In the action thriller Ricochet (1991), lifetime criminal Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) seeks revenge on the hotshot detective (Denzel Washington) who put him away.
Early in the film, Blake meets “Mr. Book Man,” the prison librarian (Don Perry), in the hospital. While pushing a library cart and delivering books to inmates, Mr. Book Man stops to chat with Blake and tries to cheer him up:
Young fella? Look at you! Lying there like a lump on a log. So what if you’ve made a few mistakes? You can change your life for the better. Don’t you have anything to live for?
Their second meeting years later in a prison parking lot doesn’t go so well. Blake is breaking out of prison and is in disguise as a lawyer. But Mr. Book Man, who has gotten out of his bookmobile, recognizes Blake and calls out:
Hey there, young fella. Do you remember me? The books in the hospital?
His good memory earns him a bullet in the chest. Therefore, this reel librarian in Ricochet (1991) literally did die in the line of duty! 😦
To add insult to injury, Blake then uses the bookmobile as his getaway vehicle! The bookmobile also meets a grisly end. 😦
Wong the Sorcerer Librarian in Doctor Strange (2016)
Forewarned, this one has a twist.
In Doctor Strange (2016), part of the Marvel Comics Universe saga, surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels to an Asian monastery in hopes of healing his hands, which were crushed in a terrible car accident. The monastery librarian, Wong (Benedict Wong), is also a Master of the Mystic Arts, and he teaches Strange several important lessons throughout. The film also literally begins and ends in the Kamar-Taj monastery library.
Near the end of the film, right before the final face-off, Wong heads off to defend the Hong Kong sanctum. He leads the other sorcerers in battle, and Wong goes outside to head the villain Kaecilius off before he can enter the Hong Kong sanctum.
We don’t get to see their ensuing fight; instead, by the time Strange arrives on the scene, the Hong Kong sanctum has fallen, and Wong has been defeated, dead in the rubble. His chest has been punctured by a rebar.
But here’s the twist:
Wong get resurrected.
How? Strange knows how to turn back time, so he uses that spell to bring Wong back to life.
Therefore, Wong the Sorcerer Librarian does technically die in the line of duty… but he also lives to fight another day. We get to see him helping to save the day in both Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). (I think it’s fair to say that Wong is one of my very favorite reel librarian characters. ❤ )
I thought it would be fun to take a brief sojourn down memory lane and revisit posts that I published back in September 2011, the first month that I launched Reel Librarians.
As my 8th blog anniversary occurred in-between my regular posting schedule, I thought a blog-iversary two-fer was in order. I published my first post on Reel Librarians back on September 19th, 2011. When I started this website and blog, I was regularly writing and publishing 3 new posts a week (!!!), but I was also working part-time back then. Fast forward 8 years, and I am now a full-time, tenured faculty librarian, and I’ve scaled back to 2 new posts a month.
I thought it would be fun to take a brief sojourn down memory lane and revisit posts that I published back in September 2011, the first month that I launched Reel Librarians. Note, I didn’t publish my first post until September 19th, the third week of September. But in the 12 remaining days of September 2011, I published 6 (!!!!!!) new posts.
Below are first paragraph excerpts from each of those first 6 posts, with links to the full posts so you can explore each one. Enjoy!
Where do I begin? A love story. (Sept. 19, 2011)
Welcome to my new site about librarians in film! For me, librarians + movies = love! Technically, this site is a new (and hopefully more permanent) incarnation of my previous “Reel Librarians” site, which I had developed off a previous work site and server. But the site’s back now – hopefully, better than ever. Please check back often or sign up for RSS or email updates.Welcome to my new site about librarians in film!
It’s a wonderful movie, truly. It’s a Wonderful Life. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.
In Rome Adventure (1962), Suzanne Pleshette plays Prudence Bell, an assistant librarian at the Briarcroft College for Women. The first scene sets the stage: Prudence lands in trouble for letting a young girl read Lovers Must Learn, a book considered “too adult” for this school. The board has banned the book (this also serves as a clever advertisement for the real book, which the film was based on, and its author, Irving Fineman, who is name-dropped in the first five minutes) and reprimands Prudence in the process. Prudence, however, stands up to them and defies their rules. She delivers a speech about the importance of love — what’s hiding in every girl’s heart, that need to be loved — and quits the library to follow the book’s advice. She says, “This is Independence Day!” We are on her side for standing up to the board — and, in effect, standing up against censorship. [Plus, this week is the annual Banned Books Week, so this post is right on target!]
Mistaken identity in ‘Spellbound’ (Sept. 28, 2011)
How should a woman react when she is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian? To her credit, Dr. Constance Petersen, played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, takes it in good humor. The moment does inject a bit of comedy (although at the expense of librarians!) in the otherwise suspenseful and dramatic film, Spellbound (1945).
