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

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Law librarian sighting in ‘The Pelican Brief’

Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.

I recently rewatched The Pelican Brief (1993), based on the John Grisham thriller of the same title and directed by Alan J. Pakula. I didn’t have a copy of the film itself, so I checked out a (double-sided!) DVD from my local public library.

Don’t you just love the fact that after you read on the back that The Pelican Brief is a “heart-stopping, spine-chilling, adrenaline-pumping, run-for-your-life thriller” … you then see a photo of Julia Roberts studying in a library?! Research CAN BE adrenaline-pumping, y’all! 😀

DVD covers for The Pelican Brief (1993)
DVD covers for The Pelican Brief (1993)

If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen this legal thriller, it stars Julia Roberts as law student Darby Shaw, who uncovers the reason behind the recent assassinations of two Supreme Court justices and, therefore, unwittingly becomes a target herself. Denzel Washington co-stars as Gray Grantham, a well-known and respected newspaper reporter who joins Darby in her quest to uncover the truth. Sam Shepard also shines in a supporting role as law professor Thomas Callahan, who is also dating Darby.

Here’s a trailer to (re?)familiarize yourself with this star-packed movie:

The Pelican Brief (1993) Official Trailer – Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts Thriller Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*

The research process begins

At almost 17 minutes into this 141-minute movie, Darby begins musing theories aloud to Thomas about the recent assassinations of the two Supreme Court justices. Next stop? The library, of course! (But we don’t yet get to see the library. But patience, dear reader, we’ll get there. 😉 )

A couple of minutes later, Thomas follows up with Darby. Their ensuing conversation provides a peek at how Darby’s mind works, and highlights the planning and prep work of her research process.

Thomas: Where have you been?

Darby: The library. I studied a printout of the Supreme Court docket. I even made a list of possible suspects. And then threw it in the garbage because they’d be obvious to everyone. 

Thomas: Then you looked for areas Jensen and Rosenberg [the two Supreme Court justices who have been assassinated] had in common.

Darby: Exactly. … Everyone is assuming the motive is either hatred or revenge, but what if the issue involved old-fashioned material greed? A case that involves a great deal of money? 

We then see Darby visiting a records office. She’s in the research process stage of gathering evidence for her thesis and seeing where evidence leads her.

Records scene in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Lady, don’t mess with me. I’m Julia Roberts, and my red curls are at their best in this movie.

I’m not classifying the woman at the counter as an archivist, as she seems to be more like a city or county clerk or office manager. Their verbal exchange is satisfying to watch Darby flex a little of her law school knowledge and know-how.

Clerk: Can I help you?

Darby: I’d like to see this file please.

Clerk: Why?

Darby: It’s public record isn’t it?

Clerk: Semi-public.

Darby: Are you familiar with the Freedom of Information Act?

Darby’s sass gets her to a back room of filing cabinets, where all the records are. We also learn of an upcoming appeals deadline of a local case, but we don’t yet know the details of this case that Darby is researching.

Records storage in The Pelican Brief (1993)
This back room of records storage makes me sad.

Law library scene #1

We then see the culmination of her research process, pulling it all together. And where’s the best place to do that? The library, of course!

We get treated to a montage of Darby in various spots in the library, first at a microfilm machine:

Microfilm research in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Remember microfilm?

And then typing on a computer in a study desk carrel, deep in the stacks:

Library research collage from The Pelican Brief (1993)
Library research montage, start at the upper left and go clockwise

The camera slides away as Darby continues to type, and the shadows darken, signifying the passage of time as Darby concentrates on finishing her research project.

Side note: I appreciated that this was filmed in a real library. How do I know? The books have call numbers! 😀 The IMDb.com Film Locations page for this movie listed Tulane Law Library, so that’s where I’m assuming this library montage was filmed. What’s missing from this scene, of course, is any recognizable librarian onscreen.

The ACTUAL Pelican Brief

And now for the finished product! Next we see a closeup of her brief — the title role — as it prints out. Darby collects the pages into a folder. It’s important for reasons of PLOT to note that Darby’s name and address are included on the cover sheet.

