“That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.”
If you’re a regular reader — as always, thank you! — then you know that I highlight scary movies every October. Perfect timing, then, as I recently was able to watch the new film It: Chapter Two, which I also thought would make a good entry in my continuing “first impressions” series of posts. The film follows It: Chapter One, which was released two years ago. I published my first impressions of It: Chapter One back in Oct. 2017.
What’s a “first impressions” post?
First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.
What’s ‘It’ all about?
It: Chapter Two reunites the Losers’ Club 27 years after they first faced off again It, aka Pennywise the Scary Clown. Pennywise has returned to wreak havoc on the town of Derry, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls everyone back to finish off Pennywise once and for all. Will they succeed, or will they die trying? The film also heavily features flashbacks NOT included in Chapter One, so we get reintroduced to the teen actors playing the younger versions of the Losers’ Club.
Below is a trailer for It: Chapter Two (2019):
Meet Mike Hanlon, the town librarian
In my write-up for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted the main scene set in the public library, which featured Ben, and how Ben fulfilled the historian/researcher role in that film, rather than Mike. Here are some excerpts from that post:
As I wrote then, Mike Hanlon is the most important character in the story, in my opinion, and in the end, the town’s true hero.
In It: Chapter Two(2019), it is Mike’s voice we hear introducing us to the present. The first word we hear him say? “Memory.” He sets the tone for this film, with its bittersweet and mournful memories amidst all the nightmares and horror.
Contrasted with Richie, as played by Bill Hader — who gets all the fun lines and steals scenes whenever onscreen — Mike, as played by Isaiah Mustafa, grounds the story. He is the institutional memory, the gatekeeper, the “man with the plan.” It totally makes sense that he becomes the town librarian, the keeper of memories and archives.
By the way, the word “librarian” NEVER gets mentioned in this movie. The word “library,” yes. But never the word “librarian.” But Mike clearly IS the town’s librarian — even living in the public library’s attic! And the fact that he is a reel librarian is absolutely essential to the movie. Therefore, Mike Hanlon is a Class I librarian, a major character whose librarian occupation is integral to the plot.
Scenes in the town library
There are a few scenes set in the town library. The library set in Chapter Two looked just like the library set in Chapter One, with its traditional look of half-paneled walls and dark wood trim.
Early in the film, Mike brings Billy back to the library — “Didn’t it used to be bigger?” — and takes him up the attic to show him artifacts and historical records of Derry. The purpose is to convince Billy about the past, so that the others will stay in Derry and reunite to fight Pennywise.
About two-thirds of the way through the film, Mike is waiting for the others to come back to the library after they find their tokens from the past. As Mike walks through the darkened library and rows of books, the spirit of It re-reveals itself to Mike through the dropping of a library book, The History of Old Derry. Mike then gets attacked by the bully Bowers. In a Deus ex machina moment, Richie shows up in the nick of time and kills Bowers with a hatchet. Richie then gets the single-best line in the film:
That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.
GROAN. But I still laughed out loud in the movie theater.
Mike as the hero
I’ve already said that, in my opinion, Mike is the true hero of the story.
Mike is the one we the audience believe in, even when the rest of the Losers’ Club don’t. He is the center of the whole film. Writing down notes after having watched the film, it struck me that Mike is the one who drives the entire plot structure: beginning, middle, and end.
Beginning: Mike has a list of the Losers’ Club and their current phone numbers, and he checks off their names as he calls everyone. He has to remind them of Derry and the oath they swore as teens to return when needed. He reunites the Losers’ Club.
Middle: After everyone else starts remembering Pennywise and the horrible things in their past, Mike says he has a plan to get ready to confront Pennywise again. He explains that each of them has to get a token from their past and to meet back at the library. Therefore, he serves as the catalyst for the entire middle part of the movie.
End: Mike figures out how to kill It, once and for all. He unites the Losers’ Club in this final battle.
It is interesting to note that in the book by Stephen King, Mike is left out of the climax and final fight with Pennywise. I’m so glad they changed that for the film!
It is also important to note that Mike is NOT perfect. He is human, and therefore imperfect. He shows that he feels vulnerable and scared sometimes. He also admits he stole a Native American artifact, he drugs Billy, and he lies to his friends by omitting part of the truth. But this does not diminish his worthiness, the sacrifice he made to stay in Derry all those years, to carry the burden of remembering.
Mike as a Liberated Librarian
The male Liberated Librarian character type always has a character arc. Initially similar to the Librarian as Failure character type, the Liberated Librarian breaks free (often at the very end of the film) of whatever barrier(s) is holding him back. Usually, this ‘liberation’ requires an external force or action. Liberated Librarians are usually younger or middle-aged. They also become more assertive after the “liberation.” Usually, being “liberated” means leaving the librarian profession (e.g. Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano), but not always (Noah Wyle in The Librarian TV movies and The Librarians TV series).
Mike Hanlon serves as a classic Liberated Librarian:
In a flashback, young Mike reveals that he wants to go to Florida. We know that he stays in Derry so that he doesn’t forget, so he can bring back the others when necessary. And he becomes the town librarian to be in the position of researching the history of Derry and keeping records. Therefore, his barrier is Derry, of being the librarian of Derry, of being the one who remembers. He has sacrificed himself, his own happiness, for the greater good.
At the end, Mike says to Bill that he was “in a cell” and now he wants “to see the sky.” The word “cell” in that line is an interesting choice — the “cell” could be a “prison cell,” or like a “cloisters” cell, like a monk. Both ways work.
At the very end of the film, we see Mike packing up his car and heading out of town. He literally is liberated from the town of Derry AND his role as reel librarian.
It seemed to me — and please note that I am a white woman, so my perspective is limited — that the film did a better job in It: Chapter Two (2019) about highlighting Mike’s backstory, agency, and experiences as a black man. The film also includes references to the long-lasting effects of racism that Mike continues to endure.
