Suspension of disbelief at your local library, aisle 4!
The final plot point of the indie film He’s On My Mind (2009) reads like a female counterpart to 2000’s What Women Want:
“Elementary school teacher Kayla King thought she had the perfect relationship, and after an impromptu wedding, Kayla discovers that not only is she the other woman, she’s the other wife. She is spontaneously imbued with the magic ability to intercept men’s thoughts.”
This film stars Sherial Mckinney as Kayla, who is the best thing about this film. The movie overall is admittedly rough in that “indie film” way, with lots of uncomfortable and prolonged closeups, out-of-focus transitions, and inconsistent sound levels and effects. Unfortunately, this movie falls into the “I watched this movie so you don’t have to” category. (FYI, I watched this movie through Hoopla, a free streaming service available through my local public library system.)
The last bit of the plot write-up, about being “spontaneously imbued with the magic ability to intercept men’s thoughts” is key to my own write-up — because it happens when she visits her local public library!
Just after a half-hour into this 2-hour film, Kayla visits the library. The entire library scene lasts a total of 3 minutes.
Kayla is at a round library table, which is piled high with books, and she calls out to the librarian when he rolls past with a book cart. Read MacGuirtose plays the role of the reel librarian. You can read about this actor’s bio here and his personal website here. I have to admit, I kind of love that an actor whose name is “Read” got to play a reel librarian!
Read’s character is listed in the credits as “Cranky Librarian,” and he wastes no time living up to that description.
Kayla: Oh, excuse me. Can you bring me some more books on male psychology? Just bring them here.
Cranky Librarian: Ma’am, does this look like the Cheesecake Factory, and do I look like a waiter? Get your own books. Psychology section is aisle 4.
Kayla [under her breath as he walks away]: I said please, jackass.
I’m with Kayla here. This reel librarian IS a jackass. Another example of what NOT to do as a librarian!
Kayla then does do research on her own, as she gathers armload after armload of books and brings them back to her table. This research montage uses overhead shots to capture the passage of time — and books — as you can see in the two sceenshots below. (Also, who knew a small public library would have this many books on male psychology?!)
Kayla falls asleep on her pile of books. It’s closing time, and the librarian comes back and jostles her shoulder to wake her up.
Cranky Librarian: Ma’am, it is closing time.
Cranky Librarian: Time to go. We’re closing. [Inner monologue: You ain’t gotta go home, but you got to get the hell outta here.]
This is the first time Kayla can read men’s thoughts, and she is understandably confused at first.
Kayla: What’d you say?
Cranky Librarian: I said it’s time to go. We’re closing. [Inner monologue: Jeez, lady, hurry it up already. I want to get home and rub one out before I get too tired.]
Kayla: Oh, how did you do that? [referring to the the inner monologue]
Cranky Librarian: Do what? [Inner monologue: Oh, great. Another nut case.]
Kayla: That. How did you do that?
Cranky Librarian: Ma’am, I’m not doing anything. I’m just trying to get you to leave. [Inner monologue: Man, I don’t get paid enough to deal with this.]
Kayla: What are you doing? Throwing your voice?
Cranky Librarian: No, but in two seconds, I’m going to be throwing you out. [Inner monologue: Jeez, crazy lady, get out already!]
Kayla: All right, I’m leaving! You don’t have to yell at me! Golly!
Kayla starts to gather up all the books on the table.
Cranky Librarian: [Inner monologue: Great. Now I’ve gotta put away all her damn books.]
Kayla: Look, I’m a teacher, I know the Dewey Decimal system.
Gotta admit, I kind of cheered at this! But the Cranky Librarian is not impressed at a patron knowing about the Dewey Decimal system. Instead, he just orders her to leave.
Cranky Librarian: Don’t worry about it. Just go. [Inner monologue: I’m going to do your decimal if you don’t get the hell outta here! Damn, she’s got a fat ass.]
Kayla grabs her behind in embarrassment as she hurries out of the library. Double shame on that librarian for making a woman feel bad about her body!
Significance of this scene and reel librarian role:
Why can Kayla suddenly read men’s thoughts after she falls asleep in the library? Are we supposed to think she soaked up all the knowledge in the world on men’s psychology so much that she can now read men’s inner thoughts? Is her city library that good? Suspension of disbelief at your local library, aisle 4!
