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:
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.
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 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:
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!“)
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. 😉
Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford, who were married in real life, reprised their roles as Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple in a joint cameo appearance in the 1965 comedy The Alphabet Murders. The film was based on Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel The ABC Murders.
Interesting casting choices abound in this film:
Tony Randall, an American actor, played the role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (!)
The very first actor to portray Poirot onscreen, Austin Trevor, played a cameo role in the film; this was also Trevor’s final film.
Robert Morley plays Hastings in the film, and Morley also starred alongside Margaret Rutherford in the second of the Miss Marple films, Murder at the Gallop (1963)!
The cameo scene with Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple lasts a total of 30 seconds. Poirot and Hastings descend a building’s front steps when Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple, in the middle of a conversation about the ABC murders, walk along the sidewalk and up the same stairs.
Miss Marple: I cannot see why they’re having such difficulty. The whole thing is very clear, Mr. Stringer.
Mr. Stringer: I quite agree, Miss Marple.
Miss Marple: The solution is ABC to anyone with half a brain cell.
During this brief scene, we hear strings of the distinctive theme song from the Miss Marple movies, another inside reference!
Remember, this film was released in 1965, one year after the final Miss Marple film, Murder Ahoy! (1964). The IMDb.com Trivia page for Murder Most Foul (1964) reveals there had been rumors about making a fifth Miss Marple film, possibly one based on Christie’s 1942 novel The Body in the Library, but this never came to pass. But perhaps their cameo in this film was a way to extend potential interest in continuing the series?
I find it extremely interesting that the screenwriters took care for each character to say each other’s names — Miss Marple, Mr. Stringer — so that the audience could be “in on the joke” for their cameo roles. However, the two actors were not included in the film’s credits.
Of course, we would have no idea that Mr. Stringer is a reel librarian character if we were not already familiar with MGM’s Miss Marple movies, Murder, She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy! (1964). Although the name “Miss Marple” is recognizable on its own, being one of Agatha Christie’s iconic recurring characters, Mr. Stringer’s name would not be. At his wife’s insistence, his role as the village librarian sidekick was created just for MGM’s Miss Marple movies.
Due to the very brief time onscreen in The Alphabet Murders (1965), Mr. Stringer’s reel librarian role in this film gets downgraded to the Class IV category, films in which librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue. He serves as Comic Relief in this comedy.
Last but not least, here’s a YouTube video of Mr. Stringer’s cameo and final screen appearance of his memorable reel librarian character:
The Alphabet Murders. Dir. Frank Tashlin. Perf. Tony Randall, Robert Morley, Anita Ekberg. MGM, 1965. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie.
“I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.”
In the early 1960s, MGM made a series of Miss Marple comedies starring Margaret Rutherford as the indomitable sleuth. The films were loosely based on Agatha Christie’s works, and the author herself was decidedly NOT a fan of these comedies. Love it or hate it, Rutherford does make the role of Miss Marple her own! The films also feature Rutherford’s real-life husband and actor, Stringer Davis, in the role of village librarian Mr. Stringer, a role created just for the films.
Because all the films follow a basic formula, I thought it made sense to do one big post comparing-and-contrasting aspects and themes from the entire series. (It has taken me WEEKS, y’all, to watch all the films, rewatch them for note-taking and analysis purposes, create photo collages, and finally put together this post. All for the love of reel librarians. ❤ )
Therefore, heads up:
This is a MARATHON post, so buckle up for the reel librarian (bicycle) ride
Potential spoilers ahead
Below is the trailer for the first (and best) in the series, Murder, She Said, so you can get a sense of the jaunty and lighthearted feel of the movies. You can first see Mr. Stringer 49 seconds into the trailer below. The main musical theme is also so catchy, you’ll find yourself humming it for days. No, it’s just me, then? 😉
Let’s start with the basics
First things first, let’s provide some context with the basics of each film. All the films were directed by George Pollock and starred Margaret Rutherford played the role of Miss Marple. All the films also featured Stringer Davis as village librarian Mr. Stringer and Charles Tingwell as Inspector Craddock.
