Exploring ‘The Music Man’ passages in Shirley Jones’s autobiography
I recently finished reading Shirley Jones’s autobiography, Shirley Jones: A Memoir, which was published last year by Gallery Books. Wendy Leigh has co-author credit, and it does read like Shirley Jones is having a conversation. The tone is quite informal — and boy, does Shirley Jones pack a punch with her stories! There are definitely some shocker moments in this book, as her on-screen image was quite goody two-shoes. But Ms. Jones is quite clear that she was a spitfire from the beginning! (And it’s even caused some controversy, as one particular scene apparently angered Joan Collins.)
One of my favorite stories was one she revealed about the making of The Music Man, in which she played “Marian the Librarian” in the classic 1962 film. Shirley refers to the character of Marian as a “truly liberated woman,” although I would argue that liberation is the arc of Marian’s character; it’s where she ends up, but not where the starts out. “Marian the Librarian” is the classic Liberated Librarian character type. While filming, Shirley Jones discovered that she was pregnant (with her son Patrick), and she eventually had to be shot from the waist up. By the time the big romantic scene in the film came along, Shirley Jones was heavily pregnant. Here’s how she describes the scene:
Robert Preston and I were standing on the footbridge, shooting the most romantic scene in The Music Man, in which he sand “Till There Was You” to me, and he was holding me extremely tight against his chest. As he kissed me passionately — the only kiss that took place between us during the movie — his eyes were closed. All of a sudden, the baby in my stomach gave an almighty kick!
Bob practically passed out in shock. Then he straightened up and gave me a quizzical look.
“That was Patrick Cassidy,” I said by way of explanation.
Years later, Patrick Cassidy then went to visit Robert Preston on Broadway:
After the show, Patrick went backstage and was escorted to Bob’s dressing room. He held his hand out to Bob. “My name is Patrick Cassidy.”
Robert Preston took three steps back. “Oh, no! We’ve already met.”
The Attic (1980) serves as a kind of cinematic continuation of two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973)
As I mentioned in last week’s post, The Attic (1980) serves as a kind of cinematic continuation of two characters featured in The Killing Kind(1973). I have a copy of both films, so I set about watching The Killing Kind this past weekend and comparing the two. There are some eery similarities in both films, but some interesting differences, as well. Enjoy!
(Beware: SPOILER ALERTS throughout)
The Killing Kind:
Director: Curtis Harrington
Screenwriters: Tony Crechales & George Edwards
Filmed in and around Los Angeles, California
Directors: George Edwards & Gary Graver (uncredited)
Screenwriters: Tony Crechales & George Edwards
Filmed and set in Wichita, Kansas
NOTE: The two screenwriters, Tony Crechales and George Edwards, wrote both films, and they obviously wanted to further explore the themes and characters introduced in the first film.
The Killing Kind:
The film begins with a gang rape of a young girl on a beach. Terry Lambert (John Savage), the central character, is involved in the gang rape by peer pressure, taunted by his friends to participate.
This film begins with the suicide attempt of Louise Elmore, the reel librarian. She is watching old home movies of her ex-fiance and has slit her wrists.
Both films begin with a violent opening scene. The later film starts with a more subtle visual introduction to the suicide attempt, panning around Louise’s bedroom before closing in on her bloody wrists. The first film, however, is quite shocking in its immediate, graphic depiction of a gang rape.
It is also important to note that there are also several depictions of violent, gruesome murders in this first film, which qualifies more as a horror film or thriller. The second film is more of a suspenseful drama, with depictions of murderous fantasies in place of actual murders.
Central characters & conflict:
The Killing Kind:
Terry Lambert (John Savage) and his mother, Thelma (Ann Sothern). Terry comes back to live with his mother after spending 2 years in jail for the rape. Mysteriously, those with a connection to the rape — and subsequent prosecution — start being killed off.
Terry’s mother, Thelma, is overbearing in the sense that she is too intimate with her son, almost smothering him with affection. She often kisses him and demands more kisses (“That wasn’t much of a kiss”) but then complains that she will “get a hickey.” She also surprises him in the shower in one scene and takes a photo of him naked.