The ‘Year of the Librarian’ continues (Sept. 30, 2011)
Since the 1970s, the study of “popular culture” has increased in academic relevance, but I believe the image of librarians in media really began to be looked at as a serious topic of research after 1989. That was when ALA declared it the “Year of the Librarian” in its January 1989 issue of American Libraries. The article, below, and theme focused on the media image of librarians and “public awareness efforts on the library professional for the first time.”
Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford, who were married in real life, reprised their roles as Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple in a joint cameo appearance in the 1965 comedy The Alphabet Murders. The film was based on Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel The ABC Murders.
Interesting casting choices abound in this film:
Tony Randall, an American actor, played the role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (!)
The very first actor to portray Poirot onscreen, Austin Trevor, played a cameo role in the film; this was also Trevor’s final film.
Robert Morley plays Hastings in the film, and Morley also starred alongside Margaret Rutherford in the second of the Miss Marple films, Murder at the Gallop (1963)!
The cameo scene with Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple lasts a total of 30 seconds. Poirot and Hastings descend a building’s front steps when Mr. Stringer and Miss Marple, in the middle of a conversation about the ABC murders, walk along the sidewalk and up the same stairs.
Miss Marple: I cannot see why they’re having such difficulty. The whole thing is very clear, Mr. Stringer.
Mr. Stringer: I quite agree, Miss Marple.
Miss Marple: The solution is ABC to anyone with half a brain cell.
During this brief scene, we hear strings of the distinctive theme song from the Miss Marple movies, another inside reference!
Remember, this film was released in 1965, one year after the final Miss Marple film, Murder Ahoy! (1964). The IMDb.com Trivia page for Murder Most Foul (1964) reveals there had been rumors about making a fifth Miss Marple film, possibly one based on Christie’s 1942 novel The Body in the Library, but this never came to pass. But perhaps their cameo in this film was a way to extend potential interest in continuing the series?
I find it extremely interesting that the screenwriters took care for each character to say each other’s names — Miss Marple, Mr. Stringer — so that the audience could be “in on the joke” for their cameo roles. However, the two actors were not included in the film’s credits.
Of course, we would have no idea that Mr. Stringer is a reel librarian character if we were not already familiar with MGM’s Miss Marple movies, Murder, She Said (1961), Murder at the Gallop (1963), Murder Most Foul (1964), and Murder Ahoy! (1964). Although the name “Miss Marple” is recognizable on its own, being one of Agatha Christie’s iconic recurring characters, Mr. Stringer’s name would not be. At his wife’s insistence, his role as the village librarian sidekick was created just for MGM’s Miss Marple movies.
Due to the very brief time onscreen in The Alphabet Murders (1965), Mr. Stringer’s reel librarian role in this film gets downgraded to the Class IV category, films in which librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue. He serves as Comic Relief in this comedy.
Last but not least, here’s a YouTube video of Mr. Stringer’s cameo and final screen appearance of his memorable reel librarian character:
The Alphabet Murders. Dir. Frank Tashlin. Perf. Tony Randall, Robert Morley, Anita Ekberg. MGM, 1965. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie.
“I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.”
In the early 1960s, MGM made a series of Miss Marple comedies starring Margaret Rutherford as the indomitable sleuth. The films were loosely based on Agatha Christie’s works, and the author herself was decidedly NOT a fan of these comedies. Love it or hate it, Rutherford does make the role of Miss Marple her own! The films also feature Rutherford’s real-life husband and actor, Stringer Davis, in the role of village librarian Mr. Stringer, a role created just for the films.
Because all the films follow a basic formula, I thought it made sense to do one big post comparing-and-contrasting aspects and themes from the entire series. (It has taken me WEEKS, y’all, to watch all the films, rewatch them for note-taking and analysis purposes, create photo collages, and finally put together this post. All for the love of reel librarians. ❤ )
Therefore, heads up:
This is a MARATHON post, so buckle up for the reel librarian (bicycle) ride
Potential spoilers ahead
Below is the trailer for the first (and best) in the series, Murder, She Said, so you can get a sense of the jaunty and lighthearted feel of the movies. You can first see Mr. Stringer 49 seconds into the trailer below. The main musical theme is also so catchy, you’ll find yourself humming it for days. No, it’s just me, then? 😉
Let’s start with the basics
First things first, let’s provide some context with the basics of each film. All the films were directed by George Pollock and starred Margaret Rutherford played the role of Miss Marple. All the films also featured Stringer Davis as village librarian Mr. Stringer and Charles Tingwell as Inspector Craddock.
