‘Just Cause’ to re-examine a Latina newspaper archivist portrayal

“Delores Rodriguez. Keeper of the archives. News trivia expert.”

It’s scary season again during the month of October, and this is a time when I focus on analyzing reel librarian portrayals in horror movies, thrillers, etc. We’re also finishing up the annual observation of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, when we celebrate “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” This is a time to research and reflect on more diverse stories and figures of Hispanic history — and present. It’s also a time to reflect on and re-examine one’s own biases. There are unfortunately very few Latinx portrayals of reel librarians or archivists; in my most recent “Reel librarians of color” post from earlier this year, I have identified only 4 (!) Latinx reel librarian portrayals thus far. Because of the “scary season” period, I chose to revisit the 1995 thriller Just Cause, in which Liz Torres, a well-known American character actor and comedian with Puerto Rican heritage, plays newspaper archivist Delores Rodriguez, a character with Cuban roots.

At first glance, Just Cause (1995), which stars Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Blair Underwood, Kate Capshaw, and Ed Harris, seems to have a patina of respectability and pedigree, thanks to its extremely talented cast. Connery also served as an executive producer on the film, which is based on John Katzenbach’s 1992 novel of the same name. Here’s an original trailer for the movie, which outlines the plot:

“Just Cause (1995) Official Trailer – Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne Movie HD” video, uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License.

As I think you can tell from the trailer, this film is a MESS. In my opinion, this movie actually gets worse the more you watch it and the more you think about it. I found myself nodding in agreement at this recent analysis of the film, “Racial Inequalities of the 90s Brought to Your Screen: Review of Film ‘Just Cause’,” a review which points out how problematically racist this film is, with scenes and themes of white saviors, white privilege, and racist stereotypes. This movie wants to get credit for “good intentions” when Sean Connery’s character, a law professor, calls out in a legal debate the unjust imbalance of Black men in prison and Black men who are prosecuted, but the script and its “shock” twist ending end up contradicting itself.

No surprises, then, when I share that the portrayal of reel archivist Delores, a Latina, is not particularly positive, either. Let’s examine the 3 scenes in which Delores features.

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS ALERT*

Introduction to the newspaper archives and archivist

At 13 1/2 minutes into the movie, law professor Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery) has traveled down to Florida with his wife (Kate Capshaw) and young daughter (a very young Scarlett Johansson in her second movie role!). Paul visits his father-in-law, Phil Prentiss (Kevin McCarthy), who seems to be the head of a Miami newspaper, in order to get access to records and archives. Phil also takes the opportunity to diss the newspaper (“Not a bad paper as papers go, but of course that’s not saying a hell of a lot”) as he walks Paul through the newspaper offices. (White privilege alert! This movie has a lot of “good ol’ boy” types of scenes.)

Phil introduces the archivist Delores to Paul. We see that the archives room is filled with stacks and stacks of folders atop every surface. We also get a glimpse of Delores’s work station cubicle and computer. And Delores seems to be the only archives staff? (Compare to the 2015 film Spotlight, in which there are multiple newspaper researchers.)

A glimpse of the newspaper archives in Just Cause (1995)
A glimpse of the newspaper archives

Phil: Delores, sweetheart.

Delores: Hey, Mr. Phil. [They hug.]

Phil: It’s been a long time. This is Paul Armstrong, my son-in-law. [Delores takes off her glasses.]

(Click each image in the collage above to view in a larger window.)

Phil: Delores Rodriguez. Keeper of the archives. News trivia expert. Buried three husbands. Were it not for Libby [his wife], I could well be photo op #4. 

Delores: And how is Libby’s health these days?

Phil: It’s very good.

Delores: Pity. [Phil chuckles.]

Phil: Business. Paul needs to see what you’ve got on the Joanie Shriver murder trial.

Delores: That poor kid from Ochopee? 

Phil [to Paul]: Watch your back in here.

Delores then looks over Paul, bites her lip, and hums as she walks him over to the archives section, which has compressed shelving that she has to crank to open.

(Click each image in the collage above to view in a larger window.)

Delores only puts her glasses on to read files. She then takes off her glasses again when she returns to Paul.

We then cut to Paul seated at a microfiche machine reader, and we see a montage of articles relating to the murder case that led to the conviction of Bobby Earl Ferguson (Blair Underwood).

Delores: So far, we are online back to 1985. Everything else before that is still on microfiche, but I can dig around the back and see what else I can find.

Paul: How long will that take?

Delores [leaning in, wearing her glasses this time]: Oh, that depends, sweetheart. You would be amazed at what I can do with a little help.

Paul smirks, sighs, and turns back to microfiche machine.

(Click each image in the collage above to view in a larger window.)

Three side notes here:

  • The captions state that Delores “sings Guatanamera in Spanish” while she’s opening up the archives. OF COURSE I looked that up, and “Guatanamera” is a very famous Cuban song, and the title translates in English to “(The Woman) from Guantánamo.” This tidbit is primarily why I assume the character of Delores is meant to have Cuban heritage.
  • The call number label on the right-hand shelves reads: “Photos / Names / RAN-STI” (sorry the screenshot above is blurry, but you can make it out), but the stickers on the folders in that shelf clearly have “DEL” on them. The left-side shelf has folders with “ADJ” labels, so the “RAN-STI” call number label on the outside of the shelves is clearly an error. (Yes, I analyze call numbers on screen VERY thoroughly, as evidenced in this prior post, because incorrect call numbers are a personal pet peeve.)
  • Why is Paul on a microfiche machine? Delores just said that they have everything online back to 1985, which should cover the time period he’s looking at. And he’s clearly not searching archives online at a computer, because we can see the standard microfiche/film screen markings on the article closeup.

This introductory scene lasts two minutes total. What did we learn from this scene about Delores?

  • Delores is definitely NOT the “Spinster Librarian” character type. We learn that she has been married multiple times, and she is still clearly interested in men, from her flirtatious remarks at both Phil and Paul. But she is written more as an aggressive, man-mad flirt — although Phil is the one who first calls her “sweetheart” and jokes about her love life while introducing her!
  • Delores clearly cares about her appearance, wearing colorful clothing, full makeup, and her hair in an updo hairstyle. Overall, she makes quite a glamorous impression. But is she also being sartorially styled to evoke a Latina stereotype of the “sex siren and feisty-Latina trope“?
  • Delores is self-conscious about her glasses — or perhaps she has traditional, old-fashioned ideas about female beauty and glasses (e.g., that old saying that “men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses”).
  • Delores is most likely Cuban or of Cuban heritage, based on the Cuban song she is humming. (And she is being played by a Latina actress of Puerto Rican heritage.)
  • Delores immediately demonstrates her knowledge of the murder trial and location. However, her knowledge of the murder and phrasing of “that poor kid from Ochopee” comes off more like gossip, rather than professional knowledge.

This scene could have been a much more straightforward scene, with a brief introduction and then the newspaper archivist pulling the necessary files to propel the plot. I’m left with a lot of “Why?” questions. Why did they include so much backstory for a minor character? Why was Delores portrayed this way, as an incurable flirt always “on the prowl” for her next husband? Why do the male characters have to smirk at her and treat her like a running gag? Why was she portrayed as more of a gossip than a knowledgeable professional? Why isn’t she thanked for her help? Why is Delores seemingly the only Latinx character in a film set in Miami and the surrounding rural counties?

And as this article points out:

When it comes to Latino representations in Hollywood, they’re often rooted in stereotypes. Most female characters are either cleaning ladies or spicy Latinas.

Tre’vell Anderson, “4 Latino stereotypes in TV and film that need to go,” LA Times, 27 April 2017.

While Delores is not a Latina cleaning lady in Just Cause, she is portrayed as a “spicy Latina” stereotype.

Spoiler: It goes downhill from here.

More microfilm research

At 48 mins into the movie, Paul returns to the newspaper archives for information on another convicted serial killer, Blair Sullivan (Ed Harris), who Bobby Earl claims is the real killer. We get another closeup of microfiche.

(Click each image in the collage above to view in a larger window.)

Delores: They called it “The Pilgrimage of Death.” Sold a lot of papers. The guy started out with his landlady in New Orleans, a prostitute in Mobile, and a sailor in Pensacola. And then he got real busy — a body every 100 miles.

Paul: Pensacola? When was that? 