When Mike brings Billy back to the library in order to convince him that Pennywise is back, he says that he has compiled notes and clues from numerous Derry residents — the ones “who will talk to me, at least.” He then mutters, almost as an aside, a line (and I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “The people who won’t talk to me, that’s an even longer list.”
Mike also says he needed to convince Billy (a white man) so that the others would believe him (a black man). Again, this is almost a throwaway line — and actor Isaiah Mustafa says this line in a low, weary tone — but it is SO revealing.
After the violent scene with Bowers in the library, Ben asks, “Are you okay?” Richie answers right away, but Ben says something akin to, “No, I meant Mike,” and turns to Mike. Both Mike and Richie look surprised at this. It’s clear that they both assumed Ben would be asking Richie (a white man) if he was okay, rather than Mike (a black man). This short bit reveals the specter of conditioned, internalized responses to systemic racism.
Mike states early in the film:
Something happens to you when you leave this town. The farther away, the hazier it all gets. But me, I never left. I remember all of it.
All the white members of the Losers’ Club leave Derry and forget the horrible nightmares of Pennywise. They enjoy the privilege of being able to forget. All the white characters enjoy financial and career success. Mike, the sole black member of the Losers’ Club, has to stay behind in Derry and is forced to remember and relive the past horror of Pennywise. He also is “just” the town librarian and lives in the messy, crumbling attic of the town librarian. I would argue this serves as a metaphor for white flight and subtly shines the spotlight over the unacknowledged burdens and hidden labor that people of color endure.
I’m sure there is more to unpack in the film in this vein — not to mention the lack of agency that the Native Americans depicted in the film have over their story and artifacts — but I appreciated how this film incorporated deeper and darker themes in amongst the scary clown sightings and red balloons.
Have you seen It: Chapter Two (2019) in theaters? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the new movie versions or the 1990 miniseries? Did you know that Isaiah Mustafa, who plays reel librarian Mike, also played the original Old Spice man, aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, in those iconic commercials?! I literally did not realize that until I started writing this post.
Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford, who were married in real life, reprised their roles as Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple in a joint cameo appearance in the 1965 comedy The Alphabet Murders. The film was based on Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel The ABC Murders.
Interesting casting choices abound in this film:
Tony Randall, an American actor, played the role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (!)
The very first actor to portray Poirot onscreen, Austin Trevor, played a cameo role in the film; this was also Trevor’s final film.
Robert Morley plays Hastings in the film, and Morley also starred alongside Margaret Rutherford in the second of the Miss Marple films, Murder at the Gallop (1963)!
The cameo scene with Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple lasts a total of 30 seconds. Poirot and Hastings descend a building’s front steps when Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple, in the middle of a conversation about the ABC murders, walk along the sidewalk and up the same stairs.
Miss Marple: I cannot see why they’re having such difficulty. The whole thing is very clear, Mr. Stringer.
Mr. Stringer: I quite agree, Miss Marple.
Miss Marple: The solution is ABC to anyone with half a brain cell.
During this brief scene, we hear strings of the distinctive theme song from the Miss Marple movies, another inside reference!
Remember, this film was released in 1965, one year after the final Miss Marple film, Murder Ahoy! (1964). The IMDb.com Trivia page for Murder Most Foul (1964) reveals there had been rumors about making a fifth Miss Marple film, possibly one based on Christie’s 1942 novel The Body in the Library, but this never came to pass. But perhaps their cameo in this film was a way to extend potential interest in continuing the series?
I find it extremely interesting that the screenwriters took care for each character to say each other’s names — Miss Marple, Mr. Stringer — so that the audience could be “in on the joke” for their cameo roles. However, the two actors were not included in the film’s credits.
Of course, we would have no idea that Mr. Stringer is a reel librarian character if we were not already familiar with MGM’s Miss Marple movies, Murder, She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy! (1964). Although the name “Miss Marple” is recognizable on its own, being one of Agatha Christie’s iconic recurring characters, Mr. Stringer’s name would not be. At his wife’s insistence, his role as the village librarian sidekick was created just for MGM’s Miss Marple movies.
Due to the very brief time onscreen in The Alphabet Murders (1965), Mr. Stringer’s reel librarian role in this film gets downgraded to the Class IV category, films in which librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue. He serves as Comic Relief in this comedy.
Last but not least, here’s a YouTube video of Mr. Stringer’s cameo and final screen appearance of his memorable reel librarian character:
The Alphabet Murders. Dir. Frank Tashlin. Perf. Tony Randall, Robert Morley, Anita Ekberg. MGM, 1965. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie.
“I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.”
In the early 1960s, MGM made a series of Miss Marple comedies starring Margaret Rutherford as the indomitable sleuth. The films were loosely based on Agatha Christie’s works, and the author herself was decidedly NOT a fan of these comedies. Love it or hate it, Rutherford does make the role of Miss Marple her own! The films also feature Rutherford’s real-life husband and actor, Stringer Davis, in the role of village librarian Mr. Stringer, a role created just for the films.
Because all the films follow a basic formula, I thought it made sense to do one big post comparing-and-contrasting aspects and themes from the entire series. (It has taken me WEEKS, y’all, to watch all the films, rewatch them for note-taking and analysis purposes, create photo collages, and finally put together this post. All for the love of reel librarians. ❤ )
Therefore, heads up:
This is a MARATHON post, so buckle up for the reel librarian (bicycle) ride
Potential spoilers ahead
Below is the trailer for the first (and best) in the series, Murder, She Said, so you can get a sense of the jaunty and lighthearted feel of the movies. You can first see Mr. Stringer 49 seconds into the trailer below. The main musical theme is also so catchy, you’ll find yourself humming it for days. No, it’s just me, then? 😉
Let’s start with the basics
First things first, let’s provide some context with the basics of each film. All the films were directed by George Pollock and starred Margaret Rutherford played the role of Miss Marple. All the films also featured Stringer Davis as village librarian Mr. Stringer and Charles Tingwell as Inspector Craddock.