Murder, She Said (1961):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel, 4.50 from Paddington, aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, featuring Miss Marple
Movie plot: While traveling by train, Miss Marple witnesses the strangling of a woman in the carriage of a passing train. With the aid of her friend, Mr. Stringer, she figures out the body must have been thrown off the train near Ackenthorpe Hall. When the police don’t take her seriously, she takes a job as a housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, After the Funeral, aka Funerals are Fatal — which features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Movie plot: When Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer are out soliciting donations for a charity, they visit the reclusive Mr. Enderby, arriving at his estate just in time to witness his death. Miss Marple, suspicious that Mr. Enderby’s death is not accidental, becomes even more suspicious when his sister, Cora, is murdered. When the police don’t take her seriously, Miss Marple books a stay at a riding school/hotel run by one of Mr. Enderby’s heirs in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Most Foul (1964):
Source: Based (very, very loosely) on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, aka Blood Will Tell — which, again, features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Plot: Mrs. McGinty, a former actress, is found murdered, and her lodger is suspected of the crime. During the trial, Miss Marple is the lone holdout on the jury, believing the lodger innocent. When the police don’t take her seriously — are we sensing a pattern here?! — Miss Marple joins a regional theatre company in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s characters and not on any particular source novel. However, there are plot similarities to Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel, They Do It with Mirrors, aka Murder with Mirrors, which features Miss Marple as the central sleuth.
Plot: Shortly after joining a local trust’s board of directors, Miss Marple witnesses the death of a fellow trustee. She doesn’t believe his death is an accident, and she thinks there’s something fishy about HMS Battledore, a ship the Trust purchased for the rehabilitation of young criminals. When the police don’t take her seriously — what else is new?! — she boards the ship in order to conduct her own investigation.
Mr. Stringer’s screen time
As I watched each movie in the series, I kept track of how much screen time Mr. Stringer had in each movie, to see if his role ever increased with subsequent films.
Murder, She Said (1961)
Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Murder Most Foul (1964)
Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Stringer’s screen time (mins)
Stringer’s screen time (%)
17% of total runtime
22% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
As you can see from the table above, Mr. Stringer’s role definitely increased after the first film, in which he was only onscreen for a total of 15 minutes, or 17% of the film’s total runtime. In subsequent films, Mr. Stringer’s screen time remained pretty consistent, between 18-19 minutes, or 21-22% of each film’s total runtime.
Mr. Stringer’s role
Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is not a character borne of Agatha Christie’s imagination, yet he is a recurring character in each film of the series. Why, then, was this character created for the series?
In a biography of Margaret Rutherford, Andy Merriman also wrote that Rutherford, in her 70s during the filming of the series, insisted on having her husband appear alongside her.
By all accounts, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford were devoted to each other, with Davis accompanying his wife wherever and whenever she was filming. Their relationship was a lifelong love story. They married in 1945 after a 15-year courtship, and they were together until Rutherford’s death in 1972. Davis took care of Rutherford in her last years, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1973, only a year after the love of his life passed away.
Mr. Stringer’s role stays consistent throughout the series, and his character and personality never change. Although a supporting character, his role is vital in moving the plot forward. He is there as a companion to Miss Marple, a steady, adoring, supportive sidekick. He is a supporting character who fulfills two major character types in each film:
Information Provider — Miss Marple sends Mr. Stringer on various research quests in each film, so he literally provides information to her (and the audience).
Comic Relief — He plays the “straight man” in their comic relationship. Miss Marple makes jokes or says something outrageous, Mr. Stringer reacts, the audience laughs. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Film critic David Cornelius also highlights Mr. Stringer’s comic role:
Therefore, each film in the series ends up in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role.
A librarian by any other name…
Although Mr. Stringer plays the village librarian, does the word “librarian” ever actually get said out loud in the series? In a word… NO. The closest we get is in the second film, Murder at the Gallop (1963), when Miss Marple describes Mr. Stringer as “custodian of the local library.”
Mr. Stringer as Information Provider and the importance of research
As I mentioned above, Mr. Stringer’s successful research quests always save the day. It is clear that Miss Marple trusts Mr. Stringer. Because Miss Marple trusts him — and I would argue also because he’s a librarian — the audience trusts him. Mr. Stringer makes it possible for Miss Marple to have her “aha!” moment at the end of each movie. I will now highlight Mr. Stringer’s major research quests in each film.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder, She Said (1961):
At 53 minutes into the first film, Mr. Stringer bicycles to Miss Marple’s house for a nightcap (a “small beer”) and plotting. They’re interrupted by Inspector Craddock, who tries to warn them off the case. (It doesn’t work.)
Miss Marple: Well now, how did you get on at the probate registry?
Mr. Stringer: Really Miss Marple, I think in view of what the inspector said —
Miss Marple [interrupting]: Did you see the will?
