Reader poll write-up | Horror of Dracula (scary movie edition 2018)

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll, this week I am analyzing Horror of Dracula (1958)!

Horror of Dracula, the first in the series of Hammer horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, was a critical and commercial success when it was first released in 1958 — and it has remained a go-to classic ever since. The film was directed by Terence Fisher and clocks in at a brisk 82 minutes long.

Horror of Dracula Official Trailer #1 – Christopher Lee Movie (1958) HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube license

This film adaptation differs in several ways from Bram Stoker’s original and groundbreaking source novel. I will not take time out here to enumerate those differences; for a list of them, visit the film’s IMDb.com trivia page. The broad strokes of the main storyline remain relatively intact, however, so I will also not go into detail about the plot. I am also assuming that the reader is familiar with the basic storyline of Dracula and characters like Harker, Lucy, Van Helsing, and Arthur Holmwood.

***SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT***

Meet Jonathan Harker, librarian?

John Van Eyssen, a South African actor who later became a literary agent-turned-movie producer, plays Jonathan Harker. Although he only earned seventh billing in the film’s credits, he essentially opens the film, narrating from his diary upon arrival at Count Dracula’s castle in Klausenburg. (Note that the entire film takes place in Germany.)

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

The diary of Jonathan Harker

His first words:

The Diary of Jonathan Harker. The 3rd of May, 1885. At last, my long journey is drawing to its close. What the eventual end, I cannot foresee. But whatever may happen, I may rest secure that I have done all in my power to achieve success. […] I deemed myself lucky to have secured this post and did not intend to falter in my purpose.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

First glimpse of Jonathan Harker, who poses as a librarian in this Dracula adaptation

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Count Dracula’s castle in ‘Horror of Dracula’ (1958)

Right away, it’s clear that Harker is on a mission.

While Harker eats dinner in the castle and waits for Dracula, he takes out a couple of books from his case. The slim volume with the red cover is Harker’s diary — we will see that volume several times throughout the film. In fact, that diary is so important and onscreen so frequently it’s kind of a wonder the film wasn’t retitled The Diary of Jonathan Harker!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

My self, my diary

A beautiful but mysterious woman enters the room. Harker hastens to introduce himself.

My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.

This is the first mention of Harker being a librarian. And tellingly, the word “new” in that introduction indicates there has been a prior librarian. This thread is never followed, but it’s an interesting idea to think about. (The fan fiction practically writes itself, right?! “To all the librarians I’ve loved and lost, XOXO Dracula” ♥ )

His next words are also interesting:

How can I help you?

What I found intriguing about this line is that this is TOTALLY what a (real) librarian *would* say, but Harker says this line in a completely different context than how a librarian would mean it while at, say, a reference desk. Harker says this in response to the lady’s distress, who is insistent that she is being kept in the castle against her will.

She runs away, and then we get our first glimpse of Christopher Lee’s iconic portrayal of Dracula, as he pauses for full dramatic effect at the top of the stairs. (My husband mused at this point, “Why did capes EVER go out of style?!” 😉 )

Dracula and Harker then “meet cute,” and Harker puts away his diary.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker, and the all-important diary

These next exchanges between Dracula and Harker constitute the bulk of the context of Harker’s position as the librarian.

They continue talking as Dracula shows him up the stairs to his room, when Dracula references his private library collection.

HarkerHow soon may I start work, sir?

DraculaAs soon as you wish. There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed.

When they get into his room, Dracula reveals Harker’s qualifications to be engaged as his private librarian.

DraculaI consider myself fortunate to have found such a distinguished scholar to act as my librarian.

HarkerI like quiet and seclusion. This house, I think, offers that.

DraculaThen we are both satisfied. An admirable arrangement.

Dracula then leaves. But after Harker unpacks a few things, Dracula comes back into the room and gives him a key.

Dracula:  As I shall be away so long, I think it’s better that you have a key to the library, Mr. Harker. You will find the library to the left of the hall.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

The key to the library!

Dracula then leaves for the night, and he utters the last words we will hear him speak onscreen, “Sleep well, Mr. Harker.” (Dracula only speaks 13 lines in the entire film, all to Harker!)

Harker then sits down to write in his diary, and he reveals to the audience the specifics of his mission — and his subterfuge!

At last, I have met Count Dracula. He accepts me as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as I intended. It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours, when with God’s help, I will forever end this man’s reign of terror.

Ending at less than 15 minutes, this is quite an efficient opening sequence.

First fight in the castle library

Harker dozes off in a chair by the fire and awakes when he hears his door knob start to turn. He goes downstairs and into the library, the room opposite the main dining hall. It’s our first peek at the library, and considering what we had heard Dracula say before (“There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed“), the first impression is… underwhelming. There look to be only a few rows of bookshelves along the back wall. I think the fireplace in this set may be larger than Dracula’s private library!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

First glimpse of Dracula’s private library

As Harker enters the room, he is startled to find the mysterious woman behind him.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

I don’t think she’s there to help index the books

Once again, she pleads with him to help her escape Dracula… and of course she turns out to be a vampire! (The three brides of Dracula in the novel are condensed into this sole role.) After she bites his neck, Harker pushes her away as Dracula rushes in through a door in the middle of the bookshelves. Harker attempts to stop Dracula from hurting the woman, but Dracula pushes him away and then grabs his bride and takes her through the door in the library.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Fight in the library!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Harker and Dracula duel in the library

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

There’s a shortcut tunnel in and out of the library!

Lights out

Harker then wakes up on his bed, still fully clothed, and realizes that he has been bit. He takes out his diary again and writes:

I have become a victim of Dracula and a woman in his power. It may be that I am doomed to be one of them; if that is so, I can only pray that whoever finds my body will possess the knowledge to do what is necessary, to release my soul. I have lost a day. Soon it will be dark. While my senses are still my own, I must do what I set out to do. I must find the resting place of Dracula and there, end his existence forever.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Dear diary

He then hides his diary in a boulder outside the house. This detail will be important later!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Hiding the diary before he looks for Dracula’s lair

Harker then discovers a door to an underground lair, where he finds caskets for both Dracula and his bride. He has a wooden stake and hammer, yet his instincts are not as sharp as his stake. Instead of fulfilling his stated mission — “I will forever end this man’s reign of terror” — he starts by staking the woman.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Dracula’s lair

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Stake and shake

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Uh-oh!

Dracula wakes up, and OF COURSE night then falls, right on cue. Harker’s brain starts to work again, as he realizes the mistake he’s made when he finds Dracula’s casket empty. But it’s too late, and it’s (literally) lights out for Harker.

And I know what y’all must be thinking right now… will Dracula’s books NEVER get indexed now?! 😉

The diary of Jonathan Harker

But never fear, at least ONE book doesn’t get forgotten — Harker’s diary!

The next scene takes us into the village, where Dr. Van Helsing, played by top-billed Peter Cushing, enters a local inn. Van Helsing starts immediately asking questions about his friend, but the innkeeper is reticent to tell him any information. Inga, the innkeeper’s daughter, lets slip, however, that she remembers Harker and a letter he had her post.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Do you remember this letter?