Murder, She Said (1961):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel, 4.50 from Paddington, aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, featuring Miss Marple
Movie plot: While traveling by train, Miss Marple witnesses the strangling of a woman in the carriage of a passing train. With the aid of her friend, Mr. Stringer, she figures out the body must have been thrown off the train near Ackenthorpe Hall. When the police don’t take her seriously, she takes a job as a housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, After the Funeral, aka Funerals are Fatal — which features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Movie plot: When Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer are out soliciting donations for a charity, they visit the reclusive Mr. Enderby, arriving at his estate just in time to witness his death. Miss Marple, suspicious that Mr. Enderby’s death is not accidental, becomes even more suspicious when his sister, Cora, is murdered. When the police don’t take her seriously, Miss Marple books a stay at a riding school/hotel run by one of Mr. Enderby’s heirs in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Most Foul (1964):
Source: Based (very, very loosely) on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, aka Blood Will Tell — which, again, features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Plot: Mrs. McGinty, a former actress, is found murdered, and her lodger is suspected of the crime. During the trial, Miss Marple is the lone holdout on the jury, believing the lodger innocent. When the police don’t take her seriously — are we sensing a pattern here?! — Miss Marple joins a regional theatre company in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s characters and not on any particular source novel. However, there are plot similarities to Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel, They Do It with Mirrors, aka Murder with Mirrors, which features Miss Marple as the central sleuth.
Plot: Shortly after joining a local trust’s board of directors, Miss Marple witnesses the death of a fellow trustee. She doesn’t believe his death is an accident, and she thinks there’s something fishy about HMS Battledore, a ship the Trust purchased for the rehabilitation of young criminals. When the police don’t take her seriously — what else is new?! — she boards the ship in order to conduct her own investigation.
Mr. Stringer’s screen time
As I watched each movie in the series, I kept track of how much screen time Mr. Stringer had in each movie, to see if his role ever increased with subsequent films.
Murder, She Said (1961)
Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Murder Most Foul (1964)
Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Stringer’s screen time (mins)
Stringer’s screen time (%)
17% of total runtime
22% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
As you can see from the table above, Mr. Stringer’s role definitely increased after the first film, in which he was only onscreen for a total of 15 minutes, or 17% of the film’s total runtime. In subsequent films, Mr. Stringer’s screen time remained pretty consistent, between 18-19 minutes, or 21-22% of each film’s total runtime.
Mr. Stringer’s role
Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is not a character borne of Agatha Christie’s imagination, yet he is a recurring character in each film of the series. Why, then, was this character created for the series?
In a biography of Margaret Rutherford, Andy Merriman also wrote that Rutherford, in her 70s during the filming of the series, insisted on having her husband appear alongside her.
By all accounts, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford were devoted to each other, with Davis accompanying his wife wherever and whenever she was filming. Their relationship was a lifelong love story. They married in 1945 after a 15-year courtship, and they were together until Rutherford’s death in 1972. Davis took care of Rutherford in her last years, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1973, only a year after the love of his life passed away.
Mr. Stringer’s role stays consistent throughout the series, and his character and personality never change. Although a supporting character, his role is vital in moving the plot forward. He is there as a companion to Miss Marple, a steady, adoring, supportive sidekick. He is a supporting character who fulfills two major character types in each film:
Information Provider — Miss Marple sends Mr. Stringer on various research quests in each film, so he literally provides information to her (and the audience).
Comic Relief — He plays the “straight man” in their comic relationship. Miss Marple makes jokes or says something outrageous, Mr. Stringer reacts, the audience laughs. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Film critic David Cornelius also highlights Mr. Stringer’s comic role:
Therefore, each film in the series ends up in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role.
A librarian by any other name…
Although Mr. Stringer plays the village librarian, does the word “librarian” ever actually get said out loud in the series? In a word… NO. The closest we get is in the second film, Murder at the Gallop (1963), when Miss Marple describes Mr. Stringer as “custodian of the local library.”
Mr. Stringer as Information Provider and the importance of research
As I mentioned above, Mr. Stringer’s successful research quests always save the day. It is clear that Miss Marple trusts Mr. Stringer. Because Miss Marple trusts him — and I would argue also because he’s a librarian — the audience trusts him. Mr. Stringer makes it possible for Miss Marple to have her “aha!” moment at the end of each movie. I will now highlight Mr. Stringer’s major research quests in each film.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder, She Said (1961):
At 53 minutes into the first film, Mr. Stringer bicycles to Miss Marple’s house for a nightcap (a “small beer”) and plotting. They’re interrupted by Inspector Craddock, who tries to warn them off the case. (It doesn’t work.)
Miss Marple: Well now, how did you get on at the probate registry?
Mr. Stringer: Really Miss Marple, I think in view of what the inspector said —
Miss Marple [interrupting]: Did you see the will?
Mr. Stringer: Yes.
Miss Marple [while uncorking the beer]: What did it say?
Mr. Stringer: Well, old Mr. Ackenthorpe’s father obviously didn’t get on very well with him.
Miss Marple: I’m not surprised at that. Go on.
Mr. Stringer: You see, the house and the income from the family fortune are his, but he can’t touch the fortune itself. That’s the first point.
Miss Marple: Yes? [hands Mr. Stringer a beer.]
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
At 1 hour and 5 minutes into this film, Mr. Stringer is in Miss Marple’s hotel room. From underneath her bureau, Miss Marple takes out a painting that’s all wrapped up in paper and string and hands the parcel to Mr. Stringer.
Miss Marple: Now you are, please, to take this to London to the art dealers. They will appraise it. And get it back here as quickly as you can.
Mr. Stringer: All right, if it will help.
