That touch of mistaken identity in ‘That Touch of Mink’

“You librarians live it up pretty good!”

In the comedy That Touch of Mink (1962), a rich business man (Cary Grant) and a young woman (Doris Day) begin a relationship — but she wants marriage while he wants only an affair. In one hilarious scene, Grant and his friend (Gig Young) break into a motel room in order to find Day, but they end up interrupting a romantic tryst between a librarian and a would-be lover.

The reel librarian appearance does not connect significantly to the plot; it is played strictly for laughs. And for such a short scene, it packs in as many punchlines as possible, joining the Class III category of reel librarian films.

When I first was taking notes for this film, back in my undergrad days, I initially thought that John Fiedler was playing the librarian; Fiedler was a character actor best known for Juror #2 in Twelve Angry Men and as the voice of Piglet.

Here’s a screenshot of my original notes — I’ve crossed out several phrases relating to Fielder’s character, including meek. I’m pretty sure I was thinking along the lines of the “Librarian as Failure” type here.

My original notes when first watching That Touch of Mink
My original notes when first watching That Touch of Mink

And here’s a close-up of John Fiedler as meek Mr. Smith:

John Fiedler in That Touch of Mink
John Fiedler in That Touch of Mink

But that’s what I get for assuming.

The librarian is actually the woman (played by Barbara Collentine, in an uncredited role) who has checked into this motel with the mild-mannered Mr. Smith. And she turns out to be a Comic Relief type, but again, it’s because the audience is laughing more at her rather than with her.

Toward the end of the film, a little over an hour and a half in, Philip Shayne (Grant) charges into the motel manager’s office, asking for a couple who registered from New York, a “blonde about so high.” The bewildered hotel manager answers in the affirmative, a Mr. and Mrs. Smith who are in the bridal suite. So in this first scene of mistaken identity (and remember, he’s thinking the blonde in the room is Cathy, the character played by Doris Day), Philip interrupts Mr. Smith uncorking a bottle of champagne. Ah, symbolism.

Mr. Smith:  What right have you got barging in here?

Philip:  Every right. At least I had the decency to take her to a hotel, not a rabbit hutch.

Mr. Smith:  She went to a hotel? With you?

Philip:  I think her hobby is collecting hotel keys. [knocks on bedroom door] Are you coming out? [barges into the bedroom]

Immediately realizing his mistake, Philip comes right back out and congratulates Mr. Smith on having “a great little girl there.”

Mr. Smith looks dumbstruck. As does the reel librarian, who comes out, clutching her robe (see below).

Mrs. Smith:  Who was that man?

Mr. Smith:  You librarians live it up pretty good!

You librarians live it up pretty good! in That Touch of Mink
You librarians live it up pretty good!

That punchline is so good it made one of my “Quotable Librarian” posts!

But we’re not done yet… In Round 2, Philip’s sidekick Roger (Young) enters stage left, seeking the “blonde about so high.” But before he barges in on the not-so-happy-anymore couple, we get to see this reel librarian shushing Mr. Smith while perching on his lap, as seen below. (And sorry folks, that’s NOT how we do reference at the library. 😉 )

Mr. Smith: But what was I to think when —

Mrs. Smith:  You do believe I never cared for another man until you walked in the library?

Mr. Smith:  Of course.

Mrs. Smith:  I won’t be long.

Another kind of shushing for this reel librarian in That Touch of Mink
Another kind of shushing for this reel librarian

Blowing him a kiss, she retires to the bedroom.

But poor Mr. Smith doesn’t get much time to look mighty pleased with himself, because then Roger stumbles in, throwing out another insult during the second case of mistaken identity (“You’re even more repulsive than she said. No wonder she begged me to come here with her!”).

The phone rings, and Mr. Smith has had enough. Let’s listen in one last time:

Hello? Mother? You were right about women. Yes, Mama, I’ll wait outside. Come and get me.

So we’ll never know the possible happy future that could have been for this reel librarian and her mama’s-boy beau.

I find it interesting that they kept the bun — which looks quite elaborately pinned and braided, no? — even while she’s dressed down in a robe. I’m sure the glasses were the first thing to come off. 😉


Sources used:


  • That Touch of Mink. Dir. Delbert Mann. Perf. Cary Grant, Doris Day, Gig Young, Audrey Meadows. Universal-International, 1962.