The innkeeper and Van Helsing continue talking, and Van Helsing reveals more information about why and how he and Harker were working together.

InnkeeperLook, sir, you’re a stranger here in Klausenburg. Some things are best left alone, such as interfering in things which are beyond our powers.

Van HelsingPlease don’t misunderstand me. This is more than a superstition, I know. The danger is very real. If the investigation that Mr. Harker and I are engaged upon is successful, then not only you, but the whole world will benefit. 

The innkeeper’s daughter then comes back to serve Van Helsing dinner, with a little extra on the side.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Have you seen this diary?

IngaThis was found at the crossroads near that place. He told me to burn it. But your friend was such a nice gentleman, I couldn’t.

This then leads Van Helsing to Dracula’s castle, where he finds the underground lair… and his friend, Harker.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Librarian turned vampire?

As a distraught Van Helsing takes up the stake and hammer Harker had left on the floor, the camera fades.

The next scene reveals Van Helsing informing Arthur Holmwood and his wife, Mina, about Harker’s death. In this film, Arthur is the brother of Lucy, Harker’s fiancée. In this short scene, when learn that Arthur is suspicious of Harker’s death; that Harker died 10 days ago; that Harker was cremated (“As his friend and colleague, he told me some time ago that he would wish it“); that Arthur and his wife will tell Lucy the news; and that Lucy is ill. This film is certainly efficient in its storytelling, isn’t it?!

Thirty-five minutes into the film, Van Helsing reviews Harker’s diary while a recording plays on a gramophone. The recording is Van Helsing’s own voice, detailing the dangers and signs of vampires. Again, a clever way to include a lot of expository details in a short amount of time!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Reviewing Harker’s diary

Van Helsing then starts recording himself, likening vampirism to drug addiction. He also invokes the death of Harker as further reasons to kill Dracula:

Since the death of Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, the propagator of this unspeakable evil, has disappeared. He must be found and destroyed.

So although Harker is no longer physically part of the film, he and his diary remain central to the film and propel the plot forward. This time, it’s personal!

The last mention of Harker’s diary occurs at 47 minutes into the film, when Arthur is upset at Van Helsing and blames him for (SPOILER!) Lucy’s death. Van Helsing gives Jonathan’s diary to Arthur, stating:

I cannot expect you to believe me, but you will I know believe Jonathan. Here are his last words, his diary. When you have read it, you will understand.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

The diary holds the key

Final fight in the castle library

The final scene and showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula occurs five minutes before the end of the film.

As Van Helsing follows Dracula to this castle, they meet up in the library — where else?! — and Van Helsing spies sunlight peeking in through the heavy curtains at one end of a large table scattered with piles of books. Van Helsing dashes across the table and throws upon the curtains. Van Helsing leaps back upon the table — scattering books in his wake, and the librarian in me could not help but exclaim, “Don’t take it out on the books!” — and grabs candlesticks to form a cross and force Dracula into the sunlight. Dracula then starts crumbling to ash in the sunlight.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Final showdown in the library — don’t take it out on the books!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

Aftermath in the library

Why a librarian?

Harker is clearly posing as a librarian, as the line in the opening sequence that Dracula “accepts [Harker] as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as [Harker] intended” reveals. However, it does stand to reason that Harker is a scholar of some merit. It would be too easy to check otherwise, especially as the action takes place in such a limited geographic area. And Van Helsing is a scientist, so it is plausible that he and Harker met because of common scientific, or psychiatric, interests.

The idea that Jonathan is a scholar does, theoretically, provide some kind of plausibility about him being able to pass himself off as a librarian — or rather a freelance kind of indexer or cataloger — for Count Dracula’s private library.

I also wonder if the screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, chose “librarian” for Harker’s reason for being at Dracula’s castle (rather than as a solicitor arranging real estate transactions for Dracula, as in the source novel) as a way for Harker to throw Dracula off the scent; i.e. that posing as a librarian would not arouse suspicion in Dracula, as librarians are generally (and stereotypically) mild-mannered. Of course, that reasoning only works when Harker goes in knowing about Dracula to begin with, as is obvious from the beginning narration of this film.

Ultimately, although Harker has quite a significant role in this film, his attempts at being a reel librarian really only amount to that of being an Information Provider. He is there to provide context for thwarting Dracula, and his diary provides clues along the way for Van Helsing, as well as for the audience.

Final tidbits

Although we don’t really learn much about Harker on a personal level, I was greatly amused by the variety of facial expressions John Van Eyssen packed into his supporting role.

Behold:

The many faces of Jonathan Harker from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)

The many faces of Jonathan Harker

Although Harker’s change of occupation did not get mentioned on the VHS copy I have of this film, I was amused to discover that the first library scene DID make the side cover!

Reel Librarians | Horror of Dracula VHS cover collage

VHS cover of ‘Horror of Dracula’ (1958)

Past classification struggles

I first saw this film years ago — clearly, when VHS tapes were commonplace! — and I have to admit, that I have found it difficult to classify this film, according to my usual “Reel Substance” categories.

I first classified this film under the Class V category, films in which there are no actual librarians, because Harker is posing as a librarian in this film. But that never felt quite right, so I eventually decided to reclassify the film under the Class I category, because the fact that he’s posing as a librarian serves as the catalyst for the rest of the film’s plot as well as Van Helsing’s (re)commitment to destroying Dracula.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love for you to leave a comment and share your thoughts on this or other aspects of Horror of Dracula.

And thanks to everyone who voted for Horror of Dracula! It was fun to revisit this horror classic.

Sources used

Past reader poll winners

Interested in write-ups of past reader poll winners? Check out them out below:

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A reel archivist returns in ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’

Last week, I dived deep into the archivist’s role in 2004’s National Treasure… so it should come as no surprise that this week, it feels fitting to explore the 2007 sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

Here’s a snippet of the sequel’s plot, from the back of the DVD:

This film “[t]akes you on a globe-trotting quest full of adrenaline-pumping twists and turns — all leading to the final club in a mysterious and highly guarded book containing centuries of secrets. But there’s only one way to find it — Ben Gates must kidnap the President.”

So… in the first film, Ben Gates steals the Declaration of Independence; in the sequel, he “upgrades” to kidnapping the President. Okaaaaaaaaaaay.

*POTENTIAL SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

Here’s a trailer for National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets:

NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007) – Official Movie Trailer,” uploaded by soundfan, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

What do I like about the film?

That the word “book” is in the movie’s subtitle, that Helen Mirren co-stars in the sequel (she plays an expert on ancient Native American languages), and that the Library of Congress also gets a co-starring role! 😉

What do I NOT like about the film?

Uh, everything else. The talented cast is wasted in this paint-by-numbers, pedestrian action film. And it’s not just me! The film “earned” two Razzie Award nominations:  Worst Actor for Nicolas Cage and Worst Supporting Actor for Jon Voight.

Bookstore scene:

Eight minutes into the film, we get a wide shot of a scene that’s clearly set in a bookstore (not a library!). The sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), has written a book, and it’s clear he’s trying to cash in on the fame. (But the book he’s written will be an important plot point later.)