Mr. Stringer: Yes.
Miss Marple [while uncorking the beer]: What did it say?
Mr. Stringer: Well, old Mr. Ackenthorpe’s father obviously didn’t get on very well with him.
Miss Marple: I’m not surprised at that. Go on.
Mr. Stringer: You see, the house and the income from the family fortune are his, but he can’t touch the fortune itself. That’s the first point.
Miss Marple: Yes? [hands Mr. Stringer a beer.]
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
At 1 hour and 5 minutes into this film, Mr. Stringer is in Miss Marple’s hotel room. From underneath her bureau, Miss Marple takes out a painting that’s all wrapped up in paper and string and hands the parcel to Mr. Stringer.
Miss Marple: Now you are, please, to take this to London to the art dealers. They will appraise it. And get it back here as quickly as you can.
Mr. Stringer: All right, if it will help.
Miss Marple: Well, I’m hopeful it will not only help but clinch the whole matter, so to speak.
When Mr. Stringer comes back from London, they continue their conversation.
Miss Marple: What did you find out?
Mr. Stringer: You were quite right, Miss Marple. It’s worth at least 50,000 pounds.
Miss Marple: I knew it. Then it was that picture after all.
Mr. Stringer: It certainly was.
Miss Marple: Excellent. We can now proceed with certainty.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Most Foul (1964):
At 45 minutes into the third film, Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer meet in a public garden and sit on a bench.
Miss Marple: It seems to me what whomever Mrs. McGinty was blackmailing must have had some connection with the production of this play in 1951, and is with the Cosgood Company.[…] Now, what organization would be likely to keep a record of all professional theatrical productions?
Mr. Stringer: The censorship people, I suppose.
Miss Marple: To be sure. The Lord Chamberlain’s office in London. I should be obliged if you would go there posthaste and inquire into the history of this play. Where it was produced in 1951, who was in it, and so on.
Mr. Stringer: Very well, Miss Marple. I’ll take the next train up.
About 10 minutes later, Mr. Stringer then calls Miss Marple up from a public phone booth in order to relay the results of his research. He looks extremely pleased with himself!
Mr. Stringer: You were right, Miss Marple. Remember September was put on in 1951, a tryout performance at Pebblestone-on-Sea.
Miss Marple: Very interesting. Particularly as the author claims that he’s only recently completed the work.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, well, that may have been embarrassment. You see, the Lord Chamberlain’s office particularly remembers it because it was booed off the stage halfway through the second act.
Miss Marple: That doesn’t surprise me in the least. The point is, was there anyone we know in it?
Mr. Stringer: I have obtained a full cast list, and in it occurs the name of Margaret McGinty.
Miss Marple: What? Really? Excellent. Now, tell me, apart from Mr. Cosgood, who else in this company was connected with this production? No one? You sure? Yes. All right, Jim. I was just thinking. Of course, it’s possible that someone has since changed his or her name. Look, Jim. Drop the cast list in to me at Westward Ho!, will you? Thank you. Goodbye.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
A little over 52 minutes into the fourth and final film, Miss Marple breaks some bad news to Mr. Stringer, that he’s a suspect in a murder! But after she gives him some brandy to help with get over the shock (“Me? A murderer?”), she has a research-related task for him to do.
Miss Marple: I found this envelope in Compton’s sea chest, and it had been steamed open. […] Mr. Stringer, you must return to Milchester at once. Go and see the secretary of the trust, Miss Pringle, and ask her what kind of communication from the ship would likely to be contained in an unusual envelope of this sort.
Mr. Stringer: But, Miss Marple, the police. I thought you said I was to lie low.
Miss Marple: Well, use the back stairs, turn up your collar, and pull down your cap. Goodbye. Good luck.
Mr. Stringer gets the requested information back to Miss Marple in an unexpected way. He ties the evidence around a rock, rows out to the boat Miss Marple’s staying in, and then throws the rock through her window. Only problem is, his aim is too good; the rock hits Inspector Craddock in the head, and Craddock passes out. AWKWARD.
Miss Marple: Do you know who threw that rock? My friend Mr. Stringer.
Inspector Craddock: Mr. Stringer?!
Miss Marple: Yes, and you’ll thank him for it. I found this envelope in Compton’s cabin after his death.
Inspector Craddock: Assaulting a police officer, withholding information… again.