Murder, She Said (1961):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel, 4.50 from Paddington, aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, featuring Miss Marple
Movie plot: While traveling by train, Miss Marple witnesses the strangling of a woman in the carriage of a passing train. With the aid of her friend, Mr. Stringer, she figures out the body must have been thrown off the train near Ackenthorpe Hall. When the police don’t take her seriously, she takes a job as a housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, After the Funeral, aka Funerals are Fatal — which features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Movie plot: When Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer are out soliciting donations for a charity, they visit the reclusive Mr. Enderby, arriving at his estate just in time to witness his death. Miss Marple, suspicious that Mr. Enderby’s death is not accidental, becomes even more suspicious when his sister, Cora, is murdered. When the police don’t take her seriously, Miss Marple books a stay at a riding school/hotel run by one of Mr. Enderby’s heirs in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Most Foul (1964):
Source: Based (very, very loosely) on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, aka Blood Will Tell — which, again, features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Plot: Mrs. McGinty, a former actress, is found murdered, and her lodger is suspected of the crime. During the trial, Miss Marple is the lone holdout on the jury, believing the lodger innocent. When the police don’t take her seriously — are we sensing a pattern here?! — Miss Marple joins a regional theatre company in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s characters and not on any particular source novel. However, there are plot similarities to Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel, They Do It with Mirrors, aka Murder with Mirrors, which features Miss Marple as the central sleuth.
Plot: Shortly after joining a local trust’s board of directors, Miss Marple witnesses the death of a fellow trustee. She doesn’t believe his death is an accident, and she thinks there’s something fishy about HMS Battledore, a ship the Trust purchased for the rehabilitation of young criminals. When the police don’t take her seriously — what else is new?! — she boards the ship in order to conduct her own investigation.
Mr. Stringer’s screen time
As I watched each movie in the series, I kept track of how much screen time Mr. Stringer had in each movie, to see if his role ever increased with subsequent films.
Murder, She Said (1961)
Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Murder Most Foul (1964)
Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Stringer’s screen time (mins)
Stringer’s screen time (%)
17% of total runtime
22% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
As you can see from the table above, Mr. Stringer’s role definitely increased after the first film, in which he was only onscreen for a total of 15 minutes, or 17% of the film’s total runtime. In subsequent films, Mr. Stringer’s screen time remained pretty consistent, between 18-19 minutes, or 21-22% of each film’s total runtime.
Mr. Stringer’s role
Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is not a character borne of Agatha Christie’s imagination, yet he is a recurring character in each film of the series. Why, then, was this character created for the series?
In a biography of Margaret Rutherford, Andy Merriman also wrote that Rutherford, in her 70s during the filming of the series, insisted on having her husband appear alongside her.
By all accounts, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford were devoted to each other, with Davis accompanying his wife wherever and whenever she was filming. Their relationship was a lifelong love story. They married in 1945 after a 15-year courtship, and they were together until Rutherford’s death in 1972. Davis took care of Rutherford in her last years, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1973, only a year after the love of his life passed away.
Mr. Stringer’s role stays consistent throughout the series, and his character and personality never change. Although a supporting character, his role is vital in moving the plot forward. He is there as a companion to Miss Marple, a steady, adoring, supportive sidekick. He is a supporting character who fulfills two major character types in each film:
Information Provider — Miss Marple sends Mr. Stringer on various research quests in each film, so he literally provides information to her (and the audience).
Comic Relief — He plays the “straight man” in their comic relationship. Miss Marple makes jokes or says something outrageous, Mr. Stringer reacts, the audience laughs. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Film critic David Cornelius also highlights Mr. Stringer’s comic role:
Therefore, each film in the series ends up in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role.
A librarian by any other name…
Although Mr. Stringer plays the village librarian, does the word “librarian” ever actually get said out loud in the series? In a word… NO. The closest we get is in the second film, Murder at the Gallop (1963), when Miss Marple describes Mr. Stringer as “custodian of the local library.”
Mr. Stringer as Information Provider and the importance of research
As I mentioned above, Mr. Stringer’s successful research quests always save the day. It is clear that Miss Marple trusts Mr. Stringer. Because Miss Marple trusts him — and I would argue also because he’s a librarian — the audience trusts him. Mr. Stringer makes it possible for Miss Marple to have her “aha!” moment at the end of each movie. I will now highlight Mr. Stringer’s major research quests in each film.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder, She Said (1961):
At 53 minutes into the first film, Mr. Stringer bicycles to Miss Marple’s house for a nightcap (a “small beer”) and plotting. They’re interrupted by Inspector Craddock, who tries to warn them off the case. (It doesn’t work.)
Miss Marple: Well now, how did you get on at the probate registry?
Mr. Stringer: Really Miss Marple, I think in view of what the inspector said —
Miss Marple [interrupting]: Did you see the will?
Mr. Stringer: Yes.
Miss Marple [while uncorking the beer]: What did it say?