A closeup of the actual "Pelican Brief" in The Pelican Brief (1993)
I could not resist a shot of the ACTUAL Pelican Brief.

Alas, the moment of triumph is brief, as Darby then drops the folder onto her cluttered desk and dismisses her research. But Thomas is not so easily dissuaded.

Thomas: So, whodunit, Miss Shaw? You have some obscure suspect unknown to the FBI and the CIA and the secret service and 10,000 police departments?

Darby: I had one which I have now discarded.

Thomas: You mean, you skipped class and ignored me for a week and now you’re throwing it away? Let me see it.

Darby: Don’t laugh. It was ludicrous of me to think that I could solve it. Hubris of the young huh?

This series of scenes highlighting the research process — the description of the initial visit to the library, the local records office, and the holing up in the law library to write the brief — lasts three minutes in total screen time, representing what we hear took a week of work. I do appreciate that the movie takes pains to highlight that good research takes time and involves several steps.

Thomas later shares Darby’s brief with a former law school buddy who works in intelligence, who then takes the brief up the chain. The only problem? Darby’s theory turns out to be correct, and the baddies find out who and where she is. Thomas, therefore, unknowingly has put Darby in danger — and himself!

More than 70 minutes into the movie, after many attempts on her life (and others close to her), Darby gets interviewed by reporter Gray Grantham in Washington, D.C., and we finallllllllly get to learn all the details about what’s in the brief. (Fun tidbit: Darby’s theory all started because of a PBS Frontline special! #GoPBS)

Law library scene #2

At 92 minutes into the movie, Gray walks into a law library. (That sentence sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?! 😉 ) This law library turns out to be the Edward Bennett Williams Law Library in the Georgetown University Law Center.

And that’s when we finalllllllly get to see a reel librarian! It’s fleeting, but we can glimpse a white, middle-aged woman pushing a cart of books as Gray walks in. Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.

Reel law librarian sighting in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Blink, and you’ll miss the reel librarian in this scene!

The law librarian, who is uncredited, serves as your basic Information Provider, helping establish the library setting. Information Providers are most closely identified by occupational tasks; in this case, that happens to be pushing a cart full of books.

But we’re not done in this law library — or with research! Gray walks over to where Darby is sitting. He taps the table and whispers to Darby to meet him “by the stacks.” Gotta love that library lingo! 😉

Researching in the Georgetown Law library
What? I’m researching!

Darby has been looking up law firms, and she is totally prepared for research with her pad of paper and pencil. We also get a closeup of the legal book she’s been looking at, open to an entry for a law firm located in the Washington D.C. area.

We then see a long overhead shot of the tables and library as Darby packs up. It makes sense that director Alan J. Pakula would insert an overhead view of a library in this film; he did the same thing with the Library of Congress Reading Room in 1976’s All the President’s Men. (Click here to revisit my analysis of that classic political drama.)

Overhead view of the Georgetown Law Library, as seen in The Pelican Brief (1993)
Overhead view of the Georgetown Law Library

The final shot in the library is Gray and Darby talking together in what presumably is a group study room in the library. This final law library scene lasts a minute long.

Private conference in one of the library's study room
Private conference in one of the library’s study room

Wrapping it up

And there we have it! A (literal) roll-by cameo of a reel law librarian, scenes in two law libraries, and extended shots of Darby going through stages of the research process. Not bad for a Class IV film, eh?

Did you remember the law libraries in The Pelican Brief? How long has it been since you’ve seen this movie? Please leave a comment and share.

Sources used

‘Summer school’ in the library

“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”

I am working at my college library this summer quarter, so I got to thinking about the 1987 comedy classic Summer School. The film stars Mark Harmon as gym teacher Freddy Shoop, who gets stuck teaching remedial English in summer school. I checked out a DVD of the movie from a local regional library system, and I watched the “Life’s a Beach” DVD edition that had a few special features, including commentary from director Carl Reiner and star Mark Harmon.