Terry makes a point of calling his mother “Thelma” instead of “Mom” or “Mother” — further confusing the boundaries of their mother/son relationship
Louise Elmore (Carrie Snodgress) and her father, Wendell (Ray Milland). Louise is a librarian being forced to retire, and has been forced to take care of her wheelchair-bound father all her adult life.
Wendell is overbearing in that he is repeatedly cruel in his actions and words toward Louise. He is constantly criticizing and berating her verbally, comparing her unfavorably to her mother. He does stay too long in her bedroom in one scene, watching her get dressed, until Louise tells him to leave.
Louise always refers to her father as “Father” and never calls, or refers, to him by his first name.
Both films feature former screen stars in prominent roles: Ann Sothern and Ruth Roman in The Killing Kind (1980), and Ray Milland in The Attic (1980).
It is also interesting to note that the central relationships in both films focus on single parents, but the gender of the single parent is switched (one mother vs. one father).
The reel librarian:
The Killing Kind:
Luana Anders as Louise (no last name), a supporting role
Louise is identified as a librarian right away, in the first scene after the opening credits. It is quite clear that she works in a public library and is referred to as the “head librarian.”
There are three other librarians featured in this film besides Louise: Ruth Cox as Emily, a supporting character and second female lead; Terry Troutt as Donald; and Frances Bay as Librarian, an older lady
Luana Anders was 35 during The Killing Kind (1973), and Carrie Snodgress was 34 during filming of The Attic (1980). The two actresses look similar in that they are about the same age and both white females with light brown hair. Louise in the first film wears glasses — and always sports the same hairstyle of bangs and a low bun. In the second film, Louise does NOT wear glasses, and changes up her hairstyle quite frequently.
It’s interesting to note that Louise’s age is specified in the first film, as she has Terry guess her age; he (correctly) guesses 35. Louise’s disappointed reaction? “Too old?” Louise’s age in the second film is not explicitly stated, but she must be around 40 years old, considering that she was jilted 19 years before. So, age-wise, one could see the second film as a natural continuation from events in the first film.
The Killing Kind:
Peter Brocco as Louise’s Father (no name)
Ray Milland as Wendell Elmore
Both characters are wheelchair-bound, although the reasons why are explored more in the second film. The two actors approach the role quite differently. In The Killing Kind (1973), Peter Brocco seems to play the role a bit effeminately, as evidenced by lifting up his pinkie finger to sip tea, the abundance of makeup on his face (although that could be shoddy film makeup work), and his whiny, needling voice. He seems to be of a weaker internal character than that of the cruel, confident, bombastic Wendell in The Attic (1980).
Also, in both films, Louise admits to having fantasies about harming or killing her father. In The Killing Kind (1973), Louise tells Terry that “[S]ometimes I have this terrific urge to put ground glass in my father’s food. I can almost hear his false teeth grinding on the glass.” In The Attic (1980), the film visually acts out several of Louise’s fantasies about killing her father, including putting poison in his glass at dinner.
The Killing Kind:
No scene set in the library; Louise is seen only in her bedroom or around the neighboring houses
Louise first shows up 12 minutes into the film, typing on a typewriter and sitting at an outdoor table with her father in a wheelchair beside her.
Several scenes set at the city library, including a retirement party scene.
A long scene after the opening credits introduces the physical library space. There are also external shots of the library exterior, including wide front steps and a closeup of the “City Library” sign etched in stone.
Both characters state — in no uncertain terms — that their work in the library is boring. (SIGH.) However, in the second film, Louise seems genuinely sad both during and after her retirement party.
The first scene in which we meet Louise and her father, their conversation hints that Terry set their house on fire, because, as he puts it, “the boy’s a psychopath.” There’s no mention, however, that the fire is tied to the father’s paralysis or why he’s in a wheelchair.
In a later scene, in which Louise tries to seduce Terry after having a few drinks, she reveals that “I have these hallucinations that are so real about burning all the books!”