Miss Marple: Well, I’m hopeful it will not only help but clinch the whole matter, so to speak.
When Mr. Stringer comes back from London, they continue their conversation.
Miss Marple: What did you find out?
Mr. Stringer: You were quite right, Miss Marple. It’s worth at least 50,000 pounds.
Miss Marple: I knew it. Then it was that picture after all.
Mr. Stringer: It certainly was.
Miss Marple: Excellent. We can now proceed with certainty.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Most Foul (1964):
At 45 minutes into the third film, Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer meet in a public garden and sit on a bench.
Miss Marple: It seems to me what whomever Mrs. McGinty was blackmailing must have had some connection with the production of this play in 1951, and is with the Cosgood Company.[…] Now, what organization would be likely to keep a record of all professional theatrical productions?
Mr. Stringer: The censorship people, I suppose.
Miss Marple: To be sure. The Lord Chamberlain’s office in London. I should be obliged if you would go there posthaste and inquire into the history of this play. Where it was produced in 1951, who was in it, and so on.
Mr. Stringer: Very well, Miss Marple. I’ll take the next train up.
About 10 minutes later, Mr. Stringer then calls Miss Marple up from a public phone booth in order to relay the results of his research. He looks extremely pleased with himself!
Mr. Stringer: You were right, Miss Marple. Remember September was put on in 1951, a tryout performance at Pebblestone-on-Sea.
Miss Marple: Very interesting. Particularly as the author claims that he’s only recently completed the work.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, well, that may have been embarrassment. You see, the Lord Chamberlain’s office particularly remembers it because it was booed off the stage halfway through the second act.
Miss Marple: That doesn’t surprise me in the least. The point is, was there anyone we know in it?
Mr. Stringer: I have obtained a full cast list, and in it occurs the name of Margaret McGinty.
Miss Marple: What? Really? Excellent. Now, tell me, apart from Mr. Cosgood, who else in this company was connected with this production? No one? You sure? Yes. All right, Jim. I was just thinking. Of course, it’s possible that someone has since changed his or her name. Look, Jim. Drop the cast list in to me at Westward Ho!, will you? Thank you. Goodbye.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
A little over 52 minutes into the fourth and final film, Miss Marple breaks some bad news to Mr. Stringer, that he’s a suspect in a murder! But after she gives him some brandy to help with get over the shock (“Me? A murderer?”), she has a research-related task for him to do.
Miss Marple: I found this envelope in Compton’s sea chest, and it had been steamed open. […] Mr. Stringer, you must return to Milchester at once. Go and see the secretary of the trust, Miss Pringle, and ask her what kind of communication from the ship would likely to be contained in an unusual envelope of this sort.
Mr. Stringer: But, Miss Marple, the police. I thought you said I was to lie low.
Miss Marple: Well, use the back stairs, turn up your collar, and pull down your cap. Goodbye. Good luck.
Mr. Stringer gets the requested information back to Miss Marple in an unexpected way. He ties the evidence around a rock, rows out to the boat Miss Marple’s staying in, and then throws the rock through her window. Only problem is, his aim is too good; the rock hits Inspector Craddock in the head, and Craddock passes out. AWKWARD.
Miss Marple: Do you know who threw that rock? My friend Mr. Stringer.
Inspector Craddock: Mr. Stringer?!
Miss Marple: Yes, and you’ll thank him for it. I found this envelope in Compton’s cabin after his death.
Inspector Craddock: Assaulting a police officer, withholding information… again.
Miss Marple: Now, don’t be petty, Chief Inspector. This type of envelope is used for the ship’s quarterly report to the trustees, and Mr. Stringer has enclosed the latest example for our perusal.
Mr. Stringer as Comic Relief
While Mr. Stringer rarely makes a joke himself — at least, not intentionally — he does regularly find himself in the most ridiculously awkward situations. Behold:
Comic relief in Murder, She Said (1961):
In Murder, She Said(1961), he dresses up as a train worker, and for his efforts, he nearly gets run over by a train. Poor Mr. Stringer.
He then (awkwardly) assists Miss Marple — “Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?” — so she can take a peek over a wall.
Comic relief in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Early in Murder at the Gallop (1963), Mr. Stringer once again gets roped into physically assisting Miss Marple so she can have another peek into somewhere off limits, this time the room in which the heirs of the murdered man react to the contents of his last will and testament.
And now for the comic moment that even made this film’s trailer — Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer DO THE TWIST. As you can see below, Mr. Stringer realllly gets into it!
Comic relief in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Early in Murder Most Foul (1964), Miss Marple calls on the sister of the deceased woman, using an excuse of collecting things for the church jumble sale. Hidden in the jumble? Mr. Stringer! He’s hiding until called upon to pop out and pretend to be a bookseller, so that Miss Marple can snoop while the sister is distracted. As you do.
Comic relief in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
In the final film, Murder Ahoy! (1964), Mr. Stringer is tasked with following a group of delinquent boys who come ashore. His ingenious hiding place? A tramp’s boat! He gets discovered almost immediately by the tramp, who demands to know “why a grand gentleman like yourself who’s able to live in a lovely hotel like that is wanting to sleep in my bed.”
There are a few library scenes in the series, but Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is only seen in an actual library in the first film. Fittingly, this scene serves as our introduction to this reel librarian.
Public library scene in Murder, She Said (1961)
This scene occurs at 7 1/2 minutes into the film, after Miss Marple gets upset at Inspector Craddock’s insinuation that she’s been hallucinating a murder. She grabs three books stacked up on a bench in her hall and walks to the library.
We then see Mr. Stringer talking with another patron, a hard-faced and no-nonsense woman, who is inquiring about a newly published mystery novel.
Mr. Stringer: I’m sorry, Mrs. Stainton, The Hatrack Hanging, Falcon-Smith’s latest, I’m afraid we haven’t received our copy yet.
