Librarians make their mark in ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ (1987)

“I can’t see how we’re ever going to make our mark… defacing library books.”

During the month of June, LGBTQ+ Pride Month celebrations take place in the United States and worldwide, commemorating the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, New York, a turning point in gay rights and liberation movements. As the U.S. Proclamation on LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021 states:

Pride is a time to recall the trials the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has endured and to rejoice in the triumphs of trailblazing individuals who have bravely fought — and continue to fight — for full equality.  Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity.

A Proclamation on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month, 2021,” The White House, 1 June 2021

It can be a tricky thing to recognize the dangerous and often-deadly discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community has endured — and continue to endure — at the same time that you are celebrating the wide-ranging contributions and impact of the LGBTQ+ community. This means holding space for two extremes together at the same time, and hopefully, this is a time of deep reflection and grace for us all, including allies. I feel that the movie Prick Up Your Ears (1987), which is based on the real-life events of British playwright Joe Orton (born John Orton, 1933-1967), exemplifies this dynamic quite well.

Prick Up Your Ears (1987) Trailer | Stephen Frears” video uploaded by Ryan Saunders, Standard YouTube License

Directed by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen), Prick Up Your Ears stars Gary Oldman as Orton; Alfred Molina as Orton’s mentor, collaborator, and lover Kenneth Halliwell; and Vanessa Redgrave as Orton’s literary agent, Peggy Ramsay. The movie, written by Alan Bennett, was adapted from the 1978 biography of the same title by John Lahr, and Wallace Shawn plays Lahr in this film adaptation.

Joe Orton’s plays (most notably, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and Loot) and writing style continue to be highly influential (e.g. the term “Ortonesque” is used to describe the witty and dark comedic style he specialized in), even though his public career lasted only a few short years, from 1964 to 1967. Orton’s and Halliwell’s 15-year relationship came to a violent end in August 1967, when Halliwell murdered Orton and then killed himself. It could be easy to dismiss the film as focusing too much on the sensational aspects of this true tale. The film trailer, embedded above, focuses primarily on the murder/suicide, and the film itself begins with Halliwell covered in blood after murdering Orton and ends with Orton’s funeral. But in-between, we follow along with the flashbacks and flash-forwards as Lahr researches Orton and reads his diaries and pieces together Orton’s and Halliwell’s life together. (You really cannot separate the two men, in life or in death.) We viewers identify with Lahr in his research quest, as we want to know more about Orton’s art and about Halliwell’s motivations, and how and why their relationship and collaborations soured and turned deadly. It’s not a straightforward film, but Frears does an excellent job of highlighting recurring themes and lines that call back to earlier scenes or other characters.

A few years ago, The Guardian highlighted Lahr’s biography of Orton as a “book to give you hope.”

“John Lahr’s 1978 biography of the playwright Joe Orton may seem an unlikely choice for a book to give you hope. After all, Orton’s success was not only a long time coming (a decade of abject failure was crowned by a six-month spell in prison for defacing library books), but when it did finally arrive in 1964 (with the West End production of Entertaining Mr Sloane) it lasted only until 9 August 1967. It was brought to a bloody and premature end by his long-term lover, Kenneth Halliwell, who bludgeoned Orton to death with a hammer before taking his own life. Orton was only 34 years old. Yet, it is these early years of struggle and anonymity that make Orton’s life story such a fascinating and, yes, inspirational read.

… [T]he ending is desperately sad. But what remains is the work. And ultimately, Prick Up Your Ears is a celebration of Orton’s work and a brilliantly illuminating account of the writing life. And even when that life is cut horribly short, it still remains a testament to the enduring power of hope, and of triumph over adversity.”

W.B. Gooderham, “Books to Give You Hope: Prick Up Your Ears by John Lahr,” The Guardian, 22 Aug. 2016

For me, this review captures the juxtaposition of recognizing the sadness of Orton’s shortened life as well as celebrating the hope and creativity of his artistry. And this dichotomy is reflected in Frears’s cinematic adaptation.

The library scenes and why they matter

So where does the library come into it? Although the main library scene and scenes with the librarians last less than 5 minutes total, this scene in the movie — and in real life — changed the course of Orton’s and Halliwell’s lives. It seems appropriate then that the library scenes occurs almost exactly halfway through the movie.