There are no visual representations of Louise’s hallucinations in this film.
In the first scene set in the library, a gossipy old lady hints that the reason Louise is being retired is due to an accidental fire in the library. She also hints at a prior house fire that caused the paralysis of Louise’s father — the implication that Louise caused both fires.
Louise also describes the book-burning scene, but this time to a younger librarian, Emily. “The books were my enemy. Destroy them, before they destroy you, a voice whispered to me. It felt so wonderful, to see all those books going up in flames.” This description is accompanied by a visual depiction of the book-burning.
Sex and the single librarian:
The Killing Kind:
There are two sexually charged scenes in this film. One occurs a little over a half-hour into the film, after Louise has been drinking. She has been watching Terry swim in the pool at night and goes over to talk. She reveals several personal tidbits (like wanting to burn all the books) and then moves closer to Terry, even taking off her glasses and rubbing them along his thigh. Then she reveals another personal fantasy, “It must feel wonderful. […] Being raped. I wouldn’t have told on you.” !!!!!
The other sexual scene comes in ten minutes later, when Louise goes over to the pool — this time in daylight — to make excuses for her behavior. Terry makes fun of her (“Why don’t you just hop into a goddamn cold shower?”), but Louise turns on him instead. She has a cruel smile, or smirk, on her face as she taunts his guitar-playing: “That thing that you hold so close to you, like a woman, you can’t even play it.”
While there are several shots of old home movies featuring a young Louise kissing Robert, there is only one overtly sexual scene in this film. When Louise goes to the movies and then goes back to a hotel room with a sailor, she is visibly nervous and over-talkative. It isn’t until she pretends the stranger, the sailor, is her ex-fiance — even calling him Robert — does she engage in sex. This act of “getting laid” (her exact words) begins her slow climb to self-confidence and independence.
Late in the film, after being retired from the library, Louise mistakes (hallucinates?) the young man who comes over to mow the lawn as her ex-fiance, Robert. Dressed in a nightgown, she goes out to the young man and tries to kiss him, as she believes he has finally come back to her. She is ridiculed later by her father for this embarrassing incident.
Different librarian roles:
The Killing Kind:
In this film, Louise comes across as no-nonsense. She stands up to her father frequently and seems almost dismissive of him. She also declares her independent streak, stating outright that she’s not afraid of Terry. She also taunts Terry in a later scene.
In her relationship with her father, she comes across the more domineering, cruel personality.
In the scene where she tries to seduce Terry, she does reveal her loneliness. “I’d rather be with somebody I didn’t like than to be alone.”
We see Louise hiding a liquor bottle behind her pillow one night when her father comes up at bedtime. She also apologizes for her drunken behavior to Terry. It’s interesting to note that she does admit her drinking. “Like I said, I was drunk.”
Louise serves the role of a Naughty Librarian in this film. She’s shown to be a peeping tom — even with binoculars! — spying on Terry and his increasingly violent behavior. She also tries to seduce Terry one night by the pool — and resorts to vindictive behavior when her sexual desires are rebuffed.
In the later film, Louise has a more multi-faceted personality; this is not unusual, given that she is the main character and given more scenes and scope to explore emotionally. Overall, Louise is more tentative, pathetic, and less confident. She also expresses sensitivity and openness to her librarian friend, Emily.
In her relationship with her father, Wendell is the more domineering personality.
Louise is very lonely, but the cause of this loneliness is explained by being left at the altar 19 years ago.
Louise is shown drinking in several scenes but never admits her alcoholism. Rather, she makes excuses for having a drink at lunch, etc. and hides a bottle behind the front library counter.
Louise’s primary role in this film is that of a Liberated Librarian. She is a trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself — and what she’s capable of — under extreme circumstances. Louise’s “liberation” supplies the main plot of this film.
Biddies and birdies:
The Killing Kind:
Mrs. Orland is the name of an older, gossipy woman. She rents a room in Thelma’s house and is shown to be affectionate toward Terry. Mrs. Orland is played by character actress Marjorie Eaton.