Mrs. Stainton: Plain inefficiency. Anyway, I want to know the moment it comes in.
Mr. Stringer: Of course, of course, Mrs. Stainton.
When Miss Marple comes into the library, his face lights up. We see more of the library as she walks by rows of bookcases and past a young man in the background flipping through a book. Mrs. Stainton stalks off upon Miss Marple’s arrival, and Mr. Stringer reveals his favoritism — and his ability to lie!
Mr. Stringer puts up a finger — in effect, shushing Miss Marple. He then pulls out a book from under the desk, The Hatrack Hanging.
Mr. Stringer: I’ve been keeping it for you.
Miss Marple pulls him into the stacks and asks if he thinks she’s unstable or given to hallucinations. Mr. Stringer seems properly horrified at the suggestion. (His job, first and always, is to reassure and support Miss Marple, and he does an excellent job of it.) Miss Marple then reveals to the audience why she and Mr. Stringer are qualified to investigate the murder on their own.
Miss Marple: Mr. Stringer, how many detective novels would you say we have read over the years?
Mr. Stringer: Impossible to say. Certainly many hundred.
Miss Marple: Yes. Which gives us, wouldn’t you agree, a certain knowledge of the criminal mind?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, most assuredly.
Miss Marple: Well, this is where we put that knowledge to the test.
Mr. Stringer: We?
Miss Marple: Yes. We.
(I would also argue that this short exchange also explains why Mr. Stringer’s character was made a librarian, because OF COURSE a librarian would have ready and steady access to detective novels.)
Mrs. Stainton interrupts this bit of camaraderie when she walks back to the front desk and discovers The Hatrack Hanging book! Uh-oh…
Mrs. Stainton: So it has come in!
Mr. Stringer [oh-so-innocently]: Oh, has it?
Mrs. Stainton [to Miss Marple]: Well? I think I have first call.
Miss Marple: I don’t think you’ll like it, Hilda. Too obvious. The mother did it, of course.
Mrs. Stainton: How could you possibly know that? The book has only just come in.
Miss Marple: It always is with Falcon-Smith — a deprived child, you know.
Miss Marple then sails away, clearly the winner of this verbal cat fight. She calls back to invite Mr. Stringer for tea, which he eagerly accepts.
Still smiling, Mr. Stringer picks up a stamp, as Mrs. Stainton looks sourly back at Miss Marple.
The entire library scene lasts only a couple of minutes, but we learn several things, including:
The library is used by a variety of patrons of different ages.
The library must have a well-stocked collection of detective and mystery novels.
The library set is filled with books without call numbers. (Sigh.)
Mr. Stringer engages in occupational tasks, such as stamping.
Mr. Stringer is a very capable liar.
Private library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Around 15 minutes into the final film, Miss Marple connects the first murder to the plot in a book entitled The Doom Box. But this time, the book doesn’t live in the village library, but rather Miss Marple’s private library.
Miss Marple: Propel me please, Jim.
Mr. Stringer pushes the stepladder forward, as Miss Marple scans titles. (Her private library is beautiful, isn’t it?!) Also, library ladder alert!
Miss Marple: Oh, here we are. The Doom Box by J. Plantaganet Corby. Here it is. Now listen. “And so, me lad, declared Sefton Harricott: Jacob Rushton did indeed suffer a heart attack, but it was induced by a noxious substance in his snuff.”
Mr. Stringer: Oh, Miss Marple, I’m beginning to —
Miss Marple: Wait. “The murderer, continued Harricott, made one error. He failed to remove the incriminating residue from the snuff box.” A mistake our murderer no doubt imagines he has not made.
Mr. Stringer: Oh. But why should anyone want to do such a thing?
Miss Marple: That, Mr. Stringer, is the question. Poor Mr. Ffolly-Hardwicke had just returned from our ship. He had something important to say. He never said it. I wonder. Yes, that’s where the motive must lie. Mr. Stringer, there is something going on aboard the Battledore.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, goodness.
This scene is vital for propelling the plot forward (just as Mr. Stringer propels Miss Marple forward, hah! 😉 ). It leads Miss Marple to the boat to investigate up close… and it leads us to the next library scene!
Ship’s library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
A little over an hour into the final film, Miss Marple is back to sleuthing and skulking again at night. There’s a ship’s library, which is clearly marked on the door (although there is no hint of a librarian on board the ship, not even when the crew introduced themselves earlier to Miss Marple).
The ship’s library looks pretty extensive, as multiple bookcases can be glimpsed behind Miss Marple. Even though, once again, there are NO CALL NUMBERS (sigh), Miss Marple easily finds the The Doom Box book on the shelves!
This is a vital clue, as it proves Miss Marple’s theory about the first murder. She later uses this same book to catch the killer in the final act!
Books, book, books
Beyond the library, books themselves are quite important throughout the series — providing information, clues, and sometimes even alibis! It makes sense to me that in a series with a recurring reel librarian character, that books themselves also tie in heavily into each film. Let’s explore how books are further highlighted in each film.
Books in Murder, She Said (1961)
During the opening scene when Miss Marple travels on the 4.50 train to Paddington train, she is reading a pulp mystery novel, Death Has Windows by Michael Southcott. Turns out, this was a fictitious novel mocked up by the production team! This establishes the tone early on that Miss Marple loves to read mystery and detective novels. But that same pulp mystery novel, with its lurid cover, also leads the train attendant to think Miss Marple’s dreamed what she says she saw!
This theme continues, as near the end of the film, Miss Marple has a paperback copy of Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. This time, the book is a real one, a novel Christie wrote that was published in the UK in 1939 and published as Easy to Kill in the U.S.
At almost 43 minutes into the film, Miss Marple calls up Mr. Stringer, who is in his pajamas in bed (scandale!), and we get to glimpse a tall stack of books on his bedside table. What I especially loved is that the book on top of the stack is entitled A Hell of a Woman.