Here’s the general background: Around 1959, while collaborating on novels and getting rejected from publishers, Orton and Halliwell started defacing covers of library books and typing naughty passages into them. In the movie, two librarians at the Islington public library finally set a trap for them and turned them into the police. In 1962, the two men were sentenced to 6 months in prison and were sent to different facilities. While in prison, Orton started writing his own work and flourished, while Halliwell became depressed and attempted suicide.

The library book scenes are foreshadowed a bit earlier in the film, when at 44 minutes, Halliwell and Orton are collaborating on a book. While Kenneth types on the typewriter, Joe is cutting up a library book.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Kenneth: That’s a library book. You should respect books.

Joe: I respect them more than you. You just take them for granted.

This short scene accomplishes a lot with a little. They are supposedly collaborating, but Joe seems a bit bored and stifled with his side of the collaboration. This foreshadows his breaking free and writing his own works later. Their dialog also reinforces their class differences, with working-class Joe calling out Kenneth and his upper-class upbringing and privilege. It also, as my writer husband pointed out, places the act of defacing the library books in the context of writing and as a creative act and form of expression. They are writing and creating in different ways in this scene, and again, it foreshadows how they will collaborate on the library books.

Next, at 45 1/2 minutes into the film, Halliwell and Orton are talking about that collaborative novel, titled Boy Hairdresser, to a publisher. When it’s clear that the publisher has no intention of publishing their work, Orton roams around the office and steals a book from the publisher’s shelves, The Art of Culture. Although it isn’t explicitly shown in the movie, Orton revealed in later interviews that he used to steal library books in order to deface them and then smuggle them back into the library to shock patrons who came across the altered works.

So all these short, seemingly throwaway scenes do provide clues; nothing is wasted in this movie.

At almost 53 minutes into the film, Kenneth is working on the collage on the walls, while Joe is reading on the bed. Then, as Kenneth prepares lunch, Joe roams around their bedroom and places library books along the back of their desk.

Joe: I can’t see how we’re ever going to make our mark… defacing library books. 

Making his mark in defacing library books

Next stop? The public library!

The two men check out books at the front library counter, and a woman librarian in grey suit stamps their books. We can also spy a younger White woman walk past behind the desk, and she appears to be filing cards. In the background, we can see a “Fiction” label along the back bookshelves, and the library seems filled with patrons. Halliwell and Orton leave the library, and the words on the exit door — “Way Out” in big letters printed on both sides of the glass door — feature prominently in this scene. That doesn’t feel like an accident. (In fact, the phrase “coming out” was in use during the mid-20th century to describe gay identity and sense of community, but the phrase was undergoing a change in usage during this time period, explained here.)

Two librarians — the middle-aged White woman who stamped their books, Miss Battersby (Selina Cadell), and a White middle-aged man, Mr. Cunliffe (Charles McKeown) — follow them out and watch them leave.

Their brief conversation reveals their discrimination and homophobia toward the pair and the gay community at large, and Mr. Cunliffe rattles off several homophobic slurs without batting an eye.

Mr. Cunliffe: You didn’t tell me one of them was a nancy.

Miss Battersby: I’m sorry, Mr. Cunliffe?

Mr. Cunliffe: The bald one, Miss Battersby. A homosexual. A shirt lifter.

Miss Battersby: In Islington?

Mr. Cunliffe: Haven’t you noticed? Large areas of the borough are being restored and painted Thames green. [He grabs their library card from Miss Battersby] Noel Road. This calls for a little detective work, Miss Battersby.

And their detective work involves props! Miss Battersby smokes a cigarette, and Mr. Cunliffe brandishes a magnifying glass.

The librarians then set up a trap for Halliwell and Orton. Mr. Cunliffe finds an abandoned car on the road, writes down the license plate, and then dictates a letter to Miss Battersby. They appear to be in a back office in the library, as the walls are lined with bookshelves and filled with books and magazines, and the desk includes a pile of library stamps, and a rolling cart is visible beside the desk.