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

You’re no Indiana Jones, dude.

However, no one’s really interested in the sidekick.

Trouble in (archives) paradise:

We also learn early one that Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, downgraded from 2nd billing in the first film to 3rd billing in the sequel, boo!) have broken up. But Gates needs to break into her house because of PLOT reasons that have something to do with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the reputation of the Gates family.

As Gates puts it, “I need to get Abigail’s ID. She has access to the Booth diary page.”

Long story short, they do break in, and Gates pulls open Abigail’s desk drawer to grab her ID badge… which now reads “Library of Congress.”

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Abigail Chase’s Library of Congress ID

There’s no explanation given, but it’s clear that Chase has moved from the National Archives to the Library of Congress within the previous three years. My thoughts for the reason why? Because of PLOT. 😉

And OF COURSE Chase comes home early — she’s been on a date! — and we get to see her all gussied up in a fancy dress and heels. She’s been on a date with the “White House curator” (another reel archivist?), and here’s his reaction to her home:

ConnorWow. You work in a museum, and you live in one.

ChasePretty much.

Caught red-handed breaking into her house, Gates tries to smooth-talk his way out of the situation, but Chase sees right through him. The resulting conversation echoes their first conversation together from the first film.

ChaseHand it over, Ben.

GatesI need to see the Booth diary page.

ChaseYou saw the page yourself. There is no treasure map on it.

GatesNo, it’s a cipher leading to a map. Anyone spectral-image the page?

ChaseNo need to. The ink writing on the page is clearly visible.

GatesIt could have been erased or faded. You’re the director of document conservation. You know all this.

ChaseIt’s not up to me. It’s not my department.

Gates: That department reports to your department. Come on. One look under infrared.

I do enjoy this bit of conversation, even if only to get a clue about her new job and title!

The white glove returns!

The next scene takes place in what I assume is a lab in the Library of Congress, where Chase is using a computer and infrared scan. The iconic white gloves, an essential tool in the archivist’s toolbox, do make an appearance, but it’s interesting to note that Chase only has a white glove on her left hand, and not her right hand while she’s using the computer.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Modern archival equipment!

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

White gloves in hand for the reel archivist

This short scene is also notable for its use of modern archivist technology this time — no lemon juice or hairdryers this time! 😉

They do find a cipher on the back of the page — DA DA DUMMMMMMM! —  and she sends the document to the scanner.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Cipher discovered!

Chase takes off the glove on her left hand and pull outs a copy of the document from the scanner. You can see her white gloves in the background of the closeup.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

A reel archivist’s tools: white gloves, tape, and infrared scanners

Here’s how this scene and its importance to Chase’s identity as a reel archivist is described in the “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists” article by Aldred, Burr, and Park:

“In the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), we once again encounter Abigail Chase; she performs one “archival” function: she uses a computer to manipulate a digital image of a page torn from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, all the while either wearing or holding a white glove. This humorous image aside, we learn that she is now working for the Library of Congress and is Director of Document Conservation.” (p. 85)

The book of secrets:

The “book of secrets” is solved midway through the film. Remember Riley’s treasure-hunting book that nobody wanted to read? Turns out, he wrote a chapter about “The President’s Secret Book” and a secret seal. (The trio had discovered this seal on an adventure in London, for reasons of PLOT.)

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

The chapter on the secret book in Riley’s book

It was definitely a moment for “suspension of disbelief” and massive eye-rolling, because the “President’s Secret Book” and secret seal feels like something both Chase and Gates would already know about, right? But at least Riley gets his moment in the spotlight.

Library of Congress connection:

So all of this secret book nonsense leads Gates to, naturally, have to kidnap POTUS in order to confront him about the book and how to find it. As you do. This leads them to the Library of Congress.

PresidentThe book exists.

GatesWhere is it?

PresidentWhere else do you keep a book? In the Library of Congress.

POTUS then gives Gates a code:  XY 234786.

I immediately shouted out at the screen, “It’s a call number!!!!” And of course, it had to be a Library of Congress call number, which start with a combination of letters, followed by numbers. (Dewey Decimal call numbers start with numbers, 000s through 900s.)

And now we know why Dr. Abigail Chase had to switch jobs from the National Archives to the Library of Congress. I had mused it was for reasons of PLOT. And here’s where that plot point pays off…

Library of Congress archivist leading the way:

At 1 hour and 11 mins into the film, Chase leads the way to the Library of Congress. Doesn’t she look totally bad-ass in her black leather jacket? #ArchivistRoleModel

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Library of Congress entry

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Reel archivist in charge and coming through!

RileyWhere do we start?

ChaseXY is the book classification code. Stands for special collections, which means very special books.

Of course the reel librarian/archivist would figure out straight away that it’s a call number!

Note:  The Library of Congress classification system generally follows the alphabet for the first part of its call number combinations, as you can see here, meaning there are potentially 26 major categories of call numbers. However, 5 of the 26 English language letters are not currently used for call number categories, being kept in “reserve” for future use. “X” is one of those letters not currently used for Library of Congress call numbers. (I, O, W, and Y are the other letters not in use.) So it could be possible, theoretically, that the Library of Congress could use the “X” category for secret collections not known to the public.

I loved how, in this screenshot below, you can spot two librarians on duty in the iconic round reference desk in the middle of the Library of Congress Reading Room. This film has both reel archivists AND reel librarians! 😀

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Two reel librarians on duty at the Library of Congress Reading Room reference desk

We also get a shot of another reel librarian, or rather library assistant, opening up a back door and rolling out a library cart.

None of the reel librarians in this scene, however, recognize Chase.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Reel librarian alert, with an iconic prop, the book cart.

Chase leads to the way to the alcove, which is labeled “Deck 7, Q-Z.”

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Library alcove set in the Library of Congress

But the book is not on the shelf, where the call number indicates it would be.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Call number closeup

RileyMaybe someone checked it out.

ChaseWhy would he send us here if there’s no book?

RileyHe probably wanted us to get caught.

Library ladder alert! I will need to add this film to the library ladders round-up post:

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Library ladder alert!

Gates figures out the secret book’s secret hiding place, by use of additional clues POTUS gave him.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

The book of secrets discovered!

Trivia from IMDb.com reveals that:

The area of the Library of Congress, in which Gates finds the Book of Secrets, does not exist as an area of book shelves. These book shelves were constructed as a prop library in a previously empty balcony of the Library’s Main Reading Room, and dismantled after the scenes were shot.

And the director confirms this on the commentary track:

We also had to build this room, in the Library of Congress, true to the style of the Library of Congress. The last thing you want to do is destroy the Library of Congress. If a light falls off her, we’re gonna break a library. So the goal here was just to get this room to look like the Library of Congress.

Although the trio are being hunted down by FBI agents — because of that whole “kidnapping the President” thing — there is still time for humor.

Random FBI AgentSo Gates abducts the president, lets him go, and then heads to the Library of Congress? Why?

FBI Agent SaduskyMaybe he wants to check out a book.