Mr. Stringer: Well, old Mr. Ackenthorpe’s father obviously didn’t get on very well with him.
Miss Marple: I’m not surprised at that. Go on.
Mr. Stringer: You see, the house and the income from the family fortune are his, but he can’t touch the fortune itself. That’s the first point.
Miss Marple: Yes? [hands Mr. Stringer a beer.]
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
At 1 hour and 5 minutes into this film, Mr. Stringer is in Miss Marple’s hotel room. From underneath her bureau, Miss Marple takes out a painting that’s all wrapped up in paper and string and hands the parcel to Mr. Stringer.
Miss Marple: Now you are, please, to take this to London to the art dealers. They will appraise it. And get it back here as quickly as you can.
Mr. Stringer: All right, if it will help.
Miss Marple: Well, I’m hopeful it will not only help but clinch the whole matter, so to speak.
When Mr. Stringer comes back from London, they continue their conversation.
Miss Marple: What did you find out?
Mr. Stringer: You were quite right, Miss Marple. It’s worth at least 50,000 pounds.
Miss Marple: I knew it. Then it was that picture after all.
Mr. Stringer: It certainly was.
Miss Marple: Excellent. We can now proceed with certainty.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Most Foul (1964):
At 45 minutes into the third film, Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer meet in a public garden and sit on a bench.
Miss Marple: It seems to me what whomever Mrs. McGinty was blackmailing must have had some connection with the production of this play in 1951, and is with the Cosgood Company.[…] Now, what organization would be likely to keep a record of all professional theatrical productions?
Mr. Stringer: The censorship people, I suppose.
Miss Marple: To be sure. The Lord Chamberlain’s office in London. I should be obliged if you would go there posthaste and inquire into the history of this play. Where it was produced in 1951, who was in it, and so on.
Mr. Stringer: Very well, Miss Marple. I’ll take the next train up.
About 10 minutes later, Mr. Stringer then calls Miss Marple up from a public phone booth in order to relay the results of his research. He looks extremely pleased with himself!
Mr. Stringer: You were right, Miss Marple. Remember September was put on in 1951, a tryout performance at Pebblestone-on-Sea.
Miss Marple: Very interesting. Particularly as the author claims that he’s only recently completed the work.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, well, that may have been embarrassment. You see, the Lord Chamberlain’s office particularly remembers it because it was booed off the stage halfway through the second act.
Miss Marple: That doesn’t surprise me in the least. The point is, was there anyone we know in it?
Mr. Stringer: I have obtained a full cast list, and in it occurs the name of Margaret McGinty.
Miss Marple: What? Really? Excellent. Now, tell me, apart from Mr. Cosgood, who else in this company was connected with this production? No one? You sure? Yes. All right, Jim. I was just thinking. Of course, it’s possible that someone has since changed his or her name. Look, Jim. Drop the cast list in to me at Westward Ho!, will you? Thank you. Goodbye.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
A little over 52 minutes into the fourth and final film, Miss Marple breaks some bad news to Mr. Stringer, that he’s a suspect in a murder! But after she gives him some brandy to help with get over the shock (“Me? A murderer?”), she has a research-related task for him to do.
Miss Marple: I found this envelope in Compton’s sea chest, and it had been steamed open. […] Mr. Stringer, you must return to Milchester at once. Go and see the secretary of the trust, Miss Pringle, and ask her what kind of communication from the ship would likely to be contained in an unusual envelope of this sort.
Mr. Stringer: But, Miss Marple, the police. I thought you said I was to lie low.
Miss Marple: Well, use the back stairs, turn up your collar, and pull down your cap. Goodbye. Good luck.
Mr. Stringer gets the requested information back to Miss Marple in an unexpected way. He ties the evidence around a rock, rows out to the boat Miss Marple’s staying in, and then throws the rock through her window. Only problem is, his aim is too good; the rock hits Inspector Craddock in the head, and Craddock passes out. AWKWARD.
Miss Marple: Do you know who threw that rock? My friend Mr. Stringer.
Inspector Craddock: Mr. Stringer?!
Miss Marple: Yes, and you’ll thank him for it. I found this envelope in Compton’s cabin after his death.
Inspector Craddock: Assaulting a police officer, withholding information… again.
Miss Marple: Now, don’t be petty, Chief Inspector. This type of envelope is used for the ship’s quarterly report to the trustees, and Mr. Stringer has enclosed the latest example for our perusal.
Mr. Stringer as Comic Relief
While Mr. Stringer rarely makes a joke himself — at least, not intentionally — he does regularly find himself in the most ridiculously awkward situations. Behold:
Comic relief in Murder, She Said (1961):
In Murder, She Said(1961), he dresses up as a train worker, and for his efforts, he nearly gets run over by a train. Poor Mr. Stringer.