Delores: Oh, late April, early May? You know, it was incredible. APBs in 3 states, FBI flyers all over the place,  and nobody spots him.

In this 30-second scene, Delores’s information once again propels the plot forward. She is serving as an Information Provider in this scene. But again, the script is written as though Delores is gossiping (“sold a lot of papers,” and “then he got real busy“), rather than being the informed professional that she is. It comes across so contradictory and condescending to me. Delores is also dressed in another colorful top, and she is wearing her glasses again.

Party scene

At one hour and 9 minutes into the movie, the legal team gathers for a celebration party at the newspaper businessman’s home. (Is that a conflict of interest? Very sketchy.) Also, they planned this party before inviting Bobby Earl to it — in an earlier scene, he turned down the invite and said that he had other plans — even though they are ostensibly celebrating Bobby Earl. I guess they’re really just wanting to celebrate the “just cause” and not the Black man at the center of their “just cause”? Are they just wanting to celebrate how the White men saved a Black man from injustice? (Fumes of White supremacy and White saviors here…)

Surprise, surprise, Delores is at the party — and looks to be the only person of color there. We get to see Delores out of the archives, and she is stunning with bright red lipstick and curly her hair down and one side pinned back with a bright red flower.

As Phil gets drinks to pass around for a toast, he passes by Delores, who is talking with Bobby Earl’s attorney, Lyle (Chris Sarandon).

The newspaper archivist, Delores, attends a party.
#TeamDelores

Lyle: The firm’s been more successful than I ever dreamed it would be when I started it.

Delores: So, Lyle, are you single at all?

Lyle: No, I’ve been married for 8 years. 

Delores: Oh good. It’s time for you to fool around.

[Phil hands Delores a glass of champagne.] 

Delores: Thank you, Phil.

Phil [shrugs and smirks at Lyle]: Oh, Delores.

After the toast (“To innocence revealed. To death denied. To the triumph of truth over appearance” — again, a vague, self-congratulatory toast ostensibly to the Black man who wasn’t there), we return to Delores’s conversation with the lawyer Lyle.

Delores: What are you doing after the party?

Lyle: What am I doing after the party? I have a very important appointment. I’m afraid, in fact, that I have to leave now.

This is the last time we see Delores onscreen, and her part of this scene lasts less than 30 seconds. It’s just a throwaway aside during the party scene. So why is this scene in here? They’re not bothering to celebrate Delores’s contributions to cracking the case. Rather, AGAIN, Delores is portrayed as man-crazy, and determined to go after married men. And she is now openly encouraging an affair (“It’s time for you to fool around” followed by “What are you doing after the party?“). And again, the man in her sights is shown to be visibly shaken at her attentions — even showing disgust? — and Phil is still hanging around long enough to “jokingly” warn other White men about Delores.

I’m honestly so angry at this script and how it has written Delores’s character. I have no idea if Delores is a character in the source novel; please leave a comment if you have read the book. Sure, it’s nice to see a newspaper archivist out of the archives and enjoying her personal life. Delores, at least, is confident in being herself. But then we constantly witness how men react negatively or jokingly around her, again like they’re not taking her seriously. They do not take her seriously as a woman. These men are laughing at her, and by proxy, it feels like the movie is inviting the viewers to laugh at her — to laugh at, again, the ONLY LATINX PERSON in a film set in and around Miami and southern Florida. Given how racist this movie is with other BIPOC characters, I don’t think this is a coincidence.

In essence, Delores “Keeper of the archives, news trivia expert, buried three husbands” Rodriguez serves as the film’s running gag. It’s such a condescendingly written character, and it feels more negative every time I think about it. And I do not pin the blame on Liz Torres. She seems to be making the best of a bad situation and having fun in the role — she is an Emmy-nominated comedian — but I feel uneasy being encouraged and manipulated to laugh AT her, not WITH her. Liz Torres deserved better than this tone-deaf script. Real-life newspaper archivists deserved better. We all deserved better.

My own self re-examination

This post was hard to write. Like I mentioned above, the more I sat down to write about this movie, the more frustrated and angry I got, and the harder it got to try and articulate WHY I was angry. And I’m going to be honest, part of the reason is because I was angry at myself. Because when I first analyzed this movie — maybe 20 years ago? — this is the way I summarized it:

Law professor Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery) investigates the case of a young man (Blair Underwood) on death row in a Florida prison. A newspaper archivist, Delores, helps him find information for his research; she is also known as a flirt.

Tone deaf. So innocuous-sounding (“she is also known as a flirt“), but that description papers over the harm of how this character is written. I also didn’t mention race at all in this description. I also originally stated that this character fulfills the Information Provider and the Naughty Librarian character types. After having revisited this film, I stand by the Information Provider role. But now I realize that, as written, this character was also meant to fulfill a Comic Relief role. We are being manipulated to laugh at her. It’s just not ok.

I know I didn’t like this movie when I first watched it — and this movie was not a commercial success! — but I didn’t realize back then the extent of how problematically racist and stereotypical this movie was. I didn’t call it out then, because I hadn’t taken the time to reflect. But this month IS a time and opportunity to reflect, and I’m calling it out now.

Additional perspectives

So you’ve read how negatively I reacted to Just Cause. How did other critics react?

Here are excerpts from a contemporary review by movie critic Desson Howe in The Washington Post:

Connery is touched by Dee’s devotion, as well as the revelation that Underwood went to Cornell. (What would he have done if Underwood hadn’t gone to Cornell?) […]

Of course you want Connery to rain justice on those small-minded rednecks (no matter what color they are) and save Underwood from the chair. Unfortunately, this desire for retribution is dangled like a moral carrot before the audience. […]

So it’s brutal, horribly manipulative, and we’ve seen this stuff before in better pictures.”

Desson Howe, “‘Just Cause’ (R).” The Washington Post, 17 Feb. 1995

I’ve linked to the following review a few times already in this post, and it’s well worth a read.

To clarify; Armstrong is a man who dedicates his life fighting for justice for black people he thinks are wrongfully imprisoned. So the only conclusion one can draw from this instance is that his entire premise is a fallacy. Connery’s only potential arc is to become a racist. All black people in jail should be there, according to Just Cause. […]

Most of the conversation was focused on plot twists and lines like Connery’s, “If that’s a confession, then my a** is a banjo!” Not on the fact that it was promoting an agenda with harmful consequences on an entire community. However, this film speaks to the decade and it is something we can learn from. Just Cause got a pass at the time because we didn’t see a very obvious problem that’s apparent today.

Kenneth Hedges, “Racial Inequalities of the 90s Brought to Your Screen: Review of Film ‘Just Cause’,” ArtsHelp, June 2021

My husband’s summation was similar:

The moral of the story seems to be that even an innocent Black man is guilty.

Continuing the conversation

Let’s wrap this one up!

Did you ever catch Just Cause back when it was released in the mid-1990s? Have you watched it since? Is it as problematic as you remember? Did you recall Delores’s character as a reel archivist? Please leave a comment and share.

Sources used

First impressions: Wong’s cameos in ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ (2021)

“Wong! I always bet on Asian.”

This is another post in my “first impressions” series, which focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or scenes in a library or archives. It’s been more than two years since I’ve written a “first impressions” post — the most recent one before this was in June 2019, for ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (2019) and its memorable fight scene in the NYPL‘ — because of, you know, the ongoing COVID pandemic. (Please get vaccinated if you can!) I am still not comfortable going inside a movie theater for 2+ hours to watch a movie with other people, but luckily, we have a drive-in theater nearby, the Rodeo Drive-in. I was sooooo happy they were showing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) on opening weekend, because (a) I really wanted to see the movie sooner rather than later, (b) I want to support a Marvel movie with a primarily Asian cast, hopefully the first of many, (c) I knew that one of my fave reel librarian characters, Wong, would be making a cameo, which I wrote about earlier this summer here, and therefore, (d) I wanted to write up a “first impressions” post for you all.

Please note: My “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of pausing the movie, taking notes, and rewatching scenes. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.

