Comparing the central librarian character in ‘Grindhouse’ (2003) vs. ‘All About Evil’ (2010)

Both versions gift us with more reel librarians to “love, love to hate, or hate.”

Last month, I analyzed Joshua Grannell’s indie camp horror movie, All About Evil (2010), and in that post, I mentioned that the original inspiration and short film, Grindhouse (2003) was also included in the special edition Blu-Ray. (Please note that the 2003 short film Grindhouse is different than the 2007 feature film of the same name, starring Rose McGowan and Kurt Russell.) I thought it would be fun to continue the scary season in order to analyze the original short film and compare the portrayals of the central reel librarian character, Deborah “Deb” Tennis, in both versions.

If you’re unfamiliar with the central character and premise, the summary on the Blu-Ray edition for All About Evil captures the foundation of both the short film and feature film:

When a mousy librarian takes over her late father’s struggling movie theater, a series of grisly murders caught on camera will transform her into the new queen of indie splatter cinema.

Let’s start by outlining some basic info about each version:

GrindhouseAll About Evil
Year released20032010
Director & screenwriterJoshua GrannellJoshua Grannell
Length14 mins98 mins
Lead actor playing DebJennifer TaherNatasha Lyonne
Additional librarian charactersNoneMink Stole as Evelyn
Library scenesNo library scenes; Deb is referred to one time as a “dirty little librarian” by her motherTwo scenes set and filmed at San Francisco Public Library Presidio Branch library
Character played by Joshua GrannellTV interviewer Richard HunterPeaches Christ, drag queen & horror movie buff
Comparing basic details of Grindhouse and All About Evil versions

Below is a visual comparison between how we first meet Jennifer Taher as Deb in Grindhouse vs. Natasha Lyonne in All About Evil. Both versions showcase Deb reading a book while at the concession stand, dressed in dowdy clothing and a messy bun. Interesting to note that the 2003 Deb wears glasses — a typical prop for the reel librarian! — while the 2010 Deb does not.

Our visual introduction to Deb the reel librarian in Grindhouse (top) and All About Evil (bottom)

The initial transformation of Deb from librarian to a star — after her first kill is caught on the movie theater’s security camera and accidentally shown to the audience in the theater — remains very similar in both versions. Deb embraces her “star quality” after her first kill, and her liberation from librarian to filmmaker begins:

Deb embraces her “star quality” after her first kill, in Grindhouse (left) and All About Evil (right)

The way that Deb’s mother describes her also remains almost identical between both versions (except for an adjective used with “librarian”):

  • 2003: “You are nothing but a dirty little librarian with big, big, big dreams, and hideous little looks. You read too much. You are nothing but a loser.”
  • 2010: “You are nothing but a boring, little librarian with big, big dreams and hideous little looks. Besides, you read too much. You’re a loser.”

In both versions, this is the only time anyone refers to Deb as a librarian.

After this initial “first kill” scene, the rest of the short film then features a TV interview with Deb and interviewer Richard Hunter (Joshua Grannell), during which we flash back to scenes from her real-life slasher films. The TV interview and reporter also pops up in the feature film; the character, a much smaller role, is renamed Peter Gorge (Patrick Bristow). It’s also fun to see how different Deb looks in each incarnation:

Comparing Deb’s interview in Grindhouse (top) and All About Evil (bottom)

Both versions feature tongue-in-(bloody)-cheek references to great literary works, which serve as the inspiration for Deb’s short films:

Film title / literary inspirationGrindhouse (2003)All About Evil (2010)
A Tale of Two Severed Titties / A Tale of Two Cities, a novel by Charles Dickens
(movie poster)

(scene & movie poster)
The Slasher in the Rye / The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J. D. Salinger
(scene)

(verbal reference)
The Scarlet Leper / The Scarlet Letter, a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
(scene)

(scene)
The Maiming of the Shrew / The Taming of the Shrew, a play by William Shakespeare
(movie poster)
X
Gore and Peace / War and Peace, a novel by Leo TolstoyX
(movie poster)
The Diary of Anne Frankenstein / a literary mashup from The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and Frankenstein, a novel by Mary ShelleyX
(movie poster)
The Satanic Nurses / The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salman RushdieX
(movie poster)
I Know Why the Caged Girl Screams / I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya AngelouX
(movie poster)
MacDeath / Macbeth, a play by William ShakespeareX
(movie poster)
Comparing literary references in Grindhouse and All About Evil

Beyond the movie titles and posters, Deb’s focus on literature is also highlighted in both versions:

  • In the 2003 short film, Deb states in the interview that “While it’s true my films are filled with gore and violence, if you look past all that, you’ll find the great literary works of all time.”
  • In the 2010 feature film, we see Deb doing research with a copy of A Tale of Two Cities in her hands, and she gets angry at Mr. Twigs when she suspects he hasn’t read the book she gave him.

This literary connection is also why I think it matters that we learn she’s a librarian in the opening scenes. Although Deb soon sheds her librarian persona in favor of being a “directress” (her own words in both versions), she remains true to her librarian and literary roots.

Here’s a visual comparison between the posters for “A Tale of Two Severed Titties” featured in both versions:

Movie poster comparison in Grindhouse (left) and All About Evil (right)

The closeups of Deb portraying “The Scarlet Leper” is also a fun visual comparison, as the bathroom setting for this short film remains similar in both versions.

Comparing “The Scarlet Leper” closeup of Deb in Grindhouse (left) and All About Evil (right)

The original short film doesn’t delve into WHY Deb kills people, beyond her first kill when she stabs her cruel, domineering mother. Grannell fleshes this out in the feature film version, and here’s how I described it in my post last month:

But in her mind, she doesn’t just murder people for fun… she murders them for a reason, because they break “the rules,” her rules. Yet in killing them, she becomes the ultimate rule-breaker herself.

Interestingly, in the 2003 short film, the interviewer also references rule-breaking when describing Deb:

I must say, Deborah, you truly are an original. Never one to play by the rules, you’ve carved out your own Hollywood-type niche.

Ultimately, when comparing the original 2003 short film with the 2010 feature film version, the broad strokes remain the same: Deb’s liberation from librarian to serial killer, her focus on literary works, her murderous method of making her short films, her evolving sense of style, as well as her growing self-confidence and ego. Grannell took the kernel of the idea and reel librarian character from the short film and expanded it, including adding another (epic!) reel librarian character (Evelyn, played by Mink Stole). The more expansive structure and additional characters makes sense, in order to turn a short film into a feature-length film, and it’s gratifying to realize that the foundation for both is similar and solid. Both versions gift us with more reel librarians to be able — as the reporter in Grindhouse puts it — to “love, love to hate, or hate.”

You can read about the tale of Deb and Evelyn, the two reel librarian characters in the feature film version, here in this post, “All about the reel librarians in ‘All About Evil’ (2010).”

Sources used

All about the reel librarians in ‘All About Evil’ (2010)

A tale of two reel librarians in this indie horror cult classic

Continuing the scary season during the month of October, this is a time when I focus on analyzing reel librarian portrayals in horror movies, thrillers, etc. And I have a super-scary, super-sized analysis post this week about the reel librarians in the 2010 cult classic, All About Evil.

If this title sounds familiar to you already, it’s probably because I’ve mentioned it already on this blog before: “Killer librarians” post from 2012, “Librarians in horror films” post from 2014, and “Serial killer librarians” post from 2018. Last year, on my second guest post on the Maddwolf Fright Club podcast with Hope Madden & George Wolf, I also expressed how much I wanted to get a copy of All About Evil:

Me: I haven’t seen this film [yet], but I want to see it. I couldn’t find a copy of it, but I’m intrigued by the 2010 … indie horror film called All About Evil. And Natasha Lyonne stars as a librarian who inherits a movie house, and she then — from what I’ve read about the description, because I haven’t been able to track it down — she then starts making snuff films… Do y’all know this film?

Hope: We’ve heard of it as well. It is impossible to get. I’ve been trying. I mean, how delightful does that movie sound? If you watch the trailer, it really looks like a hoot! It looks like so much fun, and yeah, I’ve been trying for years to track it down… We’re dying to watch it!

Thank goodness we didn’t have to wait that long! This past summer, Hope let me know that All About Evil was getting a special Blu-ray release! I promptly pre-ordered myself a copy, and the timing was perfect to analyze it for this scary season!

Here’s the summary from the back of the special edition Blu-Ray:

When a mousy librarian takes over her late father’s struggling movie theater, a series of grisly murders caught on camera will transform her into the new queen of indie splatter cinema.

Here’s the original teaser trailer from 2010:

The All About Evil Teaser Trailer” by Peaches Christ, Standard YouTube license

*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

Since Natasha Lyonne, the star of the movie, is present throughout the entire film, I really cannot analyze this movie without divulging MAJOR plot spoilers, including the ending.

Also a spoiler? What Hope and I both hoped about this cult classic is TRUE: This film overall is delightful. It is a hoot. If you love horror and camp — and classic cinema in general — you will very likely lovelovelove this movie.

However, I do feel I need to point out that there is a shocking and abrupt scene of violence against an older Asian woman in the film. While this scene is used to demonstrate the depravity of a specific character, this kind of violent act is even more sensitive today due to the rise of anti-Asian violence. This scene also stands out more in this film because of the relatively little racial diversity in its cast, as all of the leads are White (or White-presenting) actors. I felt compelled to include this as both as a spoiler and as a trigger warning.

And if you are a real-life librarian, you are probably going to feel alllllllll the emotions with this one… because, well, this movie does NOT hold back with what happens to librarians who break the rules. And both librarians break the rules in this movie, in different ways.

And yes, there are TWO major reel librarian characters in this movie. More to analyze! In fact, I am going to structure this analysis post by exploring the journeys of these two reel librarians: Deborah “Deb” Tennis and Evelyn.

Let’s get to the killing, shall we?

The tale of Deborah Tennis || The tale of Evelyn || Tales of classic lit + movie posters || Tales of trivia + Easter eggs

The tale of Deborah Tennis (from stage fright to stage star)

The lead character in this movie is reel librarian Deborah Tennis, played by Natasha Lyonne. Her “origin” story begins the film, as we start with an external view of the Victoria Theatre in 1984, showing The Wizard of Oz. Debbie’s father owns the theater and is seen as supportive, telling Debbie she has “star quality,” while her mother, Tammy (dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West) is cruel and taunting. Debbie, dressed as Dorothy, starts singing nervously to the theater full of children and accompanied on the piano by her father. When taunted by the children – and her mother – her bladder lets go and drips onto the cord of the microphone. Debbie electrocutes herself, which causes the streak of grey in her reddish hair. 