Escape from the Library of Congress:

The trio then try to elude the FBI agents on their tail. Chase leads Riley to the reference desk, where they escape down the secret stairs that lead to the basement of the Library of Congress. And OF COURSE the librarians on duty don’t notice this. Suspension of disbelief, y’all.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Escape through the Reading Room reference desk

The two run past a circular piece of machinery, which you can see in the screenshot below, which the director revealed on the commentary track that he was fascinated by and had to include in the final film:

These are extraordinary places underneath the Library [of Congess]. Go in that door, you down stairs, there’s a whole transport system of books. I mean, look at that. That’s how books get sent around the library on these little elevators that go up and down. All right, I don’t know what that has to do with the library, but we’re shooting it.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Running through the Library of Congress basement

I also loved how when the FBI agents came down the central staircase, a librarian immediately points the way to help them catch the adventurers.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure 2' (2007)

Librarian helper

Don’t mess with librarians! 😉

Reel archivist and librarian roles:

Once again, Diane Kruger’s portrayal of reel archivist Dr. Abigail Chase in this Class I film lands in the Atypical Portrayal category. She is a major character, and we see her both in and out of library and archival space, interacting with modern archival equipment. She is smart, funny, and not afraid to show her flexibility and resourcefulness when needed. She is a reel archivist role model!

The other reel archivist, the White House curator Connor (played by Ty Burrell), serves as both an Information Provider and Comic Relief. And the four other reel librarian cameos glimpsed in the Library of Congress scene all serve as Information Providers.

My personal connection to this movie:

Fun fact! During an American Library Association national conference in Washington D.C. a few years ago and a special tour the Library of Congress provided for librarians only, I actually got to go down those exact stairs and explore the basement of the Library of Congress! It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing! The Library of Congress collection is actually spread out over several buildings, and they are all interconnected by the system of pulleys and conveyer belts you see in the film.

The tour guide was also a librarian who had been at the Library of Congress one of the days they filmed this scene for the film. Cool, huh? 😀

Comments?

Have you seen National Treasure or its sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets? Did you enjoy them and/or the major archivist role in these films? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Get out your white gloves and lemon juice! Reel archivist in ‘National Treasure’

I have been exploring quite a few reel archivist portrayals lately, inspired by articles I have recently read, as detailed in my “Reel librarians vs. reel archivists” post. In all the articles I read about reel archivists, Diane Kruger’s role as Dr. Abigail Chase in National Treasure (2004) was highlighted, so I thought it would be perfect timing to revisit that film, “arguably one of the best known movies with an archival plot line” (Region of PEEL Archives).

So get out your white gloves and lemon juice — this analysis post is a long one!

*SPOILERS AHEAD THROUGHOUT*

Here’s a trailer for National Treasure:

National Treasure Official Trailer (2004),” uploaded by Jake Smith, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Below is a quick recap of the film from the “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists” article by Aldred, Burr, and Park:

“Benjamin Franklin Gates is a treasure hunter searching for the Founding Fathers’ hidden treasure. Clues lead him to the conclusion that he must steal the Declaration of Independence , where Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), National Archives and Records Administration employee, gets caught up in the affair, and helps Gates discover the treasure.” (p. 88)

Diane Kruger gets 2nd billing in the cast, and is the top female lead. According to the film’s IMDb.com trivia page, her character’s name, Abigail Chase “is a combination of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, and Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.”

Here’s how Aldred, Burr, and Park describe the character of Dr. Chase and how she fits into the history of reel archivists who are also main characters:

“Those reel archivists who were main characters were portrayed in an overall positive light, rather than as a stereotype. They were the heroes of the film, solving mysteries, fighting vampires, and trying to help those in need. They were educated individuals with distinct personalities. Abigail Chase of National Treasure (2004) was a curious, intelligent archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration. She was the only reel archivist examined whose level of education was explicit (doctorate), who was the protagonist’s love interest, and was the only female main character in the film. Unfortunately, even though she was positively portrayed, she was never formally identified as an archivist at any time during the film. To the audience, she is nothing more than a knowledgeable treasure hunter.” (p. 84-85)

First archives spotting:

At 23 mins into the film, Gates is trying to alert authorities that Ian Howe (Sean Bean) will try to steal the Declaration of Independence. After getting laughed out of the FBI, Gates and his sidekick assistant, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), set out for the National Archives.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

National Archives building in Washington D.C.

Why the National Archives?

Right before this scene, Gates and Riley discuss who they should contact to help prevent the theft of the document.

GatesWe don’t need anyone crazy. We just need someone short of crazy.

RileyObsessed?

GatesPassionate.

As Buckley states in the “The Truth is in the Red Files” essay: “The next scene shows the two characters waiting for a meeting with the archivist, indicating that the archivist had the requisite ‘passion’ they were seeking” and “Equally telling is the portrayal of the archivist, and the emphasis placed on her passionate dedication to her profession” (p. 121).

But before showcasing her passion, Dr. Chase demonstrates a healthy dose of skepticism.

As Gates and Riley wait, Dr. Chase’s assistant announces that “Dr. Chase can see you now.” This reveals her qualifications immediately but does not reveal her gender. The two men are (annoyingly) surprised that “Dr. Chase” is a woman.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Just a sec, I’m busy

I also love that Chase has a “Rosie the Riveter” poster in her office, which you can spy in the upper right corner in the screenshot below.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Dr. Abigail Chase and Rosie the Riveter — we can do it!

They exchange a bit of small talk. It’s also important to note that Gates has stated his surname is “Brown,” because his family has a less-than-stellar reputation.

ChaseNice to meet you.

GatesYour accent. Pennsylvania Dutch?

ChaseSaxony German.

RileyYou’re not American?

ChaseOh, I am an American. I just wasn’t born here. 

[Note:  I really liked this brief exchange. It not only neatly dispatched the issue of Diane Kruger’s real-life German accent, but also reinforced the idea that there are Americans born abroad who are just as American and as patriotic as those born in the U.S. Full disclosure, I also happen to be an American born abroad!]

In this exchange below, you can also get the sense of how Gates thinks he is being clever in trying to “talk around” Chase, but she’s not having any of it. Her questions are insightful, knowledgeable, and to the point.

ChaseNow, you told my assistant that this was an urgent matter.

GatesYes, ma’am. Well, I’m gonna get straight to the point. Someone’s gonna steal the Declaration of Independence.

Riley: It’s true.

ChaseI think I’d better put you gentlemen in touch with the FBI.

GatesWe’ve been to the FBI.

ChaseAnd?

RileyThey assured us that the Declaration cannot possibly be stolen.

ChaseThey’re right.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Don’t try to play me, dudes. I know what’s up.

GatesMy friend and I are less certain. However, if we were given the privilege of examining the document, we would be able to tell you for certain if it were actually in any danger.

Chase:  [shooting him a knowing look, sits back in her chair] What do you think you’re gonna find?

Gates:  [getting uncomfortable] We believe that there’s an… encryption on the back.

Chase:  An encryption, like a code?

GatesYes, ma’am.

ChaseOf what?

GatesUh… a cartograph.

ChaseA map.

GatesYes, ma’am.

ChaseA map of what?

Gates: The location of… [nervously clears throat, as per the subtitles] hidden items of historic and intrinsic value.