This also marks the fifth (!) time I’ve analyzed a reel librarian, library, or archives scene in a Marvel movie, three of which were “first impressions” posts. These past posts include: 

Below again is the full trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and you can see a glimpse of Wong battling Abomination in a cage fight at 1:51 minutes into the trailer below:

Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings | Official Trailer” by
Marvel Entertainment
, Standard YouTube License

First impressions of the movie overall

I’m sooooo happy that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a certified hit already after smashing Labor Day box office records — and during an ongoing pandemic! It deserves all its accolades and then some. Everything worked in this movie, as it had great balance with drama, action, humor, casting, direction, and special effects. Tony Leung’s performance was particularly epic and grounded this larger-than-life movie in real-world heartbreak.

This tweet really sums up my feelings about the movie, including the final bullet point:

As a White person, I know that I cannot fully comprehend what this movie — and its vision and execution of Asian excellence on and behind the screen — must mean for Asian viewers all over the world. But I do know how much representation and visibility matter, and I know this movie matters. As Vox reporter Alex Abad-Santos stated in a review about the movie, “It’s fantastic at touching upon the Asian American experience, and it’s so buoyant in how it celebrates Asian American culture. I, like [lead star Simu] Liu, would love if we could change the world and smash ceilings and persevere against the nasty stuff — racism, prejudice, hopelessness — that keeps us pinned down. If only it were as simple as buying a movie ticket.

My husband woke me up on Saturday morning with the news that Wong was trending on Twitter… because reel librarian Wong made not one, not two, but THREE cameos – !!! – in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (Plus, we already know that Wong makes a cameo in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, and of course, he will return in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.) It is quickly becoming the Wong Multiverse, and I’m not the only one who is excited about that!

Also, this realization warmed my librarian heart: ❤

Okay, so let’s get into each Wong cameo. And I cannot fully discuss Wong’s cameos without getting into major spoilers, so you are heretofore warned. If you haven’t already seen this movie, then go and watch it!

*MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT*

*MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT*

*MAJOR SPOILERS ALERT*

We good? Let’s go! And by the way, all the movie quotes below are to the best of my recollection. If I need to correct anything, please leave a comment and let me know.

Wong cameo #1

Wong’s first cameo comes in at about 30 minutes into the film, when Shang-Chi and Katy travel to an underground fight ring in Macau, which they later learn is run by Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’ er Zhang), who is a total badass. They’re led through the club by Jon Jon (played by Ronny Chieng), who takes them to the main cage fight, where Wong is battling Abomination. Abomination lands a punch on Wong, who shouts, “That hurt! Want me to show you how it feels?” Wong then manifests a couple of sling ring circles so that the Abomination punches himself out!

Shang-Chi Sees Wong and Abomination Fighting! Scene – SHANG-CHI (2021)” video, uploaded by KinoCheck International, Standard YouTube License

My favorite part of this scene? The reaction to Wong winning! The crowd erupts and chants Wong’s name. And Jon Jon shouts out the best line in the movie:

Wong! I always bet on Asian.

My second favorite part of this scene? That Wong thinks his way to a victory in the cage fight. Reel librarian role model. 😀

After the fight, we see Wong offering the Abomination some cream to help him heal. Wong then says something like, “Maybe you’ll start controlling your punches, like we talked about?” before they step through another sling ring circle.

My husband and I had slightly different takes on this scene. To me, it seemed like Wong was more like a mentor and helping to train Abomination (perhaps helping him to re-enter the MCU, as Abomination is most likely set to return in the upcoming She-Hulk TV series?). My husband focused more on the fact that the fight was staged, and wondering why trustworthy Wong was willing to participate in a rigged fight. Perhaps this is a Wong from another multiverse? Director Destin Daniel Cretton revealed in this interview that they had gone through many scenarios and pairings for this cameo, and that “we landed on a pairing [of Abomination and Wong] that felt really great, but it was also a pairing that made sense to what’s happening in the MCU around the time of our movie.”

This Screen Crush video also goes into some of the possibilities behind this cameo:

SHANG CHI: Wong and ABOMINATION Fight EXPLAINED” video by ScreenCrush, Standard YouTube License

Wong cameo #2

At the very end of the movie, Shang-Chi and Katy are sharing their adventures with a couple of their friends at a bar, and they see a sling ring circle appear behind their friends. Wong emerges, and we can see rows of books behind him. He’s back in a library!

And we are are ALL Shang-Chi in this exchange:

Wong [calling out]: Shang-Chi?

Shang-Chi: [raises his hand]

Wong: Shang-Chi? I’m Wong.

Shang-Chi: Yes, I know. I’m a big fan.

Wong then asks Shang-Chi if he has the ten rings, and that they have work to do. He also invites Katy along. And then we are blessed with another meme-worthy bit from actor Benedict Wong as he downs the friend’s drink and pulls this face:

Comic gold! Benedict Wong really has perfected the balance of the serious and humorous facets of Wong’s character.

In a red-carpet interview at one of the movie’s world premieres, Benedict Wong shared that he thinks Wong will be getting out of the library more in upcoming films. You can see the exchange at 1:18 minutes into the video below:

Benedict Wong on Leaving the Library | Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi Red Carpet LIVE” video by Marvel Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

But my favorite part of these this second cameo — plus the final cameo, which we’ll get to next! — is that Wong is back IN the library! It’s unclear whether he’s in a library at the New York sanctum or back in the main library at Kamar-Taj. My bet is on Kamar-Taj, based on the conversation in Wong’s third and final cameo.

Wong’s cameo #3

As the film finished, my husband remarked that this movie had focused on the legend of the ten rings — specifically, the legends stemming from Wenwu’s thousand-plus reign with the rings — but not the origin of the rings.

Enter Wong’s final cameo that slides in during the credits, in which Wong has clearly been wondering the same thing. Katy and Shang-Chi have joined Wong in the library — again, my bet is that he’s back in the Kamar-Taj library, where Wong is the master librarian — where Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner (just Banner as himself, not as Professor Hulk) have also joined in via hologram Zoom.

This line about the ten rings from Wong made the librarian side of me squeal in delight:

They don’t match any artifact from our codex.

Wong has been researching the ten rings! As Wong is the expert on the Infinity Stones, as demonstrated in a brief but pivotal scene in Avengers: Infinity War, it makes sense that he would be researching the ten rings, as well. And just the fact that the word “codex” is mentioned in a Marvel movie… yes, I am geeking out over that! (In historical contexts, a “codex” refers to a bound collection of handwritten sheets of paper, essentially an ancient manuscript and precursor to modern books. In more modern library science contexts, a “codex” is also used to mean an official list of names, ingredients, definitions, or artifacts, etc., kind of similar to an index. But a codex is complete unto itself, while an index usually accompanies a resource.) Wong could be using either one — or both! — meanings of the word “codex” in this scene.

Also, I loved that Wong is in top reel librarian mode in this scene. He’s doing what librarians do best: knowing who to ask for help! There’s a saying in the library world, that we librarians do not need to know everything ourselves, we just need to be able to find out who does. 😉 So that’s what Wong is demonstrating, that he is researching the ten rings, but he is also reaching out to others for help, such as Captain Marvel (for her expertise and experience in intergalatic technology) and Bruce Banner (for his scientific knowledge).

Wong also says to Shang-Chi that “every time you used the rings, we could feel it in Kamar-Taj.” This line is VERY revealing. For example, it reveals that:

  • the sorcerers could NOT feel the rings for the thousand-plus years that Wenwu controlled the rings, meaning that Wenwu was also accessing only a portion of the rings’ power
  • that Shang-Chi wields the true, full power of the rings, confirming what we saw visually when the rings’ aura turned from blue to a golden hue in Shang-Chi’s hands during the fight with his father
  • probably other beings or dimensions felt the rings, too, when Shang-Chi used them (ruh roh)
  • this is NOT the last we shall see of the rings or or Shang-Chi… perhaps we’ll even get a Shang-Chi and the Origin of the Ten Rings movie??