Cut to present day, outside of the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch Library, and we learn about Deb’s commitment to the movie theater and her father’s legacy as she locks up the library and chats with Evelyn, another librarian. [More details about this conversation in Evelyn’s tale, below]

External view of the San Francisco Public Library's Presidio Branch Library
External view of the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch Library

First kill

Deb then opens up the theater, and we meet the projectionist, Mr. Twigs (played by Jack Donner). Deb reads a book while staffing the concession stand. Her hair is in a messy bun, and her outfit is drab, with an olive skirt, brown button-down shirt, and tan cardigan. 

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

At 11:44 minutes, her mother (played by Julie Caitlin Brown) confronts her about wanting to sell the movie theater, demands that Deb sign the papers, and insults her AND her profession.

Tammy: Now you listen to me. You are nothing but a boring, little librarian with big, big dreams and hideous little looks. Besides, you read too much. You’re a loser, just like your fat ass father was.

Tammy then assaults Deb by holding Deb’s hand by the hot popcorn maker. Deb takes the pen and holds it like a weapon. Her mom scoffs at her.

Tammy: Face it. Your father knew deep down inside that you were useless. You’re one of those plain girls living in the world of the bland. You lack any sort of star quality.

Deb: Fuck you, Mother! [stabs her in the neck with the pen]

First kill!

The camera then cuts over to grainy security footage. (Is it odd that the concession stand counter kind of reminded me a library’s front desk counter?) And then we witness Deb’s transformation in self-confidence (and serial killing) begin as we see her shake out her hair from its messy bun – an interesting play off the Naughty Librarian’s signature move. 

Deb [now laughing]: Blood! The wicked bitch is dead! [unbuttons her blouse] Star quality. 

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

What an introduction and transformation to this central librarian character! 

The audience starts shouting at them to start the movie, and Deb rushes upstairs to project the movie. She accidentally starts playing the security footage onto the movie screen. Mr. Twigs, who had briefly gone out to the corner store, quickly dons a red blazer and announces on stage that this was an original short film. Deb then helps Mr. Twigs stash her mom’s body in the movie theater’s attic.

Deb revels in the praise for her “short film,” including after Steven, a high schooler and movie horror fan (played by Thomas Dekker), compliments  her “surveillance slaughter.”

Second kill

At 20:42, we see Deb back at the concession stand, but this time dressed in a trendier lace-trimmed top, and her hair down in waves. This is when Peaches Christ (a drag queen persona created by the film director Joshua Grannell) makes a cameo. Steven explains how major it is that Peaches, “the queen of the midnight movie scene here in San Francisco,” has come to the movie theater. 

I immediately said out loud, “No one better harm Peaches!”

Deb then encounters Veronica (Kat Turner), a Goth girl, who is talking on the phone while she orders a soda. An annoyed Deb, a quick thinker herself, puts a sleeping powder into Veronica’s soda. We are witnessing more of Deb’s transformation as she clearly sees opportunities (for murder) and takes risks. This is also the first time that Deb introduces herself as “De-BOR-ah,” an affectation that continues throughout. 

Veronica wakes up in a deserted theater. Deb and Mr. Twigs lure her down to the theater’s basement, where she runs into Deb, dressed up like Marie Antoinette and knitting. Deb recites the immortal first line of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” There is a guillotine in the corner of the room. However, Mr. Twigs cannot fit the girl’s head through the hole.

Even in the midst of murder, Deb reveals her inner librarian.

Deb: You idiot! Fool! I said a proper guillotine. I gave you the book… Did you even read the book?

Did you even read the book?
Did you even read the book?

Deb then has an idea, and we cut to a movie poster, “A Tale of Two Severed Titties” and a long line outside the theater. Deb – looking glamorous with straight-ironed hair, eyeliner, and lipstick and outfitted in a 1940’s style black dress, similar to Joan Crawford or Bette Davis – introduces her new short film as a reminder for the audience to silence their cell phones during the movie. “Or else.”

Killer research

Evelyn then comes to the movie theater to find Deb and leaves a note for her. [There are more details of this scene in Evelyn’s tale below] Mr. Twigs brings the note to Deb, who’s sitting in the movie theater and reading another book (The Scarlet Letter) and taking notes. My librarian spidey senses lit up – she’s doing more research! 

Deb complains that Evelyn is too loud. Deb also reveals that she never went back to the library and that she’s not a librarian anymore. Rather, she’s an actress and a filmmaker. 

Just so we’re clear: According to Deb, talking in a movie theater is rude, but ditching your job without an explanation is not. Ok, then.

I'm not a librarian anymore
I’m not a librarian anymore.

Deb then reveals that they need more help. The camera then pans to a closeup of a newspaper with a front-page story of “Killer Twins Prepare for Release: Diabolical duo slaughtered entire family at age 7” and another article entitled “Trampsylvania” about how homelessness is up 12% from last year. A copy of A Tale of Two Cities is also visible. Next, we see a copy of a police report about the “killer twins” (played with almost-silent relish by real-life twin sisters, Jade Ramsey and Nikita Ramsey).

I was right – more research by this killer librarian! Deb may say she’s no longer a librarian, but she’s obviously still using her librarian skillz. There’s a saying in the library world that I think applies here: Once a librarian, ALWAYS a librarian.

A Tale of Two Cities and a newspaper, research for a serial killer librarian
Research for a serial killer librarian!

Deb then poses as the twins’ aunt as she and Mr. Twigs bring the twins back to the movie theater. On the way back to the movie theater, they spy Adrian, a violent man who is homeless, and their murder crew is complete. 

At 39 minutes into the movie, Deb lays down the rules to the crew at a diner, further cementing her transformation:

Deb: There’s magic in movies. I learned that from my father. You are entering into a code of conduct here, an artist’s secret society, and there are rules. I am in charge. You will do as I say, and in return, I will give you a life most people, they only dream about. This is the business we call show. And I’m your manager, your publicist, your agent, and your directress. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

Just a reminder that even though Deb no longer considers herself a librarian, she is still fixated on RULES. You can take the lady out of the library…

Third kill

The next scene, at 42 minutes into the movie,  involves the crew walking up to the San Francisco Public Library’s Presidio Branch Library at closing time. Their next victim for their next short film? Evelyn, the noisy librarian! [I go into more detail about the ensuing chase in the library in Evelyn’s tale below.]

The murder crew arrives at the Presidio Branch Library
The murder crew arrives at the Presidio Branch Library

In the next scene, the high schooler Steven is talking with his mom (played by Cassandra Peterson, who plays the iconic Elvira!!!) and reveals that he thinks he’s in love with “an older woman.” In a cheeky Easter Egg, his mom looks up to a poster of Elvira on his wall, but we know that he’s talking about Deb.

We next see Deb introducing her new short film, as a way to convey the movie theater etiquette of not talking during the movie – these moral lessons come at a deadly price, y’all. 

Fourth kill

Before the short film premiere, Steven’s date, mean girl Claire (Lyndsy Kail), is rude about Deb and drag queens. Claire also interrupts Deb’s introduction of the new short film by announcing that she has to go to the bathroom. Ever the opportunist, Deb dispatches Claire forthwith – and we get to see the shot that made it to the special edition’s Blu-ray cover! We also get another fun literary allusion – the clapboard reads “The Scarlet Leper” (The Scarlet Letter, a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne).

Deb closes in for another kill
Deb closes in for another kill

We then revisit Evelyn, who’s tied up in the movie theater attic – and again, those details are in Evelyn’s tale, below.

At just over an hour into the film, we next hear about another literature-inspired short film, as Deb and Mr. Twigs review footage in the projection room. They reference “The Slasher in the Rye” (The Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J. D. Salinger). Deb is feeling and sounding more self-confident… arguably over-confident by this point.

Because by this time, the high schooler Steven is getting suspicious by Claire’s sudden disappearance, and his friend Judy (Ariel Hart) pretends to be a reporter who wants to interview Deb. I’ll just say that we don’t hear from Judy again until the end of the movie, and her disappearance convinces Steven that “something is rotten” at the Victoria Theatre….

Meanwhile, Deb metamorphoses again, this time with a Clara Bow-type pout. A local reporter, Peter, interviews her, and Deb is referred to as a film director. Deb’s celebrity continues to rise, along with her ego.

Deborah Tennis, film director
Deborah Tennis, film director

At 1 hour and 12 minutes into the movie, the movie theater is advertising a “Soup Kitchen Matinee,” and we quickly see how this event is a cover for Deb to scout out potential victims for upcoming films.

Steven arrives with a police officer, Detective Woods (Nicholas Bearde), to ask to search the theater for Judy. Deb refuses and accuses Steven of being an “obsessed fan.” Detective Woods leaves to get a warrant (“We gotta do this by the book”… just a different book than Deb uses for inspiration, hah! 😉 ), and Deb confronts Steve outside the theater. 

Final kill

This conversation sets the scene for the finale and the premiere of Deb’s first feature-length film, “Gore and Peace.” They hand out complimentary beverages to the audience members – including Peaches Christ! Again, nothing better harm Peaches!!! – and tell them to wait until directed to drink it. Steven’s mom shows up, in an effort to better understand Steven’s interest in Deb and in horror movies, so Steven feels he has to stay to protect his mom and to find out what happened to Claire and Judy. 

Deb is dressed in her most avant-garde outfit yet, with her highest hair. Her ego has risen in tandem with her hair volume.

Deb's highest hairstyle
Deb’s highest hairstyle

Deb announces that they’re going “to make film history tonight” by premiering “the debut of a brand new type of cinema.” No one pays attention at first to Steven’s pleas to not drink the complimentary beverages (which are poisonous)… and then all hell breaks loose. The audience realizes they are locked into the theater, and the decomposing victims start dropping out of the attic through a blood-soaked grate. [Yes, Evelyn’s body is one of them… but again, more details about that in Evelyn’s tale below.]

Finally, at 1 hour and 30 minutes into the movie, Deb, Steven, and his mom end up on the roof, with Deb threatening Steven’s mom with a knife. Deb has a wild look in her eyes, and you can tell Natasha Lyonne relished every over-the-top facial expression she got to give during this climactic scene.