He then (awkwardly) assists Miss Marple — “Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?” — so she can take a peek over a wall.
Comic relief in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Early in Murder at the Gallop (1963), Mr. Stringer once again gets roped into physically assisting Miss Marple so she can have another peek into somewhere off limits, this time the room in which the heirs of the murdered man react to the contents of his last will and testament.
And now for the comic moment that even made this film’s trailer — Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer DO THE TWIST. As you can see below, Mr. Stringer realllly gets into it!
Comic relief in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Early in Murder Most Foul (1964), Miss Marple calls on the sister of the deceased woman, using an excuse of collecting things for the church jumble sale. Hidden in the jumble? Mr. Stringer! He’s hiding until called upon to pop out and pretend to be a bookseller, so that Miss Marple can snoop while the sister is distracted. As you do.
Comic relief in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
In the final film, Murder Ahoy! (1964), Mr. Stringer is tasked with following a group of delinquent boys who come ashore. His ingenious hiding place? A tramp’s boat! He gets discovered almost immediately by the tramp, who demands to know “why a grand gentleman like yourself who’s able to live in a lovely hotel like that is wanting to sleep in my bed.”
There are a few library scenes in the series, but Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is only seen in an actual library in the first film. Fittingly, this scene serves as our introduction to this reel librarian.
Public library scene in Murder, She Said (1961)
This scene occurs at 7 1/2 minutes into the film, after Miss Marple gets upset at Inspector Craddock’s insinuation that she’s been hallucinating a murder. She grabs three books stacked up on a bench in her hall and walks to the library.
We then see Mr. Stringer talking with another patron, a hard-faced and no-nonsense woman, who is inquiring about a newly published mystery novel.
Mr. Stringer: I’m sorry, Mrs. Stainton, The Hatrack Hanging, Falcon-Smith’s latest, I’m afraid we haven’t received our copy yet.
Mrs. Stainton: Plain inefficiency. Anyway, I want to know the moment it comes in.
Mr. Stringer: Of course, of course, Mrs. Stainton.
When Miss Marple comes into the library, his face lights up. We see more of the library as she walks by rows of bookcases and past a young man in the background flipping through a book. Mrs. Stainton stalks off upon Miss Marple’s arrival, and Mr. Stringer reveals his favoritism — and his ability to lie!
Mr. Stringer puts up a finger — in effect, shushing Miss Marple. He then pulls out a book from under the desk, The Hatrack Hanging.
Mr. Stringer: I’ve been keeping it for you.
Miss Marple pulls him into the stacks and asks if he thinks she’s unstable or given to hallucinations. Mr. Stringer seems properly horrified at the suggestion. (His job, first and always, is to reassure and support Miss Marple, and he does an excellent job of it.) Miss Marple then reveals to the audience why she and Mr. Stringer are qualified to investigate the murder on their own.
Miss Marple: Mr. Stringer, how many detective novels would you say we have read over the years?
Mr. Stringer: Impossible to say. Certainly many hundred.
Miss Marple: Yes. Which gives us, wouldn’t you agree, a certain knowledge of the criminal mind?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, most assuredly.
Miss Marple: Well, this is where we put that knowledge to the test.
Mr. Stringer: We?
Miss Marple: Yes. We.
(I would also argue that this short exchange also explains why Mr. Stringer’s character was made a librarian, because OF COURSE a librarian would have ready and steady access to detective novels.)
Mrs. Stainton interrupts this bit of camaraderie when she walks back to the front desk and discovers The Hatrack Hanging book! Uh-oh…
Mrs. Stainton: So it has come in!
Mr. Stringer [oh-so-innocently]: Oh, has it?
Mrs. Stainton [to Miss Marple]: Well? I think I have first call.
Miss Marple: I don’t think you’ll like it, Hilda. Too obvious. The mother did it, of course.
Mrs. Stainton: How could you possibly know that? The book has only just come in.
Miss Marple: It always is with Falcon-Smith — a deprived child, you know.
Miss Marple then sails away, clearly the winner of this verbal cat fight. She calls back to invite Mr. Stringer for tea, which he eagerly accepts.
Still smiling, Mr. Stringer picks up a stamp, as Mrs. Stainton looks sourly back at Miss Marple.
The entire library scene lasts only a couple of minutes, but we learn several things, including:
The library is used by a variety of patrons of different ages.
The library must have a well-stocked collection of detective and mystery novels.
The library set is filled with books without call numbers. (Sigh.)
Mr. Stringer engages in occupational tasks, such as stamping.
Mr. Stringer is a very capable liar.
Private library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Around 15 minutes into the final film, Miss Marple connects the first murder to the plot in a book entitled The Doom Box. But this time, the book doesn’t live in the village library, but rather Miss Marple’s private library.