Not your typical ‘last supper’

Four strikes against a reel librarian

The 1995 film The Last Supper focuses on five liberal grad students, rooming together in a big Iowa farmhouse. Smugly proud of their forward-thinking ways, they nonetheless find themselves succumbing to murderous temptations when faced with extreme right-wing thinkers at their dinner table. Funny how those tomato plants in the backyard keep multiplying…

This little-known film pulls together threads of pitch-black comedy and morality puzzlers like in Hitchcock’s Rope. And for such a small-scale film, it boasts quite a number of star cameos, including Bill Paxton, Charles Durning, Mark Harmon, and Ron Perlman. Annabeth Gish was arguably the biggest “name” in the cast at the time the film was released, but it also stars Cameron Diaz and Courtney B. Vance in roles before they hit it big. Alas, the most interesting bits in the film are the opening (and ending) credits, which could illustrate an anthology of Flannery O’Connor’s most disturbing short stories.

*SPOILER ALERT*

So how does the reel librarian, played by South African actress and award-winning playwright Pamela Gien, end up in this Class III film? Dead, of course, with a knife in her back. Thaaaaat’s gotta hurt.

But let me back up a bit. How does she end up dead? A little over 50 minutes into the film, this (gotta be) single white female finds herself at the head of the table. Although obviously quite young, her conservative dress; minimal, if any, makeup; and nondescript hairstyle age her considerably. Strike one.

Librarian closeup in The Last Supper
Who, me? The ‘Illiterate Librarian’ in The Last Supper

This meek librarian’s mannerisms also convey her inner Puritan; she puts her hand across her chest and also uses it covers her mouth, almost as if to block any direct, or indirect, contact. Strike two.

And then she opens her mouth, speaking in a high-pitched, nervous voice:

Catcher in the Rye is supposed to be art? Thumbelina is art. Catcher in the Rye is just mean-spirited garbage littered with the “F” word.

Strike three!

They all laugh, and Luke (Courtney B. Vance) proclaims, “I’ve heard enough. How about a toast?” (FYI, they’d been killing people with poisoned wine.)

Interrupted by the doorbell, three of the wannabe philosophers leave the room. They come back to find the reel librarian draped over a chair, stabbed in the back. Why? Because she didn’t drink wine. (Of course! Strike four!)

Librarian death in The Last Supper
That’s gotta hurt

Although we actually do learn her name throughout the scene, Barbara Mensa, this Comic Relief librarian gets credited as “The Illiterate Librarian.” And she continues to inspire controversy after her demise.

Marc (Jonathan Penner): “But look at her. She was just an illiterate. I mean, we’re getting out of hand.”

Paulie (Annabeth Gish): “They’re not people. They’re people who hate.”

Jude (Cameron Diaz):  “What are you talking about? She just had bad taste.”

So there you have it. Fellow librarians, dissing Catcher in the Rye in public can lead to very bad things. I’ll be keeping my own opinions on that controversial classic to myself. 😉


Sources used:


  • The Last Supper. Dir. Stacy Title. Perf. Annabeth Gish, Cameron Diaz, Courtney B. Vance. Columbia, 1995.

Hey! Mr. Book Man, find a book for me in ‘Ricochet’

“When you start reading the right things, go down the right road.”

It’s always interesting for me to view early Denzel Washington films, like this decidedly minor action thriller, Ricochet (1991). Denzel plays hotshot detective-turned-district-attorney Nick Styles, while John Lithgow plays his badass, butt-kicking nemesis, Earl Talbot Blake (?!). I know, I just typed that sentence and I had to do a mental double-take. Although spectacularly miscast, Lithgow nonetheless enjoys chewing the scenery with crazy-eyed relish. (For a believably badass Lithgow villain, see his Emmy-winning turn in the 4th season of Dexter).

*SPOILERS BELOW*

About a quarter hour into the film, Lithgow gets to flex his teeth-gnashing skills opposite a reel librarian billed as the “Book Man” (Don Perry). While Earl is seething revenge in a prison hospital bed — he had just gotten shot in the kneecaps by Nick the Cop — an older white male pushing a cart of books shuffles into view.

Decked out in so-nerdy-it’s-almost-stylish-again duds such as a newsboy cap, plaid shirt and cardigan (but alas, no bow tie!), he bends over Earl to say:

Young fella? Look at you! Lying there like a lump on a log. So what if you’ve made a few mistakes? You can change your life for the better. Don’t you have anything to live for?

Mr. Book Man's bedside manner in Ricochet
Mr. Book Man’s bedside manner

Earl has no reaction to this inspirational message. Or maybe he was pissed at being called “young fella” (being over 45 in real life by this point).  Either way, he seems unmoved. But after viewing a TV news bit about the stylin’ Nick Styles, he calls out, “Hey you! Book Man!”

Pleased as punch, this Information Provider and Comic Relief reel librarian pushes the cart of books back over. Here is the oddest, and darkly comedic, bit of cinematic reader’s advisory you’ll ever witness:

Earl: You know what? I just thought of something I could change. A whole life. A whole future. It’s all in my hands.