Terry buys a myna bird for his mother, after one of her cats mysteriously dies early on in the film. The myna bird calls out, “Are you a good boy?” repeatedly through the film — which was the original working title for the film!
There are a few shots of stuffed animals, particularly a stuffed teddy bear and a Raggedy Andy doll that Terry curls up to after another gruesome murder.
Mrs. Fowler is the name of the older, gossipy woman who reveals the back story about the fires. Although the character name is different, it’s played by the SAME character actress, Marjorie Eaton!
When the two main librarians, Louise and Emily, stop by the pet store, there are both birds and chimps pictured in the front window. Emily eventually buys the chimp as a present for Louise.
The film begins with shots of stuffed animal monkeys, which cover every surface of Louise’s bedroom.
There are still more striking similarities and differences between the two films. For example, Terry has personal hallucinations in The Killing Kind(1973) that feature Louise the librarian vs. the hallucinations in The Attic (1980)that come from Louise herself. Also, Louise’s bedroom in the first film is quite stark and sparsely furnished, whereas Louise’s bedroom in the second is quite cluttered and almost juvenile in tone (because she’s mentally stuck 19 years in the past).
All in all, I found this an intriguing exercise in comparing and contrasting the two films. Each film does stand alone on its own merits. While, like I said before, the two films are not officially recognized as a series, the recurring characters of Louise and her wheelchair-bound father, as well as the recurring themes of fires, hallucinations, overbearing parents, and repressed sexual desires do strongly link the two films together.
The Attic. Dir. George Edwards & Gary Graver. Perf. Carrie Snodgress, Ray Milland, Ruth Cox. MGM/UA, 1980.
The Killing Kind. Dir. Curtis Harrington. Perf. John Savage, Ann Sothern, Ruth Roman, Luana Anders, Cindy Williams. Media Cinema Group, 1973.
“Being a head librarian is not my idea of a lifetime career.”
Continuing our October list of scary films featuring reel librarians… next up is The Attic (1980), starring Carrie Snodgress as jilted librarian Louise Elmore. The film is tagged in IMDB.com as a thriller or horror film, but it’s really more of a suspenseful drama. The original trailer makes it seem waaaaaay scarier than it actually is:
It’s a strange film, in more ways than one. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS throughout.)
Woman librarian devotes life to caring for wheelchair-bound tyrannical father after being stood up at altar. She fantasizes his death and finds joy only with her pet monkey.
This film also extends the storyline of the librarian and her father, two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973), written by the same screenwriters as The Attic (1980). Neither film was a hit at the box office, and the roles in the earlier film were played by different actors.
The attic — the title of the whole shebang — is also never actually mentioned in the film, and not even seen until the last few minutes. Decidedly odd.
Even though the main character, Louise, is a librarian, the ultimate message is NOT uplifting. Like I said, SPOILER! After watching the film, my husband’s reaction summed it up perfectly:
That was depressing as hell. Based on this film, being a librarian must suck.
Let’s break it down as the reel librarian also breaks down:
The film opens with Louise crying over old home movies of her ex-fiance, and the camera pans over an overflowing collection of stuffed animal monkeys before settling on a closeup of her slashed, bloody wrists. Carrie Snodgress, nominated for Best Actress for 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, really gives it her all in a pretty thankless role.
The next shot provides another closeup of her wrists, this time bandaged and back to stamping books in the library. This extended scene set in the library introduces several more reel librarians, including a young female librarian, Emily (Ruth Cox), and a male library assistant, Donald (Terry Troutt), who is shelving books as they close up for the day. The scene also uses two older, gossipy ladies to provide background to the plot. One older lady is checking out books from the front counter and notices the bandages on Louise’s hands.
The other lady is busy gossiping to Emily by the card catalog — in full earshot of Louise! — and we learn that Emily has been hired to replace Louise as the head librarian. Louise is retiring, and the older lady insinuates that they’re pushing her out because of a recent, accidental fire in the library. She also links this current fire to a past fire that caused the paralysis of Louise’s father. Hmmmmm…..