And finally, more comic gold, as Wong then joins Shang-Chi and Katy in singing karaoke! EPIC. 😀 😀 😀

You can see more of this mid-credits scene and theories in this Screen Crush video:

SHANG CHI POST CREDITS SCENE EXPLAINED” video by ScreenCrush, Standard YouTube License

Final thoughts and musings

  • I was surprised — pleasantly so! — that Wong was as impactful a character in this movie as he was, and also what a vital character he is proving to be in the MCU, and potentially in the multiverse. Wong helps set up the continuation of Shang-Chi as a character (and the ten rings as important artifacts), so he is a crucial part of this movie. Wong’s not just a cameo.
  • Wong had to have been aware that Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing, was the one running the cage fight club. But he didn’t know who her brother, Shang-Chi, was? There’s something fishy about that, especially as you would think Wong would be sure to research who owned the club, plus their family connections. Hmmm….
  • Wong is very well-connected and knows EVERYBODY, based off his holographic Zoom session with Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner. In my experience, this is also pretty true-to-life to librarians, at least for academic librarians. On a college or university campus, librarians tend to work with a wide range of faculty, students, and staff across various departments and program areas, so we tend to have a lot of connections and personal relationships across campus. It makes sense to me that Wong would also have a lot of connections across the MCU.
  • Wong is well-known AND well-loved, judging by the crowd chanting his name after his cage fight with Abomination (and the fact that Wong was trending on Twitter the day after the movie’s premiere!)
  • In my post exploring perspectives about Wong’s reel librarian character, I noted the criticism about how Wong’s character lacks agency or a central, in-depth narrative. In that post, I wondered “Will Wong have more of an independent identity and narrative” in upcoming films? And this film seems to be answering that question with a resounding YES! 😀
  • And whatever Dr. Strange is up to, Wong is the glue, and the one doing the work out there. Wong is not just Dr. Strange’s sidekick; rather, he is his colleague and demands recognition and respect on his own terms. (Also see my post about Avengers: Endgame and how Wong is the one who actually assembled the Avengers.)
  • Wong serves as both an Information Provider and Comic Relief character types in his cameos in this movie.

Continuing the conversation

So those are my thoughts and first impressions after watching — and cheeringfor ! — Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. What are your thoughts? Did you like the movie? What do you think Wong’s up to with Abomination? Please leave a comment and share!

Also, can’t get enough of Wong? Here are additional posts I’ve written about reel librarian Wong:

Sources used

‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ librarian

“Didn’t even get to keep my damn tiara.”

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post on the Go Fug Yourself site about how the film Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) was now old enough to buy booze. In other words, happy 21st anniversary of the premiere of this cult classic! I first saw this movie years ago, and I remembered three main things about it: (1) it is a teen comedy, but it goes a LOT darker then you would expect, (2) this film is super quotable, and (3) it features a reel librarian! This last reason is why you’re here, right? 😉 So let’s get to it!

If you haven’t seen Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) in a while, the film’s tagline will get you up to speed: “A small-town beauty pageant turns deadly as it becomes clear that someone will go to any lengths to win.” The plot includes murder, a huge swan float engulfed in flames, beauty pageant contestants upchucking contaminated seafood, and so much more!

The film is very well-cast, starring: Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Brittany Murphy (RIP), Amy Adams (I had totally forgotten she was in this movie!), Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley (I had *not* forgotten about her scene-stealing her way through this film!), and Ellen Barkin, among many others. Here’s a trailer:

“Drop Dead Gorgeous Trailer” video uploaded by pbiasizzo, Standard YouTube License

The reel librarian shows up in two short cameos, but each time, she is very memorable.

Librarian scene #1: “Didn’t even get to keep my damn tiara.”

Claudia Wilkens plays Iona Hildebrandt, who gets introduced as the local pageant winner in 1945, the first year of the Sarah Rose Miss Teenage Princess pageant. And that first beauty pageant winner grew up to be… the local public librarian! Does it blow the audience’s mind that the movie’s title could also include the librarian?!

Below is a side-by-side comparison of Iona in ’45 versus 54 years later. It’s interesting to note that however else she has changed physically, Iona still wears her hair in a similar style, with rolls of hair on either side of a middle part.

The pageant winner becomes the town librarian
The pageant winner becomes the town librarian

She reveals that she had to give up her crown for scrap because of World War II. And she utters one of my favorite lines in the film:

“Didn’t even get to keep my damn tiara.”

You can tell she is STILL upset about this, 54 years later. Which is even funnier as the actress says all this in the driest, most deadpan voice and intonation.

The reel librarian with all her reel library props
The reel librarian with all her reel library props

The words “library” or “librarian” are never uttered, so we only know that this character is a reel librarian because of the physical props and setting. The library background behind her includes a desk, stacks of books, old lamps, bookcases, files, and tall windows. All those stacks of books give the library a fairly messy look, and the setting is all about the inanimate objects. There are no other people in this library.

The reel librarian’s personal props include a book and a due date stamp. She is dressed very plainly and conservatively, in a brown dress with long sleeves and a high neck. I am rather shocked that they did NOT add glasses on a chain to her look!

Here’s a clip of this brief scene, which lasts 15 seconds:

“Mount Rose American Teen Princess 1945” video, uploaded by Cam Williams, Standard YouTube License

Librarian scene #2: “It’s best with lots of butter.

Librarian shows up again briefly, this time to explain lutefisk, a culinary detail that immediately reinforces the film’s setting in the Upper Midwest, where many Nordic immigrants settled in the U.S.

What is lutefisk, you may wonder? The librarian is back to explain:

“Lutefisk is codfish that’s been salted and soaked in lye for a week or so.”

She pauses, and then states:

“It’s best with lots of butter.”

Yeah, lutefisk is… an acquired taste. (My mom, a real-life librarian, once had a shirt that read: “Just say no to lutefisk!“)

The reel librarian explains about lutefisk and how it's best with lots of butter.
Truer words were never spoken. See this gif, and others from the film, online here.

Almost everything in this scene looks the same as the first library scene. The librarian still has a library stamp in her hands — although this time, she’s sitting at her desk instead of standing in front of it — and she’s wearing the same dress and hairstyle.

This final scene with the reel librarian lasts less than 10 seconds total.

The reel librarian’s role

What is the purpose of this reel librarian’s role in Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)? Although she is quite informative — first embodying the origins of the beauty pageant and then explaining what lutefisk is, with devastating efficiency — she primarily serves the role of Comic Relief in this Class IV film. This reel librarian is like the straight (wo)man in a comedy routine.

The comedy in these librarian cameos are all about juxtapositions, including hearing a librarian cuss and seeing how this beautiful young woman, the first winner of the local beauty pageant, turns into a sour-faced librarian.

Ahhhhhhh, the comedic irony! The upending of expectations! Or wait… is this really a cautionary tale of what awaits beauty pageant winners?! Discuss. 😉

Sources used

Reel librarian Mr. Stringer returns in ‘The Alphabet Murders’ (1965)

“Of course, we would have no idea that Mr. Stringer is a reel librarian character if we were not already familiar with MGM’s Miss Marple movies.”

In contrast to this month’s earlier post, a marathon post delving into Mr. Stringer’s village librarian role in MGM’s 1960s Miss Marple movie series, this week’s post is short and sweet.

Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford, who were married in real life, reprised their roles as Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple in a joint cameo appearance in the 1965 comedy The Alphabet Murders. The film was based on Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel The ABC Murders.

Interesting casting choices abound in this film:

  • Tony Randall, an American actor, played the role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (!)
  • The very first actor to portray Poirot onscreen, Austin Trevor, played a cameo role in the film; this was also Trevor’s final film.
  • Robert Morley plays Hastings in the film, and Morley also starred alongside Margaret Rutherford in the second of the Miss Marple films, Murder at the Gallop (1963)!

The cameo scene with Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple lasts a total of 30 seconds. Poirot and Hastings descend a building’s front steps when Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple, in the middle of a conversation about the ABC murders, walk along the sidewalk and up the same stairs.

Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple make a cameo appearance in The Alphabet Murders (1965)
Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple make a cameo appearance in The Alphabet Murders (1965)

Miss Marple: I cannot see why they’re having such difficulty. The whole thing is very clear, Mr. Stringer.

Mr. Stringer: I quite agree, Miss Marple.

Miss Marple: The solution is ABC to anyone with half a brain cell.

Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple make a cameo appearance in The Alphabet Murders (1965)
Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple make a cameo appearance in The Alphabet Murders (1965)

During this brief scene, we hear strings of the distinctive theme song from the Miss Marple movies, another inside reference!

Remember, this film was released in 1965, one year after the final Miss Marple film, Murder Ahoy! (1964). The IMDb.com Trivia page for Murder Most Foul (1964) reveals there had been rumors about making a fifth Miss Marple film, possibly one based on Christie’s 1942 novel The Body in the Library, but this never came to pass. But perhaps their cameo in this film was a way to extend potential interest in continuing the series?