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

Steven and his mom taunt Deb about her lack of “star quality,” which sends Deb over the edge… literally. Deb falls onto the spotlights outside the movie theater. A star til the very end…

That was indeed a journey with reel librarian Deb, from stage fright to stage star to finally becoming a victim to her own success and ego. And even though she rejected being a librarian, she couldn’t shake her research instincts, which we witnessed her employ in order to find members of her murderous film crew as well as to create short films that played off classic works of literature. 

Deb’s reel librarian role + significance

What role and character type did Deb serve in the movie? She is the lead of the movie, so this movie definitely qualifies as a Class I film, in which librarians are lead characters, and their occupations serve as a catalyst or are otherwise integral to the plot. In a way, you could argue that Deb is a Naughty Librarian, one who is considered unsuccessful in their profession and finds an (illegal or unethical) outlet to express their unfulfilled desires. Deb does embrace her “femme fatale” persona throughout the film.

However, I think Deb is more akin to a Liberated Librarian, as she becomes more confident and assertive through the course of the film… but the twist (of the knife) is that contrary to most Liberated Librarians, who find liberation through being a librarian, Deb finds liberation from the library by killing people. But in her mind, she doesn’t just murder people for fun… she murders them for a reason, because they break “the rules,” her rules. Yet in killing them, she becomes the ultimate rule-breaker herself.

The tale of Evelyn (from cats to (body) cast)

The role of Evelyn is played by actress Mink Stole, who has appeared in every film directed by John Waters.

First sin

Evelyn first appears after the title credits as the screen pans to the San Francisco Public Library, present day. We get our first glimpse of both Evelyn and Deb on the steps outside the front doors. The two reel librarians have clearly just locked up the library for the night and have paused for some introductory exposition. Their conversation reveals Deb’s situation with the movie theater, and we also learn more personal details about Evelyn. Evelyn also criticizes Deb and her interests, casting her first sin — at least in Deb’s eyes.

Evelyn: So how are you really, dear?

Deb: I’m fine.

Evelyn: You know, I’m concerned, Deb. Ever since your father passed, well, you need to talk about it. It just kills me to think of you sitting over there, running all that horror nonsense. Those are not real movies.

Deb: The plan is business as usual.

Evelyn: Honey, I know what it’s like to feel alone. No husband, no children. Just me and the cats.

Evelyn says it's "Just me and the cats"
This should be a meme.

Deb: I’m sorry, Evelyn. I need to get to the theater before the –

Evelyn: Deb, I’m serious. Don’t take on your father’s showbiz debts and burdens. Honey, I know you were close, but, well, there’s no future there.

Deb: My father invested everything he had into the Victoria Theatre. He truly loved the movie experience, and above all else, Daddy was a showman. Years of blood, sweat, and tears went into the business he loved so much, the business of show. He never wanted me to be a librarian. I was to be a great Hollywood actress. Well, I may have disappointed my father in life, but I’m gonna do my absolute best to make him proud, even in death. It’s like Daddy always said, the show must go on. 

Another meme-worthy moment: Here’s how Evelyn reacted when Deb stated that her dad never wanted her to be a librarian. INDEED.

Evelyn's reaction when her colleague Deb says she was never supposed to be a librarian, but a Hollywood actress instead.
Another meme-worthy moment after a fellow librarian says she was never supposed to be a librarian.

Second sin

Half an hour later, at 33 minutes, we see Evelyn walking to the movie theater and knocking loudly at the locked front doors (her second sin is being loud). She is wearing casual clothing, including a straw hat, a floral canvas jacket, and a chunky necklace. 

Evelyn finally leaves a note and card for Deb under the ticket booth window.

Evelyn knocks at the movie theater entrance
Evelyn knocks at the movie theater entrance

Mr. Twigs brings the note to Deb, who is researching. Deb has a negative reaction to Evelyn’s note (and knocking), and we learn more about her dynamic with Evelyn.

Deb: I know. I heard her. Everyone heard her.

Mr. Twigs: She’s old.

Deb: It was Evelyn, the librarian. [She opens the letter.] She’s worried about me. I was scheduled to work at the library and haven’t shown up. I can’t go back there. I’m not a librarian anymore. You know, Evelyn doesn’t know me at all. How dare she come here and bang on the door? I mean, she was banging, right? Not knocking. She’s always so loud. I have work to do, Mr. Twigs. I can no longer sell tickets and shovel popcorn. I am not a concessionnaire. I’m an actress. I am a filmmaker. How dare she.

Uh oh. Watch out, Evelyn! No one likes a loud librarian! Rogue, rule-breaking librarians need to be stopped!

And Evelyn has indeed become the target of Deb’s next movie… and murder. At 42:37 minutes, the new crew is walking up to the library at night. I have a bad feeling about this…

Shushing the librarian

Next we see Evelyn behind the library counter, dressed in a bright print top and chunky necklace. (I admit, I admire Evelyn’s sense of style. She’s not afraid of bold colors and prints!) We can see a cart of books and tied-up newspapers and books behind her. Evelyn then walks through the library and calls out, “Good night, books.” (I found this quite charming! I can neither confirm nor deny that I have done the same thing. 😉 ) We also see a closeup of a row of books with call numbers and barcodes. Those little details reveal how this was filmed at a real-life library. (You can see past photos of the Presidio Branch Library here, and you can tell it’s the same library.)

(Click the photos in the gallery below to view in a larger window.)

Evelyn hears a noise and looks around. And Evelyn’s tale here also becomes a tale of shushes, as this reel librarian gets shushed a total of 7 times (!) during this scene.

Evelyn: Hello? Is there anybody there? 

[Deb: Shhhh] 

Evelyn [to herself]: You are really crazy, lady. Now you’re hearing shushes. 

[Deb: Shhhh] 

Evelyn: Hello? I said the library’s closed.

A spotlight flicks on, and Deb runs around to see the camera crew and Deb in her French Revolution wig and costume.

And I told you, Madam Evelyn, to shhh
And I told you, Madam Evelyn, to shhh.

Evelyn [clearly shocked]: I said the library was closed.

Deb: And I told you, Madam Evelyn, to shhh.

Evelyn: Who are you? What is this all about?

Deb: Perhaps my lady does not understand ye olde English. Shhhh means shut the fuck up, bitch! [slaps her]

Reel librarian fight!
Reel librarian fight!

Evelyn runs into a bookcase corner and pulls out a pair of scissors from her tote bag. (I admit, I was impressed by Evelyn’s pluck and resourcefulness.)

Deb grabs Evelyn through a bookcase, still taunting Evelyn.

Deb: So you can be quiet. My lady was quiet as a mouse. 

Evelyn stabs Deb’s hand with the scissors but is confronted by the twins, both of whom shush her!

Evelyn then pushes out a row of books to escape through a bookcase, but she drops the scissors. Deb picks up the scissors, and the lights come up. Evelyn finally recognizes Deb.

Evelyn puts up a good fight

This chase scene in the library ends at 45:30 minutes and last 3 minutes total.

Two minutes later, at 47:46 minutes, we return to the library, where Deb has brought out a sewing kit and prepares to sew Evelyn’s mouth shut. (And probably used Evelyn’s scissors to cut the thread. Oh, the irony.) The camera is rolling as Deb continues to chide Evelyn for being loud.

Deb: As victors of my silence cannot boast, I was not sick of any fear from thence. For I impair not beauty, being mute, when others would give life and bring a tomb.

Evelyn: Oh, Debbie, please. You don’t have to do this. Listen to me, whatever this is all about, we can get you some help.

Deb: All done? Shhhhh.

Deb then proceeds to sew Evelyn’s mouth shut (FYI, they used a prosthetic for this). Switching to grainy black and white, we see Deb turn to the camera.

Deb: You’re getting this in close-up, right?

You're getting this in close up, right?
You’re getting this in close up, right?

Deb then drives home the message to the audience.

Deb: My movie theater shall be silent as a library, a managerial promise made to thee. Silence whilst the movie screens, for if thou speech is deemed undo, you too shall star in “The Maiming of the Shrew.”

My movie theater shall be silent as a library
Library film set

The library scene ends at 49:40 minutes, lasting two minutes. The complete library scene with Evelyn, comprised of both the chase scene and final filming scene, lasts a totality of 5 minutes.

The final insult

About ten minutes later, Deb’s newest short film premieres to a full house. The camera then pans to the movie theater’s attic, where we see that Evelyn is still alive, still tied up and her mouth still sewn shut! She is surrounded by other bodies. While the film plays, she starts screaming and tears open the threads on her mouth. Mr. Twigs realizes what has happened and comes up with an axe.

Evelyn: Somebody! Help me! [sees Mr. Twigs] You motherfucker. You let me out! You hear me, you ignorant old fuck! Let me out of here, you illiterate old fuck!

Mr. Twigs [swinging down the axe]: She told you to shush.

Yes, Evelyn the librarian gets shushed one last time, EVEN AFTER DEATH. The indignity, y’all.

Steven goes out to the lobby and congratulates Deb on her new movie.

Steven: Your new movie’s amazing! Seriously, it’s like they just keep getting bigger and better. Who was that lady? She was rad.

Deb: Thanks, Steven. She’s an old friend.

We know “that lady” and “an old friend” is Evelyn. I’m going to react here by channeling Evelyn’s facial expression from earlier:

Channeling Evelyn's librarian stare
Channeling Evelyn’s librarian stare

There is one more scene featuring [parts of] Evelyn. All hell breaks loose for Deb’s feature film debut. A local reporter describes it as, “Filmmaker Deborah Tennis is conducting a real life movie massacre.” As everyone is screaming and trying to get out of the movie theater they are locked in, the decomposing bodies start dropping out of the attic through the grate. Evelyn’s hand – a very realistic-looking prosthetic, props to the prop department! – drops into Peaches Christ’s popcorn. [That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!]

Adrian then comes at Peaches with a cleaver, and Evelyn gets her final revenge. Her beheaded body drops from the ceiling… and lands on Adrian’s own head, suffocating and killing him.

DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE LIBRARIANS, Y’ALL. 😉

I did pause and cheer for Evelyn’s final revenge! (I also couldn’t help but laugh because it reminded me of the Thanksgiving episode of Friends when both Joey and Monica wear the turkey on their heads.)

So that is the tale of Evelyn the reel librarian… from cats to (body) cast. 