Chase:  [shakes head as though to clear it] A treasure map?

RileyThat’s where we lost the FBI.

ChaseYou’re treasure hunters, aren’t you?

GatesWe’re more like treasure protectors.

ChaseMr. Brown, I have personally seen the back of the Declaration of Independence, and I promise you, the only thing there is a notation that reads, “Original Declaration of Independence, dated… “

Gates:  … “Fourth of July, 1776.” Yes, ma’am.

ChaseBut no map.

GatesIt’s invisible.

ChaseOh, right.

RileyAnd that’s where we lost the Department of Homeland Security.

ChaseWhat led you to assume there’s this invisible map?

GatesWe found an engraving on the stem of a 200-year-old pipe.

RileyOwned by Freemasons.

ChaseMay I see the pipe?

RileyWe don’t have it.

ChaseDid Bigfoot take it? [This line was used in the trailer!]

GatesIt was nice meeting you.

Lasting 3 minutes in total, what is the ultimate point of this introductory scene? It establishes Dr. Chase as smart, credentialed, skeptical, and protective of historical artifacts — plus, she can more than hold her own against men who think they know more than she does. It also establishes a lot of backstory and exposition in a brief amount of time.

This scene is also vital because after this exchange with Dr. Chase, Gates decides he has to steal the document himself, in order to protect it. Riley then tries to convince Gates that stealing the Declaration of Independence cannot be done.

Library of Congress research scene

Cue the obligatory research scene in a library!

At 28 minutes into the film, the camera pans down the iconic Library of Congress Reading Room, to where Riley and Gates are seated at a desk, surrounded by books. And it’s these readily available books that allow them to figure out a way into the National Archives to steal the Declaration of Independence.

Don’t try this at home, y’all. Or in your local public library. 😉

Screenshot collage from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Research in the Library of Congress

RileyI’ve brought you to the Library of Congress. Why? Because it’s the biggest library in the world. Over 20 million books. And they’re all saying the same exact thing: Listen to Riley. What you have here, my friend, is an entire layout of the Archives, short of builder’s blueprints. You’ve got construction orders, phone lines, water and sewage — it’s all here. Now, when the Declaration is on display, ok, it is surrounded by guards and video monitors and a little family from Iowa and little kids on their eighth-grade field trip. And beneath an inch of bulletproof glass is an army of sensors and heat monitors that will go off if someone gets too close with a high fever. Now, when it’s not on display, it is lowered into a four-foot-thick concrete, steel-plated vault that happens to be equipped with an electronic combination lock and biometric access-denial systems.

GatesYou know, Thomas Edison tried and failed nearly 2,000 times to develop the carbonized cotton-thread filament for the incandescent light bulb…. He only had to find 1 way to make it work.

Gates then puts a book on the table.

[Note:  As according to IMDb.com trivia page, “The book that Ben shows Riley in the Library of Congress, that has the information about the Preservation Room, is called ‘The Earth System.’ It is some sort of a textbook, and it is authored by Lee Kump, James F. Kasting, and Robert G. Crane. The ISBN is 0131420593.”]

Gates: The Preservation Room. Enjoy. Go ahead. Do you know what the Preservation Room is for?

RileyDelicious jams and jellies?

GatesNo. That’s where they clean, repair and maintain all the documents and the storage housings when they’re not on display or in the vault. Now, when the case needs work they take it out of the vault, directly across the hall, and into the Preservation Room. The best time for us, or Ian, to steal it would be during the gala this weekend, when the guards are distracted by the VIPs upstairs. But we’ll make our way to the Preservation Rom, where there’s much less security.

RileyHuh…. this might be possible.

They then prepare for the heist… uh, rescue.

Chase in charge:

Riley hacks into a computer system to heat up the glass surrounding the Declaration of Independence, in order to force the document into the Preservation Room. Dr. Chase is immediately alerted to this and sets off, with a male colleague, into the basement to enter the room. It’s clear that Dr. Chase is the one in charge, and we hear her narration as she orders a full diagnostics.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Chase in charge

Of course, Dr. Chase does not realize that she is unwittingly helping Gates and Riley steal the very artifact she is pledged to protect!

A gala, a chase, and Chase:

A gala scene at the National Archives begins at 37 minutes into the film, and we get to see Dr. Chase all dressed up in a classic cocktail dress and kitten heels. Gates hands her champagne for a toast, “Here’s to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right. What they knew was right.” Chase’s eyes narrow as she listens. She knows he’s up to something!

Gates then uses Chase’s fingerprints on the glass of champagne to get into the Preservation Room! Gates does successfully steal the document but also encounters the rival team of (evil) treasure hunters, led by Ian Howe (Sean Bean). As Gates tries to escape through the National Archives — buying a dummy copy of the document in the lobby’s gift shop! — Abby spies Gates and, full of suspicion, follows him.

RileyBen, the mean Declaration lady’s behind you.

Totally unafraid — and undeterred by being called the “mean Declaration lady” — Chase then calls out for security, grabs the rolled-up document, and attempts to run back to the National Archives in heels. Unfortunately, that’s when the baddies grab her AND the document. The lead baddie, Howe, tries to scare her into giving up the document, but she doesn’t give in. Gates and Riley then follow her in a van and rescue her, but Kruger did most of her own stunts in this scene, as evidenced by this brief interview:

National Treasure – Diane Kruger Interview,” uploaded by Novidades Cinema – Movie News, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License

Turning Chase into a fellow treasure hunter protector:

As they speed away from the baddies, Chase is still not having any of it:

ChaseI’m not all right. Those men have the Declaration of Independence!

Gates shows her the real document, meaning that the baddies got the dummy poster copy.

Chase:  [attempting to grab the document] Give me that! Who were those men?

GatesJust the guys we warned you would steal the Declaration of Independence.

RileyAnd you didn’t believe us.

GatesWe did the only thing we could do to keep it safe.

The truth then comes out about Gates’s true identity.

ChaseI want that document, Mr. Brown!

GatesMy name is Gates.

Chase:  Did you just say Gates? Gates? You’re that family with the conspiracy theory about the Founding Fathers? You know what? I take it back. You’re not liars. You’re insane.

The two men then reveal their plan to run chemical tests on the Declaration of Independence to uncover the “invisible map” they had alluded to in their earlier conversation with Chase.

ChaseYou can’t seriously intend to run chemical tests on the Declaration of Independence in the back of a moving van.

RileyWe have a clean-room environment all set up. EDS suits, a particulate air filtration system, the whole shebang.

ChaseReally?

It is nice to hear that Chase had set up a “clean-room environment” to preserve the archival integrity of the document. And that Dr. Chase is impressed by this.

GatesWe can’t go back there. … We need those letters.

ChaseWhat letters?You have the original Silence Dogood letters? Did you steal those, too?

GatesWe have scans of the originals. Quiet, please.

ChaseHow’d you get scans?

GatesOh, I know the person who has the originals. Now shush.

ChaseWhy do you need them?

GatesShe really can’t shut her mouth, can she? Tell you what, look. I will let you hold on to this [hands her the Declaration of Independence in the case] if you promise to shut up, please. Thank you.