Miss Marple: Now, don’t be petty, Chief Inspector. This type of envelope is used for the ship’s quarterly report to the trustees, and Mr. Stringer has enclosed the latest example for our perusal.
Mr. Stringer as Comic Relief
While Mr. Stringer rarely makes a joke himself — at least, not intentionally — he does regularly find himself in the most ridiculously awkward situations. Behold:
Comic relief in Murder, She Said (1961):
In Murder, She Said(1961), he dresses up as a train worker, and for his efforts, he nearly gets run over by a train. Poor Mr. Stringer.
He then (awkwardly) assists Miss Marple — “Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?” — so she can take a peek over a wall.
Comic relief in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Early in Murder at the Gallop (1963), Mr. Stringer once again gets roped into physically assisting Miss Marple so she can have another peek into somewhere off limits, this time the room in which the heirs of the murdered man react to the contents of his last will and testament.
And now for the comic moment that even made this film’s trailer — Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer DO THE TWIST. As you can see below, Mr. Stringer realllly gets into it!
Comic relief in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Early in Murder Most Foul (1964), Miss Marple calls on the sister of the deceased woman, using an excuse of collecting things for the church jumble sale. Hidden in the jumble? Mr. Stringer! He’s hiding until called upon to pop out and pretend to be a bookseller, so that Miss Marple can snoop while the sister is distracted. As you do.
Comic relief in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
In the final film, Murder Ahoy! (1964), Mr. Stringer is tasked with following a group of delinquent boys who come ashore. His ingenious hiding place? A tramp’s boat! He gets discovered almost immediately by the tramp, who demands to know “why a grand gentleman like yourself who’s able to live in a lovely hotel like that is wanting to sleep in my bed.”
There are a few library scenes in the series, but Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is only seen in an actual library in the first film. Fittingly, this scene serves as our introduction to this reel librarian.
Public library scene in Murder, She Said (1961)
This scene occurs at 7 1/2 minutes into the film, after Miss Marple gets upset at Inspector Craddock’s insinuation that she’s been hallucinating a murder. She grabs three books stacked up on a bench in her hall and walks to the library.
We then see Mr. Stringer talking with another patron, a hard-faced and no-nonsense woman, who is inquiring about a newly published mystery novel.
Mr. Stringer: I’m sorry, Mrs. Stainton, The Hatrack Hanging, Falcon-Smith’s latest, I’m afraid we haven’t received our copy yet.
Mrs. Stainton: Plain inefficiency. Anyway, I want to know the moment it comes in.
Mr. Stringer: Of course, of course, Mrs. Stainton.
When Miss Marple comes into the library, his face lights up. We see more of the library as she walks by rows of bookcases and past a young man in the background flipping through a book. Mrs. Stainton stalks off upon Miss Marple’s arrival, and Mr. Stringer reveals his favoritism — and his ability to lie!
Mr. Stringer puts up a finger — in effect, shushing Miss Marple. He then pulls out a book from under the desk, The Hatrack Hanging.
Mr. Stringer: I’ve been keeping it for you.
Miss Marple pulls him into the stacks and asks if he thinks she’s unstable or given to hallucinations. Mr. Stringer seems properly horrified at the suggestion. (His job, first and always, is to reassure and support Miss Marple, and he does an excellent job of it.) Miss Marple then reveals to the audience why she and Mr. Stringer are qualified to investigate the murder on their own.
Miss Marple: Mr. Stringer, how many detective novels would you say we have read over the years?
Mr. Stringer: Impossible to say. Certainly many hundred.
Miss Marple: Yes. Which gives us, wouldn’t you agree, a certain knowledge of the criminal mind?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, most assuredly.
Miss Marple: Well, this is where we put that knowledge to the test.
Mr. Stringer: We?
Miss Marple: Yes. We.
(I would also argue that this short exchange also explains why Mr. Stringer’s character was made a librarian, because OF COURSE a librarian would have ready and steady access to detective novels.)
Mrs. Stainton interrupts this bit of camaraderie when she walks back to the front desk and discovers The Hatrack Hanging book! Uh-oh…
Mrs. Stainton: So it has come in!
Mr. Stringer [oh-so-innocently]: Oh, has it?
Mrs. Stainton [to Miss Marple]: Well? I think I have first call.
Miss Marple: I don’t think you’ll like it, Hilda. Too obvious. The mother did it, of course.
Mrs. Stainton: How could you possibly know that? The book has only just come in.
Miss Marple: It always is with Falcon-Smith — a deprived child, you know.