Indeed, Miss Marple is a hell of a woman. 😉
Books in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
At 23 minutes into the second film, Inspector Craddock is interviewing Miss Milchrest, the companion to the murdered woman.
Inspector Craddock: When did you see her last?
Miss Milchrest: Just before I went to the library.
True, this is a direct reference to a library — and an indirect reference to books in said library — but I laughed out loud that a trip to the library was being used as an alibi!
And was she referring to Mr. Stringer’s library? That part is never clearly stated, but it’s possible.
Books in Murder Most Foul (1964)
I’ve already mentioned how early on in this third film, Mr. Stringer hides amidst the jumble sale items in a wagon while Miss Marple distracts the murdered woman’s sister, Gladys. Mr. Stringer then poses as a bookseller — a most appropriate ruse for a librarian, right?!
Gladys: Well, you are from the insurance, aren’t you?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, no, madam. No. I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind. I was wondering if you’d allow me to show you the new Wonder Book.
Although Mr. Stringer first gets mistaken for an insurance salesman (hah!), he successfully distracts Gladys from Miss Marple snooping around upstairs. After Miss Marple comes back down the stairs, he hurries to help her out and leaves the Wonder Book with Gladys.
Almost an hour after that scene, at 1 hour and 15 minutes into the film, Miss Marple visits a theatrical agent, Mr. Tumbrill, who opens up a book to a large photograph of an actress. This photograph, along with Mr. Tumbrill’s information, provides a clue for Miss Marple to narrow down the potential murderer.
Books in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
We’ve already gotten a lovely view of Miss Marple’s private library, as seen when she figures out the first murder was described in a book she has a personal copy of, entitled The Doom Box.
Here are other titles that can be glimpsed in Miss Marple’s private library:
The Doom Box comes up again and again throughout this film!
At 1 hour and 10 minutes, Miss Marple describes the (second) murder to Inspector Craddock, and this murder is also outlined in The Doom Box! This conversation gets cut short when Stringer beans Craddock with a rock.
Then, five minutes later, everyone is going ashore to participate in the festivities for Trafalgar Day. Everyone except for Miss Marple, of course. As everyone crowds around her state room, she displays the copy of The Doom Box that she took from the ship’s library.
This is a rattling good detective yarn, you know. I borrowed it from the ship’s library. I know only one of you has read it, but I suggest that all of you do. I’ve just got up to the most exciting part, when —. Well, I hope I won’t be giving too much away when I say the answer is a mousetrap.
This book is a (mouse)trap, of course, to catch the killer!
Mr. Stringer’s relationship with Miss Marple
Miss Marple turns down two offers of marriages in the series (!!), neither one from Mr. Stringer. However, she alludes to Mr. Stringer while turning down an offer of marriage in Murder, She Said (1961):
Miss Marple: If ever I do embark on such a venture, there is someone else.
And in the very next scene, as Miss Marple leaves, Mr. Stringer is there to pick her up. (Always.) As they drive away, we see a sign a young boy hung on back of the car, a “Just Married” sign. Their close, affectionate relationship is front and center from the very beginning (and end!).
Throughout the series, we also get treated to many closeups of Mr. Stringer looking adoringly at Miss Marple. It’s really quite touching, and this recurring theme brings in a very sweet and human aspect to this reel librarian character.
And it wasn’t until I put the above collage together that I realized that Mr. Stringer is almost always seen, from the audience’s perspective, to the right of Miss Marple. A visual affirmation that he is her right-hand man? Makes me think of Wong in the Doctor Strange movie…
Mr. Stringer’s style
Margaret Rutherford provided her own wardrobe for the Miss Marple movies, rewearing many of the same items throughout the entire series. I’m particularly enamored of her wool cape, complete with attached scarf. We see this cape for the first time as she heads out to the village library.
Mr. Stringer matches Miss Marple, tweed for tweed. (To my mind, it’s also highly likely that Stringer Davis is wearing his own clothes for the role, as his real-life wife did, but I have not read that confirmed anywhere.) As Mr. Stringer, he almost always dresses formally, in a suit and tie, befitting his professional status as a librarian. He also often wears a clock pin; ever practical and punctual, our Mr. Stringer. (Can you tell I have a soft spot for this reel librarian character? Bias alert!)
As you can see in the collage below, even when he’s washing dishes, he keeps his tie on! And when he’s bicycling or out and about, he often changes into a natty knickerbocker tweed suit and cap. And when he’s off duty, like when directing a community play in Murder Most Foul (1964), he’s still in tweeds, but in a jacket with a more unstructured cut. A little old-fashioned, sure, but he never wears anything impractical or inappropriate to the occasion.
Mr. Stringer in action
Although there is only one major scene of Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, working in an actual library, we do get to see him being quite active outside the library. We see him riding a bicycle in Murder, She Said (1961) and a tricycle in Murder at the Gallop (1963). He also dons shorts (!) for a jog in Murder Most Foul (1964), and he gets in some nighttime rowing in Murder Ahoy! (1964).
Dare I suggest that Mr. Stringer has turned out to be one of the most physically active reel librarians ever?! Reminder: Stringer Davis was born in 1899, which means he was in his 60s during the filming of this series. #GoStringer
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions
Stringer Davis is a joy to watch in these films, due to his expressive face. I’ve already mentioned the sweetness he conveys in his adoring gazes at Miss Marple. Even in a scene in which he had little to no dialogue, he shines because his face is always fully reacting in the moment. We get treated to multiple full-screen closeups of Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in each film in the series. Bless.
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder, She Said (1961):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s words of wisdom
Here are a few final, memorable quotes from this reel librarian character (beyond all the “Dear me” and “But, surely” remarks that often punctuate his conversations with the more forcible Miss Marple). Mr. Stringer’s character has been described as timid; I would venture that he is often the voice of caution and common sense.
