) enters a library to escape a storm—and literally ends up in another world in this half-animated, half-live action film. Although Culkin is the main star, the title character is played by Christopher Lloyd, both the librarian, Mr. Dewey (get it?!) and the Pagemaster, “the keeper of the books, the guardian of the written word.”
Party Girl (1995):
New York party girl Mary (Parker Posey) repays a loan to her godmother by working as a library clerk in a public library. She discovers her vocation (“I want to be a librarian!”) after learning the Dewey Decimal system one night at the library. This is also one of the only films I have found so far that has used the word librarian in its advertising!
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999):
The “drop dead gorgeous” girls in this Class IV film refer to local beauty pageant contestants. There are a couple of small, but memorable, cameo scenes with the 1945 beauty pageant winner, now the town librarian.
“The Librarian” TV trilogy (Quest for the Spear, 2004; Return to King Solomon’s Mines, 2006; The Curse of the Judas Chalice, 2009):
Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) serves as the title librarian, using his wits and intelligence during globe-crossing adventures to seek out artifacts for the Metropolitan Public Library’s archives.
Any personal favorites? Please leave a comment and let me know.
- Desk Set. Dir. Walter Lang. Perf. Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill. 20th Century Fox, 1957.
- Drop Dead Gorgeous. Dir. Michael Patrick Jann. Perf. Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney. New Line Cinema, 1999.
- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag. Dir. Allan Moyle. Perf. Penelope Ann Miller, Eric Thal, William Forsythe, Alfre Woodard. Touchstone, 1992.
- The Handmaid’s Tale. Dir. Volker Schlindorff. Perf. Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern. Cinecom, 1990.
- Joe Versus the Volcano. Dir. John Patrick Shanley. Perf. Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack. Warner Bros., 1990.
- The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV movie). Dir. Peter Winther. Perf. Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart, Kyle MacLachlan, Kelly Hu. TNT, 2004.
- The Pagemaster. Dir. Joe Johnston, Maurice Hunt & Pixote Hunt. Perf. Macaulay Culkin, Christopher Lloyd, Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg. 20th Century Fox, 1994.
- Party Girl. Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Perf. Parker Posey, Sasha von Scherler, Guillermo Diaz, Liev Schreiber. First Look, 1995.
- The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Dir. Martin Ritt. Perf. Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Sam Wanamaker. Paramount, 1965.
- You’re a Big Boy Now. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Peter Kastner, Elizabeth Hartman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, Julie Harris, Karen Black. Seven Arts, 1966. Based on the novel by David Benedictus.