Miss Marple: Propel me please, Jim.
Mr. Stringer pushes the stepladder forward, as Miss Marple scans titles. (Her private library is beautiful, isn’t it?!) Also, library ladder alert!
Miss Marple: Oh, here we are. The Doom Box by J. Plantaganet Corby. Here it is. Now listen. “And so, me lad, declared Sefton Harricott: Jacob Rushton did indeed suffer a heart attack, but it was induced by a noxious substance in his snuff.”
Mr. Stringer: Oh, Miss Marple, I’m beginning to —
Miss Marple: Wait. “The murderer, continued Harricott, made one error. He failed to remove the incriminating residue from the snuff box.” A mistake our murderer no doubt imagines he has not made.
Mr. Stringer: Oh. But why should anyone want to do such a thing?
Miss Marple: That, Mr. Stringer, is the question. Poor Mr. Ffolly-Hardwicke had just returned from our ship. He had something important to say. He never said it. I wonder. Yes, that’s where the motive must lie. Mr. Stringer, there is something going on aboard the Battledore.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, goodness.
This scene is vital for propelling the plot forward (just as Mr. Stringer propels Miss Marple forward, hah! 😉 ). It leads Miss Marple to the boat to investigate up close… and it leads us to the next library scene!
Ship’s library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
A little over an hour into the final film, Miss Marple is back to sleuthing and skulking again at night. There’s a ship’s library, which is clearly marked on the door (although there is no hint of a librarian on board the ship, not even when the crew introduced themselves earlier to Miss Marple).
The ship’s library looks pretty extensive, as multiple bookcases can be glimpsed behind Miss Marple. Even though, once again, there are NO CALL NUMBERS (sigh), Miss Marple easily finds the The Doom Box book on the shelves!
This is a vital clue, as it proves Miss Marple’s theory about the first murder. She later uses this same book to catch the killer in the final act!
Books, book, books
Beyond the library, books themselves are quite important throughout the series — providing information, clues, and sometimes even alibis! It makes sense to me that in a series with a recurring reel librarian character, that books themselves also tie in heavily into each film. Let’s explore how books are further highlighted in each film.
Books in Murder, She Said (1961)
During the opening scene when Miss Marple travels on the 4.50 train to Paddington train, she is reading a pulp mystery novel, Death Has Windows by Michael Southcott. Turns out, this was a fictitious novel mocked up by the production team! This establishes the tone early on that Miss Marple loves to read mystery and detective novels. But that same pulp mystery novel, with its lurid cover, also leads the train attendant to think Miss Marple’s dreamed what she says she saw!
This theme continues, as near the end of the film, Miss Marple has a paperback copy of Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. This time, the book is a real one, a novel Christie wrote that was published in the UK in 1939 and published as Easy to Kill in the U.S.
At almost 43 minutes into the film, Miss Marple calls up Mr. Stringer, who is in his pajamas in bed (scandale!), and we get to glimpse a tall stack of books on his bedside table. What I especially loved is that the book on top of the stack is entitled A Hell of a Woman.
Indeed, Miss Marple is a hell of a woman. 😉
Books in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
At 23 minutes into the second film, Inspector Craddock is interviewing Miss Milchrest, the companion to the murdered woman.
Inspector Craddock: When did you see her last?
Miss Milchrest: Just before I went to the library.
True, this is a direct reference to a library — and an indirect reference to books in said library — but I laughed out loud that a trip to the library was being used as an alibi!
And was she referring to Mr. Stringer’s library? That part is never clearly stated, but it’s possible.
Books in Murder Most Foul (1964)
I’ve already mentioned how early on in this third film, Mr. Stringer hides amidst the jumble sale items in a wagon while Miss Marple distracts the murdered woman’s sister, Gladys. Mr. Stringer then poses as a bookseller — a most appropriate ruse for a librarian, right?!
Gladys: Well, you are from the insurance, aren’t you?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, no, madam. No. I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind. I was wondering if you’d allow me to show you the new Wonder Book.
Although Mr. Stringer first gets mistaken for an insurance salesman (hah!), he successfully distracts Gladys from Miss Marple snooping around upstairs. After Miss Marple comes back down the stairs, he hurries to help her out and leaves the Wonder Book with Gladys.
Almost an hour after that scene, at 1 hour and 15 minutes into the film, Miss Marple visits a theatrical agent, Mr. Tumbrill, who opens up a book to a large photograph of an actress. This photograph, along with Mr. Tumbrill’s information, provides a clue for Miss Marple to narrow down the potential murderer.
Books in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
We’ve already gotten a lovely view of Miss Marple’s private library, as seen when she figures out the first murder was described in a book she has a personal copy of, entitled The Doom Box.