Summer School DVD covers
DVD covers for Summer School (1987), “Life’s a Beach” edition

I had watched Summer School before, and my vague recollection was that there was a scene (or two?) in the school library, but no librarian present. It felt like perfect timing to revisit this ’80s comedy, just to make sure. I am nothing if not thorough, y’all. 😉

Before we dive in, below is a trailer for the film. I was pleased that the school library does get highlighted in the trailer!

“Summer School-Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Let’s all go to the… library?

At almost 19 minutes into this 97-minute film, Shoop is flipping through curriculum sheets, trying to figure out what to do. Context: This is the second day of class. He seizes upon book reports, and you can practically see the light bulb go off in his brain. Shoop calls out to the class:

“Anybody want to get out of here? Go to the library?”

All of the students shout enthusiastically at this idea.

“Let’s go!”

This bit highlights just how BORED both the students AND the teacher must be, if going to the — gasp! — library sounds like a good idea. (Sigh.)

And, of course, almost everyone takes off and ditches while Shoop is leading the students across campus to the library. (Double sigh.)

School library scene

Shoop leans on the library door as the few remaining students shuffle into the school library. I thought it interesting to spot the library hours sign on the door. (For you purists out there, the library is open 9 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 to 3 p.m. You’re welcome. 😉 )

Library hours sign in Summer School
Library hours sign in Summer School (1987)

Here’s a look at the students in the library at the beginning of this scene. Pretty empty, huh?

Wide shot of the school library in Summer School
Wide shot of the school library in Summer School (1987)

We then get a closeup of Dave and Chainsaw, who are trying to flirt with the new foreign exchange student, Anna-Maria, who is taking the class to brush up on her English language skills. In the closeup below, you can see that Anna-Maria has a stack of books about the English language. I appreciated this detail — and the fact that the library does contain materials that she could use!

Dave, Chainsaw, and Anna-Maria in the school library in a scene from Summer School
Dave, Chainsaw, and Anna-Maria in the school library in a scene from Summer School (1987)

In fact, this library has a large range of materials for all different ages and reading abilities:

Shout-out to Dr. Seuss in Summer School
Shout-out to Dr. Seuss in Summer School (1987)

From this initial angle, the library looks quite empty. But when the camera swings back to Shoop, who’s reading a newspaper in front of the periodicals section, we see more people on the other side of the library. A security guard then brings back the rest of Shoop’s students, who went out for doughnuts. (Eating in the library, gasp!)

Security guard brings students back to the library in Summer School (1987)
So. Many. Hand-lettered. Library. Signs.

What I found most interesting when I paused this back view of the library was the figure right below the “Please Return Books Here” sign in the upper left corner. It looks to be a woman with blonde hair tied back with a large white bow, and she’s wearing a light blue blazer or shirt. There also seems to be a large computer or machine behind her and to the left.

Therefore, I’m calling it… I think that’s the school librarian! Who else would stand below a “Please Return Books Here” sign?!

This role goes uncredited, but I’m convinced. Therefore, Summer School belongs in the Class IV category, films in which reel librarians make a cameo role. This librarian also clearly fulfills the “Information Provider” character type, as she’s there simply to help establish that it is a library. Of course, all the hand-lettered reading signs around the library also help establish setting. (My favorite sign is the “To read is to feed your mind” sign. Rewatch this scene to see if you can spot it!)

And here’s another wide shot of the school library, upon the return of all of Shoop’s students. Definitely less empty now.

Shoop's students in the school library in Summer School
Shoop’s students in the school library in Summer School (1987)

Of course, none of the students want to be there. Heck, not even the teacher wants to be there! Shoop makes that clear when he says:

“We’re stuck here. We’re trapped, like rats.”

Trapped in the school library? Enh, there are worse things in life. 😉

That’s when students get the idea to go on field trips, and the rest of the film’s plot kicks into high gear. The school library scene lasts exactly 3 minutes total.