Emily, as seen above on the left, is definitely a Spirited Young Girl character type — young, stylish, intelligent, and views working in the library as just a job. Her reaction to her new position?
I like it here. Beats being a college librarian.
Being a head librarian is not my idea of a lifetime career.
As Louise, Carrie Snodgress — only 33 herself at the time of filming! — is playing a character who can’t be more than 40 years old. We learn that she has worked in the library for 19 years, which is how long ago her fiance disappeared. Louise is also quite attractive and wears modern, stylish clothing. She also wears her long hair in different styles current for that time period, but her hair seems artificially greyed-out. Being that young an age for retiring does seem suspicious. We also hear the older lady gossip about Louise “in her intoxicated condition.” That is definitely one thing the older lady was right on target about:
The friendship between Louise and Emily is also evident early on, as Louise remarks, “I was prepared to hate you, replacing me and all. Instead, you have become my friend.”
And they do become friends, and enjoy several scenes together in the film. Louise and Emily bond over respective, overbearing parents: Louise’s father vs. Emily’s mother. Emily invites Louise over for dinner as well as for a bike ride to talk over personal issues; Emily wants to go to California to be with her boyfriend, but feels guilty about leaving her younger brother alone with her overbearing mother. Louise keeps urging Emily to seek happiness when she can, to avoid the fate she herself has endured. The film directors, George Edwards and Gary Graver, enjoy visually contrasting the two librarians, including shots that reflect similar wardrobe choices or body positions:
Due to a lifetime of criticism from her wheelchair-bound father (Ray Milland in a deliciously cheesy role), Louise has no sense of herself — or doesn’t want to face the truth about herself. She says she’s not much of a drinker, yet is shown drinking in repeated shots throughout the film. She talks about her fiance, Robert, as if he just left — and that was over 19 years ago! She professes to dislike her job — more on that below — yet obviously takes pride in being thorough, as seen when she straightens up the library at the end of the day.
Her account of the library fire, however, is quite disturbing, as is her state of mind leading up to the fire:
Have you ever been seized by a mood of despondency? Sometimes, I feel that I’m in the grip of a huge vise that seems to render me incapable of thought, of movement … Wouldn’t you [feel like that]? If they put you out to pasture, like an old mare.
The books were my enemy. Destroy them, before they destroy you, a voice whispered to me. It felt so wonderful, to see all those books going up in flames. I’d won the battle!
I would do it all over again.
It was interesting that I found myself reminded of so many other films while watching The Attic, including:
A scene in which Louise fantasizes about taking a trip, her reflected image superimposed on a poster for Hawaii. This reminded me of the 1932 film Forbidden, in which a spinster librarian (Barbara Stanwyck) quits her job and heads off to Havana with her life savings.
The library fire scene made me think of Storm Center (1956), starring another aging librarian (Bette Davis) that others are trying to force out — but because she’s defending the right to keep the books on the shelves rather than burning the library down.
In the scene in which Louise and Emily stop outside the pet shop, I was reminded of the pet shop scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Emily buys a chimp for Louise — huh? — while in The Birds, Tippi Hedren makes a similar impulse purchase on a pair of lovebirds.
In the scene where Louise goes to the movies, the character on screen makes a reference to “Norman Bates,” the main character in Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho — another film featuring a lead character who has psychological problems due to a domineering parent.
Also in the movie scene, Louise meets a sailor and goes to his hotel room, pretending he’s her ex-fiance while they have sex. I was reminded of the scenes in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), in which Marnie’s adolescent psyche is severely damaged by her domineering mother’s tryst with a sailor.
As Louise is the main character of this film, we are treated to several scenes outside the library, including scenes of home life, a rarity for reel librarians. For example, we see Louise masturbating in bed; having dinner with her father (and then fantasizing about poisoning his drink!); getting dressed in the morning; and brushing her teeth.
Two major scenes later in the film also reveal a lot about Louise’s character and her relationship with Emily. The first is the dinner scene with Emily and her mother, who asks about Louise’s job:
Mrs. Fowler: I understand you’ve been a librarian for … 19 years?