Here are other titles that can be glimpsed in Miss Marple’s private library:
The Doom Box comes up again and again throughout this film!
At 1 hour and 10 minutes, Miss Marple describes the (second) murder to Inspector Craddock, and this murder is also outlined in The Doom Box! This conversation gets cut short when Stringer beans Craddock with a rock.
Then, five minutes later, everyone is going ashore to participate in the festivities for Trafalgar Day. Everyone except for Miss Marple, of course. As everyone crowds around her state room, she displays the copy of The Doom Box that she took from the ship’s library.
This is a rattling good detective yarn, you know. I borrowed it from the ship’s library. I know only one of you has read it, but I suggest that all of you do. I’ve just got up to the most exciting part, when —. Well, I hope I won’t be giving too much away when I say the answer is a mousetrap.
This book is a (mouse)trap, of course, to catch the killer!
Mr. Stringer’s relationship with Miss Marple
Miss Marple turns down two offers of marriages in the series (!!), neither one from Mr. Stringer. However, she alludes to Mr. Stringer while turning down an offer of marriage in Murder, She Said (1961):
Miss Marple: If ever I do embark on such a venture, there is someone else.
And in the very next scene, as Miss Marple leaves, Mr. Stringer is there to pick her up. (Always.) As they drive away, we see a sign a young boy hung on back of the car, a “Just Married” sign. Their close, affectionate relationship is front and center from the very beginning (and end!).
Throughout the series, we also get treated to many closeups of Mr. Stringer looking adoringly at Miss Marple. It’s really quite touching, and this recurring theme brings in a very sweet and human aspect to this reel librarian character.
And it wasn’t until I put the above collage together that I realized that Mr. Stringer is almost always seen, from the audience’s perspective, to the right of Miss Marple. A visual affirmation that he is her right-hand man? Makes me think of Wong in the Doctor Strange movie…
Mr. Stringer’s style
Margaret Rutherford provided her own wardrobe for the Miss Marple movies, rewearing many of the same items throughout the entire series. I’m particularly enamored of her wool cape, complete with attached scarf. We see this cape for the first time as she heads out to the village library.
Mr. Stringer matches Miss Marple, tweed for tweed. (To my mind, it’s also highly likely that Stringer Davis is wearing his own clothes for the role, as his real-life wife did, but I have not read that confirmed anywhere.) As Mr. Stringer, he almost always dresses formally, in a suit and tie, befitting his professional status as a librarian. He also often wears a clock pin; ever practical and punctual, our Mr. Stringer. (Can you tell I have a soft spot for this reel librarian character? Bias alert!)
As you can see in the collage below, even when he’s washing dishes, he keeps his tie on! And when he’s bicycling or out and about, he often changes into a natty knickerbocker tweed suit and cap. And when he’s off duty, like when directing a community play in Murder Most Foul (1964), he’s still in tweeds, but in a jacket with a more unstructured cut. A little old-fashioned, sure, but he never wears anything impractical or inappropriate to the occasion.
Mr. Stringer in action
Although there is only one major scene of Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, working in an actual library, we do get to see him being quite active outside the library. We see him riding a bicycle in Murder, She Said (1961) and a tricycle in Murder at the Gallop (1963). He also dons shorts (!) for a jog in Murder Most Foul (1964), and he gets in some nighttime rowing in Murder Ahoy! (1964).
Dare I suggest that Mr. Stringer has turned out to be one of the most physically active reel librarians ever?! Reminder: Stringer Davis was born in 1899, which means he was in his 60s during the filming of this series. #GoStringer
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions
Stringer Davis is a joy to watch in these films, due to his expressive face. I’ve already mentioned the sweetness he conveys in his adoring gazes at Miss Marple. Even in a scene in which he had little to no dialogue, he shines because his face is always fully reacting in the moment. We get treated to multiple full-screen closeups of Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in each film in the series. Bless.
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder, She Said (1961):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s words of wisdom
Here are a few final, memorable quotes from this reel librarian character (beyond all the “Dear me” and “But, surely” remarks that often punctuate his conversations with the more forcible Miss Marple). Mr. Stringer’s character has been described as timid; I would venture that he is often the voice of caution and common sense.
Quotes from Murder Most Foul (1964)
I thought it advisable to get into peak condition for any emergency. Is there one already?
I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind.
I’ll leave you the book, Mrs. Thomas. Brood on it, will you? Brood on it.
Quotes from Murder at the Gallop (1963)
I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.
I fear we’re taking the grave risk of seeming inquisitive.
Miss Marple: ‘Tittle-tattling busybody,’ I believe were his words. Mr. Stringer: No. Yours.
Quotes from Murder, She Said (1961)
Miss Marple, whatever it is: No, no, no.
Miss Marple, prudence demands a retreat.