The students never return to the school library en masse, but there are a couple of mentions or glimpses of the school library throughout the remainder of the movie.

Library as excuse

Vice Principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) takes over the class toward the end, at 72 minutes into the movie. The students want Mr. Shoop back, so they start humming under their breath to annoy Mr. Gills.

Chainsaw then sees an opportunity:

“I just cannot study. I am going to the library.”

Spoiler: He never makes it there.

Studying montage

One minute later, we get treated to a study montage before the big final exam. Denise (Kelly Minter) has been diagnosed with dyslexia, and she meets with a reading specialist.

Where do they meet up? At the school library, OF COURSE. ❤

Denise and a reading tutor meet up in the school library in Summer School (1987)
Denise and a reading tutor meet up in the school library in Summer School (1987)

The real school library location

As per the movie’s IMDb.com Locations page, scenes set at the movie’s fictional high school, Oceanfront High School, were filmed at the real-life Charles Evans Hughes Jr. High in Woodland Hills, California. And this school library really looks and feels like a genuine school library, once you soak in its hodgepodge of signs, orange carpet, paperback book racks, bulletin boards, and old-school card catalogs.

#Memories #CardCatalogsForever #SchoolLibraryNostalgia

And fun fact — courtesy of the Movie Locations & More site — this same location served as the school in both The Karate Kid (1984) and Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985).

Continuing the conversation

Did you enjoy this trip down memory lane? Do you remember the school library scene in Summer School? Are you in summer school right now??! Please leave a comment and share.

More school library movie scenes

Putting this post together reminded me of when I analyzed the school library scene in Pretty in Pink (1986). For that ’80s classic, I also spotted a school librarian from behind. Hmmm… I’m sensing a theme here. 😉

Want more school library scenes and glimpses of reel school librarians? No worries, I’m on it:

Sources used

The dragon lady librarian in ‘The Golden Child’ (1986)

This is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals

Usually, when I write the phrase “dragon lady librarian,” an image of an older, scowling librarian who’s white and female and metaphorically spewing fire and brimstone at an innocent library user comes to mind, yes? Ah, the power of stereotypes. (SIGH.)

But the dragon lady librarian in 1986’s classic comedy The Golden Child is very different from that stereotypical depiction above. Let’s investigate, shall we?

First, here’s a trailer for the film, in case you’re unfamiliar with the film, or it’s been awhile. Eddie Murphy plays as Chandler Jarrell, a man who finds missing children. The Golden Child, a young boy in Tibet who has mystical abilities, is kidnapped by evil men led by Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance). A young woman, Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), enlists Chandler’s help and calls him “The Chosen One,” because he is destined to find The Golden Child, and therefore help save humanity, yada, yada, yada… you know the drill, right?

“The Golden Child Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by FilmTrailersChannel is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS***

The dragon lady librarian shows up three times in the film, at critical points in the plot, at 17 minutes, 45 minutes, and 78 minutes in this 93-minute long film.

Librarian scene #1

At 17 minutes into the film, Chandler has just come back from scouting out a house where the body of another child he was looking for, a young girl, was found. There seems to be a connection to the gang who kidnapped the Golden Child, as there are Tibetan graffiti markings on the walls and a bowl of oatmeal soaked with the girl’s blood. (I first watched this movie as a kid, and the blood-soaked oatmeal in this movie always creeped me out the MOST. Shudder.) Chandler asks Kee why they were trying to feed the child blood-soaked oatmeal, and Kee responds that she doesn’t know but that “There is somebody we could ask about the blood.”

Chandler and Kee next walk into a store that looks to be an apothecary, and they walk into the back and downstairs into a brick basement.

In one corner is a three-paned screen, and we can see the shadow of a woman sitting, and she is wearing a headdress. We also get a glimpse of the woman’s face through the left side of the screen. The mysterious woman smokes (what I presume to be) opium through a long-handled instrument.

Dragon lady silhouette and the three-paned screen in The Golden Child
‘Meet cute’ with the dragon lady

Let’s listen in on the exposition:

Chandler Jarrell: Tell me about the Golden Child.