Miss Marple then sails away, clearly the winner of this verbal cat fight. She calls back to invite Mr. Stringer for tea, which he eagerly accepts.
Still smiling, Mr. Stringer picks up a stamp, as Mrs. Stainton looks sourly back at Miss Marple.
The entire library scene lasts only a couple of minutes, but we learn several things, including:
The library is used by a variety of patrons of different ages.
The library must have a well-stocked collection of detective and mystery novels.
The library set is filled with books without call numbers. (Sigh.)
Mr. Stringer engages in occupational tasks, such as stamping.
Mr. Stringer is a very capable liar.
Private library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Around 15 minutes into the final film, Miss Marple connects the first murder to the plot in a book entitled The Doom Box. But this time, the book doesn’t live in the village library, but rather Miss Marple’s private library.
Miss Marple: Propel me please, Jim.
Mr. Stringer pushes the stepladder forward, as Miss Marple scans titles. (Her private library is beautiful, isn’t it?!) Also, library ladder alert!
Miss Marple: Oh, here we are. The Doom Box by J. Plantaganet Corby. Here it is. Now listen. “And so, me lad, declared Sefton Harricott: Jacob Rushton did indeed suffer a heart attack, but it was induced by a noxious substance in his snuff.”
Mr. Stringer: Oh, Miss Marple, I’m beginning to —
Miss Marple: Wait. “The murderer, continued Harricott, made one error. He failed to remove the incriminating residue from the snuff box.” A mistake our murderer no doubt imagines he has not made.
Mr. Stringer: Oh. But why should anyone want to do such a thing?
Miss Marple: That, Mr. Stringer, is the question. Poor Mr. Ffolly-Hardwicke had just returned from our ship. He had something important to say. He never said it. I wonder. Yes, that’s where the motive must lie. Mr. Stringer, there is something going on aboard the Battledore.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, goodness.
This scene is vital for propelling the plot forward (just as Mr. Stringer propels Miss Marple forward, hah! 😉 ). It leads Miss Marple to the boat to investigate up close… and it leads us to the next library scene!
Ship’s library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
A little over an hour into the final film, Miss Marple is back to sleuthing and skulking again at night. There’s a ship’s library, which is clearly marked on the door (although there is no hint of a librarian on board the ship, not even when the crew introduced themselves earlier to Miss Marple).
The ship’s library looks pretty extensive, as multiple bookcases can be glimpsed behind Miss Marple. Even though, once again, there are NO CALL NUMBERS (sigh), Miss Marple easily finds the The Doom Box book on the shelves!
This is a vital clue, as it proves Miss Marple’s theory about the first murder. She later uses this same book to catch the killer in the final act!
Books, book, books
Beyond the library, books themselves are quite important throughout the series — providing information, clues, and sometimes even alibis! It makes sense to me that in a series with a recurring reel librarian character, that books themselves also tie in heavily into each film. Let’s explore how books are further highlighted in each film.
Books in Murder, She Said (1961)
During the opening scene when Miss Marple travels on the 4.50 train to Paddington train, she is reading a pulp mystery novel, Death Has Windows by Michael Southcott. Turns out, this was a fictitious novel mocked up by the production team! This establishes the tone early on that Miss Marple loves to read mystery and detective novels. But that same pulp mystery novel, with its lurid cover, also leads the train attendant to think Miss Marple’s dreamed what she says she saw!
This theme continues, as near the end of the film, Miss Marple has a paperback copy of Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. This time, the book is a real one, a novel Christie wrote that was published in the UK in 1939 and published as Easy to Kill in the U.S.
At almost 43 minutes into the film, Miss Marple calls up Mr. Stringer, who is in his pajamas in bed (scandale!), and we get to glimpse a tall stack of books on his bedside table. What I especially loved is that the book on top of the stack is entitled A Hell of a Woman.
Indeed, Miss Marple is a hell of a woman. 😉
Books in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
At 23 minutes into the second film, Inspector Craddock is interviewing Miss Milchrest, the companion to the murdered woman.
Inspector Craddock: When did you see her last?
Miss Milchrest: Just before I went to the library.
True, this is a direct reference to a library — and an indirect reference to books in said library — but I laughed out loud that a trip to the library was being used as an alibi!
And was she referring to Mr. Stringer’s library? That part is never clearly stated, but it’s possible.