Louise: Yes. You make it sound so dreadfully long.
Mrs. Fowler: I wish Emily would settle down to a steady job like that. She’s had three employers since she left college. … Maybe you can hold on to this new position.
Louise: I wish that I had had the good sense to try some other jobs when I was young. I might not have been a librarian.
Mrs. Fowler: It’s a perfectly respectable job.
Louise: Respectable, yes. And often boring.
Mrs. Fowler: A job is what you make of it.
I know that Mrs. Fowler, Emily’s mother, is described repeatedly as domineering and overbearing. But I have to say, from my personal perspective of being a librarian, I think Mrs. Fowler makes a lot of sense here! If you love being a librarian, then it is NEVER boring.
The other major scene is Louise’s retirement party, in which we meet a fourth, and final, reel librarian: an older lady librarian played by actress Frances Bay. The four are toasting Louise with champagne — which is ok, because they’ve locked the doors. No one will see they’re — GASP! — drinking in the library. The older librarian, focusing on the rules, fulfills the Spinster Librarian role, whereas the socially awkward male library worker rounds out the group as the Anti-Social Librarian character type.
They have bought her a corsage, as well as a cake featuring a woman heading off with a suitcase, as seen below. As the older lady librarian states, “You’ve always wanted to travel, Louise. Nothing to hold you back now. Free as a bird.”
This visually demonstrates how Louise’s main role in the film is as a Liberated Librarian, a trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself — and what she’s capable of — under extreme circumstances. The “liberation” can be positive or negative, and Liberated Librarians are usually major characters with their “liberation” often supplying the main plot. This is all true of Louise’s role in this film. As my husband quipped:
That’s a Liberated Librarian on a cake!
As Louise forges a friendship with Emily — and after, in her own words, “getting laid” by the sailor — Louise begins to assert her independence, in different ways, and defying her father’s influence by putting on lipstick (in public!); keeping the chimp that Emily bought her; visiting her friend — twice! — instead of spending time with her father; and spending her severance pay to buy Emily a plane ticket to California.
This later scene, in which Louise buys Emily the plane ticket, is quite sweet — and unintentionally hiLARious. The older lady librarian delivers the letter (and enclosed plane ticket) to Emily at the library, and after reading it, Emily literally runs out the door — unlike Louise, another contrast between the two. Louise gets a cake with a picture of someone going on an adventure; Emily actually does it.
Older librarian: Emily? Where are you going?
Emily: To get married!
The older lady librarian looks up and smiles, with a hopeful (or wistful?) look on her face, as seen below. Ahhhhh, the ghosts of the spinster librarian Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Obviously, being a spinster librarian is the ONLY option if you don’t get married. I’m so glad films like these are here to teach us these valuable life lessons. 😉
We also get treated to this gem after Louise’s retirement party, as she straightens her bow tie and shouts out a farewell speech to the books in the library:
Well, goodbye all you bastards! If I never see you again, it’ll be too soon. It’s time.
And on that uplifting (?!#@!) note, perhaps it’s time to wrap up this post. Here’s a look at the many different sides we see of Louise, a Class I reel librarian:
I won’t give the ending away completely, but let’s just say that the final five minutes finally do reveal the attic referred to in the title. We learn the secrets her father has been keeping all these years, which force Louise to finally face her own fears. The ending is a bit open-ended, but Louise does seem to be spiritually liberated, if not literally liberated. Her final words are, “I loved you, Robert.” Finally, she uses the past tense of the verb, “loved,” a recognition of the past itself.
But what does her future hold?
The Attic. Dir. George Edwards & Gary Graver. Perf. Carrie Snodgress, Ray Milland, Ruth Cox. MGM/UA, 1980.
An affair between a cabana boy and the young wife of a sinister politician triggers a 16-year vendetta between the two men.