Kala: Every thousand generations, a perfect child is born, a Golden Child. He has come to rescue us.

Chandler: Rescue us from what?

Kala: From ourselves. He is the bringer of compassion. If he dies, compassion will die with him.

Chandler: So if something happens to the kid, the whole world goes to hell?

Kala: The world will BECOME hell.

Chandler: Ah! Not far from that now. Listen, who would want to take the kid, anyway?

Kala: Those who want evil rather than good.

Chandler: Can you be a little bit more specific?

Kala: We do not know who took him.

Chandler: Well, could you tell me why the people that took him are trying to make him eat blood?

Kala: Nothing in this world will hurt him, but if he were to pollute himself with anything impure, he would become vulnerable.

Chandler: Ok. So if they… if he eats the blood, they could kill him.

Kala: Yes.

Chandler: Oh.

Kala: Do you have any other questions?

Chandler: As a matter of fact, I do. What are you doing this weekend? Because your silhouette is kickin’.

We then hear her rattling in frustration at his impudence. And librarians everywhere feel her pain. Sexual harassment is NOT COOL, y’all. Step off. And this librarian is not afraid to voice her displeasure and incredulity:

Kala: THIS is the Chosen One?

It’s interesting to note that we don’t actually know yet that she’s a librarian. But in two minutes, she’s already conducted a reference interview, filled in lots of exposition, and revealed the high stakes for the quest. I also love that although she’s clearly an unconventional librarian, she says what any librarian would say: “Do you have any other questions?

Next, we see Chandler and Kee walking and talking, and Kee fills in the exposition about Kala:

Chandler: You people certainly do put on a good show. Where’d you find her at?

Kee: She’s the librarian at the Secret Repository at Palkor Sin. She was flown here to help us. She’s over 300 years old.

Chandler: And how’d she manage that one?

Kee: One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.

Thank you, Kee! Now we know that Kala is literally a dragon lady librarian! And clearly, she is knowledgable and highly respected. Who else but a librarian would the audience trust? 😉

#TeamKala #RespectLibrarians

It’s also interesting to note here that two women actually played Kala. Shakti Chen, a Chinese actress, played Kala, while Marilyn Schreffler, an American actress, voiced the character.

Librarian scene #2

Kala’s expertise is needed again after Chandler learns about the Ajanti Dagger, a weapon the baddies plan to use to kill the Golden Child.

So at 45 mins into the film, Chandler returns to Kala.

Returning to the dragon lady librarian in The Golden Child
Returning to the dragon lady librarian

Kala: So. It is Sardo Numspa.

Chandler: What’s this knife?

Kala: The cross-dagger of Ajanti. He brought it to this world to kill the second Golden Child, the bearer of justice. His death was a great loss.

Doctor Hong: Sardo needs it to kill the child, but you can use it to save him.

Kala: You must obtain the knife and lure Numspa into freeing the child. But you must never let him get possession of the knife.

In this 30-second scene, Kala once again provides important details (the main baddie’s name), backstory (the knife), the high stakes (the killing of a previous Golden Child), PLUS directs Chandler onto the next quest. Librarians are so efficient!

Librarian scene #3

At 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, Chandler has successfully completed his quest to obtain the Ajanti dagger and returned to Los Angeles, but Kee has died in a fight with the baddies. Chandler, filled with grief and anger, returns to the brick basement, this time taking Kee’s body with him.

Kala: You can save her. The Golden Child can bring her back, as long as sunlight still shines on her body.

Chandler: No more magic. No more riddles, all right? She’s dead!

In anger, Chandler rushes up to the screen and throws it aside. We get our first true glimpse at the dragon lady librarian, scales and all.