Books in Murder Most Foul (1964)
I’ve already mentioned how early on in this third film, Mr. Stringer hides amidst the jumble sale items in a wagon while Miss Marple distracts the murdered woman’s sister, Gladys. Mr. Stringer then poses as a bookseller — a most appropriate ruse for a librarian, right?!
Gladys: Well, you are from the insurance, aren’t you?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, no, madam. No. I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind. I was wondering if you’d allow me to show you the new Wonder Book.
Although Mr. Stringer first gets mistaken for an insurance salesman (hah!), he successfully distracts Gladys from Miss Marple snooping around upstairs. After Miss Marple comes back down the stairs, he hurries to help her out and leaves the Wonder Book with Gladys.
Almost an hour after that scene, at 1 hour and 15 minutes into the film, Miss Marple visits a theatrical agent, Mr. Tumbrill, who opens up a book to a large photograph of an actress. This photograph, along with Mr. Tumbrill’s information, provides a clue for Miss Marple to narrow down the potential murderer.
Books in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
We’ve already gotten a lovely view of Miss Marple’s private library, as seen when she figures out the first murder was described in a book she has a personal copy of, entitled The Doom Box.
Here are other titles that can be glimpsed in Miss Marple’s private library:
The Doom Box comes up again and again throughout this film!
At 1 hour and 10 minutes, Miss Marple describes the (second) murder to Inspector Craddock, and this murder is also outlined in The Doom Box! This conversation gets cut short when Stringer beans Craddock with a rock.
Then, five minutes later, everyone is going ashore to participate in the festivities for Trafalgar Day. Everyone except for Miss Marple, of course. As everyone crowds around her state room, she displays the copy of The Doom Box that she took from the ship’s library.
This is a rattling good detective yarn, you know. I borrowed it from the ship’s library. I know only one of you has read it, but I suggest that all of you do. I’ve just got up to the most exciting part, when —. Well, I hope I won’t be giving too much away when I say the answer is a mousetrap.
This book is a (mouse)trap, of course, to catch the killer!
Mr. Stringer’s relationship with Miss Marple
Miss Marple turns down two offers of marriages in the series (!!), neither one from Mr. Stringer. However, she alludes to Mr. Stringer while turning down an offer of marriage in Murder, She Said (1961):
Miss Marple: If ever I do embark on such a venture, there is someone else.
And in the very next scene, as Miss Marple leaves, Mr. Stringer is there to pick her up. (Always.) As they drive away, we see a sign a young boy hung on back of the car, a “Just Married” sign. Their close, affectionate relationship is front and center from the very beginning (and end!).
Throughout the series, we also get treated to many closeups of Mr. Stringer looking adoringly at Miss Marple. It’s really quite touching, and this recurring theme brings in a very sweet and human aspect to this reel librarian character.
And it wasn’t until I put the above collage together that I realized that Mr. Stringer is almost always seen, from the audience’s perspective, to the right of Miss Marple. A visual affirmation that he is her right-hand man? Makes me think of Wong in the Doctor Strange movie…
Mr. Stringer’s style
Margaret Rutherford provided her own wardrobe for the Miss Marple movies, rewearing many of the same items throughout the entire series. I’m particularly enamored of her wool cape, complete with attached scarf. We see this cape for the first time as she heads out to the village library.
Mr. Stringer matches Miss Marple, tweed for tweed. (To my mind, it’s also highly likely that Stringer Davis is wearing his own clothes for the role, as his real-life wife did, but I have not read that confirmed anywhere.) As Mr. Stringer, he almost always dresses formally, in a suit and tie, befitting his professional status as a librarian. He also often wears a clock pin; ever practical and punctual, our Mr. Stringer. (Can you tell I have a soft spot for this reel librarian character? Bias alert!)
As you can see in the collage below, even when he’s washing dishes, he keeps his tie on! And when he’s bicycling or out and about, he often changes into a natty knickerbocker tweed suit and cap. And when he’s off duty, like when directing a community play in Murder Most Foul (1964), he’s still in tweeds, but in a jacket with a more unstructured cut. A little old-fashioned, sure, but he never wears anything impractical or inappropriate to the occasion.
Mr. Stringer in action
Although there is only one major scene of Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, working in an actual library, we do get to see him being quite active outside the library. We see him riding a bicycle in Murder, She Said (1961) and a tricycle in Murder at the Gallop (1963). He also dons shorts (!) for a jog in Murder Most Foul (1964), and he gets in some nighttime rowing in Murder Ahoy! (1964).