Librarians type up a letter

Mr. Cunliffe: Registration: K-Y-R-4-5-0. The above-mentioned vehicle appears to be derelict and abandoned in Noel Road, and I have been given to understand you are the owner thereof. 

We then see Kenneth reading aloud the rest of the letter, and he then dictates a response to Joe, although their letter is a more collaborative process than the librarians’ letter.

Kenneth: “But before enforcing remedies, I give you the opportunity to remove the vehicle from the highway.” The little prick. [pauses] Unzip our trusty Remington, John. We will piss on this person from a great height. “Dear sir, thank you for your dreary little letter.

Joe: ‘Dismal’ is better.

Kenneth: Dismal, then. I should like to know who provided you with this mysterious information. 

Joe: ‘Furnished’ is better than ‘provided.’ It’s more municipal in tone. 

Cue more librarian detective work!

Mr. Cunliffe: You will note the typing, Miss Battersby, is the same. Our book jacket… their letter. Got you, my beauties.

We then cut to the courtroom, where we see a magistrate being handed a mystery novel, Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers. We see a stack of books on the table, which are recognizable as some of the ones we saw earlier on Joe’s desk. This scene is devastatingly efficient, as the camera pans over the courtroom, where we spy the librarians, who have come to see the results of their detective work!

Magistrate: This is the novel Clouds of Witness by the noted authoress Dorothy L. Sayers. Could you read what the accused have written on the flap of the jacket?

Policeman: “… This is one of the most enthralling stories ever written by Miss Sayers. Read it behind closed doors and have a good shit while you’re reading it.”

Magistrate: The probation officer has suggested that you are both frustrated authors. Well, if you’re so clever at making fun of what more talented people have written, you should have a shot at writing books yourselves. You won’t find that such a pushover. Sheer malice and destruction, the pair of you. I sentence you both to six months. 

Joe [to Kenneth]: Fucking A. 

Kenneth [to Joe]: It was your idea. 

The librarians vs. the lovers

As I mentioned before, this entire scene in the library and with the librarians lasts less than 5 minutes, but it is crucial to the rest of the narrative. I also found it interesting to note how many times the director chose to mirror the pair of librarians with the pair of lovers, Orton and Halliwell.

Here is a compare-and-contrast of how Orton and Halliwell exit the library and the librarians re-enter the library. The librarians serve as gatekeepers — literally as well as visually — in this scene.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

Here we can compare-and-contrast the profiles of the librarians as they watch in judgment as Orton and Halliwell leave the library, and the profiles of Joe and Kenneth as they receive the magistrate’s prison judgment.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

The librarians sit in court in front of a policeman, while Orton and Halliwell sit in court in front of a member of the public. Again, no detail is wasted in this film. The librarians side with order (more visual gatekeeping), while the creative lovers side with the public.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

And below we can compare the mirroring of dictating the library letter and its response. Both of the sets are filled with books, but one is a public library while the other is a private library. Also, notice how the librarians are always dressed in the same clothing, the same buttoned-up grey suits? Kenneth and Joe are also dressed in neutrals, grey and tan, but are dressed much more casually and less buttoned-down.

Click the bar in the middle to compare and contrast the two images

The library scene ends at 58 minutes into the film, and we hear Vanessa Redgrave’s voiceover as she efficiently sums up the effect of their prison sentence: “Prison worked wonders for Joe.”

Librarian roles

As I’ve mentioned, the two main librarians we see — Mr. Cunliffe and Miss Battersby — are visually seen as gatekeepers throughout their scenes. Their grey suits come off as much of a uniform as the uniforms that the police officers wear. The librarians even attend court to witness the prison sentencing! Above and beyond their librarian duties, surely. 😦 Needless to say, these reel librarians are NOT role models; rather, they demonstrate the destructive effects of homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ actions.

In that way, Miss Battersby serves the role of an Information Provider, as she is providing information to the audience and reflecting society’s limited views and judgment of the LGBTQ+ community. (See also my post about the law librarian failure in Philadelphia). The third librarian, the younger White woman, also serves as an Information Provider, but only in the sense of establishing the library setting.