When a one-line plot summary includes the words cabana boy, sinister politician, and 16-year vendetta, you just KNOW it’s going to be bad. And it IS bad. But not awesomely bad. It’s just run-of-the-mill terrible, complete with bad acting, wavering accents, fake-o scar makeup, and the worst of ’70s and ’80s fashions. Joseph Fiennes plays not only the cabana boy, Alan, but also the Cubano boy Manuel Esquema; Gretchen Mol plays the young wife, Ella; and Ray Liotta plays the sinister politician, Mark.
At first, scanning through the credits, listing Catherine Hayos as Librarian, I was thinking the librarian would flash by in a short scene 2/3 through the film. In one respect, I was right — about the timing. That’s about when a library is first mentioned. However, that’s when we find out that Ella — one of the main characters! — has been volunteering at the library. At this point, I had to stop the movie, because (a) it was so terrible, and (b) I had to gear up for paying more attention to Ella and considering the entire movie in her role. Sigh. This is another of those times that I watch bad movies so you don’t have to.
So how do we find out Ella works at the library? Alan/Manuel comes back years later to Ella and Mark’s house — without either of them recognizing him or wondering about the fake-makeup scar running down his face — and their conversation turns to her work. (It’s already been mentioned that she has no children; is her volunteer work considered a substitute?). Here’s a bit of their after-dinner conversation:
Mark: She has her home, her work.
Alan/Manuel: I didn’t know you worked.
Ella: Well, in a manner of speaking.
Mark: She reads.
Ella: I work for the Westchester Library System. It’s volunteer work. Mostly paperwork, and I read for the elderly. It started when Mark was a councilman. I liked it, so I kept doing it.
We also learn that Ella is rereading Madame Bovary (!) to senior citizens, and almost an hour and a half into the film, we are treated (?!) to a scene of this.
What an odd choice, Madame Bovary, but director Paul Schrader is none-too-subtle on the correlation of the novel’s plotline with this movie’s story:
Remembering the ball became an occupation for her. Every Wednesday morning she said to herself as she woke, Ah, a week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I was there! And little by little, the faces became confused in her memory. […] Some of the details vanished, but her longing remained.
The scene then cuts to an outside shot of a library, with red brick and high arched glass. Inside at the Circulation counter, Ella gathers books and places them on a cart behind the desk (see below).
Another female librarian — no doubt the Librarian listed in the credits and your basic Information Provider — is also there, as well as another unidentified female shelving in the back shelves.
Librarian: You better hurry if you’re going to the city with your husband. [grabs a big stack of books]
Ella: Oh, I decided not to. Mark’s all right on his own. Besides, I’ve got to catch up on my paperwork.
Using her volunteer job at the library as cover (!), out of sight of her controlling-yet-clueless husband, Ella uses the library phone to call Manuel/Alan (see below).
You can bet this is NOT going to end well.
And in the end, Ella’s dabbling into librarianship doesn’t mean much to the film, landing it into the Class II category of films. Her (non)occupation is simply a means to an end, in an attempt to demonstrate some kind of depth to her character (too little, too late). Also, the library provides another set piece to the film. But her character’s motivation — she was a bored housewife who dabbled in different charities and classes — actually ends up pretty condescending to real librarians. I think Paul Schrader, also the film’s screenwriter, was trying to provide some kind of arc for Ella, as a woman who finds herself within all the melodrama, so in that sense, she does (marginally) fulfill the Liberated Librarian character type. But it’s all surface, as slight as the rest of this less-than-mediocre film.
Good morning! Y’all know how I love a themed list (see here, here, and here), and this post’s theme, travel, correlates with my personal life. We will be on vacation for a couple of weeks, and I have some fantastic guest posts scheduled, from fellow librarians and library enthusiasts around the world. Stay tuned…
But first, onto travel movies featuring librarians. I’ve arranged them by initial release year (for a bit of time travel?). 😉
Lulu Smith (Barbara Stanwyck), a lonely young librarian taunted by children calling her “old lady four eyes,” quits her library job and sets sail for Havana. Romantic melodrama ensues, including an illegitimate child, a lifelong adulterous affair, murder, and a deathbed pardon — a Liberated Librarian indeed!