Dare I suggest that Mr. Stringer has turned out to be one of the most physically active reel librarians ever?! Reminder: Stringer Davis was born in 1899, which means he was in his 60s during the filming of this series. #GoStringer
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions
Stringer Davis is a joy to watch in these films, due to his expressive face. I’ve already mentioned the sweetness he conveys in his adoring gazes at Miss Marple. Even in a scene in which he had little to no dialogue, he shines because his face is always fully reacting in the moment. We get treated to multiple full-screen closeups of Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in each film in the series. Bless.
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder, She Said (1961):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s words of wisdom
Here are a few final, memorable quotes from this reel librarian character (beyond all the “Dear me” and “But, surely” remarks that often punctuate his conversations with the more forcible Miss Marple). Mr. Stringer’s character has been described as timid; I would venture that he is often the voice of caution and common sense.
Quotes from Murder Most Foul (1964)
I thought it advisable to get into peak condition for any emergency. Is there one already?
I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind.
I’ll leave you the book, Mrs. Thomas. Brood on it, will you? Brood on it.
Quotes from Murder at the Gallop (1963)
I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.
I fear we’re taking the grave risk of seeming inquisitive.
Miss Marple: ‘Tittle-tattling busybody,’ I believe were his words. Mr. Stringer: No. Yours.
Quotes from Murder, She Said (1961)
Miss Marple, whatever it is: No, no, no.
Miss Marple, prudence demands a retreat.
I agree with Mr. Stringer, prudence demands a retreat here, too, regarding this blog post. We librarians gotta stick together! 😉
Any final thoughts you would like to add this deep dive into Mr. Stringer’s role in MGM’s Miss Marple series of movies? Have you seen one or all of the movies? Please leave a comment and share!
This is another post in my “first impressions” series of posts, which focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.
Here’s a trailer to get you pumped for watching (or more likely, rewatching) Avengers: Endgame.
My overall impression of the movie? LOVED IT. Except for one nagging question — which I will get into soon — I really can’t imagine how this film could have been done better or done more justice to the myriad characters and storylines. Masterful plotting, pacing, acting, and directing by all involved. I knew it was going to be 3 hours sitting in a movie theater seat, but the time went by quickly for me. Really, really well done.
But of course, I’m realllllly here to talk about Wong (Benedict Wong), the sorcerer librarian character we first got to know and love in 2016’s Doctor Strange. And I cannot talk about Wong’s role in Avengers: Endgame without spoiling the finale.
So y’all know the drill…
We good? Good.
Why didn’t they ask Wong?!
I knew Wong was going to be in Avengers: Endgame. There were several clues, including:
There was some hype and anticipation about the importance of Wong’s character to the Endgame finale:
As the surviving heroes are sure to attempt to use the Infinity Stones to undo the effects of the Mad Titan’s snap, they will need to someone to teach them about each of the Stones, and Wong is the leading candidate. More than a bookworm, Wong has also proven himself a formidable warrior in his own right, helping Iron Man and Spider-Man subdue Cull Obsidian during their initial fight in New York City. With Doctor Strange perhaps putting up the strongest fight against Thanos with his extensive magical knowledge on Titan, Wong will need to step up to take his place.
However, Wong’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Stones — which was highlighted in Avengers: Infinity War — was not utilized AT ALL in this film. SIGH.
About a third of the way through the film, the remaining members of the Avengers & co. (Black Widow, Captain America, Bruce Banner/Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Rocket, War Machine, and Nebula) are trying to piece together their memories of when they came into contact with the stones. They’ve figured out time travel, so now they need to figure when and where they need to travel back to, in order to steal the stones back in time. There is then a montage of them talking together and identifying dates, locations, and stones from their collective memories. (Minor rant alert: During these scenes, Natasha/Black Widow seems to be the ONLY ONE TAKING NOTES WHAT IS UP WITH THAT DUDES HELP THE TEAM OUT AND PICK UP A PENCIL OH MY GOD SIGH.)
And now for a MAJOR rant alert:
As this montage of scenes started playing, I literally said out loud in the movie theater:
“Why didn’t they ask Wong?!”
It SERIOUSLY bugged me that NO ONE thought to call Wong and ask if he could help them piece together the history of the Stones. And there is no good reason for this oversight, because Wong had explained the history of the Infinity Stones to Tony Stark AND Bruce Banner in Avengers: Infinity War. And as BOTH Stark and Banner survived and were in the room helping to assemble memories, then one or both of them should have remembered that Wong could be helpful in this instance, especially after Natasha figured out that New York was key. After all, the last time Stark and Banner saw Wong was in New York, and he left them to guard the New York sanctum.