I have categorized the role of Mr. Cunliffe, who appears to be the senior librarian in their scenes, as an Anti-Social Librarian. He wears conservative clothing, hoards knowledge, dislikes the public (particularly the LGBTQ+ members of the public), and exhibits elitism in his view of the library and society in general. He goes beyond his librarian duties and engages in detective work — outside the library and off hours, I’m sure — in order to personally trap library patrons. He also relishes in his handiwork (“Got you, my beauties!“). Honestly, it comes off as the librarian’s personal vendetta.

And these two reel librarians made my Hall of Shame list! On that page, I wrote that:

This Class III film made me sit up and yell at the screen! It includes the completely unethical behavior of two librarians, who set a trap — using information from circulation records, no less! — to turn two frustrated writers into the police. Yes, the writers had typed obscene passages onto book covers, but that does not justify a mean-spirited librarian’s actions.

Reel life vs. real life

As I mentioned above, the film shows the librarians — and particularly Mr. Cunliffe — as the ones who personally trap Orton and Halliwell. I’m sure the screenwriter did this to condense characters and tell the story more efficiently — and of course, isn’t it shocking what an overzealous librarian would do?! Most unexpected. And it is unexpected, because the real-life librarians did not actually go as far as their onscreen counterparts did. But not for lack of trying!

The Joe Orton Online site states that Orton and Halliwell “had been suspected for some time and extra [library] staff had been drafted to catch the culprits, but with no success. They were eventually caught by the careful detective work of Sydney Porrett, a senior clerk with Islington Council. A letter was sent to Halliwell asking him to remove an illegally parked car. Their typed reply matched typeface irregularities in the defaced books and the men were caught.” And an article in The Guardian reveals more details, that “When the library authorities cottoned on to what was happening, they brought in undercover staff from other libraries to try to catch whomever was doing it, and when that failed, Porrett had the idea of writing to his number one suspects, Halliwell and Orton.”

The Movie Locations site reveals that the library scenes were not filmed in the Islington public library. Instead, the library scenes were filmed at Chelsea Library in Chelsea Old Town Hall, located about 6 miles southwest of Islington Central Library.

It does appear the the library books highlighted in the film were among the ones that Orton and Halliwell defaced in real life. The British Library site even highlights “The Joe Orton Collection” of book covers on their site, stating that, “Since 2003, the book covers have been preserved by the Islington Local History Centre where they form the Joe Orton Collection. After the trial, the surviving covers were kept within Islington Public Library Service by the special collections librarian. Today, this totals 41 examples. An additional 31 doctored books are believed to be lost, stolen or destroyed.

You can also view a more extensive gallery of the book covers on the Joe Orton Online site. And in 2011, the Islington Local History Centre displayed their collection of book covers because of “international interest” and that the book covers “shined a light on two fascinating lives and characters” (Brown).

Why library books?

The movie doesn’t really delve deep into the reasons Orton and Halliwell defaced the library books — beyond the line that Joe says about “mak[ing] our mark” — but Orton did address this in an April 1967 television interview with Eamon Andrews:

“Joe Orton Television Interview 1967” video, uploaded by THEORTONCOLLECTIVE, Standard YouTube License

Orton does not mention Halliwell at all during this interview and states that his motive was “just a joke.” But then he reveals a little more about his personal feelings about the library and its collections:

Orton: Also, I didn’t like libraries anyway. I mean, I thought they spent far too much public money on rubbish. I mean, I didn’t like the books. I don’t think people need books on etiquette anyway.

Andrews: So this was a kind of protest of the kinds of books in the library?

Orton: Oh, yes, it really was.

Andrews: Do you have any regrets now for having done this?

Orton: No regrets at all. No, I had a marvelous time in prison. It just meant that instead of annoying a few old ladies, you see, that opened the book, I now annoy hundreds of old ladies by writing plays.

The Joe Orton Online site muses that “these acts of guerrilla artwork were an early indication of Orton’s desire to shock and provoke. His targets were the genteel middle classes, authority and defenders of ‘morality’, against whom much of Orton’s later written work would rail against.”

In a 30th anniversary retrospective interview about the film, Alfred Molina (who portrayed Halliwell) reflected that, “Living in that small room, living in a sense completely isolated from the world, writing and defacing those books, and decorating their home, it was probably like a little cocoon where they felt safe. With Joe’s success, the world broke into that room and that shattered everything.”