So what role does this reel librarian play? It’s a memorable enough scene to merit a Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
I would venture to say that this reel librarian role primarily fulfills the “Anti-Social Librarian” role for male librarians. This character type:
hoards knowledge (he won’t help her find what she’s looking for);
dresses conservatively (light green polo shirt and atrociously unflattering pleated trousers);
made up to look generally unattractive (those closeups are not kind to this actor);
exhibits poor social skills (definitely);
very unfriendly (yep);
seems to dislike people (yep again); and
an elitist who rates the library and its rules above the public (I would say yes).
There is that inner monologue line, “I want to get home and rub one out before I get too tired” — which made me review the characteristics of the “Naughty Librarian” character type — but this line about masturbation reveals more about his unsociable lifestyle than it does about sex or sexual attraction. Indeed, this librarian is not attracted to Kayla at all, judging by his final, derogatory comment about her bottom.
Bottom line? Not the finest three minutes of reel librarianship onscreen!
He’s On My Mind. Dir. Kazeem Molake. Perf. Sherial Mckinney, Ayo Sorrells, Dylan Mooney. Vanguard Cinema, 2009.
However, when I recently rewatched Ghostbusters, I realized there was an opportunity for a closer, more comprehensive look at the librarians and library scene that opens the film. After all, the film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.
Opening scenes in the library:
The film opens on the steps of the New York Public Library, with a close-up gaze upon one of the iconic “Library Lion” statues guarding the central branch.
The film then immediately cuts to a close-up of a reel librarian, who is also as stone-faced as the statue outside. Character actress Alice Drummond, 56 years old at the time of filming, plays a public librarian named Alice, and her librarian props are out in full force, with a cart and books. Her clothing, consisting of a ruffled tie blouse and a cardigan sweater, is also conservative and buttoned-up. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a stereotypical librarian is a pair of glasses on a chain!
We follow Alice as she goes downstairs to shelve a few books. The DVD commentary revealed that while the upstairs scenes were filmed in the actual New York Public Library — the library allowed the film crew to film until 10 a.m., so they had to work quickly! — the downstairs scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.
As Alice walks deeper into the stacks, spooky things happen behind her back (literally), as books float past shelves, and card catalog drawer fly open and start spewing cards into the air. (I learned through the commentary that this was a practical effects shot of pushing drawers from behind a fake wall and blowing air through tubes to make the cards fly up.)
It’s interesting to note that Alice is almost completely silent through this opening scene. The first time we hear her voice is when she screams. It’s also very clever that we don’t see the ghost ourselves in this opening scene. In fact, with the screaming and up-lit visage of the scared librarian, she looks kind of like a ghost herself!
You can see a clip from the opening scene here:
A quick scene in-between the two library scenes takes place at a local university, at the Paranormal Studies department, and helps establish the characters of the scientists and soon-to-be-Ghostbusters.
Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting an experiment when Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) bursts in, excitedly shouting, “This is it. This is definitely it!” He goes on to explain:
“At 1:40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian.”
This bit of dialogue bridges to the library scenes, as Venkman and Stantz meet up with Egon Spengler in the library itself. Venkman makes noise slamming a book on the table, which alerts the library administrator. This is our first glance at Roger Delacourt (John Rothman), who is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and tie:
Delacourt — notice that he gets a last name, plus a pair of glasses! — approaches the three scientists. After brief introductions, he immediately gets down to business and reveals his real concern:
“Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can clear this up quickly, and quietly.“
Next, everyone is clustered around a table, with “some poor librarian” on her back and murmuring. This scene is also when we first hear her character’s name, Alice (but we only get her first name). Delacourt, the library manager, hovers around as if he’s fighting the urge to all shush them for causing a scene in the library.
Remember, up to this point, all we’ve heard from Alice is her screaming. This next scene, we get to hear her actual speaking voice as Venkman asks her a series of questions, in order to gauge her competency.
Alice: I don’t remember seeing any legs but it definitely had arms, because it reached out for me.
Peter Venkman:Alice, I’m gonna ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any member of your family ever been diagnosed schizophrenic, mentally incompetent…?
Alice:My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.
Peter Venkman:I’d call that a big yes. [Pause] Are you habitually using drugs, stimulants, alcohol?
Alice: No. [horrified]
By this point in the interview, Roger begins to look even more nervy and agitated.
Peter Venkman: No, no, just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?
Roger can no longer stand it and butts in.