I find it extremely interesting that the screenwriters took care for each character to say each other’s names — Miss Marple, Mr. Stringer — so that the audience could be “in on the joke” for their cameo roles. However, the two actors were not included in the film’s credits.

Of course, we would have no idea that Mr. Stringer is a reel librarian character if we were not already familiar with MGM’s Miss Marple movies, Murder, She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy! (1964). Although the name “Miss Marple” is recognizable on its own, being one of Agatha Christie’s iconic recurring characters, Mr. Stringer’s name would not be. At his wife’s insistence, his role as the village librarian sidekick was created just for MGM’s Miss Marple movies.

Due to the very brief time onscreen in The Alphabet Murders (1965), Mr. Stringer’s reel librarian role in this film gets downgraded to the Class IV category, films in which librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue. He serves as Comic Relief in this comedy.

Last but not least, here’s a YouTube video of Mr. Stringer’s cameo and final screen appearance of his memorable reel librarian character:

“Hercule Poirot Meets Miss. Jane Marple” video uploaded by
docwho97
, standard YouTube license

Sources used

Here’s lookin’ at you, Mr. Stringer

“I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.”

In the early 1960s, MGM made a series of Miss Marple comedies starring Margaret Rutherford as the indomitable sleuth. The films were loosely based on Agatha Christie’s works, and the author herself was decidedly NOT a fan of these comedies. Love it or hate it, Rutherford does make the role of Miss Marple her own! The films also feature Rutherford’s real-life husband and actor, Stringer Davis, in the role of village librarian Mr. Stringer, a role created just for the films.

Quite a few years ago, I purchased a box set of all 4 films in the series: Murder, She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy! (1964). I had never gotten around to watching them all — until now. Oversight corrected!

DVD box set of MGM's Miss Marple movie series
DVD box set of MGM’s Miss Marple movie series

Because all the films follow a basic formula, I thought it made sense to do one big post comparing-and-contrasting aspects and themes from the entire series. (It has taken me WEEKS, y’all, to watch all the films, rewatch them for note-taking and analysis purposes, create photo collages, and finally put together this post. All for the love of reel librarians. ❤ )

Therefore, heads up:

  • This is a MARATHON post, so buckle up for the reel librarian (bicycle) ride
  • Potential spoilers ahead

Below is the trailer for the first (and best) in the series, Murder, She Said, so you can get a sense of the jaunty and lighthearted feel of the movies. You can first see Mr. Stringer 49 seconds into the trailer below. The main musical theme is also so catchy, you’ll find yourself humming it for days. No, it’s just me, then? 😉

“Murder, She Said (1961) – Trailer” video uploaded by Warner Movies on Demand is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Let’s start with the basics

First things first, let’s provide some context with the basics of each film. All the films were directed by George Pollock and starred Margaret Rutherford played the role of Miss Marple. All the films also featured Stringer Davis as village librarian Mr. Stringer and Charles Tingwell as Inspector Craddock.

Murder, She Said (1961):

  • Source:
    Based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel, 4.50 from Paddington, aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, featuring Miss Marple
  • Movie plot:
    While traveling by train, Miss Marple witnesses the strangling of a woman in the carriage of a passing train. With the aid of her friend, Mr. Stringer, she figures out the body must have been thrown off the train near Ackenthorpe Hall. When the police don’t take her seriously, she takes a job as a housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall in order to conduct her own investigation.

Fun fact:
A young Joan Hickson co-stars as Mrs. Kidder;
Hickson would later star as Miss Marple in the long-running BBC Miss Marple TV series!

Murder at the Gallop (1963):

  • Source:
    Based on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, After the Funeral, aka Funerals are Fatal — which features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
  • Movie plot:
    When Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer are out soliciting donations for a charity, they visit the reclusive Mr. Enderby, arriving at his estate just in time to witness his death. Miss Marple, suspicious that Mr. Enderby’s death is not accidental, becomes even more suspicious when his sister, Cora, is murdered. When the police don’t take her seriously, Miss Marple books a stay at a riding school/hotel run by one of Mr. Enderby’s heirs in order to conduct her own investigation.

Fun fact:
Miss Marple refers to an Agatha Christie novel, The Ninth Life, which is a made-up title!

Murder Most Foul (1964):

  • Source:
    Based (very, very loosely) on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, aka Blood Will Tell — which, again, features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
  • Plot:
    Mrs. McGinty, a former actress, is found murdered, and her lodger is suspected of the crime. During the trial, Miss Marple is the lone holdout on the jury, believing the lodger innocent. When the police don’t take her seriously — are we sensing a pattern here?! — Miss Marple joins a regional theatre company in order to conduct her own investigation.

Fun fact:
The movie title comes from a line from Hamlet, when the Ghost comments about his own death,
Murder most foul as in the best it is /
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.”

Murder Ahoy! (1964):

  • Source:
    Based on Agatha Christie’s characters and not on any particular source novel. However, there are plot similarities to Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel, They Do It with Mirrors, aka Murder with Mirrors, which features Miss Marple as the central sleuth.
  • Plot:
    Shortly after joining a local trust’s board of directors, Miss Marple witnesses the death of a fellow trustee. She doesn’t believe his death is an accident, and she thinks there’s something fishy about HMS Battledore, a ship the Trust purchased for the rehabilitation of young criminals. When the police don’t take her seriously — what else is new?! — she boards the ship in order to conduct her own investigation.

Fun fact:
There’s a tongue-in-cheek reference in the movie to Agatha Christie’s long-running play, The Mousetrap, which premiered in 1952.

Mr. Stringer’s screen time

As I watched each movie in the series, I kept track of how much screen time Mr. Stringer had in each movie, to see if his role ever increased with subsequent films.

Murder,
She Said 
(1961)
Murder at
the Gallop 
(1963)
Murder
Most Foul 
(1964)
Murder
Ahoy! 
(1964)
Stringer’s
screen time (mins)
~15 mins~18 mins~19 mins~19 mins
Stringer’s
screen time (%)
17% of total runtime22% of total runtime21% of total runtime21% of total runtime

As you can see from the table above, Mr. Stringer’s role definitely increased after the first film, in which he was only onscreen for a total of 15 minutes, or 17% of the film’s total runtime. In subsequent films, Mr. Stringer’s screen time remained pretty consistent, between 18-19 minutes, or 21-22% of each film’s total runtime.

Mr. Stringer’s role

Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is not a character borne of Agatha Christie’s imagination, yet he is a recurring character in each film of the series. Why, then, was this character created for the series?

“Her husband and closest companion, Stringer Davis, was pulled in for the ride as well in a part that was created especially for him at Rutherford’s insistence. As the timid librarian Jim Stringer, he was the perfect partner for the indomitable Jane.”

The Metzinger Sisters, Silver Scenes, 2014

In a biography of Margaret Rutherford, Andy Merriman also wrote that Rutherford, in her 70s during the filming of the series, insisted on having her husband appear alongside her.

By all accounts, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford were devoted to each other, with Davis accompanying his wife wherever and whenever she was filming. Their relationship was a lifelong love story. They married in 1945 after a 15-year courtship, and they were together until Rutherford’s death in 1972. Davis took care of Rutherford in her last years, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1973, only a year after the love of his life passed away.

Mr. Stringer’s role stays consistent throughout the series, and his character and personality never change. Although a supporting character, his role is vital in moving the plot forward. He is there as a companion to Miss Marple, a steady, adoring, supportive sidekick. He is a supporting character who fulfills two major character types in each film:

  • Information Provider — Miss Marple sends Mr. Stringer on various research quests in each film, so he literally provides information to her (and the audience).
  • Comic Relief — He plays the “straight man” in their comic relationship. Miss Marple makes jokes or says something outrageous, Mr. Stringer reacts, the audience laughs. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Film critic David Cornelius also highlights Mr. Stringer’s comic role:

“She [Miss Marple] teams up with her librarian friend to crack the case when the police ignore her […] The librarian friend, played by Stringer Davis, would appear as comic relief in all four Marple films, perhaps because the filmmakers felt that Miss Marple needed a Watson-ish sidekick.”

David Cornelius, DVD Talk review, March 2006

Therefore, each film in the series ends up in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role.

A librarian by any other name…

Although Mr. Stringer plays the village librarian, does the word “librarian” ever actually get said out loud in the series? In a word… NO. The closest we get is in the second film, Murder at the Gallop (1963), when Miss Marple describes Mr. Stringer as “custodian of the local library.”