Dragon lady librarian exposed in The Golden Child
Dragon lady librarian exposed!
Closeup of Kala, the dragon lady librarian in The Golden Child
Closeup of Kala, the dragon lady librarian

Kala tries to block Chandler’s gaze with her arms, and he looks terrified (rightly so, because that move was seriously disrespectful!). Dr. Hong then sternly redirects Chandler’s attention and reiterates Kala’s final task for Chandler, that he has until nightfall to the find the Golden Child and save Kee.

My final thoughts

Although we know the dragon lady librarian is named Kala — by the credits and by the captions — her name is never actually mentioned onscreen, at least not in the scenes featuring her. And we are told by someone else, Kee, that she is a librarian; without that line of vital dialogue, we would never know Kala is a librarian, as she’s never seen in a library or with typical library props.

I’m pretty confident in stating that this is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals 😉

Ultimately, although Kala is a most unconventional reel librarian by way of accessories and backstory, she serves a relatively conventional reel librarian role, that of an Information Provider. Right on cue throughout the film, she provides vital plot points and helps propel the plot forward.

Kala is seen onscreen for less than 5 minutes total, yet her presence is quite memorable. Ultimately, I have classified her reel librarian portrayal as Class III, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with memorable or significant scenes.

Your thoughts?

Have you seen The Golden Child? Was it a comedy staple during your childhood? Do you remember the dragon lady librarian? Please share your thoughts below.

Sources used

  • The Golden Child. Dir. Michael Ritchie. Perf. Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis. Paramount, 1986.

First impressions: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ (2019) and its memorable fight scene in the NYPL

This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian.

I was NOT planning to write about the new film John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum when I went to see it a couple of weeks ago during its opening weekend. I’d seen the two previous John Wick installments in theaters, so this outing to its third chapter was planned as a fun date night out. But when John Wick hails a cab within the first 5-10 minutes of the movie and directs the taxi driver to the New York Public Library, I knew my next post HAD to be about this movie.

And yes, a little bit of me felt like saying, “Dammit! There’s going to be a library scene, so now I have to really pay attention to this movie!” This happens to me ALL the time, y’all. Librarians and libraries pop up everywhere in movies, just when you least expect it.

What’s a “first impressions” post?

First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — 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. I also was able to rewatch most of this library scene and grab some (grainy) screenshots, thanks to a few YouTube videos.

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

John Wick’s reference interview

Now, back to the movie… when John Wick’s cab gets stuck in traffic, he runs to the NYPL’s central branch and then up the center aisle to the front circulation counter. A white, female librarian with a no-nonsense attitude asks if she can help him. She is older, has short brown hair, and is wearing glasses and a cardigan; her character displays all of the (stereo)typical visual cues of a reel librarian, except for the bun. Susan Blommaert is credited as the Librarian, and she mirrors John Wick’s impassive facial expression.

John Wick’s taciturn reference request?

Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864.

The librarian doesn’t ask any follow-up questions in this brief reference interview. Instead, we hear her typing (I’m assuming in a library catalog search screen) and then writes something on a slip of paper (I’m assuming a call number). John Wick stares down at the slip of paper, then back at the librarian, who then points her finger to the right.

Her equally taciturn response?

Level 2.

This is the barest-bones reference interview I think I have ever seen onscreen. And one of the most successful, as we next see John Wick walk down a row of books, straight to the book he needs. This man had no time to waste, and neither did the librarian. To my mind, she is a highly efficient Information Provider in a Class III film.

Side note: Is real life like that? Not quite… Slate’s Natalia Winkelman wanted to see if she could replicate this reference request at the NYPL, and you can read her real-life reference interview experience here. Winkelman also answers the question of whether this book really exists. Bless. ♥

Shhhh! This library book has a secret

When John Wick slides out the exact book he needs and opens it up, we find out that he has hollowed out the inside! He has stashed valuables in this book’s hidey-hole, including a large token, a rosary with a large cross, a few coins, and a photograph of his dead wife.

Library book prop in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)
Library book prop!