Roger Delacourt: What has THAT got to do with it?
Peter Venkman: Back off, man. I’m a scientist.
The three paranormal scientists then go down to the library basement themselves. The first spooky thing is… symmetrical book-stacking! The horror! As Venkman assesses, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.“
We learn on the DVD commentary that it was Ivan Reitman’s idea on the day to do the symmetrical book-stacking!
They then come across the card catalog drawers and ectoplasmic residue — “Look at this mess!” — and as they round a corner, a bookcase topples. Turns out, this bit was not planned!
The part where the bookcase falls over and Venkman asks Ray “Has this ever happened to you before?” was not part of the original script. The bookcase actually fell over of its own accord (possibly from being disturbed by various crew members) and the subsequent lines were ad-libbed. It was decided to leave this material in as it added an extra element of mystery to the atmosphere as to whether it was a natural occurrence, or a malicious act on the part of the ghost for which the soon-to-be Ghostbusters were looking. (from IMDB.com Trivia page)
The scientists then come across the Librarian Ghost — excuse me, the “full torso vaporous apparition” — who is reading a book and floating in her Victorian-style dress.
When Venkman tries to speak to her, the ghost shushes him. (That’s how we know it’s a librarian!)
When they try to corner the Librarian Ghost, she morphs into a monstrous form and scares the socks off them, “some poor scientists.”
The DVD commentary revealed that this scene was one of the first ones they finished the special effects for. This first moment of seeing the librarian ghost was one the producers screened about 3 weeks after editing the film, and the audience freaked out, screaming and laughing at the same time. That’s when they knew the film was going to work!
As the soon-to-be Ghostbusters run screaming from the library, the hapless library director runs out after them.
“Did you see it? What was it?”
“We’ll get back to you.”
The role of the librarians:
Now that we’ve gotten a look at all three reel librarian in Ghostbusters, let’s delve into the roles and purposes they provide in this Class III film:
“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes. The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the 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.”
This description perfectly sums up how Alice fulfills the Comic Relief role in this film. We most definitely laugh at her distress, or at least remove ourselves, like the Ghostbusters, from her personal distress in order to focus on the cause (the ghost) rather than the effect (“some poor librarian”).
I also enjoyed putting together the different facial expressions of Alice the librarian. Her facial range is impressive!
Interestingly, the Librarian Ghost (Ruth Oliver) also fulfills the Spinster Librarian role:
Conservative, buttoned-up clothing? Check.
Hair in a bun? Check.
Rule-monger? CHECK. (Evidenced by her shushing.)
Unfriendly/stern demeanor? DOUBLE CHECK. (She suffers no fools, y’all.)
The library administrator, Roger Delacourt, is in his early 30s, a white male. He is an insensitive, nervy library bureaucrat, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. His role fulfills the Anti-Social Librarian character type:
Poor social skills
Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
His job centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.
The combined scenes in the library wrap up by 12 minutes into the 105-minute film. We never go back to the New York Public Library — what happened to the Librarian Ghost?! — but the role of research still played a vital role in the film.
Even though the Ghostbusters lose their university funding because their “methods are sloppy” and their “conclusions are highly questionable” — thus providing the incentive to start the Ghostbusters business — the three scientists do highlight their scientific chops in a brief scene after Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) comes to report a demon named Zuul in her refrigerator.
Venkman: There are some things we do, standard procedures in a case like this, which often brings us results.
Stantz: I could go to the Hall of Records and check out the structural details in the building. Maybe the building itself has a history of psychic turbulence.
Spengler: I could look for the name “Zuul” in the usual literature.
Stantz: Spates Catalog.
Spengler: Tobin’s Spirit Guide.
Dr. Spangler also references the book, The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects (also known as simply the Roylance Guide), in the film.
An hour and 10 minutes into the film, Stantz pulls out the building plans — in a jail cell, as you do — and reveals that “the whole building… was designed and built expressly for the purpose of pulling in and concentrating spiritual turbulence…. Spook Central.“
Their research pays off! 😀
Need more Ghostbusters?
Alice, the one who got her “socks scared off” in the film, is also featured in the music video for the Oscar-nominated title song by Ray Parker, Jr.
For those who would like to read more of those bits and pieces I’ve written previously about Ghostbusters:
Do you vividly recall the film’s opening scenes in the library? I have to admit that I had forgotten that the two scenes in the library were on either side of the scene in the Paranormal Studies office. I had melded the two library scenes together in my mind.