Mr. Stringer as Information Provider and the importance of research

As I mentioned above, Mr. Stringer’s successful research quests always save the day. It is clear that Miss Marple trusts Mr. Stringer. Because Miss Marple trusts him — and I would argue also because he’s a librarian — the audience trusts him. Mr. Stringer makes it possible for Miss Marple to have her “aha!” moment at the end of each movie. I will now highlight Mr. Stringer’s major research quests in each film.

Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder, She Said (1961):

At 53 minutes into the first film, Mr. Stringer bicycles to Miss Marple’s house for a nightcap (a “small beer”) and plotting. They’re interrupted by Inspector Craddock, who tries to warn them off the case. (It doesn’t work.)

Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer react in different ways to Inspector Craddock's warning, in Murder She Said (1961)
Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer react in different ways to Inspector Craddock’s warning, in Murder, She Said (1961)

Miss Marple: Well now, how did you get on at the probate registry?

Mr. Stringer: Really Miss Marple, I think in view of what the inspector said —

Miss Marple [interrupting]: Did you see the will?

Mr. Stringer: Yes.

Miss Marple [while uncorking the beer]: What did it say?

Mr. Stringer: Well, old Mr. Ackenthorpe’s father obviously didn’t get on very well with him.

Miss Marple: I’m not surprised at that. Go on.

Mr. Stringer: You see, the house and the income from the family fortune are his, but he can’t touch the fortune itself. That’s the first point.

Miss Marple: Yes? [hands Mr. Stringer a beer.]

Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder at the Gallop (1963):

At 1 hour and 5 minutes into this film, Mr. Stringer is in Miss Marple’s hotel room. From underneath her bureau, Miss Marple takes out a painting that’s all wrapped up in paper and string and hands the parcel to Mr. Stringer.

Miss Marple: Now you are, please, to take this to London to the art dealers. They will appraise it. And get it back here as quickly as you can. 

Mr. Stringer: All right, if it will help. 

Miss Marple: Well, I’m hopeful it will not only help but clinch the whole matter, so to speak.

Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple plot together to advance the plot in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple plot together to advance the plot in Murder at the Gallop (1963)

When Mr. Stringer comes back from London, they continue their conversation.

Miss Marple: What did you find out? 

Mr. Stringer: You were quite right, Miss Marple. It’s worth at least 50,000 pounds.

Miss Marple: I knew it. Then it was that picture after all. 

Mr. Stringer: It certainly was. 

Miss Marple: Excellent. We can now proceed with certainty. 

Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Most Foul (1964):

At 45 minutes into the third film, Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer meet in a public garden and sit on a bench.

Miss Marple: It seems to me what whomever Mrs. McGinty was blackmailing must have had some connection with the production of this play in 1951, and is with the Cosgood Company.[…] Now, what organization would be likely to keep a record of all professional theatrical productions?

Mr. Stringer: The censorship people, I suppose.

Miss Marple: To be sure. The Lord Chamberlain’s office in London. I should be obliged if you would go there posthaste and inquire into the history of this play. Where it was produced in 1951, who was in it, and so on.

[…]

Mr. Stringer: Very well, Miss Marple. I’ll take the next train up. 

About 10 minutes later, Mr. Stringer then calls Miss Marple up from a public phone booth in order to relay the results of his research. He looks extremely pleased with himself!

Mr. Stringer reports the results of his research to Miss Marple, in Murder Most Foul (1964)
Mr. Stringer is on the case!

Mr. Stringer: You were right, Miss Marple. Remember September was put on in 1951, a tryout performance at Pebblestone-on-Sea.

Miss Marple: Very interesting. Particularly as the author claims that he’s only recently completed the work.

Mr. Stringer: Oh, well, that may have been embarrassment. You see, the Lord Chamberlain’s office particularly remembers it because it was booed off the stage halfway through the second act.

Miss Marple: That doesn’t surprise me in the least. The point is, was there anyone we know in it?

Mr. Stringer: I have obtained a full cast list, and in it occurs the name of Margaret McGinty. 

Miss Marple: What? Really? Excellent. Now, tell me, apart from Mr. Cosgood, who else in this company was connected with this production? No one? You sure? Yes. All right, Jim. I was just thinking. Of course, it’s possible that someone has since changed his or her name. Look, Jim. Drop the cast list in to me at Westward Ho!, will you? Thank you. Goodbye.

Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Ahoy! (1964):

A little over 52 minutes into the fourth and final film, Miss Marple breaks some bad news to Mr. Stringer, that he’s a suspect in a murder! But after she gives him some brandy to help with get over the shock (“Me? A murderer?”), she has a research-related task for him to do.

Mr. Stringer sips a brandy after learning he's a murder suspect, in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Mr. Stringer sips a brandy after learning he’s a murder suspect, in Murder Ahoy! (1964)

Miss Marple: I found this envelope in Compton’s sea chest, and it had been steamed open. […] Mr. Stringer, you must return to Milchester at once. Go and see the secretary of the trust, Miss Pringle, and ask her what kind of communication from the ship would likely to be contained in an unusual envelope of this sort. 

Mr. Stringer: But, Miss Marple, the police. I thought you said I was to lie low. 

Miss Marple: Well, use the back stairs, turn up your collar, and pull down your cap. Goodbye. Good luck. 

Mr. Stringer gets the requested information back to Miss Marple in an unexpected way. He ties the evidence around a rock, rows out to the boat Miss Marple’s staying in, and then throws the rock through her window. Only problem is, his aim is too good; the rock hits Inspector Craddock in the head, and Craddock passes out. AWKWARD.

Miss Marple:  Do you know who threw that rock? My friend Mr. Stringer.

Inspector Craddock: Mr. Stringer?!

Miss Marple: Yes, and you’ll thank him for it. I found this envelope in Compton’s cabin after his death. 

Inspector Craddock: Assaulting a police officer, withholding information… again.

Miss Marple: Now, don’t be petty, Chief Inspector. This type of envelope is used for the ship’s quarterly report to the trustees, and Mr. Stringer has enclosed the latest example for our perusal.

Mr. Stringer as Comic Relief

While Mr. Stringer rarely makes a joke himself — at least, not intentionally — he does regularly find himself in the most ridiculously awkward situations. Behold:

Comic relief in Murder, She Said (1961):

In Murder, She Said (1961), he dresses up as a train worker, and for his efforts, he nearly gets run over by a train. Poor Mr. Stringer.

He then (awkwardly) assists Miss Marple — “Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?” — so she can take a peek over a wall.

"Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?”
“Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?”

Comic relief in Murder at the Gallop (1963):

Early in Murder at the Gallop (1963), Mr. Stringer once again gets roped into physically assisting Miss Marple so she can have another peek into somewhere off limits, this time the room in which the heirs of the murdered man react to the contents of his last will and testament.

Mr. Stringer gives Miss Marple a (literal) helping hand, in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Mr. Stringer gives Miss Marple a (literal) helping hand

And now for the comic moment that even made this film’s trailer — Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer DO THE TWIST. As you can see below, Mr. Stringer realllly gets into it!

Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple dance the twist in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Shake it, Mr. Stringer!

Comic relief in Murder Most Foul (1964):

Early in Murder Most Foul (1964), Miss Marple calls on the sister of the deceased woman, using an excuse of collecting things for the church jumble sale. Hidden in the jumble? Mr. Stringer! He’s hiding until called upon to pop out and pretend to be a bookseller, so that Miss Marple can snoop while the sister is distracted. As you do.

Mr. Stringer hides in a wagon of junk in a scene from Murder Most Foul (1964)
Can you spot Mr. Stringer amidst the junk?

Comic relief in Murder Ahoy! (1964):

In the final film, Murder Ahoy! (1964), Mr. Stringer is tasked with following a group of delinquent boys who come ashore. His ingenious hiding place? A tramp’s boat! He gets discovered almost immediately by the tramp, who demands to know “why a grand gentleman like yourself who’s able to live in a lovely hotel like that is wanting to sleep in my bed.”

Mr. Stringer gets caught by a tramp in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Mr. Stringer gets caught!

Library scenes

There are a few library scenes in the series, but Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is only seen in an actual library in the first film. Fittingly, this scene serves as our introduction to this reel librarian.