At this point, five thoughts flashed through my head, in this order (it took me longer to suss them out completely on the page):

  1. A book published in 1864 would be out in the main circulating stacks? I don’t think so! That kind of book would probably be super valuable and in an archives or rare books room somewhere. (And this is one of the things that Winkelman found out in the article I referenced above, hah!)
  2. The idea of carving out a hidey-hole in an actual library book — and a rare one at that! — made my librarian heart gasp in dismay. And it is likely to be an actual library book he mutilated, rather than a book he brought from the outside and just placed on the shelves, because otherwise the book wouldn’t have come up in a library catalog search. Unless he swapped a copy of the library book for the real book, which is possible, but he would had to have made a replica call number. It’s also possible I’m overthinking this point… next!
  3. It’s condescending to think that NO ONE would be interested enough in Russian folk tales to check this book out and discover its secret. Every subject out there has its dedicated researchers, and in my experience, folk tales are perennially popular. And if the book were not popular and had no check-outs whatsoever, then it would have been a prime candidate for librarians to (eventually) weed from the collection.
  4. I did mentally pause to appreciate the fact that this scene was filmed in a library — or at least uses or mimics real library book props — because all of the books on the shelves have… say it with me, now… CALL NUMBERS! 😉
  5. Alas, I could not make out the actual call number on the book John Wick slides out or the call numbers in the books around it. If the propmaster wanted to be accurate, the call number would most likely be in the 398.2 call number range, as that’s the Dewey Decimal call number for folk tales and folklore. (And yes, afterward I searched for “Russian folk tales” in the NYPL online library catalog, and that’s the general call number used. I am thorough, y’all. Goes with the librarian territory. 😉 )

Side note: This scene was actually filmed at NYPL’s main branch, as they are thanked in the film’s credits and acknowledgments.

Fight scene in the library!

As John Wick prepares to reshelve the book, a fellow hitman walks around the corner, quoting Dante. This hitman, named Ernest, is played by 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, an NBA player. He towers over Keanu Reeves by more than a foot.

Ernest towers over John Wick, as seen in the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Ernest towers over John Wick

Ernest has come to kill John Wick and claim the reward money. (Context: Wick broke the rules at the end of Chapter 2, so he was given an hour of freedom before the contract to kill him went live. Chapter 3 starts off, time-wise, immediately after the events of Chapter 2.) No rest for the ‘Wick’-ed! 😉

John Wick: I still have time.

Ernest: It’s almost up. Who’s gonna know the difference?

Ernest then pulls out a knife, and the fight begins in earnest. (Pun intended. I couldn’t help myself! Again. 😉 )

At one point during the fight, Ernest shushes Wick. THE NERVE.

Shushing John Wick during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Shushing John Wick

The entire fight scene lasts about a minute, and John Wick eventually defeats his foe with the SAME book he came to the library for.

I admit, I was thinking about this scene’s similarity to a fight scene in 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, in which Jason Bourne fights off a fellow assassin with a rolled-up magazine.

Fight in the library stacks in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Fight in the library stacks!

Don’t try this at home the library

And then the kicker. John Wick stands up, walks back into the stacks, and then REPLACES THE LIBRARY BOOK on the shelf, bloodstains and all.

John Wick goes back to replace the library book in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
John Wick goes back to replace the library book

This detail is lauded in several reviews and articles:

Wick’s respect for library protocol is made plain, however — after using a book (Russian Folk Tale, Aleksandr Afanasyev, 1864) as a deadly weapon, his first instinct is to replace that book where he found it. Great work.

Shannon Connellan, Mashable.com

Eventually John kills him by utilizing the book he’s holding as a weapon. That part is great, but the moment of true inspiration comes next when he goes back and replaces the book on the shelf where he found it. This detail works not because it is funny, but because it fits the character so perfectly that it would almost be weird if he didn’t do it. In a genre where impersonality is the name of the game more than ever, it’s a delight.

Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

This detail is admittedly clever when it comes to reinforcing Wick’s character. OF COURSE he would replace the library book! He is a disciplined man. And he might need the book again. I get all that, and I chuckled myself in the movie theater during this scene.