Evelyn’s reel librarian role + significance

What role did Evelyn serve in this movie? Her character held some surprises for me. Sure, they made a point of highlighting that Evelyn was single and had cats – a hallmark of the lonely, Spinster Librarian character type – but she also looked like a woman happy with her life choices. She also cared about Deb and was worried about her — although she expressed this in a nosy, judgmental way (“Those are not real movies”) — and took the time to try and contact Deb in person. Evelyn also showed pluck and resourcefulness in how she fought against the murderous crew in the library, brandishing her scissors and crawling through bookcases. She was also viewed as a rule-breaker (at least by Deb) for being loud.

Because a lot of her role, especially the beginning scene, filled in expository details, I think Evelyn partially serves as an Information Provider. Dressed in brightly colored, patterned clothing and jewelry, I think her characterization also plays against the Spinster Librarian character type (but is still informed by that stereotype). And based on all those shushes and the body-dropping final shot of her time onscreen – which is a hilariously campy and suspension-of-disbelief kind of moment – I would also argue that Evelyn also partially serves as Comic Relief.

Surprisingly (to me!), I would also argue that Evelyn could be seen as an Atypical portrayal, as well. We see her outside the library, when she walks to the movie theater, and we witness her personality and intelligence, like when she fights in the library and when she continues to yell at Mr. Twigs at the very end. She doesn’t have that much screen time, relatively speaking, but Mink Stole soaks up every minute she does get onscreen and has truly created a memorable reel librarian character in Evelyn.

Tales of classic lit + movie posters

The movie credits feature posters of more movies directed by Deborah Tennis, all based on classic literature title puns! Two of the posters, “A Tale of Two Severed Titties” and “Gore and Peace,” were featured in the movie, as I mention above, but the other posters are new. (Interesting that “The Slasher in the Rye” was mentioned in the movie but isn’t featured here.)

  • A Tale of Two Severed Titties (A Tale of Two Cities, a novel by Charles Dickens)
  • Gore and Peace (War and Peace, a novel by Leo Tolstoy)
  • The Diary of Anne Frankenstein (a literary mashup from The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and Frankenstein, a novel by Mary Shelley)
  • The Satanic Nurses (The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salman Rushdie)
  • I Know Why the Caged Girl Screams (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya Angelou)
  • MacDeath (Macbeth, a play by William Shakespeare)

Tales of trivia + Easter eggs

Most of the trivia below comes from the special features and documentaries included in the special edition Blu-ray.

  • The title, All About Evil, comes from the 1950 classic movie, All About Eve, starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter. (I love that this movie references both classic and cult classic cinema!)
  • The director, Joshua Grannell, grew up loving horror movies and studied film production at Penn State. His first short film, “Jizzmopper” also featured the origin of his Peaches Christ drag character. 
  • Grannell moved to San Francisco after college and became a theater manager at a local single-screen movie theater, The Bridge Theatre, and began the “Midnight Mass” stage show in the late 1990s. 
  • Grannell made a short film called “Grindhouse” that All About Evil is based on… and “Grindhouse” was included in the special edition Blu-ray!
  • Mink Stole was the first celebrity guest for the “Midnight Mass” stage show and agreed to be in the movie without reading the script.
  • Cassandra Peterson (the iconic Elvira) was jealous of Mink Stole’s part in All About Evil!
  • Grannell envisioned Deb’s character as similar to Doris Wishman, who was an American film director and screenwriter, particularly in the sexploitation film genre… and Natasha Lyonne, Grannell’s dream choice for the lead, had actually met Doris Wishman in real life!
  • The movie was scheduled to shoot at the Bridge Theatre, but had to find a different location 10 days before shooting began. The Victoria Theatere served as the actual set in the film.
  • Peaches Christ was not originally meant to be in the feature film. Joshua Grannell spent 8 days of filming as Peaches, which he revealed were the hardest days for him, as he had to apply the drag makeup before he came to set. He was known as “Peachua” on those days.
  • The film’s premiere was at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2010, and they did a “Peaches Christ” road show with the movie to introduce it across the U.S.
  • Mink Stole, an indie film pro, started taking charge in the library scene to hurry up production!
  • The “Behind the Evil: 2010 Making of” featurette reveals several behind-the-scenes shots of the library scene and reel librarians!

Continuing the conversation

As I mentioned above, All About Evil is based on Joshua Grannell’s 2003 short film, “Grindhouse.” This original short, which is 13 minutes long, is featured on the Blu-ray special edition, and I watched just enough to find out that the short film’s lead character is still a librarian. The light bulb went off in my head… so I will follow up next time in November with an analysis post about the original short film, “Grindhouse.” Let’s continue the scary season, shall we? 🙂

I also thought it would be interesting to compare the serial killer librarian in Chainsaw Sally with the serial killer librarian Deb in this movie… what do y’all think about that idea for a future post? Cage match between reel librarian serial killers!

Have you seen All About Evil? Is campy horror your thing? Are you intrigued by the two reel librarian characters in this movie? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

31 thoughts and questions I had while watching ‘A Winter Romance’ (2021)

“Digging into history is what I love to do.”

I was browsing recently through the newly added movies on Amazon Prime, and a TV movie entitled A Winter Romance (2021) caught my eye because the word “librarian” was mentioned in the first line of its summary:

When librarian TAYLOR HARRIS suddenly loses her job, she moves back to her small hometown in Montana. There, she gets involved in the fight to help save her brother’s hotel from tycoon JOEL SHEENAN. But things become complicated when she ends up falling for Joel.

Jessica Lowndes, a White Canadian actress, stars as librarian Taylor, and Chad Michael Murray, a White American actor, co-stars as Joel in this GAC Family Channel TV movie — with all the hallmarks of a Hallmark or Lifetime TV movie. Since the librarian is the main character in this TV movie, it took me HOURS to watch this 85-minute movie. Since I had so many notes from all the pauses, replays, research tangents, etc., I was struggling with how to structure this post… which finally led me to the realization that I could structure it more stream-of-consciousness style, noting all my random thoughts and questions I had while watching this TV movie. I hope you enjoy this new kind of post format!

*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD* (But are there really any kind of spoilers for this kind of holiday romance?)

Here’s a preview trailer for the movie:

1. Why does this TV movie have multiple titles?

Title screen for 'A Winter Romance' (2021)
Title screen for ‘A Winter Romance’ (2021)

The opening scene clearly reveals the movie title to be A Winter Romance, as seen above. But when I tried to look up details about the movie using that title, I came up empty. Finally, looking up the director’s name, Bradley Walsh, led me to the TV movie’s original title, Colors of Love, which led me to other alternate titles, including An Autumn Romance when it was released on the GAC Family cable channel (and as seen above in the YouTube preview). And all of these titles are different from the source novel, The Tycoon’s Kiss, by Jane Porter. Why does this TV movie have 3+ titles? This does not feel like a good sign.

2. Is there a real “Seattle Reference Library”?

Seattle Reference Library exterior
Seattle Reference Library exterior

The opening title screen is of the Seattle cityscape. You can see the Seattle Space Needle in the upper right in the screenshot in #1 above, and the boomerang-shaped buildings along the bottom are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation campus. Is this movie set in Seattle? How do we get to Montana, as mentioned in the plot summary?

The next shot is the outside of a building with prominent black letters on the sign that read “Seattle Reference Library,” further emphasizing the Seattle location. Is there a real-life library called the “Seattle Reference Library”? Not that I know of, and I live in this region of the U.S. The glass architecture of this building seems to be suggesting the iconic glass building that houses the central Seattle Public Library building. If you recognize this real-life building that’s standing in for this library onscreen, please leave a comment.

3. Don’t piss off librarians by introducing a librarian character and then having that librarian immediately shush a patron onscreen.

Shushing WHILE smiling?!
Shushing WHILE smiling?!

There should be a moratorium on showing librarians shushing onscreen. It’s so stereotypical and so unnecessary, especially in a modern movie.

After Taylor helps a writer who is researching his book — the key is in primary sources, like land grants and diaries — the writer gets too excited (“I have to call my publisher!”) that Taylor shushes him, as seen above. Shushing WHILE smiling?! Insert rolling eyes emoji here: 🙄

4. Shushing aside, this librarian seems to be good at her job.

I think this line will be the set-up for the movie, as Taylor says to the patron, “I’m happy to help… Digging into history is what I love to do.” Shushing aside, Taylor seems to be good at her job, and we are clearly being encouraged to respect her skills as a librarian.

The library director, left, enjoys a (brief) happy moment with research librarian Taylor, right
The library director, left, enjoys a (brief) happy moment with research librarian Taylor, right

The library director, Linda (Jenni Burke), also happens to walk by while Taylor is wrapping up with the writer, and she compliments her work, “It’s like you have a sixth sense.” It’s SO RARE to see multiple librarians onscreen, and I appreciate that the library director is a Black woman. Linda has the power in this relationship, and Taylor, a White woman, is visibly happy to earn praise from her boss. The two librarians share a warm and professional dynamic together.

5. I am guessing that the importance of primary sources will be a theme.

In her exchange with Linda, Taylor also states, “There’s still some stuff that you can’t find on the internet.” So. True. Primary sources, y’all! I feel like this will be a theme in the rest of the movie… so let’s just put a pin in that here.

6. The lack of stable library funding is depressingly realistic.

Linda then reveals the bad news as the two walk down the stairs. The city is facing major budget cuts, and the library has used up some grant funding, which means… the research librarian position has been cut. Taylor’s out of a job, pronto. Yikes. It’s depressing, but I do appreciate the real talk about the inadequacies and instability of library funding. (This was also the crux behind The Twelve Trees of Christmas TV movie!) However, the two part on good terms (Linda: “I’m already looking for other funding. The second I can bring you back, I… We’re gonna miss you so much.”), which is kind of refreshing.

Librarian hug!
Librarian hug!

7. Being a librarian IS a dream job.

Taylor then calls her brother, who’s in Montana, and shares that “was my dream job.” I may be mistaken, but I don’t recall EVER hearing a librarian job being described onscreen as a “dream job” before. Bless. And her brother is so supportive (“You were good at it, too”).

So, 2 minutes in, and we’ve already connected the dots between Seattle and Montana. And we’ve already seen multiple librarians onscreen!

8. Books are our brand!

After her car ends up in a ditch due to icy roads, Taylor gets a ride from Joel Sheenan (their first “meet cute” moment!) to her brother’s house. We meet her brother, Craig (played by Dennis Andres), who is married to a Black woman, Christine (played by Moni Ogunsuyi), and they have a cute-as-a-button daughter, Zoe (played by Delia Lisette Chambers). And I thought it sweet that Zoe gives her a picture she drew of her aunt Taylor in a library, surrounded by books. And then Zoe picks out a book for Taylor to read to her for bedtime.