Have you revisited the original Ghostbusters lately? Or seen the recent remake? Please leave a comment and share! 🙂
Ghostbusters. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Perf. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis. Columbia, 1984.
“Organization is the secret of modern statecraft, but patience is necessary”
In the film noir-style drama, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), a mystery writer becomes obsessed with Dimitrios, a master criminal. In the opening scene, Dimitrios appears to have washed up dead on a beach. Is he dead? Has he faked his death? Just how dangerous is Dimitrios?
Peter Lorre stars as Leyden, the mystery writer — he gets to play a good guy for once! Sydney Greenstreet plays a smuggler with his own agenda, and Zachary Scott plays the shadowy Dimitrios. The story structure consists of a series of flashbacks, in which we witness the ruthlessness and cunning of the mysterious Dimitrios.
In one early scene almost 20 minutes in, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and seeks help from an archives clerk. The scene is short, only 2 minutes long, landing the film in the Class III category. However, the archives clerk makes a distinct impression as an Anti-Social Librarian.
A white male archives clerk (30s?, extremely thin, dark suit and tie, thick glasses, dark hair, starting to go bald) looks up records in this uncredited role. The clerk seems very anal-retentive, and spouts off phrases like, “Organization is the secret of modern statecraft, but patience is necessary” and “This is organization.”
At first, he does not find the file and gives up easily, until Leyden asks him to look under another name (Talat, an alias used by Dimitrios). Ironic, then, that the clerk had emphasized patience! But obviously, that patience is one-sided in his mind.
The clerk becomes agitated when another man (Greenstreet, seen in the screenshot below) enters the office and then leaves. He sputters, “I have no assistance in my work of organization here. The whole burden falls on my shoulders. People have no patience. If I am engaged for a moment, they cannot wait. A man can do his duty, no more, no less.”
The clerk appears frustrated by people and their requests — answering inquiries seems to be more about showing off his organizational skills than anything else — and he becomes extremely agitated when his methods are not successful or are called into question. This display of poor social skills, elitist attitude about rules and organization, and general dislike of the public, are all hallmarks of the Anti-Social Librarian character type. The archives clerk also plays a secondary role as Information Provider, as he is helpful in the end in confirming Dimitrios’s identity and alias.
The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less. 😉
It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out… you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)
Leyden’s reaction to the clerk’s system of organization? “Very clever.” So clever that Leyden takes the opportunity to leave as the archives clerk turns away to boast, yet again, “You see? That is organization!”
The Mask of Dimitrios. Dir. Jean Negulesco. Perf. Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott. Warner Bros., 1944.
“Being a head librarian is not my idea of a lifetime career.”
Continuing our October list of scary films featuring reel librarians… next up is The Attic (1980), starring Carrie Snodgress as jilted librarian Louise Elmore. The film is tagged in IMDB.com as a thriller or horror film, but it’s really more of a suspenseful drama. The original trailer makes it seem waaaaaay scarier than it actually is:
It’s a strange film, in more ways than one. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS throughout.)
Woman librarian devotes life to caring for wheelchair-bound tyrannical father after being stood up at altar. She fantasizes his death and finds joy only with her pet monkey.
This film also extends the storyline of the librarian and her father, two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973), written by the same screenwriters as The Attic (1980). Neither film was a hit at the box office, and the roles in the earlier film were played by different actors.
The attic — the title of the whole shebang — is also never actually mentioned in the film, and not even seen until the last few minutes. Decidedly odd.
Even though the main character, Louise, is a librarian, the ultimate message is NOT uplifting. Like I said, SPOILER! After watching the film, my husband’s reaction summed it up perfectly:
That was depressing as hell. Based on this film, being a librarian must suck.
Let’s break it down as the reel librarian also breaks down:
The film opens with Louise crying over old home movies of her ex-fiance, and the camera pans over an overflowing collection of stuffed animal monkeys before settling on a closeup of her slashed, bloody wrists. Carrie Snodgress, nominated for Best Actress for 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, really gives it her all in a pretty thankless role.
The next shot provides another closeup of her wrists, this time bandaged and back to stamping books in the library. This extended scene set in the library introduces several more reel librarians, including a young female librarian, Emily (Ruth Cox), and a male library assistant, Donald (Terry Troutt), who is shelving books as they close up for the day. The scene also uses two older, gossipy ladies to provide background to the plot. One older lady is checking out books from the front counter and notices the bandages on Louise’s hands.