While he’s thinking and talking with Riley, Chase is plotting yet another escape. She’s scrappy, isn’t she?! She tries to run, but she doesn’t get very far. And this next bit is the final turn in the screw, when Chase becomes complicit in the treasure hunter adventure.

ChaseI’m not going. Not without the Declaration.

GatesYou’re not going with the Declaration.

Chase Yes, I am. I’m not letting it out of my sight, so I’m going.

As the Region of Peel Archives put it:

“Gates and his assistant Riley Poole manage to steal the document from the National Archives, and while doing so they unwittingly involve Abigail Chase, one of the nation’s archivists. The three of them then attempt to locate the treasure before a ruthless gang of criminals can. It is interesting that while dragged in against her will initially, Chase comes to embrace the adventure, although she, like any good archivist, remains fiercely protective of the Declaration document.”

I was also super impressed by Diane Kruger’s facial expressions throughout these scenes. Her suspicious glare is excellent, and it deepens as she gets drawn into the plot, as evidenced in the screenshots below. The top screenshot is from her introductory scene, the middle is from the gala, and the bottom is when she holds onto the Declaration of Independence case in the van.

Screenshot collage from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Suspicious minds…

Destroying the Declaration of Independence:

The trio then travel to visit Gates’s father, played by Jon Voight, in order to uncover the code on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Instead of a “clean-room environment,” they have a dining table, a hairdryer, and a bowl of lemons. At least they’re wearing white gloves?! No wonder Dr. Chase is looking so guilty.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Looking guilty

Gates then takes a lemon and is about to squeeze it onto the back of the Declaration of Independence. Not so fast!

Chase:  You can’t do that.

GatesBut it has to be done.

ChaseThen someone who is trained to handle antique document is gonna do it.

GatesOk.

ChaseOk. Now, uh, if there’s a secret message, it’ll probably be marked by a symbol in the upper right-hand corner. [rubs a Q-tip on the lemon] I’m so getting fired for this.

GateWe need more juice.

ChaseWe need more heat. [she grabs a hairdryer!]

Chase then handles the hairdryer. With gloves on. As any self-respecting archivist would do. 😉

Screenshots from 'National Treasure' (2004)

The white gloves make it all okay

Chase, Riley, and Gates are definitely in it together now!

Buckley comments on the juxtaposition of a reel archivist protecting and destroying the archival documents at the same time:

“Although the objections of the archivist [in National Treasure] to the use (abuse?) of archival documents are overruled in favour of the entertainment value of high-speed chases and nail-biting cliffhangers, those objections are strongly voiced, and they are heard. While the audience may enjoy the entertaining machinations involved in retrieving the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives, the authority of this document or of its custodians is never in question. The continued importance placed on archival value is evident in the scenes involving the Declaration, as well as in the preservation and display of the Silence Dogood letters in the Benjamin Franklin Archive.” (p. 121)

They make their way to the next clue in the Silence Dogood letters in the Benjamin Franklin Archive as then on to the Liberty Bell and the Independence Hall in Philadelphia. At Independence Hall, at 1 hour and 17 minutes into the film, they unfurl the Declaration of Independence in order to read the next clue, and Gates tries to school Chase on archival etiquette. And bless Dr. Chase’s sassy heart.

ChaseHere, help me.

GatesCareful.

ChaseYou think?

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

The Declaration of Independence returns to Independence Hall!

Calling the shots:

The baddies then show up, and Riley and Chase run off together with the document case, in order to create a diversion from Gates. Lots of ACTION and PLOT and CLUES ensue, but it finally comes down to Chase figuring out how to make a trade with the baddies.

Or as the bald baddy says to Gates, “Ask your girlfriend [referring to Chase]. She’s the one calling all the shots now. She won’t shut up.” Hah! 😀

The final action scene takes place in an underground passageway and vault, where they find the hidden treasure. But what is the most valuable hidden treasure for the reel archivist?

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

The pen is mightier than the sword… a reel archivist admiring scrolls from the lost Library of Alexandria

I loved that Chase was not wooed or awed by the gold and the jewels but rather by the scrolls from Alexandria!

As the Region of Peel Archives states:

The team is ultimately successful, locating the treasure deep underground in Manhattan. Ever the faithful archivist, Chase is not drawn to the gold jewelry, statues, or other artifacts found in the huge underground cavern, but rather to what she identifies as scrolls from the lost Library of Alexandria.

Abigail Chase also made an impression on Ben Gates, as the first things Gates asks the FBI is that “Dr. Chase gets off clean, without a mark on her record.” I really appreciated that Gates (a) put her professional needs first, and (b) referred to Chase by her title and credentials.

Getting the last line:

In the final scene, Chase and Gates and Riley are all talking together in a garden setting. It’s clear Chase and Gates are together, as they are holding hands. Ever the professional, Chase has a book in her hand.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Final scene from ‘National Treasure’ (2004)

Riley then takes off in his new sports car, and Chase has one last surprise for Gates:

ChaseI made something for you.

GatesYou did?

ChaseA map.

GatesWhere does it lead to?

ChaseYou’ll figure it out.

I love that the reel archivist gets the last line in the movie!

Alternate ending in the National Archives:

But Gates did not get the last line in the movie in the original ending, which was changed after the original didn’t test well with audiences.

The original ending was set back in the National Archives, with the Declaration of Independence back in its case. Gates is looking over the Constitution, also in a glass case. Chase has her arm through Gates’s arm, so it’s still clear that they are together.

Screenshot from 'National Treasure' (2004)

Alternate original ending from ‘National Treasure’ (2004)

ChaseWhat are you thinking about?

GatesNothing.

ChaseThere’s nothing on the back of the Constitution.

GatesI wasn’t thinking that. Are you sure?

ChaseI already checked it out. [They laugh together]

This original exchange is funny — and reinforces Chase’s ambition and initiative! — but Riley gets the last line:  “Guys, do you think we could keep some of the treasure this time?

I like that they changed the ending so that the reel archivists gets the last laugh!

The importance of the reel archivist role:

Ultimately, I agree with Buckley, who sums up Dr. Abigail Chase’s role and this popcorn action film this way:

“Buried beneath the stereotypical images are elements of the truth:  that records matter, that protection of the record matters, and that the protectors of the records are dedicated to their profession.” (p. 120-121)

Although the film is full of plot holes and historical errors — see here for a video run-down of all the historical inaccuracies in 13 minutes or less — I enjoyed rewatching and analyzing Dr. Chase’s character, and how refreshingly original and non-stereotypical her character turns out to be. I think a lot of this comes down to how Diane Kruger played the character, with an innate sense of feistiness, as a woman who is used to dealing with men who underestimate her. She does NOT underestimate herself, and I agree that Dr. Abigail Chase is ultimately a positive portrayal of a reel archivist. I would also argue, although she is not technically a reel librarian (I do, however, choose to include both reel archivists and reel librarians in my research), that she does fit into the category of Atypical Portrayals, and her importance to the film lands it in the Class I category.