Books are indeed our brand!

I’m not mad at that association. Of course, there are many more things in a library’s collection than books, and librarians NEVER have time to “read on the job” like some people assume. It’s just… the lowest common denominator. Associating books with librarians is easy and predictable. As is this TV movie.

Her niece draws her a picture of her aunt in a library
Is that me? Of course, you’re a librarian, and you’re surrounded by books!
Reading a bedtime story to her niece Zoe
“We have some reading to do!”

9. WTF: “Maybe they’re right… Libraries are obsolete.”

At 14 1/2 minutes into this TV movie, Taylor is talking with her sister-in-law, Christine, about her love life, that she’s been dating these tech bros in Seattle. And then comes this line:

[T]he only books they read are on tiny little screens. But maybe they’re right. That, as much as I love what I do, libraries are obsolete.

W.T.F. Libraries are NOT obsolete, and no self-respecting librarian would ever say that. We librarians actually deal with constant changes in technology and ongoing reassessments of community needs, while also trying to preserve access to information in disparate, older formats. It takes skill to balance all that.

And it’s her brother and sister-in-law who push back on this! Craig responds, “Not as long as you have anything to say about it, right?,” and Christine says, “Somewhere out there, there’s a guy who’s gonna appreciate your love of books.” Why are all these supporting characters doing all the work of validating this central librarian character?! I’m sensing some White woman privilege here.

Taylor gets comforted by her sister-inlaw
I’m not given any agency or storyline of my own in this TV movie; rather, I’m just here to comfort your White woman tears about your love life.

10. Does everyone think librarians judge people by their reading choices?

Craig, to his wife: Did I ever tell you that my little sister, back in high school, wouldn’t date a guy unless he could name all three Brontë sisters?

Taylor: That’s not true. Two out of three was OK.

Craig, Christine, and Taylor at breakfast
Craig, Christine, and Taylor at breakfast

This exchange was part of the scene above, and I rolled my eyes at the thought that everyone — or at least, this screenwriter — assumes that librarians judge people by their reading choices or knowledge. Not all of us are literary snobs! (I personally love reading mysteries and YA fantasy fiction. But our cat is named Brontë, so perhaps the lady doth protest too much, methinks? … 😉 )

11. Yes, librarians do visit other libraries wherever they go.

Exterior shot of Forest Ridge Public Library building
A librarian visits another library… so meta!

At 20 minutes into the film, Taylor visits the local public library in Forest Ridge. This rang true for me. One of the first things I do when I visit a new place is to visit a local library.

Note: Bracebridge Public Library in the Ontario province, Canada, served as the filming location for the fictional Forest Ridge Public Library.

12. Do they get the call numbers right?

A closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers
A closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers

As Taylor enters the library, we get treated to a closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers. This public library uses the Dewey Decimal classification system, which is common for public libraries, plus there are red Reference labels on the book spines. Hallmarks of actual library books! But they must be older library books, as it turns out that the 819 call number is no longer being used, at least not in the U.S. (but perhaps still in Canada?). The 810’s are used for American literature in English, and the 819 range used to be used for American puzzle books. Who knew?! 🙂

So they do get the call numbers mostly right in this TV movie. An A for effort. You can read more about call number shenanigans here in this post, and how you can spot the difference between a bookstore and a library here in this post.

13. Librarians deserve their own “meet cute” moment, too.

In this first public library scene, we get to meet another library director, Joyce, played by Darlene Cooke, a Black Canadian actress. Taylor and Joyce get their own librarians’ “meet cute” moment over a book display of “the greatest love stories of all time,” in which Taylor chooses Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and Joyce convinces Taylor to get a library card in order to check out the book.

A librarians’ “meet cute” moment!

What purpose(s) does this scene serve? My guesses: To reinforce this Brontë thread that was introduced in the previous scene, and to introduce a way to get Taylor working at this library in order to stay in town.

And as lovely and warm as this “meet cute” moment is between the two librarians — and how appreciative I am that we are meeting multiple librarians of color in this TV movie! — I cannot help but notice that, once again, the persons of color seem to exist solely to direct attention toward Taylor (Joyce reveals that “Zoe always talks about her Aunt Taylor being a librarian too.”)

14. Is Anne Brontë the best Brontë?

The Brontë thread pays off in the next scene! At 23 minutes, Joel comes out of the coffee shop as Taylor walks by with her library book.

Joel and Taylor meet up on the sidewalk after Taylor has checked out a library book
Are we having our second “meet cute” moment?

Taylor: I just stopped by the library and got myself a card [shows her book, Wuthering Heights]

Joel: Ohhh! That’s a good choice, although I’ve always been more of a Charlotte fan.

Taylor: Charlotte?

Joel: Charlotte Brontë. instead of Emily. You know, Jane Eyre.

Taylor: But we cannot forget their favorite sister.

Joel: And how could we ever forget Anne? Oh, I love Anne!

Taylor: You’re full of a lot of surprises, aren’t you?

I also personally prefer Jane Eyre. (Don’t @ me, Wuthering Heights fans. We can co-exist.) And is Anne the best Brontë? I should finally get around to reading my copy of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall… if there are any die-hard Anne Brontë fans reading this right now, please leave a comment! Also, it’s hilarious to me that no one ever mentions their brother, Branwell Brontë.

Also, how many “meet cute” moments does Taylor need?! This movie is working VERY hard to convince us that it’s actually a romance and that Taylor and Joel have chemistry together. (I’m not convinced. And I’m not the only one. In this online review of the movie, the critic observes that “Taylor … isn’t in search of love as much as she is in search of a job.” )

15. A third of the way into this movie, we finally arrive at the central conflict and plot device.

The next scene takes place at the community center, in which city councillors are holding public comments on the proposed permits to turn the 100-year-old Graff Hotel into a glossy new “destination” resort. The problem? Taylor’s brother works at (or manages?) the Graff Hotel, and Joel is the one who has bought the hotel. Taylor is conflicted! But then Taylor has her BIG IDEA.

Joel and Taylor at the city council meeting
Taylor and Joel are at odds

Taylor: Isn’t the Graff Hotel 100 years old? So that means it’s eligible for a landmark status.

Phyllis (played by Andrea Davis, a Black American actress): For landmark status, the state of Montana says we have to prove that a significant historical event took place involving the building.

Joel: That’s exactly right. Thank you, Phyllis. And according to our research, there’s no evidence of that with the Graff Hotel.

Taylor: Well, who did this research? […] So you’re saying that if we find a significant event happened at the Graff, then the hotel would be preserved?

Phyllis: According to the state of Montana, yes.

Craig: Phyllis, maybe we could take some time to explore this before the council makes their final decision?

Phyllis: All right, this is what we’ll do. We’ll take a week to look this over, then we’ll reconvene and hear what everyone has to say. Any objections?

Ah hah! This is where it pays off that Taylor’s a librarian, and that she knows her way around research. Librarians to the rescue!

16. Is this movie correct about the qualifications for landmark status in Montana?

City council chairwoman Phyllis commands attention at the community meeting
City council chairwoman Phyllis commands attention at the community meeting

So Phyllis, the city council chairwoman, stated above that, “For landmark status, the state of Montana says we have to prove that a significant historical event took place involving the building.” Is this accurate?

Yes and no. Yes: one of the criteria for landmark status is association with a significant historical event. No: that’s not the ONLY criteria to be considered for landmark status.

According to the National Register of Historic Places page on Montana’s official state government website, there are four criteria for consideration:

1. Be associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

2. Be associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

3. Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

4. Have yielded, or may likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history. In addition, properties must possess a high degree of integrity to qualify for listing in the Register – in other words, they must be relatively unchanged in appearance from the historic period.

I mean, y’all knew I would look this up, right?! Right. I’m glad y’all know me so well. 😀

17. I guessed correctly about the part-time library job opportunity!

This TV movie is very predictable. Thirty-eight minutes in, Joyce asks Taylor to work part-time at the library.

Joyce asks Taylor to work part-time at the public library
Your niece Zoe gave you a great reference. Would you like to work part-time at the library?

Joyce: Are you enjoying your visit with Catherine and Heathcliff?

Taylor: Very much. 

Joyce: I was thinking, my part-time librarian recently moved to Denver, and I’ve been looking someone to help out around here, if you’re interested.

Taylor:Oh, I mean, that would be amazing, I just… I don’t know how long I’m here for. 

Joyce: Well, while you are here, I could sure use your help. […] Come by tomorrow and we’ll get you started.

My next prediction? Taylor’s going to use the library’s resources to research the Graff Hotel. But uh, that’s not the same thing as working in the library. This is just being used as a plot excuse.

18. In two minutes, you can get a job AND a date!

At this point, my husband, Sam, joined me. He stayed long enough to comment on this next scene, in which Joel and Taylor have YET ANOTHER “meet cute” moment. Joel asks her for reader’s advisory recommendations as a way to actually ask her out on a date.

Joel and Taylor at the public library
Can I get some librarian help over here?

Joel: I was wondering if you could help me find a book. You see, I finished this one. Again.

Taylor: Jane Eyre. That’s impressive.

Joel: And I’m looking for something a little different. I figured, who better to ask than a librarian?

Taylor: Well, I don’t officially work here yet.

Joel [looking around and lowering his voice to a whisper]: Well, then we’ll make it unofficial. 

Here is Sam’s tongue-in-cheek reaction to Joel essentially shushing himself:

Sam: She hasn’t even shushed him yet! Librarians are professionals. You can’t just shush yourself. You have to WAIT to be shushed.

Me: I’ve written so many posts in which patrons shush each other. [Example: The school library scene in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before]

Sam: Each other, yes. But not themselves. It’s a totally different thing to shush each other.

Me: 🙄

Sam: You are welcome for my contributions to this viewing experience. I am making this movie better.

Indeed.

19. “That’s not how any of this works!”

After three (!!!) “meet cute” moments, Taylor and Joel finalllllly go on a date, to a private dinner at the Graff Hotel. As they get to know each other beyond their mutual love of the Brontë sisters, we learn that Taylor doesn’t know the difference between library volunteers and actual, paid librarian professionals.

Craig and I grew up in Seattle. He’s actually the reason I got my first librarian job. […] We were in high school, and this one summer, our local library was looking for a volunteer, and I wanted the job more than anything, so Craig took the bus all the way downtown so that he could go talk to the head librarian, and he told him that no one loves books as much as I do, and that he would never have even opened a book if it weren’t for me. He must have been really convincing because I got the job, and… he’s been there for me ever since.