Public library scene in Murder, She Said (1961)

This scene occurs at 7 1/2 minutes into the film, after Miss Marple gets upset at Inspector Craddock’s insinuation that she’s been hallucinating a murder. She grabs three books stacked up on a bench in her hall and walks to the library.

We then see Mr. Stringer talking with another patron, a hard-faced and no-nonsense woman, who is inquiring about a newly published mystery novel.

Our first look at Mr. Stringer in Murder She Said (1961)
Our first look at Mr. Stringer in Murder, She Said (1961)

Mr. Stringer: I’m sorry, Mrs. Stainton, The Hatrack Hanging, Falcon-Smith’s latest, I’m afraid we haven’t received our copy yet.

Mrs. Stainton: Plain inefficiency. Anyway, I want to know the moment it comes in.

Mr. Stringer: Of course, of course, Mrs. Stainton.

When Miss Marple comes into the library, his face lights up. We see more of the library as she walks by rows of bookcases and past a young man in the background flipping through a book. Mrs. Stainton stalks off upon Miss Marple’s arrival, and Mr. Stringer reveals his favoritism — and his ability to lie!

Mr. Stringer puts up a finger — in effect, shushing Miss Marple. He then pulls out a book from under the desk, The Hatrack Hanging.

Mr. Stringer: I’ve been keeping it for you.

I love the detail of the tacked-up notecards on the bookcases, serving as call number directives. This is a low-key library set!

Miss Marple pulls him into the stacks and asks if he thinks she’s unstable or given to hallucinations. Mr. Stringer seems properly horrified at the suggestion. (His job, first and always, is to reassure and support Miss Marple, and he does an excellent job of it.) Miss Marple then reveals to the audience why she and Mr. Stringer are qualified to investigate the murder on their own.

Miss Marple: Mr. Stringer, how many detective novels would you say we have read over the years?

Mr. Stringer: Impossible to say. Certainly many hundred.

Miss Marple: Yes. Which gives us, wouldn’t you agree, a certain knowledge of the criminal mind?

Mr. Stringer: Oh, most assuredly.

Miss Marple: Well, this is where we put that knowledge to the test. 

Mr. Stringer: We?

Miss Marple: Yes. We.

(I would also argue that this short exchange also explains why Mr. Stringer’s character was made a librarian, because OF COURSE a librarian would have ready and steady access to detective novels.)

Mrs. Stainton interrupts this bit of camaraderie when she walks back to the front desk and discovers The Hatrack Hanging book! Uh-oh…

Mrs. Stainton spies a library book in Murder, She Said (1961)
What do we have here?!

Mrs. Stainton: So it has come in!

Mr. Stringer [oh-so-innocently]: Oh, has it?

Mrs. Stainton [to Miss Marple]: Well? I think I have first call.

Miss Marple: I don’t think you’ll like it, Hilda. Too obvious. The mother did it, of course.

Mrs. Stainton: How could you possibly know that? The book has only just come in.

Miss Marple: It always is with Falcon-Smith — a deprived child, you know.

Miss Marple and Mrs. Stainton throw shade at each other during the village library scene in Murder, She Said (1961)
Throwing shade

Miss Marple then sails away, clearly the winner of this verbal cat fight. She calls back to invite Mr. Stringer for tea, which he eagerly accepts.

Still smiling, Mr. Stringer picks up a stamp, as Mrs. Stainton looks sourly back at Miss Marple.

Mr. Stringer stamps a library book in Murder, She Said (1961)
Mr. Stringer stamps a library book

The entire library scene lasts only a couple of minutes, but we learn several things, including:

  • The library is used by a variety of patrons of different ages.
  • The library must have a well-stocked collection of detective and mystery novels.
  • The library set is filled with books without call numbers. (Sigh.)
  • Mr. Stringer engages in occupational tasks, such as stamping.
  • Mr. Stringer is a very capable liar.

Private library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)

Around 15 minutes into the final film, Miss Marple connects the first murder to the plot in a book entitled The Doom Box. But this time, the book doesn’t live in the village library, but rather Miss Marple’s private library.

Miss Marple: Propel me please, Jim.

Mr. Stringer pushes the stepladder forward, as Miss Marple scans titles. (Her private library is beautiful, isn’t it?!) Also, library ladder alert!

Mr. Stringer pushes Miss Marple on a library ladder in her own private library in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
What a beautiful personal library you have, Miss Marple

Miss Marple: Oh, here we are. The Doom Box by J. Plantaganet Corby. Here it is. Now listen. “And so, me lad, declared Sefton Harricott: Jacob Rushton did indeed suffer a heart attack, but it was induced by a noxious substance in his snuff.”

Mr. Stringer: Oh, Miss Marple, I’m beginning to —

Miss Marple: Wait. “The murderer, continued Harricott, made one error. He failed to remove the incriminating residue from the snuff box.” A mistake our murderer no doubt imagines he has not made.

Mr. Stringer: Oh. But why should anyone want to do such a thing?

Miss Marple: That, Mr. Stringer, is the question. Poor Mr. Ffolly-Hardwicke had just returned from our ship. He had something important to say. He never said it. I wonder. Yes, that’s where the motive must lie. Mr. Stringer, there is something going on aboard the Battledore.

Mr. Stringer: Oh, goodness.

This scene is vital for propelling the plot forward (just as Mr. Stringer propels Miss Marple forward, hah! 😉 ). It leads Miss Marple to the boat to investigate up close… and it leads us to the next library scene!

Ship’s library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)

A little over an hour into the final film, Miss Marple is back to sleuthing and skulking again at night. There’s a ship’s library, which is clearly marked on the door (although there is no hint of a librarian on board the ship, not even when the crew introduced themselves earlier to Miss Marple).

Miss Marple enters the ship's library, which is clearly marked
The door to the ship’s library

The ship’s library looks pretty extensive, as multiple bookcases can be glimpsed behind Miss Marple. Even though, once again, there are NO CALL NUMBERS (sigh), Miss Marple easily finds the The Doom Box book on the shelves!

Miss Marple finds a copy of The Doom Box in the ship's library
This looks like a familair book…

This is a vital clue, as it proves Miss Marple’s theory about the first murder. She later uses this same book to catch the killer in the final act!

Books, book, books

Beyond the library, books themselves are quite important throughout the series — providing information, clues, and sometimes even alibis! It makes sense to me that in a series with a recurring reel librarian character, that books themselves also tie in heavily into each film. Let’s explore how books are further highlighted in each film.

Books in Murder, She Said (1961)

During the opening scene when Miss Marple travels on the 4.50 train to Paddington train, she is reading a pulp mystery novel, Death Has Windows by Michael Southcott. Turns out, this was a fictitious novel mocked up by the production team! This establishes the tone early on that Miss Marple loves to read mystery and detective novels. But that same pulp mystery novel, with its lurid cover, also leads the train attendant to think Miss Marple’s dreamed what she says she saw!

What Miss Marple read, in Murder, She Said (1961), a closeup of a pulp mystery novel
What Miss Marple read, in Murder, She Said (1961)

This theme continues, as near the end of the film, Miss Marple has a paperback copy of Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. This time, the book is a real one, a novel Christie wrote that was published in the UK in 1939 and published as Easy to Kill in the U.S.

At almost 43 minutes into the film, Miss Marple calls up Mr. Stringer, who is in his pajamas in bed (scandale!), and we get to glimpse a tall stack of books on his bedside table. What I especially loved is that the book on top of the stack is entitled A Hell of a Woman.

Mr. Stringer dressed in pajamas, with books stacked on his bedside table
Mr. Stringer in striped pajamas! Nice choice, sir.

Indeed, Miss Marple is a hell of a woman. 😉

Books in Murder at the Gallop (1963)

At 23 minutes into the second film, Inspector Craddock is interviewing Miss Milchrest, the companion to the murdered woman.

Inspector Craddock: When did you see her last?

Miss Milchrest: Just before I went to the library.

True, this is a direct reference to a library — and an indirect reference to books in said library — but I laughed out loud that a trip to the library was being used as an alibi!

And was she referring to Mr. Stringer’s library? That part is never clearly stated, but it’s possible.

Books in Murder Most Foul (1964)

I’ve already mentioned how early on in this third film, Mr. Stringer hides amidst the jumble sale items in a wagon while Miss Marple distracts the murdered woman’s sister, Gladys. Mr. Stringer then poses as a bookseller — a most appropriate ruse for a librarian, right?!