I also appreciated blogger and historian John Levin’s thoughts about how these book covers should be viewed today:

“It is worth considering these works without hindsight and in their own moment. Had Orton not been successful, what would have been made of these works? Would they have been less interesting, less intelligent, the work of a vandal rather than a critic?

I think not. Even if Orton hadn’t been successful – and such a way of framing it underplays the equal contribution of the unrecognized Halliwell – these collages would still embody a contempt for boredom, a queer ‘in your face’ aesthetic, and a provocation outside the art gallery, executed with quite some skill. And as at the time, they were a couple of unknown, pre-1967 gays, constrained by and pushing against the mores and the policing of the time, it is in that light they should be appreciated.”

John Levin, “Gorilla in the Roses: The Collages of Halliwell and Orton,” Anterotesis, 21 Feb. 2012

And on a final note, Orton also included cheeky references to libraries and librarians in his play Entertaining Mr. Sloane, which I highlighted in my analysis of the 1970 film adaptation of his play.

What are your thoughts on Prick Up Your Ears? Have you seen the 1987 movie, or read Lahr’s biography? Have you read any of Orton’s plays? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Librarian ‘on my mind’

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.”

“He’s On My Mind Movie Trailer (Official Version)” video uploaded by Y!kes Entertainment is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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!

City library sign
City library sign

Just after a half-hour into this 2-hour film, Kayla visits the library. The entire library scene lasts a total of 3 minutes.


Library scene:


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 asks the cranky librarian for help
Kayla asks the cranky librarian for help

Kayla:  Oh, excuse me. Can you bring me some more books on male psychology? Just bring them here.

Cranky LibrarianMa’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.

Cranky librarian face
Cranky librarian face

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?!)

Beginning her research on men's psychology
Beginning her research on men’s psychology
Falling asleep on top of her research of men's psychology
Falling asleep on top of her research of men’s 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 LibrarianMa’am, it is closing time.

KaylaWhat?

Cranky LibrarianTime to go. We’re closing. [Inner monologue:  You ain’t gotta go home, but you got to get the hell outta here.]

Closing time at the library
Closing time at the library

This is the first time Kayla can read men’s thoughts, and she is understandably confused at first.

KaylaWhat’d you say?

Cranky LibrarianI said it’s time to go. We’re closing. [Inner monologueJeez, lady, hurry it up already. I want to get home and rub one out before I get too tired.]

KaylaOh, how did you do that? [referring to the the inner monologue]

Cranky LibrarianDo what? [Inner monologueOh, great. Another nut case.]

KaylaThat. How did you do that?

Cranky LibrarianMa’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.]

KaylaWhat are you doing? Throwing your voice?

Cranky LibrarianNo, but in two seconds, I’m going to be throwing you out. [Inner monologueJeez, crazy lady, get out already!]

KaylaAll 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 monologueGreat. Now I’ve gotta put away all her damn books.]

KaylaLook, 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.

The cranky librarian throws Kayla out of the library
The cranky librarian throws Kayla out of the library

Cranky LibrarianDon’t worry about it. Just go. [Inner monologueI’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).
Cranky librarian face
Cranky librarian face

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!


Sources used:


  • He’s On My Mind. Dir. Kazeem Molake. Perf. Sherial Mckinney, Ayo Sorrells, Dylan Mooney. Vanguard Cinema, 2009.

A closer look at the reel librarians in the original ‘Ghostbusters’

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.

I have written about 1984’s Ghostbusters in bits and pieces before on the blog, including a “Who you gonna call?” post delving into the Librarian Ghost, as well as a “Repeat offenders” post highlighting John Rothman and his penchant for playing insensitive librarians in the early ’80s, including Ghostbusters. The comedy classic was also on the original list of reel librarians films I watched for my original undergraduate thesis, as well as on my list of best librarian films by decade.

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.

One of the Library Lion statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of Ghostbusters (1984)
One of the Library Lion statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of Ghostbusters (1984)

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!

Opening shot of Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)
Opening shot of Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)

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.)

Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

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!