Quotes from Murder Most Foul (1964)
I thought it advisable to get into peak condition for any emergency. Is there one already?
I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind.
I’ll leave you the book, Mrs. Thomas. Brood on it, will you? Brood on it.
Quotes from Murder at the Gallop (1963)
I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.
I fear we’re taking the grave risk of seeming inquisitive.
Miss Marple: ‘Tittle-tattling busybody,’ I believe were his words. Mr. Stringer: No. Yours.
Quotes from Murder, She Said (1961)
Miss Marple, whatever it is: No, no, no.
Miss Marple, prudence demands a retreat.
I agree with Mr. Stringer, prudence demands a retreat here, too, regarding this blog post. We librarians gotta stick together! 😉
Any final thoughts you would like to add this deep dive into Mr. Stringer’s role in MGM’s Miss Marple series of movies? Have you seen one or all of the movies? Please leave a comment and share!
Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.
I recently rewatched The Pelican Brief(1993), based on the John Grisham thriller of the same title and directed by Alan J. Pakula. I didn’t have a copy of the film itself, so I checked out a (double-sided!) DVD from my local public library.
Don’t you just love the fact that after you read on the back that The Pelican Briefis a “heart-stopping, spine-chilling, adrenaline-pumping, run-for-your-life thriller” … you then see a photo of Julia Roberts studying in a library?! Research CAN BE adrenaline-pumping, y’all! 😀
If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen this legal thriller, it stars Julia Roberts as law student Darby Shaw, who uncovers the reason behind the recent assassinations of two Supreme Court justices and, therefore, unwittingly becomes a target herself. Denzel Washington co-stars as Gray Grantham, a well-known and respected newspaper reporter who joins Darby in her quest to uncover the truth. Sam Shepard also shines in a supporting role as law professor Thomas Callahan, who is also dating Darby.
Here’s a trailer to (re?)familiarize yourself with this star-packed movie:
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
The research process begins
At almost 17 minutes into this 141-minute movie, Darby begins musing theories aloud to Thomas about the recent assassinations of the two Supreme Court justices. Next stop? The library, of course! (But we don’t yet get to see the library. But patience, dear reader, we’ll get there. 😉 )
A couple of minutes later, Thomas follows up with Darby. Their ensuing conversation provides a peek at how Darby’s mind works, and highlights the planning and prep work of her research process.
Thomas: Where have you been?
Darby:The library. I studied a printout of the Supreme Court docket. I even made a list of possible suspects. And then threw it in the garbage because they’d be obvious to everyone.
Thomas: Then you looked for areas Jensen and Rosenberg [the two Supreme Court justices who have been assassinated] had in common.
Darby: Exactly. … Everyone is assuming the motive is either hatred or revenge, but what if the issue involved old-fashioned material greed? A case that involves a great deal of money?
We then see Darby visiting a records office. She’s in the research process stage of gathering evidence for her thesis and seeing where evidence leads her.
I’m not classifying the woman at the counter as an archivist, as she seems to be more like a city or county clerk or office manager. Their verbal exchange is satisfying to watch Darby flex a little of her law school knowledge and know-how.
Clerk: Can I help you?
Darby: I’d like to see this file please.
Darby: It’s public record isn’t it?
Darby: Are you familiar with the Freedom of Information Act?
Darby’s sass gets her to a back room of filing cabinets, where all the records are. We also learn of an upcoming appeals deadline of a local case, but we don’t yet know the details of this case that Darby is researching.
Law library scene #1
We then see the culmination of her research process, pulling it all together. And where’s the best place to do that? The library, of course!
We get treated to a montage of Darby in various spots in the library, first at a microfilm machine:
And then typing on a computer in a study desk carrel, deep in the stacks:
The camera slides away as Darby continues to type, and the shadows darken, signifying the passage of time as Darby concentrates on finishing her research project.
Side note: I appreciated that this was filmed in a real library. How do I know? The books have call numbers! 😀 The IMDb.com Film Locations page for this movie listed Tulane Law Library, so that’s where I’m assuming this library montage was filmed. What’s missing from this scene, of course, is any recognizable librarian onscreen.
The ACTUAL Pelican Brief
And now for the finished product! Next we see a closeup of her brief — the title role — as it prints out. Darby collects the pages into a folder. It’s important for reasons of PLOT to note that Darby’s name and address are included on the cover sheet.
Alas, the moment of triumph is brief, as Darby then drops the folder onto her cluttered desk and dismisses her research. But Thomas is not so easily dissuaded.
Thomas: So, whodunit, Miss Shaw? You have some obscure suspect unknown to the FBI and the CIA and the secret service and 10,000 police departments?
Darby: I had one which I have now discarded.
Thomas: You mean, you skipped class and ignored me for a week and now you’re throwing it away? Let me see it.
Darby: Don’t laugh. It was ludicrous of me to think that I could solve it. Hubris of the young huh?
This series of scenes highlighting the research process — the description of the initial visit to the library, the local records office, and the holing up in the law library to write the brief — lasts three minutes in total screen time, representing what we hear took a week of work. I do appreciate that the movie takes pains to highlight that good research takes time and involves several steps.
Thomas later shares Darby’s brief with a former law school buddy who works in intelligence, who then takes the brief up the chain. The only problem? Darby’s theory turns out to be correct, and the baddies find out who and where she is. Thomas, therefore, unknowingly has put Darby in danger — and himself!
More than 70 minutes into the movie, after many attempts on her life (and others close to her), Darby gets interviewed by reporter Gray Grantham in Washington, D.C., and we finallllllllly get to learn all the details about what’s in the brief. (Fun tidbit: Darby’s theory all started because of a PBS Frontline special! #GoPBS)
And that’s when we finalllllllly get to see a reel librarian! It’s fleeting, but we can glimpse a white, middle-aged woman pushing a cart of books as Gray walks in. Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.