The other lady is busy gossiping to Emily by the card catalog — in full earshot of Louise! — and we learn that Emily has been hired to replace Louise as the head librarian. Louise is retiring, and the older lady insinuates that they’re pushing her out because of a recent, accidental fire in the library. She also links this current fire to a past fire that caused the paralysis of Louise’s father. Hmmmmm…..
Emily, as seen above on the left, is definitely a Spirited Young Girl character type — young, stylish, intelligent, and views working in the library as just a job. Her reaction to her new position?
I like it here. Beats being a college librarian.
Being a head librarian is not my idea of a lifetime career.
As Louise, Carrie Snodgress — only 33 herself at the time of filming! — is playing a character who can’t be more than 40 years old. We learn that she has worked in the library for 19 years, which is how long ago her fiance disappeared. Louise is also quite attractive and wears modern, stylish clothing. She also wears her long hair in different styles current for that time period, but her hair seems artificially greyed-out. Being that young an age for retiring does seem suspicious. We also hear the older lady gossip about Louise “in her intoxicated condition.” That is definitely one thing the older lady was right on target about:
The friendship between Louise and Emily is also evident early on, as Louise remarks, “I was prepared to hate you, replacing me and all. Instead, you have become my friend.”
And they do become friends, and enjoy several scenes together in the film. Louise and Emily bond over respective, overbearing parents: Louise’s father vs. Emily’s mother. Emily invites Louise over for dinner as well as for a bike ride to talk over personal issues; Emily wants to go to California to be with her boyfriend, but feels guilty about leaving her younger brother alone with her overbearing mother. Louise keeps urging Emily to seek happiness when she can, to avoid the fate she herself has endured. The film directors, George Edwards and Gary Graver, enjoy visually contrasting the two librarians, including shots that reflect similar wardrobe choices or body positions:
Due to a lifetime of criticism from her wheelchair-bound father (Ray Milland in a deliciously cheesy role), Louise has no sense of herself — or doesn’t want to face the truth about herself. She says she’s not much of a drinker, yet is shown drinking in repeated shots throughout the film. She talks about her fiance, Robert, as if he just left — and that was over 19 years ago! She professes to dislike her job — more on that below — yet obviously takes pride in being thorough, as seen when she straightens up the library at the end of the day.
Her account of the library fire, however, is quite disturbing, as is her state of mind leading up to the fire:
Have you ever been seized by a mood of despondency? Sometimes, I feel that I’m in the grip of a huge vise that seems to render me incapable of thought, of movement … Wouldn’t you [feel like that]? If they put you out to pasture, like an old mare.
The books were my enemy. Destroy them, before they destroy you, a voice whispered to me. It felt so wonderful, to see all those books going up in flames. I’d won the battle!
I would do it all over again.
It was interesting that I found myself reminded of so many other films while watching The Attic, including:
A scene in which Louise fantasizes about taking a trip, her reflected image superimposed on a poster for Hawaii. This reminded me of the 1932 film Forbidden, in which a spinster librarian (Barbara Stanwyck) quits her job and heads off to Havana with her life savings.
The library fire scene made me think of Storm Center (1956), starring another aging librarian (Bette Davis) that others are trying to force out — but because she’s defending the right to keep the books on the shelves rather than burning the library down.
In the scene in which Louise and Emily stop outside the pet shop, I was reminded of the pet shop scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Emily buys a chimp for Louise — huh? — while in The Birds, Tippi Hedren makes a similar impulse purchase on a pair of lovebirds.
In the scene where Louise goes to the movies, the character on screen makes a reference to “Norman Bates,” the main character in Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho — another film featuring a lead character who has psychological problems due to a domineering parent.
Also in the movie scene, Louise meets a sailor and goes to his hotel room, pretending he’s her ex-fiance while they have sex. I was reminded of the scenes in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), in which Marnie’s adolescent psyche is severely damaged by her domineering mother’s tryst with a sailor.
As Louise is the main character of this film, we are treated to several scenes outside the library, including scenes of home life, a rarity for reel librarians. For example, we see Louise masturbating in bed; having dinner with her father (and then fantasizing about poisoning his drink!); getting dressed in the morning; and brushing her teeth.