Reel librarian screams
Reel librarian screams

You can see a clip from the opening scene here:

Ghostbusters Library Index Card and Entrance Theme” video uploaded by Dan Baierl is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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:

First glance at the library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984)
First glance at the library administrator in Ghostbusters (1984)

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.

Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters
Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

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.

Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters
Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

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 library administrator gets the jitters in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library administrator gets the jitters in Ghostbusters (1984)

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!

Paranormal book-stacking
Paranormal 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)

A library bookcase falls -- by accident! -- in a library scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
A library bookcase falls — by accident! — in a library scene from Ghostbusters (1984)

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!)

The library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)

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.

WHAT?!

The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in Ghostbusters (1984)
The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in Ghostbusters (1984)

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:

I previously identified Alice as fulfilling the dual roles of the Spinster Librarian character type, as well as the Comic Relief character type.

Her Spinster Librarian role is reflected in:

  • Her conservative, buttoned-up clothing
  • Uptight demeanor, as shown in the first shot, turning into timid/meek personality, after being scared by the librarian ghost
  • Rule-monger who is horrified first by the mess made by the spilling of library cards in the card catalog
  • Her sexual undesirability, or at least de-emphasis on her femininity, as revealed through the menstruation question and her horrified (and speechless) reaction to it

In my post about Comic Relief librarians, I wrote:

“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!

The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)
The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in Ghostbusters (1984)

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 varied facial expressions of the library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)
The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in Ghostbusters (1984)

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:

  • Conservative clothing
  • Poor social skills
  • Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
Little boy lost
Little boy lost

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.

Hmmm… I think I should add him to either my Hall of Shame or Dishonorable Mention lists…

The role of research:

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.

Side note:  Y’all know I looked up those titles, right? Although they were invented for the film, making Wikipedia’s List of Fictional Guidebooks, each title does play a role in subsequent Ghostbusters-related series and games. Each title — as well as the book Dr. Spengler wrote later on, Spengler’s Spirit Guide — is detailed in the Ghostbusters Wikia site. See here for the entry on Tobin’s Spirit Guide, here for the entry on Spates Catalog, and here for the entry on the Roylance Guide. Also, Ghostbusters: Tobin’s Spirit Guide was published last year, as a guide for the original movies, as well as the “expanded Ghostbusters universe, delving into supernatural phenomena from the comics, animated shows, video games, and other aspects of the franchise.”

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.

Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters” video uploaded by RayParkerJuniorVEVO is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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! 🙂

Sources used:

‘The mask of’ organization

“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.

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Bureau of Records sign

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.”

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
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.”

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
A librarian doing his duty, no more, no less
Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Those are very deep drawers, aren’t they?

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.

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Curiosity isn’t always a good thing, librarian

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!”


Sources used:


  • The Mask of Dimitrios. Dir. Jean Negulesco. Perf. Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott. Warner Bros., 1944.

The librarian in ‘The Attic’

“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:

The Attic (1980) – Original Theatrical Trailer” video uploaded by Ryan Clark is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

It’s a strange film, in more ways than one. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS throughout.)

This plot summary from IMDB.com hints at the crazy:

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.

Screenshot from The Attic
Memories…

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…..

Screenshot from The Attic
Reel librarians in The Attic

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:

Screenshot from The Attic
Drinking in the library!

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:

Screenshot from The Attic
Reel librarians meeting outside the library
Screenshot from The Attic
Making friends
Screenshot from The Attic
Librarians celebrating!

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.

Screenshot from The Attic
Librarian hallucinations

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.

Screenshot from The Attic
A reel librarian’s home routine

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.

Screenshot from The Attic
A reel librarian’s retirement party
Screenshot from The Attic
Reel librarians celebrating

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.”

Screenshot from The Attic
Retirement cake

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. 😉

At the front counter
At the front counter

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:

Collage of reel librarian Louse in The Attic
Collage of reel librarian Louse in The Attic

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?


Sources used:


  • The Attic. Dir. George Edwards & Gary Graver. Perf. Carrie Snodgress, Ray Milland, Ruth Cox. MGM/UA, 1980.
  • The Attic (1980) Plot.” Internet Movie Database, n.d.
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