Strap yourselves in, folks, because we’re in for a surprisingly detailed reel librarian portrayal in the 1973 TV movie The Night Strangler (1973), sequel to the 1972 cult classic The Night Stalker.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
The telefilm starts out basically the same way as its predecessor, with Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and a tape recorder, narrating another story kept out of the papers, this time in Seattle. Once again, the conspiracy theory revolves around the undead.
About 15 minutes in, we meet the librarian, Mr. Berry (Wally Cox), a short male with a greasy combover, scraggly ‘stache, and wisps of a goatee. He looks more like an accountant or an old-time newspaper man. Which makes sense, because he works in the newspaper archives.
Kolchak’s narration introduces Mr. Berry’s character:
Although research was never one of my favorite pastimes, I called on the services of one Titus Berry… guardian of the secrets of Seattle, buried in the morgue of the Daily Chronicle.
Based on this intro, he has made friends with the archives librarian, using him for information. In this way, Mr. Berry definitely serves as an Information Provider. The reference to the archives as a morgue is a clever link to the morgue assistant who helped Kolchak earlier in this telefilm, as well as the parallel underbelly of tunnels underneath Seattle that play an integral role in the plot.
We are cinematically introduced to the back of the librarian walking in-between two rows of bookcases. The archive room itself is quite dark, with dim light, covered-up windows, and grey painted walls. It looks disorganized with its stacks of books piled on every available surface — but the librarian probably knows where everything is!
Mr. Berry, bringing in a large volume, walks over to Kolchak, seated on a ladder. This shot also visually de-emphasizes the librarian, as Kolchak is on a higher level, literally. The stack of books in the foreground creates a visual barrier and serves to make the librarian seem even smaller.
Mr. Berry: Here we go.
Mr. Berry: You’re most welcome. I envy you.
Kolchak: You do?
Mr. Berry: Research. That’s where the joy lies.
Mr. Berry: And the fascination. Let the others scurry about, gathering their contemporary bits of gossip. THIS is where the meat is found [pointing to archives volume]
Mr. Berry: Yes. For instance, no one has yet mentioned the distinct resemblance between this current series of strangulations and another series in the year 1951. Or was it ’52?
Kolchak: Yeah? How similar?
Mr. Berry: Oh, extremely similar [licks his finger to begin paging through archives]
The librarian at first seems kind of creepy, especially in how he keeps gazing at Kolchak and passing out awkward compliments (“I envy you” and “That’s very observant of you”). I thought at first he would turn out to be an Anti-Social Librarian. He does slightly resemble a mole rat! (In fact, while watching the TV movie, my husband commented, “I’m shocked his name isn’t Renfield.” 😉 )
In contrast, Kolchak seems amused by all this adoration and humors him, stringing Mr. Berry along because he’s useful. And he sure is useful, basically cracking the case, and propelling the plot forward, by gathering clues through old newspaper articles. A follow-up scene five minutes later reveals that Mr. Berry has delved even deeper into the archives — uncovering a series of murders all the way back to 1889! — and promising to check out the state archives the next day.
After Kolchak gets fired (again), and the plot threatens to come to a standstill, who breaks the mystery open one more time? Mr. Berry, the librarian, of course! He discovers yet another news clipping, this one revealing the name of the perpetrator, a physician who helped found a local hospital… in 1882. When Kolchak goes off to explore the clinic, he calls Mr. Berry to come over, luring the rat out of his laboratory!
Dressed in a black suit and tie, as seen below, it is clear that Mr. Berry has definitely made an effort.
The next scene is a turning point. After defacing the portrait of the physician in the clinic’s lobby, Kolchak is led away in handcuffs and forced to present his evidence to the police and the news publisher. It’s also a turning point for Mr. Berry. He once again supplies the info that Kolchak needs, rushing in with the evidence.
Kolchak: There he is! Mr. Berry, come in, come in! I’ve been waiting for you, come in! Do you — did you get it?
Mr. Berry: Yes, I thought perhaps —
Kolchak: You thought right, Mr. Berry.
Tony Vincenzo (news publisher): Who is this man?
Kolchak: Don’t you know him? He works for you.
Mr. Berry: Down in Research, sir, for 35 years.
Vincenzo: Good God.
Kolchak: And research, of course, being the meat of it [sharing an inside joke with Berry and grinning]
Throughout this exposition scene, Kolchak refers to Mr. Berry’s research, while Mr. Berry is content for Kolchak to take the lead in interpreting and connecting all the dots for the police. Once Kolchak exhausts all his evidence with a final, “Well?,” Mr. Berry finally speaks up with an excited echo, “Yes, well?”
And just for a moment, we get a glimpse of the pride on Mr. Berry’s face — pride for himself, not just Kolchak, and for his own role in the solving of this mystery. He seems poised for a hero moment.
Until, that is, the police captain snaps back with, “You shut up!” Mr. Berry immediately slides back into his shell, stuttering out, “I mean, uh, well…”
So close to a Liberated Librarian, so close!
And although he and Kolchak leave together to await the decision of the ad hoc tribunal, only Kolchak is left in the hallway when Tony comes out to deliver the verdict. And in fact, we never see Mr. Berry again. He is no longer useful to Kolchak; therefore, he is no longer useful to the film. He ends up a Class III character, safe in his Information Provider role.
In the DVD featurette, “Directing The Night Strangler,” director Dan Curtis highlights the librarian’s role:
And Wally Cox, I remember him from Mister Peepers [a TV show from 1952-1953]. I used to watch Mister Peepers all the time. There’s the little librarian, which he’s so perfect at, Wally Cox. Wouldn’t he be wonderful in that part? And of course he did it, and he was great.
Here’s to you, Mr. Berry. Here’s to you.
P.S. If they ever do a remake of this TV movie, I nominate John Hodgman for the role of Mr. Berry. 😉
- The Night Strangler (TV movie). Dir. Dan Curtis. Perf. Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Wally Cox. ABC/MGM Home Entertainment, 1973.