Two major scenes later in the film also reveal a lot about Louise’s character and her relationship with Emily. The first is the dinner scene with Emily and her mother, who asks about Louise’s job:
Mrs. Fowler: I understand you’ve been a librarian for … 19 years?
Louise: Yes. You make it sound so dreadfully long.
Mrs. Fowler: I wish Emily would settle down to a steady job like that. She’s had three employers since she left college. … Maybe you can hold on to this new position.
Louise: I wish that I had had the good sense to try some other jobs when I was young. I might not have been a librarian.
Mrs. Fowler: It’s a perfectly respectable job.
Louise: Respectable, yes. And often boring.
Mrs. Fowler: A job is what you make of it.
I know that Mrs. Fowler, Emily’s mother, is described repeatedly as domineering and overbearing. But I have to say, from my personal perspective of being a librarian, I think Mrs. Fowler makes a lot of sense here! If you love being a librarian, then it is NEVER boring.
The other major scene is Louise’s retirement party, in which we meet a fourth, and final, reel librarian: an older lady librarian played by actress Frances Bay. The four are toasting Louise with champagne — which is ok, because they’ve locked the doors. No one will see they’re — GASP! — drinking in the library. The older librarian, focusing on the rules, fulfills the Spinster Librarian role, whereas the socially awkward male library worker rounds out the group as the Anti-Social Librarian character type.
They have bought her a corsage, as well as a cake featuring a woman heading off with a suitcase, as seen below. As the older lady librarian states, “You’ve always wanted to travel, Louise. Nothing to hold you back now. Free as a bird.”
This visually demonstrates how Louise’s main role in the film is as a Liberated Librarian, a trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself — and what she’s capable of — under extreme circumstances. The “liberation” can be positive or negative, and Liberated Librarians are usually major characters with their “liberation” often supplying the main plot. This is all true of Louise’s role in this film. As my husband quipped:
That’s a Liberated Librarian on a cake!
As Louise forges a friendship with Emily — and after, in her own words, “getting laid” by the sailor — Louise begins to assert her independence, in different ways, and defying her father’s influence by putting on lipstick (in public!); keeping the chimp that Emily bought her; visiting her friend — twice! — instead of spending time with her father; and spending her severance pay to buy Emily a plane ticket to California.
This later scene, in which Louise buys Emily the plane ticket, is quite sweet — and unintentionally hiLARious. The older lady librarian delivers the letter (and enclosed plane ticket) to Emily at the library, and after reading it, Emily literally runs out the door — unlike Louise, another contrast between the two. Louise gets a cake with a picture of someone going on an adventure; Emily actually does it.
Older librarian: Emily? Where are you going?
Emily: To get married!
The older lady librarian looks up and smiles, with a hopeful (or wistful?) look on her face, as seen below. Ahhhhh, the ghosts of the spinster librarian Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Obviously, being a spinster librarian is the ONLY option if you don’t get married. I’m so glad films like these are here to teach us these valuable life lessons. 😉
We also get treated to this gem after Louise’s retirement party, as she straightens her bow tie and shouts out a farewell speech to the books in the library:
Well, goodbye all you bastards! If I never see you again, it’ll be too soon. It’s time.
And on that uplifting (?!#@!) note, perhaps it’s time to wrap up this post. Here’s a look at the many different sides we see of Louise, a Class I reel librarian:
I won’t give the ending away completely, but let’s just say that the final five minutes finally do reveal the attic referred to in the title. We learn the secrets her father has been keeping all these years, which force Louise to finally face her own fears. The ending is a bit open-ended, but Louise does seem to be spiritually liberated, if not literally liberated. Her final words are, “I loved you, Robert.” Finally, she uses the past tense of the verb, “loved,” a recognition of the past itself.
But what does her future hold?
The Attic. Dir. George Edwards & Gary Graver. Perf. Carrie Snodgress, Ray Milland, Ruth Cox. MGM/UA, 1980.
A memorable reel librarian in an otherwise troubled film.
Continuing in our series of scary movies featuring librarians, this week’s feature is Twisted Nerve (1968). SPOILERS AHEAD. Whistling past horror — although there are some close-ups of bloodied bodies and hatchets along the way — this decidedly odd film tries to sell itself as a psychological drama, with a main argument that homicidal/psychopathic tendencies are passed genetically. It also attempts to relate this issue of “twisted nerves” to Down’s Syndrome — referred to as “Mongolism” in this ’60s film — as the main star/villain of the film, Martin (played by Welsh actor Hywel Bennett, who looks like Zac Efron in a bad wig) has a brother with Down’s Syndrome living in a mental institution. Martin himself reverts to a mentally handicapped personality, “Georgie,” throughout the film.