Sam beat me to it:

That’s not how any of this works! Volunteers are not the same thing as librarians!

I’m sure this backstory confessional had good intentions, but it unfortunately serves to reinforce the misconceptions that (1) loving books is the only requirement for a librarian, (2) anyone working in a library is a librarian, and (3) that you don’t have to pay librarians a fair wage. Real-life librarians are professionals with actual training and graduate-level education, and we deserve to be recognized and paid as professionals.

20. Yep, primary sources are important for historical research.

At 50 minutes into this TV movie, we get a library tour with Joyce — presumably on Taylor’s first day working at the public library — and OF COURSE Taylor asks about local history and primary sources. Joyce leads her to the archives room. So yes, the part-time librarian job IS a convenient plot device for Taylor to have time and access to research the Graff Hotel.

A glimpse at the public library's archives room
A glimpse at the public library’s archives room

Taylor: The best way of digging up the hotel’s history was from some local sources. Perhaps a first person’s account?

Joyce: Much better than searching the internet, yes. 

Taylor: And, considering you know the area so well, I was hoping you could point me in the right direction.

Joyce: Ah! I may have one idea. [takes her to the archives room]

Joyce: Over the years, the library’s collected a kind of archive of the town’s history. [points] Newspapers, photographs, letters and diaries. 

Taylor: What do you do with all these?

Joyce: Well, the plan was to have it digitized and online, but as you can see, we haven’t made much progress. If you think it can help. 

Taylor: It looks like a great place to start.

My next prediction is that Taylor’s going to parlay her short-term, part-time job into a long-term job digitizing the archives!

21. Pay attention to signage.

The library signage (newspapers and periodicals) doesn't match what's in the shelves (children's books)
The library signage (newspapers and periodicals) doesn’t match what’s in the shelves (children’s books)

Along the way to the archives room, we do get some glimpses of other parts of the public library, including this children’s book zone. But the signage on the ends of the bookcases says “newspapers back issues” and “periodicals back issues.” My guess is that the real-life library did have periodicals in this part of the library, but the set dressers moved children’s books into this area to be more visually dynamic and colorful — but then forgot to remove the signs off the ends of the bookcases.

Details matter.

22. Is Taylor the luckiest librarian in Montana?

At 56 mins, Taylor goes back to the hotel to see her brother. Craig asks how the search is going, and Taylor responds that “I’m hoping something turns up.” The pair then stroll by the old maids’ quarters — which have apparently just been serving as storage for the past hundred years? — and Taylor starts looking around the wardrobes and drawers.

The plot is too predictable… I think it will come as no surprise to you that within 30 seconds, Taylor finds EXACTLY the evidence she was hoping would turn up, an old scrapbook of letters and photographs from a maid who worked at the hotel in the early 1900s — including a photograph of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the hotel! Historical significance and landmark status, I can smell you coming down the research trail. Zero stars for predictability, but a gold star for depicting primary sources as discovered treasure!

Taylor finds an old scrapbook of letters and photos
I am the fastest research librarian in Montana!
A closeup of an historical photograph
Primary sources, like photographs and letters, for the win!

23. Librarians are like private detectives.

The next 10 minutes reveal how there are so many similarities between librarians and private detectives. (If you need more evidence, see this post, this post, and this post.)

I won’t get into all the details, but we next get a scene with Taylor, Joyce, and Craig in the public library’s archives room, and Taylor brandishes a magnifying glass to show the others how the photo is of Teddy Roosevelt during his time as U.S. President, between 1901 and 1909. (“Now that we know the timeframe, we can just narrow down the dates.”)

Taylor uses a magnifying glass to show Joyce and Craig that the historical photograph includes Teddy Roosevelt
If I told you I was Nancy Drew, y’all would believe me

In the next scene, Taylor uses clues in the photograph to discover the probable reason Roosevelt was in Forest Ridge (a freak snowstorm in springtime).

24. Yes, librarians seek help from other librarians.

Taylor then reveals to Craig that she has a friend, Caitlin, who works at the National Archives in Washington DC. (Do you think Caitlin knows Dr. Abby Chase?!)

So I emailed her [Caitlin] the photo and she said she was going to search the records to see all the traveling that the president did during that time… She said she would get back to me as soon as possible, but I think it’s looking good.

Do we have any doubt that the information she gets from Caitlin will be exactly what she needs to save the hotel? I don’t think so!

And yes, librarians do get help from colleagues and other librarians, archivists, and information professionals. We take our own advice; when we’re stuck in a research dead end, we ask each other for help!

25. A librarian gets a Poirot moment.

Reinforcing that link between librarians and private detectives… just like the literary private detective Hercule Poirot loves a rapt audience when he solves the mystery at the end of an Agatha Christie novel (I told you I like mysteries), Taylor gets her Poirot moment at the city council meeting, when she gets to reveal the hotel’s historical significance.

Taylor has her Poirot moment at the city council meeting
Librarians also have presentation skills, y’all

And this movie drags this out to the wire — complete with frantic texting and her brother knocking over the microphone stand to stall for time– even though there is zero suspense about what the outcome will be. (What I find most interesting during this bit are glimpses of the evidence Taylor was compiling on her laptop, including 1903 Montana weather maps and historical photos of 1900s Montana. Again, primary sources for the win!)

Here’s how Taylor’s Poirot moment goes down, complete with a slideshow, historic photographs, handwritten letters, diary entries, and official government documents:

Phyllis, city council chairwoman [to Craig]: Being old doesn’t qualify a building for landmark status. I’m afraid unless you have something new to add, you’re going to have to yield the floor.

Taylor [rushing into the community center]: I may be able to help with that! I think I may have found proof that shows that the Graff Hotel deserves to be a historic landmark. […] In April 1903, [the hotel maid] Mary Catherine had her photograph taken next to President Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Graff Hotel. 

Phyllis: Teddy Roosevelt was in Forest Ridge?

Taylor: That spring, he was at Yellowstone National Park to lay the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Arches, which still stand at the north entrance today. Teddy loved this part of the West more than anything, so he decided to stay and do a little bit more exploring. What nobody was expecting was that it was going to be the coldest spring on record. A freak snowstorm rolled in, leaving three feet of snow, leaving Teddy and his entire crew stranded just outside forest Ridge. By the time that the party made it back into town they spent three nights at the Graff Hotel until the roads were clear.

Phyllis: And you have proof of all this?

Taylor: I do, actually. Right here, I have a diary entry from Roosevelt. He kept one most of his life, and in April 1903, he wrote: “Snowed in at a little scrappy town called Forest Ridge. Beautiful country. Good and amiable folk. Stayed at the Graff Hotel. Best three nights of sleep in years…

But it wasn’t just the Graff that inspired him. It was… Forest Ridge. It was Montana. It was this entire part of the country and its people and the culture that inspired him while he was snowed in. So, shortly after he went back to Washington, he decided to sign the Antiquities Act, which gave him and all the future presidents the power to preserve the beautiful country of ours so that future generations could enjoy everything that he had. By making the Graff Hotel a historic landmark, we are not only celebrating Roosevelt’s legacy, we are celebrating the spirit that makes this city, this country so special. Thank you.

The city council announces that they will be applying to the state of Montana for the Graff Hotel to be granted landmark status. The town erupts in applause, while Craig hugs his sister who just saved the hotel! Librarians are heroes!

As a librarian, I appreciate this scene because of its focus on research, but I suspect that not everyone does. This reviewer commented that “Some scenes take place only to deliver information rather than emotions.”)

This presentation lasts 3 minutes total, with 10 minutes remaining in the film, just enough time for Taylor and Joel to wrap up their supposed romance.

26. How historically accurate was all that?

A (fictional) diary entry about Forest Ridge by Teddy Roosevelt
They didn’t even try to match Teddy Roosevelt’s actual handwriting

I do appreciate how confident Taylor is in her Poirot moment — and the suspension of disbelief in how quickly she set up her laptop to project onto the big TV screen! — but you know I had to wonder, how historically accurate was her evidence? So yes, I paused the movie to spend time digging into the possibilities and online archives of Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential papers.

So all in all, even if not totally historically accurate — I mean, Forest Ridge is a fictional town — then it is, for the most part, historically probable for the purposes of this film’s plot. A solid B, with marks off for the handwriting mismatch and fudging of the dates.

27. The real romance is not between Taylor and Joel.

The final few minutes of the TV movie try to create suspense about whether or not Taylor will stay in Forest Ridge and whether or not she and Joel will get together. For me, the ending didn’t hold much interest — except for when I realized there was a(n unintended?) love triangle. Before Taylor goes to the Harvest Ball, we learn that she has been offered the Seattle research librarian job again (“The library in Seattle called and they want me back”). A woman’s love story with primary sources… which archives will she choose, the Seattle reference library or the archives room of the Forest Ridge Public Library?

Taylor’s joyful face when she’s researching in the Forest Ridge Public Library archives sealed the deal, right? 😉

Taylor in the archives room
I love digitizing archives!

And my final evidence for the TRUE love story of a librarian and her primary sources is in the final closeup at the end: A framed photo of the couple kissing alongside framed primary sources, including the Teddy Roosevelt photograph and historical letters!

The final shot of the movie, framed photographs and letters
The photograph of the kiss is the smallest frame on this wall… just sayin’

28. Is Montana this ethnically diverse?

This TV movie did seem to be making an effort to make this small town in Montana quite ethnically diverse. Two Black Americans are serving on the city council, including Phyllis as the council chairperson; Craig’s family is multiracial; Craig mentions that Forest Ridge was his wife’s hometown; Craig works with a woman of Asian descent at the hotel; and there seems to be a racially diverse array of townspeople at the city council meeting.

An ethnically diverse audience at the city council meeting
An ethnically diverse audience at the city council meeting

I couldn’t help but wonder if Montana is this ethnically diverse? So I looked up the most recent census records for Montana, and per 2021 estimates, the White population in Montana totals almost 89%. The Black population in Montana clocks in at .6%. So it would seem that this TV town is more ethnically diverse onscreen than it would be in real life. But I also researched if there was a history of Buffalo Soldiers in Montana — Buffalo Soldiers were Black American soldiers during the Civil War and into the 20th century — and lo and behold, I learned that many of the Buffalo Soldiers resettled in Montana after the Spanish-American War and also served as the state’s first park rangers. Very interesting!