Book Man:  Wonderful. Would you like something uplifting to read? Maybe motivational?

Earl:  Something heavy.

Book Man:  How about Tolstoy? Anna Karenina.

Earl: It’s not heavy enough.

Book Man:  Well, it was his first book. Ok. War and Peace.

Earl:  Yeah, that’s perfect. [Book Man puts his hands on his hips, looking mighty proud of himself, see above.] I’ll take that big Bible there, too.

Book Man: God bless you. Fine young man. When you start reading the right things, go down the right road.

Earl’s ulterior motive:  binding the heavy books with tape to use as a splint for his messed-up leg! And he continues to honor the true value of books by using them in prison as body armor. (Not kidding.) And later, the ex-cons use a bookstore that poses as an Aryan front for fake passports. Sigh.

So even though I was thinking that was it for the Book Man — I totally thought he was going to die with War and Peace literally imprinted on the side of his head at the end of that hospital scene — but no, wrong again! Earl meets up with Book Man again on his breakout escape from prison. See, for years, Earl has been planning this escape and plotting revenge on Nick, and he’s none too pleased to meet up with Mr. Book Man in the prison parking lot. Although the Book Man sure seems happy (see below).

Reel librarian closeup in Ricochet
Hey there, young fella

Outside his bookmobile, the Book Man calls out to Earl (in disguise as a fancy pants lawyer), “Hey there, young fella. Do you remember me? The books in the hospital?”

Reel librarian offers a book in Ricochet
Is the pen mightier than the sword in this scenario?

Not impressed with the old guy’s memory — or the lack of aging process on ANYONE in this film — Earl shoots him in the chest and steals his bookmobile to use as the getaway vehicle. Worst. Library. Patron. EVER.

And the poor bookmobile meets a grisly end, as well. Sigh. A cart bites the dust on the highway, splattering books everywhere, and Earl and his sidekick conspirator light up the bookmobile and push it off a cliff. To add insult to injury (and murder), we even get a closeup of it as the bookmobile blows up!

Bookmobile goes up in flames in Ricochet
Bookmobile or bust

“I always wanted a Viking funeral.”

Go in peace, Correctional Facilities Bookmobile and Mr. Book Man, go in peace.


Sources used:


  • Ricochet. Dir. Russell Mulcahy. Perf. Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollak. HBO/Warner Bros., 1991.

Comic Relief librarians

Exploring the Comic Relief character type

Aaaaahhh, the Comic Relief librarians. I’m combining both male and female versions of the Comic Relief librarians because they serve the same function and role, no matter the gender. In my undergraduate thesis, “A Glimpse Through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film” (read more about that here), I had included both the Comic Relief and Information Provider types into one type. My reasoning at the time?

I fit both of them into one category because the librarians are there only to provide necessary points of plot or supply scenes for comedic effect that highlight basic stereotypes — and sometimes, the librarians supply both plot and humor.

If you’ve been following this series of posts (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), you know my penchant for awkward titles. The original moniker behind the merger was “The Librarian who Provides Information or Humor.” And THUD. Yikes, that was such a clunker. I remember wanting to do something akin to “Good Humor Man” but never got anywhere on that track.

Anyways, now it’s the Comic Relief librarian. So much better-sounding, no? The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes, save for perhaps the Spinster Librarian and her male counterpart, the Anti-Social Librarian. Why? Because they are more caricatures than characters. They are the most extreme physically — ranging from rail-thin (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989) to buff beyond belief (UHF, 1989).

The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.

Shall we?


Ladies first:


The female of the Comic Relief species include Hilda Plowright’s Quaker librarian in The Philadelphia Story (1940). Jimmy Stewart pokes (gentle) fun by mocking her thee‘s and thou‘s.

The tiny bit part of the blonde librarian in That Touch of Mink (1962) highlights the film’s comedy in the case of mistaken identity, and Alice Drummond in Ghostbusters (1984) survives the fright of her life and mumbles incoherently while lying on a library desk.

Marian Seldes in The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992) plays head librarian Margaret Armstrong, and when the title character suggests food at a library fundraiser, a look of absolute horror crosses her face as she gasps, “Books near finger foods?”

And I’m sure that reel librarian could relate to Elvia Allman’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), who freaks out at Paul Varjak (George Peppard) “defacing public property” by autographing his book.

In Chances Are (1989), Yale University library assistant Alex (Robert Downey, Jr.) stops a middle-aged librarian from yelling at a student by telling her that some students are “fooling around with the [Shakespeare] folios.” This prompts the hapless librarian to scurry away in a panic to save the precious books.