The law librarian, who is uncredited, serves as your basic Information Provider, helping establish the library setting. Information Providers are most closely identified by occupational tasks; in this case, that happens to be pushing a cart full of books.
But we’re not done in this law library — or with research! Gray walks over to where Darby is sitting. He taps the table and whispers to Darby to meet him “by the stacks.” Gotta love that library lingo! 😉
Darby has been looking up law firms, and she is totally prepared for research with her pad of paper and pencil. We also get a closeup of the legal book she’s been looking at, open to an entry for a law firm located in the Washington D.C. area.
We then see a long overhead shot of the tables and library as Darby packs up. It makes sense that director Alan J. Pakula would insert an overhead view of a library in this film; he did the same thing with the Library of Congress Reading Room in 1976’s All the President’s Men. (Click here to revisit my analysis of that classic political drama.)
The final shot in the library is Gray and Darby talking together in what presumably is a group study room in the library. This final law library scene lasts a minute long.
Wrapping it up
And there we have it! A (literal) roll-by cameo of a reel law librarian, scenes in two law libraries, and extended shots of Darby going through stages of the research process. Not bad for a Class IV film, eh?
Did you remember the law libraries in The Pelican Brief? How long has it been since you’ve seen this movie? Please leave a comment and share.
The Pelican Brief. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard. Warner Bros., 1993. Based on the John Grisham novel.
I am working at my college library this summer quarter, so I got to thinking about the 1987 comedy classic Summer School. The film stars Mark Harmon as gym teacher Freddy Shoop, who gets stuck teaching remedial English in summer school. I checked out a DVD of the movie from a local regional library system, and I watched the “Life’s a Beach” DVD edition that had a few special features, including commentary from director Carl Reiner and star Mark Harmon.
I had watched Summer School before, and my vague recollection was that there was a scene (or two?) in the school library, but no librarian present. It felt like perfect timing to revisit this ’80s comedy, just to make sure. I am nothing if not thorough, y’all. 😉
Before we dive in, below is a trailer for the film. I was pleased that the school library does get highlighted in the trailer!
Let’s all go to the… library?
At almost 19 minutes into this 97-minute film, Shoop is flipping through curriculum sheets, trying to figure out what to do. Context: This is the second day of class. He seizes upon book reports, and you can practically see the light bulb go off in his brain. Shoop calls out to the class:
“Anybody want to get out of here? Go to the library?”
All of the students shout enthusiastically at this idea.
This bit highlights just how BORED both the students AND the teacher must be, if going to the — gasp! — library sounds like a good idea. (Sigh.)
And, of course, almost everyone takes off and ditches while Shoop is leading the students across campus to the library. (Double sigh.)
School library scene
Shoop leans on the library door as the few remaining students shuffle into the school library. I thought it interesting to spot the library hours sign on the door. (For you purists out there, the library is open 9 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 to 3 p.m. You’re welcome. 😉 )
Here’s a look at the students in the library at the beginning of this scene. Pretty empty, huh?
We then get a closeup of Dave and Chainsaw, who are trying to flirt with the new foreign exchange student, Anna-Maria, who is taking the class to brush up on her English language skills. In the closeup below, you can see that Anna-Maria has a stack of books about the English language. I appreciated this detail — and the fact that the library does contain materials that she could use!
In fact, this library has a large range of materials for all different ages and reading abilities:
From this initial angle, the library looks quite empty. But when the camera swings back to Shoop, who’s reading a newspaper in front of the periodicals section, we see more people on the other side of the library. A security guard then brings back the rest of Shoop’s students, who went out for doughnuts. (Eating in the library, gasp!)
What I found most interesting when I paused this back view of the library was the figure right below the “Please Return Books Here” sign in the upper left corner. It looks to be a woman with blonde hair tied back with a large white bow, and she’s wearing a light blue blazer or shirt. There also seems to be a large computer or machine behind her and to the left.
Therefore, I’m calling it… I think that’s the school librarian! Who else would stand below a “Please Return Books Here” sign?!
This role goes uncredited, but I’m convinced. Therefore, Summer School belongs in the Class IV category, films in which reel librarians make a cameo role. This librarian also clearly fulfills the “Information Provider” character type, as she’s there simply to help establish that it is a library. Of course, all the hand-lettered reading signs around the library also help establish setting. (My favorite sign is the “To read is to feed your mind” sign. Rewatch this scene to see if you can spot it!)
And here’s another wide shot of the school library, upon the return of all of Shoop’s students. Definitely less empty now.
Of course, none of the students want to be there. Heck, not even the teacher wants to be there! Shoop makes that clear when he says:
“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”
Trapped in the school library? Enh, there are worse things in life. 😉
That’s when students get the idea to go on field trips, and the rest of the film’s plot kicks into high gear. The school library scene lasts exactly 3 minutes total.
The students never return to the school library en masse, but there are a couple of mentions or glimpses of the school library throughout the remainder of the movie.
Library as excuse
Vice Principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) takes over the class toward the end, at 72 minutes into the movie. The students want Mr. Shoop back, so they start humming under their breath to annoy Mr. Gills.
Chainsaw then sees an opportunity:
“I just cannot study. I am going to the library.”
Spoiler: He never makes it there.
One minute later, we get treated to a study montage before the big final exam. Denise (Kelly Minter) has been diagnosed with dyslexia, and she meets with a reading specialist.
Where do they meet up? At the school library, OF COURSE. ❤
The real school library location
As per the movie’s IMDb.com Locations page, scenes set at the movie’s fictional high school, Oceanfront High School, were filmed at the real-life Charles Evans Hughes Jr. High in Woodland Hills, California. And this school library really looks and feels like a genuine school library, once you soak in its hodgepodge of signs, orange carpet, paperback book racks, bulletin boards, and old-school card catalogs.