A Disney comedy about a typical, all-American family (Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman as the parents) on a “dream” vacation to Europe. A couple of memorable scenes take place in the ship’s library, including one in which the father becomes a bit annoyed with the ship’s librarian over-solicitous manner — and clueless social skills.
You can also read my extended write-up of the film by clicking here.
A quintessential Liberated Librarian role, school librarian Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette) quits her job at a stuffy women’s’ college after being reprimanding for recommending a “too adult” book to a student. Prudence goes to Italy in search of adventure and love. Does she find it? With Troy Donahue and Rossano Brazzi in the cast, you bet!
You can view the film’s original theatrical trailer and read my extended write-up of the film by clicking here.
In a quintessential male Liberated Librarian role, title character Joe (Tom Hanks) is stuck in a thankless job as an advertising librarian for a medical supply company. After learning he has only weeks to live, he embarks on an adventure to sacrifice himself in an island volcano. As you do.
Meg Ryan — in 3 different roles — also comes along for the ride.
Another ship’s librarian, but this one isn’t about recreational travel. Set during the Vietnam War, a young pilot questions bombing missions after his partner is killed. In one short scene, a young officer in the ship’s library allows the pilot to check out a non-circulating issue of National Geographic (rule-breaker!) that contains maps of North Vietnam.
More of a coming-of-age story, this movie focuses on a young prep school boy (Chris O’Donnell), a student library assistant at a New England private school. To pay for a flight home for Christmas, he agrees to be temporary caretaker for an alcoholic blind man (Al Pacino), who takes him on an adventure-filled Thanksgiving weekend in New York City.
Another major Liberated Librarian role, this time involving Egyptologist and librarian Evelyn Carnahan (played by Rachel Weisz in the first two films, and by Maria Bello in the dreadful third fim). In the first — and best — adventure tale, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life, and wreaks some pretty major havoc in the desert. As you do. Evie, her scheming yet lovable brother, and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop him — and get to race some camels along the way. Of course the librarian wins! 😉
In this (terrible) fantasy film, a young queen (Thora Birch) is threatened by the villainous Profion (Jeremy Irons), who plots to turn the dragons into his personal weapons. A young mage, Marina (Zoe McLellan), who works in the library of the Magic School, goes on the run with two thieves after the old mage librarian is murdered. The pen is mightier than the sword, but that doesn’t stop Marina from learning some fight skills along the way. Another typical Liberated Librarian role for this reel librarian.
In this remake, a disillusioned inventor (Guy Pearce) builds a time machine and travels 800,000 years into the future. He encounters Vox (Orlando Jones), a holographic librarian who supplies him with information about time travel and the history and evolution of the planet and its population.
Even though this film is all about time travel, Vox never actually goes anywhere; instead, he is the sole witness to the continuous collapse and rebuilding of civilizations throughout centuries. A quintessential Information Provider, and I would argue, the holographic heart of this film.
Ah, another trilogy, this time with a male Liberated Librarian at its center. In the first, the Librarian for the Metropolitan Public Library’s archives (Noah Wyle as Flynn Carsen) sets off in an adventure to return a stolen artifact. In the second of the TV movies, Flynn searches for King Solomon’s mines, and also finds time for romance with an archaeologist (Gabrielle Anwar). The third (and final?) installment involves a philosopher’s stone, the Judas Chalice, and vampires.
Just a typical day’s work for a travelin’ librarian. 😉
Bon Voyage! Dir. James Neilson. Perf. Fred MacMurray, Jane Wyman, Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley. Buena Vista/Walt Disney, 1962.
Dungeons and Dragons. Dir. Courtney Solomon. Perf. Justin Whalin, Jeremy Irons, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch. New Line Cinema, 2000.
Flight of the Intruder. Dir. John Milius. Perf. Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Brad Johnson, Rosanna Arquette. Paramount, 1991.
Forbidden. Dir. Frank Capra. Perf. Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy. Columbia, 1932.
Joe Versus the Volcano. Dir. John Patrick Shanley. Perf. Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack. Warner Bros., 1990.