HOWEVER. I could not be a self-respecting librarian without pointing out that in real life, please DO NOT re-shelve books on your own. You are not doing librarians a favor when you do this. In fact, you’re doing the opposite. Why? Because we like to scan the barcodes of books that are used in the library but not checked out, so we can get a sense of how books are used in the library, even when they’re not checked out or not able to be checked out, like reference books. (This is referred to as “in-house usage.”) So you replacing that book on your own means that you’re depriving that book of its potential in-house usage stats. Also, library staff workers like pages and clerks are trained to re-shelve books, as it’s a major part of their jobs. So those library carts you usually find beside the stacks? Those carts are there for you to put books that need to be re-shelved. Use them, please.

Soap box time over. Thanks for sticking with me!

What about library patrons?

After John Wick replaces the book on the shelf, we next see him rushing down the library steps and into the street. So there seems to have been no consequences — or even acknowledgment! — of there being a very loud fight in the library stacks, which resulted in a dead body.

I can hear you asking, “But if he’s on level two, and there’s no one around, then this is theoretically possible.” Books do, indeed, insulate noise very well. That’s why quiet zones in libraries are often located beyond stacks of books, since they serve as natural sound barriers.

However, the two end their fight outside the stacks, where the tables are, which means the sound would carry. And there are angles in the fight scene that clearly show that there ARE library patrons on level two. Below is an example of what I’m referring to (you can also click the photo to open it in a larger size):

Library patrons in the background of the fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Library patrons in the background of the fight scene

And these patrons, who are listed in the IMDb.com credits but are uncredited in the movie, do not move or react at all to the carnage happening behind them.

Odd, right? Why include patrons at all in this scene? It would have made a lot more sense in this scene for the level to have been deserted.

Why the library?

One of John Wick’s earliest and most imaginative kills in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum occurs at, of all places, the New York Public Library.

Natalia Winkelman, Slate.com

Why did the director, Chad Stahelski, choose to stage one of the fight scenes in a public library? I figured the main reason is the juxtaposition, that we expect libraries to be quiet, so a noisy fight scene in such a quiet space would feel jarring and unexpected and fresh.

Stahelski confirmed this in a Los Angeles Times interview, that he spent a lot of time thinking about how “to be non-repetitive” in the fight scenes that the John Wick films are famous for. It’s important to note that Stahelski has directed all of the John Wick films, and he is a former stunt performer.

Library bookcases, when there are rows and rows of them, are often visually compelling onscreen. This is also the case in this film, as you can see in the screenshot below:

Rows of bookcases during the library fight scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Rows of bookcases are always visually compelling onscreen

What I found really interesting is that Stahelski was inspired to do this fight scene in the New York Public Library WHILE actually being in the New York Public Library. So meta! And the fact that Stahelski is a library user? ♥

“I spent a lot of time in the New York Public Library trying to do some work because it’s quiet,” Stahelski says. “One day, I was down in the stacks and I thought, ‘This would be a great place for a fight scene.'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

Stahelski was also inspired by the constraints of filming a fight scene in the library:

“A lot of people would avoid using the stacks because it’s difficult to shoot in and it would limit their choreography — you can’t do big flying kicks and stuff like that,” Stahelski says. “We’re kind of the opposite: We think, ‘What’s the hardest situation you can put someone in? And are we smart enough to figure it out?'”

In an interview with Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

And they did indeed figure it out. Well done!

Continuing the conversation

And they did this scene so well that it took me more than FOUR HOURS (!!!!) to draft this initial post. For a scene that lasts less than two minutes. My initial notes, the ones I jotted down on the notepad app on my phone, were pretty brief. But once I started to unpack, er, unshelve the scene, there was a lot more there to analyze and think through than I had originally thought! And of course, I spent time looking up reviews and articles and cross-checking details and citing sources. All part of the service, y’all. 😉

Are you a fan of the John Wick trilogy? Have you seen Chapter 3? You would alert a librarian or call 911 if you witnessed a fight scene in a library, right? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used