Although I applaud the attempt at onscreen diversity in this TV movie’s cast list, I also noticed that the people of color do not have distinctive backstories or experiences of their own. We only hear about Christine growing up in Montana because Craig mentioned it. We learn nothing personal about Taylor’s niece Zoe and perhaps how it feels to grow up biracial; she exists solely to set up plot points for Taylor. We learn nothing about Craig’s Asian co-worker. And Joyce’s main function seems to be to react to Taylor’s research findings. Everyone is very pleasant to each other, and there are no overt racist acts, but it’s like the TV movie is striving to be colorblind. They don’t mention race at all. It’s like “Montana nice,” ultimately making the onscreen diversity very surface-level… only skin-deep, so to speak.

As Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote the 2019 book How to Be An Antiracist, stated in an interview:

People who say they don’t see race are, “not seeing the diversity of humanity, whether that diversity is about skin color, or hair texture, or culture.”

I also cannot help but recall Sandra Oh’s comments in a recent interview in People and how her words also apply to this movie:

Progress is not sticking a bunch of people of color [into a show or movie] and having them speak like everyone else.

29. This movie is NOT a “winter romance”

On a lighter note, I’m assuming that this TV movie’s title got rebranded to A Winter Romance because of the popularity of Christmas-themed TV romances during the end-of-year holidays. But it’s clear throughout the film that “An Autumn Romance” is a much more appropriate title. I mean, the central social event in the movie is the “Harvest Ball,” for goodness sake, and each set is drowning in orange-and red-colored leaves, pumpkins, and sunflowers.

Autumn decorations for the Harvest Ball
I thought I was starring in a movie called “An Autumn Romance”

30. These librarians have style

I also have to point out how every librarian in this TV movie has their own distinctive style.

I love the patterns and bright colors here in this screenshot from the Seattle research library:

Three librarians onscreen at the same time! They are also stylish in their own ways, in either bright colors or dynamic patterns.
Three librarians onscreen at the same time! They are also stylish in their own ways, in either bright colors or dynamic patterns.

Joyce sports long necklaces and free-flowing silhouettes throughout the movie, including in her black floral evening wear at the Harvest Ball:

Joyce at the Harvest Ball
I would wear Joyce’s black floral caftan and long gold pendant necklace

And Taylor rocks amazing coats and jackets throughout the movie:

I will definitely have to add to my stylish female reel librarians post one of these days!

31. Was this movie good? It doesn’t really matter.

This movie has quite a few positives, including several library- and librarian-focused scenes that I have rarely seen onscreen, including the repeated joy Taylor expresses when researching and looking through historical documents and primary sources. And the fact that Taylor is a librarian is absolutely critical to this movie’s plot, which is why it ends up in the Class I category of films.

There are also several negatives, which I’ve detailed in this post, including the surface-level view of librarian qualifications as well as the missed opportunities to explore the community’s diversity. The screenplay is super predictable, and the central romance between Taylor and Joel is not very compelling.

Do these positives and negatives cancel each other out? Is this a good movie? No, not really. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I do not begrudge anyone who watches and enjoys this kind of lightweight romance, especially in these turbulent, stressful times. But perhaps highlighting my own thoughts and questions and research tangents that came up while I was watching this movie can spur some deeper thoughts and questions — and research explorations! — of your own.


Have you seen this TV movie? Do you like this kind of post? Would you like to see more of these stream-of-consciousness types of posts? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’

As the new version of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella as the title character, opened to scathing reviews this past week, I noticed a trend of reviewers referencing the 1999 version of the film, and several critics urging people to just go and rewatch the 1999 version of The Mummy instead of watching the new version. As the 1999 version also happens to star a reel librarian in a lead role (Rachel Weisz as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan, a librarian and Egyptologist), I thought it a perfect opportunity to follow their advice!

My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)
My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)

Snippets from current reviews of the new version of The Mummy which reference the 1999 version:

  • But alas, The Mummy turns out to be a drab, nonsensical affair that squanders its potential for humor, atmosphere, and sweep — qualities that the much-maligned, Fraser-starring 1999 Mummy had in droves.” (from The Village Voice)
  • No one over the age of 10 ever confused them [Universal’s film archive of monsters] with good movies, but the “Mummy” franchise that kicked off in 1999 had a joyously sinister and farfetched eye-candy pizzazz.” (from Variety)
  • [I]f you want to watch a fun Mummy movie this weekend, the newest option isn’t your safest bet.” (from Rotten Tomatoes)

And finally, the review from Vox, which sums up its review of the new version with this takeaway:

The Mummy is playing nationwide. You would be better off watching the 1999 version, and I don’t even like that movie.

But I do!

I still find The Mummy (1999) a fun adventure film, tongue firmly in cheek, and winking at its own spectacle; I agree with IndieWire, which called it “enduringly delightful.” I must admit two biases up front:  (1) I have always been a fan of genre films that commit unabashedly to their genres, like the 1999 version does (not so much the sequels), and (2) I love films with meaty reel librarian roles. Because OF COURSE. Especially reel librarians who kick ass onscreen and win at camel races. 😉

Oh, and SPOILERS.

If you need a reminder of the plot, here’s a trailer for the 1999 version:

The Mummy Official Trailer #1 – Brendan Fraser Movie (1999) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

Here’s a look at my original notes from when I first analyzed the film (and yes, I initially misspelled Rachel Weisz’s name in those notes, mea culpa):

My original notes for the 1999 version of The Mummy
My original notes for the 1999 version of The Mummy

I could go in many different directions in analyzing this film, but I’m going to stay in the direction these early notes took me:  focusing on Evie’s reel librarian role and how that role evolved. Even in this one snapshot from my notes, you can see my scrawled notes describing her character and how Evie’s character evolves on screen:

  • “quiet at first but becomes forceful by end”
  • “wants to move up”

Liberated Librarian:


Evie is one of the lead characters of the film, and her character arc fulfills the role of Liberated Librarians. Let’s check off the hallmarks of a Liberated Librarian that connect and describe Evie’s character and role in the film:

  • A naïve, inexperienced woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—in face of an adventure/disaster
  • Her “liberation” is intertwined with the major plot — the discoveries of the “Book of the Dead” and the “Book of Amun-Ra” mirror her own self-discovery
  • Young in age
  • Clothing more conservative and buttoned-up at first
  • Undergoes a change of appearance, dressing more feminine and more exotic (and her hair comes down from its bun!)

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene” video uploaded by Hammerfall541 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

As director Sommers also states on the DVD commentary:

“We learn everything we need to know about Evie and her backstory without it seeming like lame exposition.”

From her light sparring with the museum director, as seen in the clip above, we also learn this crucial characteristic at the heart of this reel librarian character:  She stands up for herself when others directly challenge her. However else she changes, and her story arc evolves, this remains true. She also knows her own intelligence, and that her intelligence is an asset.


“I am proud of what I am. I am a librarian.”


One of the major ways that Evie’s character breaks from the Liberated Librarian character type is that unlike most Liberated Librarians, Evie is committed to and proud of her profession.

This is most apparent in the (in)famous scene around the campfire in which Evie is inebriated, as seen in the clip below. (I also highlighted this scene and quote in a previous Quotable Librarian post.)

“Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gun fighter… But I am proud of what I am. I… am a librarian!”

However much I love this rallying cry — “I am a librarian!” — I do think she undersells herself in this moment. She has already proven onscreen that she is indeed an explorer and an adventurer, and she shot a gun in a skirmish just minutes before this campfire scene. It is true, however, that it is her brother (played by the cheeky John Hannah) who is the treasure seeker.

The.Mummy.WMV” video uploaded by deanxavier is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

The power of reading:


Evie also underestimates the power of reading. And from a librarian, too — for shame! But it sets the rest of the movie in motion, and serves as another way to highlight how she evolves over the course of the film.

In another campfire scene, after she has discovered the “Book of the Dead,” she figures out how to open the book and starts to read from it.

“It’s just a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.”

Yeah… except by doing so, she conjures up the mummy. (Next time, maybe try reading silently first.) The other Egyptologist, played by veteran Australian actor Jonathan Hyde, knows the danger, but he is too late in shouting, “No! You must not read from the book!

In a word, “Oops.”

This is a cautionary tale enveloped within an adventure story. Reading = Power.

The Mummy: Imhotep Revived” video uploaded by rpetteson is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Reel librarian hero:


The hero in the story who got all the attention at the time was Brendan Fraser as American soldier Rick O’Connell. But the real hero in this story, in my opinion, is Evie.

Here’s evidence from the film to back that up:

  • Evie saves Rick from hanging in an Egyptian prison by negotiating his release — and setting the plot in motion to find Hamunaptra, the city of the dead
  • She saves Rick’s life again on the boat, by pulling him aside from a spray of bullets (this is a clever bit, as she sees the pattern of gunshots along the wall and anticipates that Rick is in the way — demonstrating that she’s not just book smart!)
  • She beats Rick at camel racing
  • She figures out the solution to reverse the curse is to find the Book of Amun-Ra AND figures out where the Book of Amun-Ra is buried
  • Evie sacrifices herself to Imhotep in order to save her friends
  • She helps her brother translate the Book of Amun-Ra while SHE HERSELF is fighting off a mummy — thinking in action!
  • She helps make Imhotep mortal so that Rick can finish him off

Evie is the one who (accidentally) conjured the curse, so following standard hero-story arcs, she therefore has to be the one to figure out how to solve it. And she does. She comes through stronger in the end, further highlighting her intelligence and resilience.

However, Evie is never called a hero in this story by others. Instead, there are a variety of phrases and terms, often unflattering, that other characters use to describe Evie, including:

  • “Compared to you, the other plagues were a joy”
  • “catastrophe”
  • “damsel in distress”
  • “broad”
  • “lady”
  • “not a total loss”
  • “old Mum”

SIGH.

But instead of dwelling on those less-than-flattering descriptions, let’s instead focus on appreciating Evie and the actress who first brought her to life in The Mummy (1999):

Tribute to Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999 version)” video uploaded by King Achilles is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Fun facts:


I came across this fun fact that I came across while reading the film’s trivia on IMDb.com:

When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was found on November 4, 1922, the person in charge was George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Along with him was his daughter, Lady Evelyn Carnarvon. Rachel Weisz’s character is named Evelyn Carnahan. Originally, her character was meant to be Evelyn Carnarvon. She and her brother were to be the children of the “cursed” Lord Carnarvon. The only evidence of this left in the film is in the line where Evelyn tells O’Connell that her father was a “very, very famous explorer”. The Mummy novelization goes into a bit more detail on her back story.