Continuing the conversation:

Have you seen the National Treasure film, or it sequel? What do you think of the Dr. Abigail Chase character and her role as a reel archivist? Do you find her portrayal stereotypical, or not? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used:

Christmas with a reel librarian in ‘My Side of the Mountain’

I have mentioned the reel librarian from My Side of the Mountain (1969) before, most recently in my library ladders round-up post. I had forgotten, however, that there was a Christmas scene in that film, so it’s perfect timing to spend some quality holiday time with a reel librarian.

Shall we?

The movie plot and the book it’s based on

My Side of the Mountain (1969) is based on the Newbery Honor Award-winning book of the same title by Jean Craighead George, published a decade earlier in 1959. The librarian, Miss Turner, is a character in both the book and the movie adaptation. I haven’t yet read the book, although I have read other titles by that same author. I had watched this film years ago, but I recently rewatched the film for purposes of this post, borrowing the sole copy available throughout our various regional library systems.

Here’s a copy of the DVD cover, and I was happy to see the librarian is included on the back cover!

Reel Librarians | DVD front and back covers of 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

DVD front and back covers of ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (1969)

The basic plot? An independent-minded boy, Sam, leaves home to spend a year in nature, like his hero, Henry David Thoreau. It’s a coming-of-age story, one in which Sam learns about himself while he learns how to survive in the wild.

Reel Librarian | Title screen for 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Title screen for ‘My Side of the Mountain’ (1969)

Where does the librarian fit into this plot? Sam travels to the public library in one scene, where librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. Using the information he learned at the library, Sam then captures and trains a peregrine falcon to hunt for him. Wiggins receives third billing in the cast list, and she shows up at crucial times throughout the rest of the film.

Public library scene

Almost a half hour into the film, Sam announces to his pet raccoon, Gus, that he’s “got to go into town… to read up on falcons.” The nearest town is Knowlton, which is a village around Lake Brome in Quebec, Canada (and also the inspiration for Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” mystery series!). The movie was shot on location in and around Knowlton, and the public library scene lasts about five minutes.

Here is a look at the interior of the public library, which is encased in wood panelling and lined with bookshelves. The librarian is seated at a large wooden desk, which has piles of books stacked on it, and she appears to be filing cards.

Reel Librarians | Public library interior in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Public library interior

Sam walks in and goes straight to the librarian and does not waste any time asking for what he needs. Here’s how their reference interview goes:

SamDo you have any books on falcons?

Miss TurnerFalcons?

SamEspecially the peregrine falcon.

Miss TurnerPeregrine falcons. Peregrine falcons were famous in England, I do believe [leading him into the stacks]. As a matter of fact, they were known as hunters for kings [reaches up on a library ladder to a top row]. If my memory serves me right, and it usually does. [hands him a book]

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of a librarian on a ladder in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Librarian on a ladder alert!

Miss TurnerHere’s another one that might be of help [hands him another book]. The only trouble is, you can’t take these books out. They’re just for reference.

SamOh, that’s ok. I can sit here and use them.

Miss TurnerWell, have fun.

SamDo you think I could borrow a pencil?

Miss Turner Of course. My name’s Miss Turner [sits down and takes off her glasses]. If you want anything, just call out. [hands him a pencil]

SamThank you.

Miss TurnerWhat’s your name?

SamSam. [says reluctantly]

Miss TurnerSam.

Sam then takes the books and goes into another room, a reading room lined with more bookcases and a table in the center.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of reading from 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Reading room and reference book closeup

Sam then goes back into the main room of the library, back to the librarian, to return his books. He continues their conversation.

Sam:  I guess I got everything I’ll need. Those birds sure are interesting. If I could only catch me one.

Miss Turner:  [quoting Proverbs 1:17] ‘Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.’

Sam:  Yeah, I guess so. Those birds are darn smart.

Miss TurnerYes, they are, Sam. I often go up on McCracken’s Hill and watch them soaring over the mountains. I’m an old birdwatcher from way back.

Sam:  I guess that’s how you knew about peregrine falcons right off. Well, goodbye.

Miss TurnerSam… you’ll need a leather glove.

My reaction to this reference interview? The exchange sounded pretty spot-on to me, and it is one of the better reference interviews I’ve witnessed onscreen. In a brief amount of screen time, Miss Turner manages to:

  • listen to Sam and anticipates his needs (the “leather glove” comment at the end)
  • share relevant and information about herself to make a personal connection with a patron (her name and her interest in birdwatching)
  • quickly establish trust and interest in the patron’s needs (her knowledge about the history of peregrine falcons)
  • establish trust with the viewer by establishing trust with Sam
  • get across the idea that she is intelligent — quoting the Bible and knowing about peregrine falcons — in a way that is not condescending or off-putting
  • efficiently explain how reference books are different from other books in the library

Throughout the scene, she is warm and friendly.

Plus, we know that she has a life outside the library, because we learn that she loves the outdoors and birdwatching! This scene plants a seed that will pay off later in the film.

Reel Librarians | The reel librarian, with and without her glasses, in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Miss Turner, with and without her glasses

I thought it interesting to note that we first meet Miss Turner when she has her glasses on — to visually establish the fact that she’s a librarian? However, she takes them back off again as soon as she’s done finding the books, and we never see her wear her glasses again.

Library lady

Soon after Sam captures and trains a peregrine falcon, who he christens “Frightful,” a traveling folk singer, Bando (played by Theodore Bikel), stops by his campsite. Bando sticks around for a number of weeks and teaches Sam more survival skills.

Bando is a collector of folk songs and also is no stranger to spouting quotations, either. He even quotes from Shakespeare at one point.

A little over an hour into the film, when Bando is packing up to leave before winter sets in, Sam asks him to post a letter he’s written to his family. Bando then quotes from Proverbs 25:25: “As cool water to the thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

Sam is instantly reminded of the librarian!

SamYou know, sometimes when you get like that, when you start quoting something that you read in a book, you remind me of someone else.

BandoOh? Who’s that?

SamOh, it’s this library lady down in the village. She’s that way.

BandoMy, oh, my. I didn’t think you’d ever communicate with any human animal. Apart from myself, of course.

SamWell, I only went down there once, to read up on falcons. She knew quite a lot about them, too. She belongs to some kind of bird-watcher’s club and all. She’s a great lady. You’d like her, Bando. I did. I even trusted her. And I almost told her my plan and all.

Miss Turner definitely made an impression! “Library lady” and a “great lady” all in one… 😉

Birdwatching

About 10 minutes later after Bando sets off, Sam walks to the edge of the woods and announces to Frightful that he’s going into town. “Even Thoreau left his retreat at Walden Pond to go into Concord sometimes.

As Sam ties Frightful up to a tree stump, he spies Miss Turner walking along a path, birdwatching. (She’s dressed in an outfit — a cardigan and skirt — that seems more suitable for working in the library than for birdwatching… perhaps she stopped by the trail after work?)

Miss TurnerI was just on the trail of a beautiful speckled grouse, and I think it got away from me somehow.

SamYou remember me?

Miss TurnerYes, I think I do. Aren’t you the Peregrine falcon boy? You do look different. Your hair’s so long now. Did you manage to observe those falcons at close range? I was only wondering because I found another very good book on them. I mean, if you’re interested.