The guys:


Another film from 1989, UHF, contains a sketch in the form of a commercial for the show “Conan the Librarian.” Read all about that hilarity here in this post.

And in yet another film from 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade provides a scene in which Indiana (Harrison Ford) breaks a marble floor tile, and the film cuts to an old male librarian stamping books each time Indiana breaks the tile (see above). Marveling at his unknown strength (!),  the male librarian does not realize that something other than his stamp could be making noise in the library.

The 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman to the personal librarian to Lady Catherine de Burgh. Melville Cooper, as Mr. Collins, plays a perfectly ridiculous man (see above), one who bounces on his toes and manages to unintentionally offend everyone he intends to flatter.

And in another supporting role, James Millhollin draws in some laughs as the Ship’s Librarian in Bon Voyage! (1962). He also manages to unintentionally offend in his overly solicitous, uptight, and oily hair kind of way. You can read all about it in this post.

So a fond farewell now to our Comic Relief librarians — who take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ — and up next week, our trusty Information Providers.

A tale of seven shushes in ‘City Slickers II’

Subtlety is not its strong suit, as we will also see in the library scene.

The 1994 film City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold includes a brief scene filmed in the beautiful Doheny Library Reference Room, University of Southern California. This library has starred in several films. Opened in 1932, the library has an elegant yet cozy feeling, with tall windows, light woods, tile floors, and stunning light fixtures.

That’s the good stuff.

Now for the rest…

In this vastly inferior sequel, the main plot is pretty obvious by the film’s subtitle. Subtlety is not its strong suit, as we will also see in the library scene.

The MacGuffin? Mitch (Billy Crystal) has discovered a treasure map in Curly’s hat. His excitable friend Phil (Daniel Stern) has been researching the Western Pacific Railroad because he suspects the money traces back to a train robbery. A trip to the library — a logical next step, no? — basically serves to legitimize the plot, such as it is.

The library scene takes place a little over 30 minutes into the film. The camera pans down from the gorgeously ornate library ceiling to a closer shot of Billy Crystal rifling through bound newspaper volumes. Blink, and you might miss a male reel librarian cruise by. Although unidentified in the film’s credits, how do you know he’a reel librarian? Because he’s pushing a shelving cart, of course! This unidentified African-American male is quite young (maybe in his 30s?), dressed in typically conservative outfit of grey slacks and a red button-down shirt.

Librarian with library cart in City Slickers II
Library cart alert!

I counted 7 shushes in this 3 1/2 minute scene — or a one-shush average per 30 seconds. Let’s count ’em down:

Phil is looking up old newspaper clippings on a microfiche machine, his eyes wide. He shouts out “I got it!” as he reads an article from the Carson City News.

He and Mitch talk loudly, and Phil excitedly shouts out again: “This is fate!”


SHUSH ONE:


Brought to us by an older man — billed in the credits as Annoyed Man in Library. There’s no indication that he’s a librarian, only that he’s following library rules. Phil shoots back an “Up yours” to Annoyed Man.

They get excited again (of course).

Annoyed Man in Library
Annoyed Man in Library

SHUSH TWO:


Again, by the Annoyed Man in Library. This time, Mitch whispers back, “Sorry, sorry.”

The Annoyed Man throws some more exasperated looks their way. Finally, he stands up, slams his book closed, and walks away.


SHUSHES THREE & FOUR:


These shushes come from other library users.

Mitch pushes Phil across the aisle and into the stacks — still arguing loudly.


SHUSH FIVE:


Time to bring out the big guns! This time, a white, middle-aged female librarian gives them the shush, contributing her bit to Comic Relief. The reel librarian (Helen Sigh) whizzes by, pushing a shelving cart (of course). She wears conservative jewelry (gold button earrings and brooch) and clothing (a long-sleeved and high-necked green blouse), with glasses hanging off a lanyard.

Note:  She’s billed as Shushing Lady. Subtle.

Shushing Lady in City Slickers II
Shushing Lady in City Slickers II

SHUSHES SIX & SEVEN:


Still more arguing. As Mitch turns away, Phil cries out after him, earning SHUSHES SIX and SEVEN from Mitch himself. Phil’s reaction? “Don’t shush me!”

A few seconds later, after spying a picture of the train robber who looks just like the deceased Curly, Mitch then lets rip a shush-curdling scream. The film cuts away immediately, so we can only imagine the reaction in the library!


Sources used:


  • City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold. Dir. Paul Weiland. Perf. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Jon Lovitz, Jack Palance. Castle Rock Entertainment/Warner Home Video, 1994.