And sure, Wong was probably busy — after all, he was one of the only remaining sorcerers left, if not THE remaining sorcerer, after the Vanishing — but they still could have called! That’s what librarians are here for, to help with research and answering questions! And it could have been a small thing, like, “Hey, let’s call Wong. He’ll know.” “Oh, he’s not available?” “Okay, gang, let’s try and figure this out ourselves.” IT’S NOT THAT HARD.
A major oversight and the only major flaw in the movie, in my opinion.
No, I’m not letting this go.
To Wong, thanks for everything:
But not all is lost. Wong still proves crucial to the final battle and, you know, saving humanity.
Right as Thanos and his army prepare to wipe out humanity, Doctor Strange and Wong show up via a portal. Across the sky, dozens of portals appear, each revealing more beloved Avengers and their allies, brought back to life by the Hulk’s recent turn in the Infinity Gauntlet. Then there is this pivotal exchange:
Strange: “Is that everyone?”
Wong: “What, you wanted more?”
This exchange demonstrates the camaraderie between the duo, as Wong looks humorously exasperated at Strange’s question. (And Wong is still visually on Strange’s right side — from the perspective of the audience — keeping up his role as Strange’s right-hand man. I first pointed out this visual trend in my Doctor Strange analysis post.)
But why is this two-line exchange of dialogue vital to the movie? Because it reveals that Wong is the one who actually assembled the Avengers! (Even though Captain America got to say that iconic line, it was Wong who did the ACTUAL WORK. Just sayin’.)
“While Doctor Strange was coming back from Titan, Wong took it upon himself to unite the world’s heroes and bring them to the Avengers HQ for the final battle against Thanos.”
Strange had to have brought the Avengers who were with him on Titan to the final battle, but it’s clear that Wong brought everyone else.
We then see Wong fight in battle and conjure a protective shield, larger than the ones seen in the screenshot above, when Thanos’s ship fires down on the battlefield. Wong remains center screen during this quick clip in the battle, visually positing Wong as a leader of his force. Other protective shields pop up across the battlefield, indicating multiple trained sorcerers. And that got me thinking that Wong probably has been spending a major part of the past 5 years training more sorcerers.
Yep, you can depend on librarians to get. Shit. DONE.
We next see Wong at Tony Stark’s funeral (sob!), standing beside Doctor Strange (again, from the audience’s perspective, on his right side).
And then that got me thinking about Stark’s last words to Wong in Avengers: Infinity War: “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” Did Iron Man ever actually get married to Pepper? If so, did he invite Wong?!
Alas, these will remain unanswered questions… 😉
Continuing the conversation:
Do you have any unanswered questions about Avengers: Endgame? Have you seen the film? Did you enjoy it? Are there more Avengers movies I need to revisit for this blog? Please leave a comment and share!
Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:
This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”
So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.
That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉
What do I NOT like about the film?
Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations: Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.
Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)
However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.
Trouble in (archives) paradise:
We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.
As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”
Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”
There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉
And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:
Connor: Wow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.
Chase: Pretty much.
Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.
Chase: Hand it over, Ben.
Gates: I need to see the Booth diary page.
Chase: You saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.
Gates: No, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?
Chase: No need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.
Gates: It could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.
Chase: It’s not up to me. It’s not my department.
Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.
I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!
The white glove returns!
The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.
This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉
They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! — and she sends the document to the scanner.
Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.
“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)
The book of secrets:
The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)
It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.
Library of Congress connection:
So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.
President: The book exists.
Gates: Where is it?
President: Where else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.
POTUS then gives Gates a code: XY 234786.
I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)
And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…
Library of Congress archivist leading the way:
At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel
Riley: Where do we start?
Chase: XY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.
Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!
Note: The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.
I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀
We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.
None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.
Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”
But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.
Riley: Maybe someone checked it out.
Chase: Why would he send us here if there’s no book?
The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.
And the director confirms this on the commentary track:
We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.
Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.
Random FBI Agent: So Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?
FBI Agent Sadusky: Maybe he wants to check out a book.
Escape from the Library of Congress:
The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.
The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:
These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.
I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.
Don’t mess with librarians! 😉
Reel archivist and librarian roles:
Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!
Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.
The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