Amazing! Here’s a picture of Lady Evelyn Carnarvon with her father at King Tut’s tomb in 1922:

At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left. Image is in the public domain.
At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left. Image is in the public domain.

You can see more pics and read more about the real-life inspiration for Evie’s character here on this site.

And one final fun fact:  the ancestral Carnarvon home is none other than Highclere Castle — which served as the locale for Downton Abbey in the TV series! The website for Highclere Castle even has a whole section dedicated to its Egyptian connection.


I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down Mummy memory lane and learning more along the way. Hope you did, too!

Next week, I will be back with a post about another adventurer librarian!


Sources used:


The reel librarian in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

“I had a family and a job I was good at. I didn’t need cleaning up.”

Margaret Atwood’s classic and award-winning book, The Handmaid’s Tale, has never been out of print since its initial publication in 1985. It struck a chord then, and it continues to strike a chord today, recently returning to bestseller lists. A new 10-part series starring Elisabeth Moss will premiere next week, on April 26, on Hulu.

This series, which looks like it will be pretty faithful to the source material, is not the first cinematic adaptation of Atwood’s book. That distinction belongs to the 1990 version of the film, starring the late Natasha Richardson in the title role. The film was directed by German director Volker Schlöndorff and the screenplay written by English writer Harold Pinter.

This dystopian tale is set in a world under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship, called the “Republic of Gilead,” in which fertility has become rare, and fertile young women, trained as Handmaids, are treated as slaves in the households they are assigned to.


The 1990 version:


The 1990 film was received with a lukewarm reception, both by critics and at the box office. I agree with Washington Post movie critic Rita Kempley, who wrote that the film “is also a touch dated, though it remains an intriguing quilt of what-ifs.”

Here’s a trailer from the 1990 film version:

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) – Official Trailer” uploaded by Shout Factory is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Having watched the 1990 film multiple times and read the book (I need to reread it!), I also agree that the impact of the storyline is weakened in the 1990 film version, including the ending and even the costuming (the handmaids wear sheer red scarves over their hair instead of the white “winged” headgear described in the book).

But the sheer power of the story and its all-too-familiar dystopian possibilities continue to linger in one’s mind, which makes the 1990 version still a worthwhile experience to watch.


Differences between the book and the film:


In the book, the narrator — known as “Offred,” literally “Of Fred” — never reveals her “real” name, although it is implied that her name is June. She also never reveals many details of her occupation before the Age of Gilead, simply that she worked in an office. Very little is revealed in the book about the narrator’s appearance, except for this brief passage:

I am thirty-three years old. I have brown hair. I stand five seven without shoes. I have trouble remembering what I used to look like. I have viable ovaries. I have one more chance.

In the film, however, we learn early on Offred’s real name, which is Kate. We also learn about her former occupation, that she was a librarian. And of course with film being a visual medium, we immediately see what she looks like.


Getting to know the narrator:


So let’s get into how the film reveals the reel librarian part of the narrator’s character.

At the beginning of the movie, right after the credits, Kate/Offred and her husband (Luke) are driving. Kate was the one driving, as we see her get out of the driver’s side. She wears glasses — a detail that we never see again in the film.

The narrator, first seen wearing glasses, in The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
The narrator, first seen wearing glasses, in The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

Kate, along with her husband and daughter, attempt to cross the border and escape. This attempt fails. Kate is separated from her daughter and sent to a camp to be trained and conditioned in her new role as Handmaid.

Fifteen minutes into the film, Offred meets the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy (played by Faye Dunaway), in her first placement interview. Serena Joy states bluntly to Offred:

Here’s how it works… If I get trouble, I give trouble back. Is that clear?

I’ve read your file. I know you’re not stupid.

Offred and Serena Joy meet for the first time in The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
Offred and Serena Joy meet for the first time in The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

This detail — that others know that Offred is not stupid — is a thread the Commander (played by Robert Duvall) later picks up. It is obvious to all, including the audience, that Offred is educated and intelligent.


Scrabble and revelations:


Forty minutes into the film, the Commander invites Offred into his private office for the first time, because he wants to “get to know [her] a little.” The narrator is understandably wary, but the Commander surprises her by wanting to play Scrabble! He asks her if she has ever played Scrabble before, and she responds that she had played when she was young.

The Commander and Offred play Scrabble for the first time
The Commander and Offred play Scrabble for the first time

As they wrap up their first game of Scrabble, their conversation continues, and this is when we first hear of the narrator’s former occupation.

Offred:  I can use my last three letters in one go. I’ve won.

Commander:  You certainly have won. Congratulations. I think you play this game a lot better than I do. I know you do. But I knew you would.

Offred: Why?

Commander:  Because you’re a librarian.

Offred:  Was.

Below is Natasha Richardson’s facial expression right after she says that last line, “Was.” It is an expression that is simultaneously wistful, proud, and defiant.

A closeup of the narrator's face in The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
A closeup of the narrator’s face in The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

Ten minutes after this scene, the Commander gives Offred a surprise gift for winning another game. This time, he brings out old copies of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, magazines he usually keeps locked up in a cabinet. The only books in the house are also in his private study.

Commander:  Now, what do you like? There’s Vogue, Cosmopolitan.

Offred:  I thought all this stuff was supposed to have been burned.

Commander:  It was. It was bad for people’s minds. It confused them. It was ok for me because I’m mature.

The Commander shows Offred his secret stash of women's fashion magazines
The Commander shows Offred his secret stash of women’s fashion magazines

The significance of knowing how to read:


The importance of these two scenes between Offred and the Commander is not really explored in the movie, but in the book this is significant because one of the ways the women are kept submissive is that they are no longer allowed to read. This comes out in the movie by the signs and grocery tokens that are in the forms of pictures, not words. The fact that they play Scrabble — in secret, of course — means she has to know words and letters, that she knows how to read. This adds an extra layer of subversiveness to these scenes.

Ten minutes after the scene with the magazines — another scene in the Commander’s private study — he tries tries to explain why “they” had to cleanse the nation, after Offred asks about what he does and why he works with “them.”

Commander:  Why? Country was in a mess, that’s why. A total mess. All the garbage had risen to the top… So we had to clean it up. We took a big hose and washed the place clean.

Offred:  I had a family and a job I was good at. I didn’t need cleaning up.

Commander:  I don’t mean you.

Below is Natasha Richardson’s facial expression after she says the line about having “a job [she] was good at.” She still clearly identifies with her former life, as a mother and as a librarian. Her facial expression, while still wistful, now seems to have a shade of hardened anger in it. This will prove important later in the film.

Another closeup of the narrator in The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
Another closeup of the narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

Naughty Librarian fantasy?


At one hour and 18 minutes into the film, the Commander takes Offred on a secret outing to a building full of party-goers, businessmen, and prostitutes. He has forced her to dress up — for his fantasy of a “Naughty Librarian,” perhaps?

As they enter the illicit party scene, the Commander seems to take pride in knowing several of the women and referring to them by their former occupations, saying one was a sociologist while another was a lawyer. It’s almost as if he were collecting them, that in the future, he looks forward to boasting, “I knew a librarian.”

Below is a look at how Offred dresses up for the Commander — old Hollywood movie-star style, with a long black dress, gloves, and a feather boa — and reconnecting with her friend Moira, who tried to escape but has ended up instead a “Jezebel,” a prostitute.

Offred dresses up for a night
Offred dresses up for a night

I won’t go into details of the film’s ending, only to say that it feels rushed and vague and doesn’t include the epilogue from the book.


What reel librarian role does Kate/Offred play in the movie?


This is a more difficult question to answer. Her character, as written for the film, is kind of the opposite of the Liberated Librarian character. She is forced to become LESS feminine in the film — except for the party scene — and it’s unclear by the end if she truly becomes liberated. On the other hand, her story arc (and her escape from the horrific reality of living as a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead) drives the film forward.

When I wrote my thesis years ago, I added Kate/Offred in the chapter on Atypical Portrayals. Atypical Portrayals of reel librarians, as I’ve defined them, include major characters whose portrayals go beyond stereotypical constraints. They are intelligent, well-rounded characters with lives outside the library.

Here’s what I wrote then:

She is independent, quietly rebellious when she needs to be but also openly rebellious when the time comes. Desirable to men, Kate also demonstrates a maternal instinct toward her lost child and to the men around her. Her job as a librarian is revealed only once, when Robert Duvall mentions it—the audience doesn’t need to hear that she was a librarian, but it does not detract from her strength as a character, either.

What do I think now? I would still put the narrator’s character, as written in this film, in the Atypical Portrayal category — mainly because she defies categorization. It’s clear that Kate did have a full life outside the library in her former life, but she is forced into a stereotypical box as Offred. But she continues to quietly rebel, in her own way and in her own mind, against these stereotypical constraints.


Why a librarian?


Like I mentioned before, there are many differences regarding the narrator’s character between the book and the 1990 film, one of which is that her former occupation as a librarian is clearly stated in this film adaptation. So why did screenwriter Harold Pinter give her both a real name and a defined former occupation in the movie adaptation? To give her more of an identity, as a shortcut to gain audience’s sympathy/empathy with the main character? Perhaps it was simply a way to provide a shortcut to the narrator’s intelligence that is referred to by several characters throughout the film. That as a former librarian, she’s not just intelligent but also that she knows how to read. That fact then makes her internally dangerous, however docile she appears on the outside.

As (real-life) librarians often say, “Once a librarian, always a librarian.” 😉

Ultimately, this detail of being a librarian in her former life lands The Handmaid’s Tale in the Class II category, in which “the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.” Like I wrote in my thesis, it isn’t necessary to the story to hear that she was a librarian — just as it wasn’t necessary to know details about her occupation in the book — but it does not detract from her strength as a character in the film, either.

I don’t now when I will be able to watch the upcoming mini-series, as I don’t currently subscribe to Hulu, but I will definitely put it on my list to keep an eye out for. If the new mini-series is going to be more faithful to its book source material, then I suspect the narrator’s character and former occupation will no longer be a librarian. But I will watch it, just in case!

And if you’ve seen the 1990 film and/or are looking forward to watching the new series, please leave a comment and share.


Sources used:


  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. McClelland and Stewart, 1985.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale. Dir. Volker Schlindorff. Perf. Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern. Cinecom, 1990.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
  • Kempley, Rita. “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (R).” The Washington Post, 9 March 1990.
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