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:

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One comment on “Indiana Jones and the reel librarian

  1. […] 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. […]

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