Nymphomaniac librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’

That post title should get some visits for sure! 😉

The 1973 British cult classic, The Wicker Man, is a slow-burning (hah!) mystery, a film that slowly builds tension and horror as the central character, Sergeant Howie, along with the audience, slowly put all the pieces together behind the mysterious disappearance of a young girl. The screenwriter, Anthony Shaffer, wanted to craft a more literate kind of horror film, and he definitely succeeded! 

Sgt. Howie is played by Edward Woodward, a stick-up-his-ass policeman who travels from the mainland by boat to a remote island to investigate the girl’s disappearance, and is frustrated by the villagers’ attempts to mislead or thwart his efforts. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark… er, I mean, Summerisle.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of title screen from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Title screen from ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

When first released, the film did receive an “X” rating from the British Board of Film Censors, now the British Board of Film Classification. The BBFC site explains why the film received that rating; the film is now classified as “15.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of X rating card for 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

X rating card for ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

*SPOILER ALERTS*

Ingrid Pitt, a well-known star of the Hammer horror films of the early 1970s, is listed 5th in the credits as simply “Librarian.” But Pitt herself, in a documentary about the film, stated, “My part isn’t very much, actually. What can a nymphomaniac librarian do? Not very much. But I thought it would be interesting to be involved in this type of film.”

In another video interview, she states (with a wink), “It was a nymphomaniac librarian I was playing, and I always liked the librarian bit, because I’m really into books.

The Wicker Man : Ingrid Pitt Interview (1998),” uploaded by Blackdog TV – Cinema, Standard YouTube license.

When I first watched the film, back in college, I thought this film was incorrectly listed as having a librarian, despite the “Librarian” credit for Pitt. Why? Because in one scene, Howie visits an office with a sign on the door that reads, “Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. Authorised Registrar for Civil Marriages,” and he researches the Index of Deaths. I had written back then that “The credits list Ingrid Pitt’s role as “The Librarian,” even though she works in a office clearly marked as Registrar.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registrar sign in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

But there’s more to it than that! It is confusing, as there are two separate scenes, and two separate sets or locations:  one scene in the Registrar’s office and another scene in the public library, when Sgt. Howie researches May Day rituals. It adds to the confusion that Ingrid Pitt does appear in the Registar’s office scene but not appear in the actual library scene. The film’s Wikipedia entry splits the difference, stating, “Ingrid Pitt, another British horror film veteran, was cast as the town librarian and registrar.”

So let’s dig a little deeper. It’s “nymphomaniac librarian” time! 😉

A little over a half-hour into the 90-odd-minute film, Sgt. Howie goes to an office with a sign on the door, “Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Authorized Registrar for Civil Marriages,” as seen in the above screenshot. He walks into a shabby, disorganized office, with cubbies full of leaning books and folders, and paperwork littering a desk, where a blonde woman sits, eating lunch. 

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registar’s office in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registrar’s tight-lipped smile in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

He asks to see the Index of Death, and she immediately responds, “Do you have authority?” He has to get permission from Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee. Sgt. Howie threatens her with jail on the mainland, and she reluctantly opens a drawer and hands him a thin ledger, accompanied by a curt, thin-lipped smile. This scene showcases the “Information Provider” part of her role.

She answers his questions with civility — but no more — and there are a few closeups of her face, buttoned-up clothing, and braided bun hairstyle. This scene serves a purpose, to provide a contrast with how we later see the librarian/registrar. (The Registrar’s messy, cluttered office, also provides a contrast with the clean and tidy library we see later.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Closeup of Registrar/Librarian character in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

So let’s get to when Sgt. Howie visits the public library, an hour into the film, where he researches May Day rituals. There’s a closeup of the stone sign, “Public Library,” and a well-lit, tidy room full of bookcases and tables. We hear an overlay of narration as he reads about the May Day rituals of sacrifice.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Public Library sign in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Research scene in the public library in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

What’s confusing about this scene, as I mentioned before, is that Ingrid Pitt is NOT in this scene very clearly set in the public library, even though her character is listed as the librarian. But there IS another woman in the scene, an older woman with grey hair, who is clearly annoyed at Sgt. Howie when he reads aloud a few lines. When I first watched the film, I thought this woman must be the librarian, but that’s what I get for assuming! 😉

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

A patron’s frown in the library scene

When do we next get to see the librarian? Sgt. Howie goes searching for the missing girl, vowing to search every house in the village. Upon entering one house and bathroom, we get a glimpse of the “nymphomaniac” side of this reel librarian. Ingrid Pitt lounges in a half-tub of water, clearly naked, with her hair loosely pinned up. One hand covers her breasts while the other hand rests in-between her legs. She reaches up to bite her thumb in a coquettish way — much different from her earlier, tight-lipped smile in the Registrar’s office! This visual contrast definitely emphasizes the part of her role that is the “Naughty Librarian“!

Reel Librarians | Collage of contrasts for librarian character in 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Collage of contrasts for librarian character in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Sgt. Howie is clearly embarrassed and stammers, “I’m sorry.” As he closes the door, we can see a lacy negligee hanging on the hook.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Librarian’s negligee in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

And we get yet another clothing change for our erstwhile librarian. No lacy negligee but this time a peasant blouse and flowing yellow skirt, as well as flowing, loose hair, for her part in the May Day ritual.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Another look for the librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

The librarian’s May Day costume in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

The librarian gets one more scene, toward the end, blocking Sgt. Howie atop the cliffs. In again fulfilling the “Information Provider” part of her role, she helps explains why he’s “the right kind of adult” they’ve needed and researched for their May Day ritual of sacrifice. 

Even though this is a reel librarian role that is never actually seen in the library — isn’t it confusing that she is only seen, in a professional capacity, in the Registrar’s office, and not in the library?! — Ingrid Pitt does appear in scenes throughout the film. It is obvious, therefore, that she is an important person in the community, part of Lord Summerisle’s inner circle.

The story was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual, but the novel was uncredited in the film. I haven’t read the novel, so I don’t know if there’s a librarian character or not in the book. I also haven’t seen the 2006 American remake of the film starring Nicolas Cage and how closely it aligns (or not) to the book or the 1973 original film.

Has anyone else read the book or seen the 2006 remake? If you have, please leave a comment and let me know if a librarian character is in either one.

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5 comments on “Nymphomaniac librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’

  1. Emily Scott says:

    Love this film! Thanks for featuring it. Haven’t read the book or seen the remake though sorry.

  2. popegrutch says:

    If that title doesn’t bring in the hits, nothing will! I was also thoroughly confused about Pitt’s role, thanks for clearing it up.

    • You’re welcome! It was always so confusing to me — and the first time I watched the film, I didn’t realize the registrar lady (with the double buns and buttoned-up top) was the same lady as the one in the bathtub or the same lady as the one at the end! She looks so different in each different look/characterization that it really wasn’t until this last time I watched it that I put all the pieces together!

  3. […] Nymphomaniac librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’ (Oct. 2016) […]

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