This (controversial and offensive) link to Down’s Syndrome is so badly pieced together that the filmmakers were forced to add a prologue during post-production, stating “that there is no established, scientific connection between Mongolism and psychotic, or criminal, behavior.”
You’re probably wondering… what in the world is a librarian doing in this film? Enter Hayley Mills as Susan Harper, a lovely young librarian who, in the space of an ill-timed smile, becomes the obsessive target of Martin, who assumes the persona of “Georgie” around Susan in order to gain her trust. Which isn’t very hard to do, because again and again, Susan is shown to be incredibly gullible, naive, and easily manipulated (even blaming herself in one scene for Georgie’s behavior!). It’s a credit to Hayley Mills’ acting skills that she comes across as warm-hearted and intelligent as she does; otherwise, you would just want to scream at the screen constantly about how dumb her actions are. Which, now that I think about it, totally fits the tradition for those watching horror movies, to scream at the young girl who walks into a dark house without telling anyone where she is.
A little over ten minutes into this Class II film, Martin/Georgie embarks upon his obsession by following Susan one morning to the public library, whilst whistling a creepy tune:
Susan is a classic Spirited Young Girl character type: a young, physically attractive, intelligent, and modern girl who is working temporarily at the library. She’s quite open about working for a teaching degree, and she has a conversation later with her mom about school lasting “only one more year.” And along with Ali McGraw in Love Story (1970), she’s one of the best-dressed reel librarians ever! Behold the blonde-haired cuteness:
Our first introduction to Susan in a library setting is a classic one; while looking for a book atop a library ladder, two young lads enjoy the view up her (short) skirt.
It’s interesting to compare how the behavior of these two boys comes off as cheeky, while Martin’s behavior as alter ego Georgie — a young boy’s personality stunted in a man’s body — comes off as creepy. In small moments like this, this movie can be quite clever and intriguing.
Susan enjoys a nice moment of readers’ advisory with the boys:
Susan: Here we are. How about this? [hand them book ]
Boy #1: The Tower of London? Get off. That’s history, isn’t it?
Susan: That’s bloodthirsty enough, even for you, Johnny.
Boy #2: Any girls in it?
Susan: Well, there’s Lady Jane Grey. She gets the chopper.
Boy #2: I’d rather have Lady Chatterley.
Susan: I bet you would. But you take this. You’ll like it. I promise you.
Also during the few library scenes throughout the film, we are introduced to the head librarian, Mr. Groom, who is portrayed as a textbook example of the Anti-Social Librarian. Again, so clever to juxtapose this decidedly neurotic reel librarian with the name of “Mr. Groom.” Or maybe they’re hinting he’s horsey? 😉
In this first library scene, Martin/Georgie gets upset at Susan refusing to go to the cinema with him and starts unbuttoning his shirt in distress. While trying to help him button his shirt back up, Susan manages to then upset Mr. Groom, who rushes over with a stack of books, hissing in a loud stage whisper:
Look, I don’t know whether you are dressing or undressing your friend, but I do wish you wouldn’t do it in the public library.
In a later library scene, Martin/Georgie is waiting in the library for Susan after hours. Of course, this rattles Mr. Groom’s cage, who quickly scuttles over to him to point out the library’s been closed for the last 10 minutes. Martin doesn’t waste any Georgie mannerisms on Mr. Groom; rather, he calls him “Ratface” and later yells at the hapless reel librarian to “Get stuffed!”
After Martin/Georgie has killed a few people, the drama increases as Susan finally starts putting all the pieces together. But even after figuring everything out and returning to an empty house all by herself (insert shouting at the screen!), she gets trapped in the attic in an effectively tense climax scene. The film ends on a plaintive note, as Martin/Georgie continues to call out for, “Susan, Susan.”
A memorable reel librarian in an otherwise troubled film.
Here’s a clip of the whistling scene (later echoed in Kill Bill: Vol. I), and our first glimpse of the public library:
Twisted Nerve. Dir. Roy Boulting. Perf. Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw. Charter Film Productions, 1968.