Gladys: Well, you are from the insurance, aren’t you?

Mr. Stringer: Oh, no, madam. No. I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind. I was wondering if you’d allow me to show you the new Wonder Book

Reel librarian Mr. Stringer poses as a bookseller in Murder Most Foul (1964)
Reel librarian Mr. Stringer poses as a bookseller in Murder Most Foul (1964)

Although Mr. Stringer first gets mistaken for an insurance salesman (hah!), he successfully distracts Gladys from Miss Marple snooping around upstairs. After Miss Marple comes back down the stairs, he hurries to help her out and leaves the Wonder Book with Gladys.

Almost an hour after that scene, at 1 hour and 15 minutes into the film, Miss Marple visits a theatrical agent, Mr. Tumbrill, who opens up a book to a large photograph of an actress. This photograph, along with Mr. Tumbrill’s information, provides a clue for Miss Marple to narrow down the potential murderer.

Books in Murder Ahoy! (1964)

We’ve already gotten a lovely view of Miss Marple’s private library, as seen when she figures out the first murder was described in a book she has a personal copy of, entitled The Doom Box.

Here are other titles that can be glimpsed in Miss Marple’s private library:

We see Miss Marple’s impressive library. It is composed mainly of Pan and Penguin crime paperbacks (including duplicate editions of “Follow the Saint” by Leslie Charteris and Georgette Heyer’s “The Foundling”; Edgar Wallace is another of her favourite authors) alongside crossword, quiz and limerick books, Noël Coward’s “Pomp and Circumstance” and “Return to Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious. There are also copies of Agatha Christie’s “Three Act Tragedy”, “Appointment With Death” – and intriguingly, the Miss Marple short story anthology “The Thirteen Problems”.

From IMDb.com’s Trivia page for Murder Ahoy (1964)
Books in Miss Marple's private library, as seen in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Books in Miss Marple’s private library, as seen in Murder Ahoy! (1964)

The Doom Box comes up again and again throughout this film!

At 1 hour and 10 minutes, Miss Marple describes the (second) murder to Inspector Craddock, and this murder is also outlined in The Doom Box! This conversation gets cut short when Stringer beans Craddock with a rock.

Then, five minutes later, everyone is going ashore to participate in the festivities for Trafalgar Day. Everyone except for Miss Marple, of course. As everyone crowds around her state room, she displays the copy of The Doom Box that she took from the ship’s library.

This is a rattling good detective yarn, you know. I borrowed it from the ship’s library. I know only one of you has read it, but I suggest that all of you do. I’ve just got up to the most exciting part, when —. Well, I hope I won’t be giving too much away when I say the answer is a mousetrap.

Closeup of The Doom Box in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
The Doom Box spells doom… for the killer!

This book is a (mouse)trap, of course, to catch the killer!

Mr. Stringer’s relationship with Miss Marple

Miss Marple turns down two offers of marriages in the series (!!), neither one from Mr. Stringer. However, she alludes to Mr. Stringer while turning down an offer of marriage in Murder, She Said (1961):

Miss Marple: If ever I do embark on such a venture, there is someone else.

And in the very next scene, as Miss Marple leaves, Mr. Stringer is there to pick her up. (Always.) As they drive away, we see a sign a young boy hung on back of the car, a “Just Married” sign. Their close, affectionate relationship is front and center from the very beginning (and end!).

Just married! Final shot of Murder, She Said (1961)
Just married! Closing scene of Murder, She Said (1961)

Throughout the series, we also get treated to many closeups of Mr. Stringer looking adoringly at Miss Marple. It’s really quite touching, and this recurring theme brings in a very sweet and human aspect to this reel librarian character.

The look of love, a collage of Mr. Stringer's adoring looks at Miss Marple
The look of love

And it wasn’t until I put the above collage together that I realized that Mr. Stringer is almost always seen, from the audience’s perspective, to the right of Miss Marple. A visual affirmation that he is her right-hand man? Makes me think of Wong in the Doctor Strange movie

Mr. Stringer’s style

Margaret Rutherford provided her own wardrobe for the Miss Marple movies, rewearing many of the same items throughout the entire series. I’m particularly enamored of her wool cape, complete with attached scarf. We see this cape for the first time as she heads out to the village library.

Miss Marple's scarf cape, as seen in Murder She Said (1961)
Miss Marple’s scarf cape, as seen in Murder, She Said (1961)

Mr. Stringer matches Miss Marple, tweed for tweed. (To my mind, it’s also highly likely that Stringer Davis is wearing his own clothes for the role, as his real-life wife did, but I have not read that confirmed anywhere.) As Mr. Stringer, he almost always dresses formally, in a suit and tie, befitting his professional status as a librarian. He also often wears a clock pin; ever practical and punctual, our Mr. Stringer. (Can you tell I have a soft spot for this reel librarian character? Bias alert!)

As you can see in the collage below, even when he’s washing dishes, he keeps his tie on! And when he’s bicycling or out and about, he often changes into a natty knickerbocker tweed suit and cap. And when he’s off duty, like when directing a community play in Murder Most Foul (1964), he’s still in tweeds, but in a jacket with a more unstructured cut. A little old-fashioned, sure, but he never wears anything impractical or inappropriate to the occasion.

A collage of Mr. Stringer's classic style
Mr. Stringer’s classic style

Mr. Stringer in action

Although there is only one major scene of Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, working in an actual library, we do get to see him being quite active outside the library. We see him riding a bicycle in Murder, She Said (1961) and a tricycle in Murder at the Gallop (1963). He also dons shorts (!) for a jog in Murder Most Foul (1964), and he gets in some nighttime rowing in Murder Ahoy! (1964).

Mr. Stringer in action throughout the Miss Marple movie series; photo collage
Mr. Stringer in action throughout the Miss Marple movie series

Dare I suggest that Mr. Stringer has turned out to be one of the most physically active reel librarians ever?! Reminder: Stringer Davis was born in 1899, which means he was in his 60s during the filming of this series. #GoStringer

Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions

Stringer Davis is a joy to watch in these films, due to his expressive face. I’ve already mentioned the sweetness he conveys in his adoring gazes at Miss Marple. Even in a scene in which he had little to no dialogue, he shines because his face is always fully reacting in the moment. We get treated to multiple full-screen closeups of Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in each film in the series. Bless.

Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder, She Said (1961):

A collage of Mr. Stringer's facial expressions in Murder She Said (1961)
A collage of Mr. Stringer’s delightful facial expressions in Murder, She Said (1961)

Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder at the Gallop (1963):

Mr. Stringer's facial expression of surprise in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
What?! Mr. Stringer’s facial expression of surprise in Murder at the Gallop (1963)

Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Most Foul (1964):

Collage of Mr. Stringer's facial expressions from Murder Most Foul (1964)
Yes, even with a (fake stage) knife stuck in his chest in Murder Most Foul (1964), Mr. Stringer gives good face.

Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Ahoy! (1964):

Facial expressions of concern from Mr. Stringer in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Facial expressions of concern from Mr. Stringer in Murder Ahoy! (1964)

Mr. Stringer’s words of wisdom

Here are a few final, memorable quotes from this reel librarian character (beyond all the “Dear me” and “But, surely” remarks that often punctuate his conversations with the more forcible Miss Marple). Mr. Stringer’s character has been described as timid; I would venture that he is often the voice of caution and common sense.

Quotes from Murder Most Foul (1964)

I thought it advisable to get into peak condition for any emergency. Is there one already?

I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind.

I’ll leave you the book, Mrs. Thomas. Brood on it, will you? Brood on it.

Quotes from Murder at the Gallop (1963)

I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.

I fear we’re taking the grave risk of seeming inquisitive.

Miss Marple: Tittle-tattling busybody,’ I believe were his words. 
Mr. Stringer: No. Yours. 

Quotes from Murder, She Said (1961)

Miss Marple, whatever it is: No, no, no.

Miss Marple, prudence demands a retreat.

Final thoughts?

I agree with Mr. Stringer, prudence demands a retreat here, too, regarding this blog post. We librarians gotta stick together! 😉

Any final thoughts you would like to add this deep dive into Mr. Stringer’s role in MGM’s Miss Marple series of movies? Have you seen one or all of the movies? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used