SamOh yes. You see, I caught one. Oh, I take the best care of it. I’ve even got it out here with me now. Say, would you like to see it?

Miss TurnerOf course I would.

Sam is so excited he grabs her hand to show her to Frightful.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of the librarian meeting Sam's falcon in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Librarian and falcon meet cute

Miss TurnerShe’s a beautiful bird, Sam.

SamWait til you see her in the sky. [Frightful takes off and swoops back down to Sam.]

Miss TurnerShe’s glorious. She loves you, too… Come on down, take a look at the new book I found.

SamWell, I don’t get into town much, and I like to be alone.

Miss TurnerIn any case, if you ever want to, come and see me. Please. As Cicero said, ‘We are never less alone than when completely alone.’

Later, in his journal, Sam writes:

I walked down the mountain today, when who did I meet on the outskirts, but Miss Turner, out on a hike. I showed her Frightful. It was good talking to her.

I couldn’t help but include the (hilarious!) facial expression on Miss Turner’s face at the moment Frightful swoops back down onto Sam’s leather glove. Frightful lives up to its name! 😉

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of the reel librarian's facial expression in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Miss Turner’s startled facial expression!

Once again, Miss Turner demonstrates her warmth and kindness in this brief exchange. She shows that she remembers Sam — and his reference question! — and that she is observant, through her remark about his hair. And although off duty and outside the library, she is still a librarian! She has still been thinking about his reference question about peregrine falcons and set aside a book if he needs more information.

Up to this point, the librarian’s role has basically been that of an Information Provider. She has literally provided information to Sam about peregrine falcons, which he has made good use out of.

But this reel librarian is already something extra by this point — Miss Turner’s warm, friendly, caring personality goes beyond that of an Information Provider. She is not there to just find a book and provide a pencil. Rather, she is also there to provide a human connection with Sam — to remind Sam that he is not all alone in this world and that he has resources outside the forest. Like Bando, she is a vital link to the outside world, where there are people who care about him.

Librarian to the rescue

Fifteen minutes from the end of this 100-minute-long film, Sam gets snowed in inside the tree he has made into his home. Just as oxygen is running out as Sam tries to dig through the snow, guess who comes to the rescue? Bando and the librarian, of course! (The film does do a nice job of setting up this exact scenario.) Miss Turner is outfitted more appropriately this time for the outdoors, wrapped up in a long hooded coat, ski wear, gloves, and snow shoes.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of the librarian and snow from 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Librarian to the rescue!

Christmas with a reel librarian

Best of all, Miss Turner comes stocked with a picnic basket filled with a Christmas feast. Librarians are *always* prepared, y’all. RESPECT.

And in a scene that has to be unique amongst all reel librarian cinema, the librarian has Christmas dinner in a tree! “That was the best Christmas dinner I ever had.

Bando also plays Christmas carols, and Miss Turner even joins in the singing!

Reel Librarians | Christmas with the reel librarian in 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Christmas with a reel librarian

Miss Turner also reveals that she kept thinking about Sam:

Miss TurnerI couldn’t get you out of my mind, Sam. I kept trying to think, how to get up to see you after the big storm.

BandoAnd then I showed up. See, I remembered about the library lady.

Miss TurnerI invited myself along.

SamI’m glad you did, Miss Turner.

Bando then reveals that quite a few people are worried about him, as he takes out newspaper clippings from his pocket. Sam then decides that it is time for him to go home, and that he’s learned a lot about himself. They then set off back down the side of the mountain.

The significance of the reel librarian character

Although Miss Turner may start off as what seems to be a typical Information Provider character type, she ends up, in my opinion, as an Atypical Portrayal of a reel librarian. She goes above and beyond her role as a librarian to provide research help. We learn of her interest in the outdoors in her introductory scene, and we then see her outside the library, birdwatching and hiking. She demonstrates that she really cares about her patrons, by remembering them and continuing to anticipate and think about how to meet their needs even after they have left the library. A true librarian at heart, and a truly positive portrayal of a reel librarian.

I had previously added Miss Turner to my “Hall of Fame” list, and here’s my write-up on that page:

An admittedly odd film (a 12-year-old boy leaves home and spends a year alone in nature—but that’s okay because he left a note to his parents and told them not to worry?!), but it does contain one of the most caring and thoughtful of all reel librarians. A public librarian helps a young boy find information about peregrine falcons and goes out of her way to find him more resources. She also gets a few scenes outside the library, where we see that she is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast.

I have ultimately classified this film in the Class I category, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot. Miss Turner definitely fits that description. The information she provides is vital to Sam’s survival in the woods, of course, but the librarian’s personal connection with Sam also proves vital to Sam’s survival.

The reel librarian ends up a savior and a hero.

The reel/real library

I wanted to end this post with a brief spotlight on the real library in Knowlton, Quebec. Below are screenshots of the exterior of the library, as seen in the film, as well as a close-up of the library’s sign (which you’ll notice, is in both English and French, as befitting a Canadian locale).

Reel Librarians | Screenshots of the public library from 'My Side of the Mountain' (1969)

Screenshots of the public library and sign

It’s obvious that the exterior of the library served as the library location in the film, as the brick exterior seen in the film exactly matches the drawing of the library highlighted on the library’s website:

Info about the real-life public library in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada

Website info and drawing of the public library in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada

I have to wonder if the library sign in the movie is one they created especially for the movie, however, since the real public library in Knowlton is known by the name of “Pettes Memorial Library,” as you can see above. And the library has always gone by this name, as according to the library website, it was “built and bequeathed to the people of Knowlton and the Township of Brome by Narcissa Farrand Pettes in memory of her late husband, Nathaniel Pettes.” According to this booklet, “The History of the Pettes Memorial Library,” available online, Narcissa Pettes’s donation specified the name of the library, “a building known as the Pettes Memorial, which forever hereafter is destined for a free public library.” The Legislature in Quebec also passed an act in 1894 “incorporating the Trustees under ‘An Act to Incorporate the Pettes Memorial.'”

I also found it interesting that this library, founded in March 1894, was the first free rural library in the province of Quebec. You can read more about the history of the library’s founding here on the History section of the library’s website.

Sources used:

History.” Pettes Memorial Library, 2017.

My Side of the Mountain. Dir. James B. Clark. Perf. Ted Eccles, Theodore Bikel, Tudi Wiggins. Paramount, 1969.

My Side of the Mountain,” Wikimedia Foundation, is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0.

Rotherham, G. A. “The History of the Pettes Memorial Library,” 1983.

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 (it’s earned a 17% rating thus far on Rotten Tomatoes, yikes), 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 Weicz as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan, a librarian and Egyptologist), I thought it a perfect opportunity to follow their advice!

Reel Librarians | 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, 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):

Reel Librarians | Snapshot of my original notes for the 1999 version of 'The Mummy'

Snapshot of 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,” uploaded by Hammerfall541, 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,” uploaded by deanxavier, 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,” uploaded by rpetteson, 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),” uploaded by King Achilles, 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.

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

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!