I agree with Mr. Stringer, prudence demands a retreat here, too, regarding this blog post. We librarians gotta stick together! 😉
Any final thoughts you would like to add this deep dive into Mr. Stringer’s role in MGM’s Miss Marple series of movies? Have you seen one or all of the movies? Please leave a comment and share!
This is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals
Usually, when I write the phrase “dragon lady librarian,” an image of an older, scowling librarian who’s white and female and metaphorically spewing fire and brimstone at an innocent library user comes to mind, yes? Ah, the power of stereotypes. (SIGH.)
But the dragon lady librarian in 1986’s classic comedy The Golden Child is very different from that stereotypical depiction above. Let’s investigate, shall we?
First, here’s a trailer for the film, in case you’re unfamiliar with the film, or it’s been awhile. Eddie Murphy plays as Chandler Jarrell, a man who finds missing children. The Golden Child, a young boy in Tibet who has mystical abilities, is kidnapped by evil men led by Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance). A young woman, Kee Nang (Charlotte Lewis), enlists Chandler’s help and calls him “The Chosen One,” because he is destined to find The Golden Child, and therefore help save humanity, yada, yada, yada… you know the drill, right?
***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS***
The dragon lady librarian shows up three times in the film, at critical points in the plot, at 17 minutes, 45 minutes, and 78 minutes in this 93-minute long film.
Librarian scene #1
At 17 minutes into the film, Chandler has just come back from scouting out a house where the body of another child he was looking for, a young girl, was found. There seems to be a connection to the gang who kidnapped the Golden Child, as there are Tibetan graffiti markings on the walls and a bowl of oatmeal soaked with the girl’s blood. (I first watched this movie as a kid, and the blood-soaked oatmeal in this movie always creeped me out the MOST. Shudder.) Chandler asks Kee why they were trying to feed the child blood-soaked oatmeal, and Kee responds that she doesn’t know but that “There is somebody we could ask about the blood.”
Chandler and Kee next walk into a store that looks to be an apothecary, and they walk into the back and downstairs into a brick basement.
In one corner is a three-paned screen, and we can see the shadow of a woman sitting, and she is wearing a headdress. We also get a glimpse of the woman’s face through the left side of the screen. The mysterious woman smokes (what I presume to be) opium through a long-handled instrument.
Let’s listen in on the exposition:
Chandler Jarrell: Tell me about the Golden Child.
Kala: Every thousand generations, a perfect child is born, a Golden Child. He has come to rescue us.
Chandler: Rescue us from what?
Kala: From ourselves. He is the bringer of compassion. If he dies, compassion will die with him.
Chandler: So if something happens to the kid, the whole world goes to hell?
Kala: The world will BECOME hell.
Chandler: Ah! Not far from that now. Listen, who would want to take the kid, anyway?
Kala: Those who want evil rather than good.
Chandler: Can you be a little bit more specific?
Kala: We do not know who took him.
Chandler: Well, could you tell me why the people that took him are trying to make him eat blood?
Kala: Nothing in this world will hurt him, but if he were to pollute himself with anything impure, he would become vulnerable.
Chandler: Ok. So if they… if he eats the blood, they could kill him.
Kala: Do you have any other questions?
Chandler: As a matter of fact, I do. What are you doing this weekend? Because your silhouette is kickin’.
We then hear her rattling in frustration at his impudence. And librarians everywhere feel her pain. Sexual harassment is NOT COOL, y’all. Step off. And this librarian is not afraid to voice her displeasure and incredulity:
Kala: THIS is the Chosen One?
It’s interesting to note that we don’t actually know yet that she’s a librarian. But in two minutes, she’s already conducted a reference interview, filled in lots of exposition, and revealed the high stakes for the quest. I also love that although she’s clearly an unconventional librarian, she says what any librarian would say: “Do you have any other questions?“
Next, we see Chandler and Kee walking and talking, and Kee fills in the exposition about Kala:
Chandler: You people certainly do put on a good show. Where’d you find her at?
Kee: She’s the librarian at the Secret Repository at Palkor Sin. She was flown here to help us. She’s over 300 years old.
Chandler: And how’d she manage that one?
Kee: One of her ancestors was raped by a dragon.
Thank you, Kee! Now we know that Kala is literally a dragon lady librarian! And clearly, she is knowledgable and highly respected. Who else but a librarian would the audience trust? 😉
It’s also interesting to note here that two women actually played Kala. Shakti Chen, a Chinese actress, played Kala, while Marilyn Schreffler, an American actress, voiced the character.
Librarian scene #2
Kala’s expertise is needed again after Chandler learns about the Ajanti Dagger, a weapon the baddies plan to use to kill the Golden Child.
So at 45 mins into the film, Chandler returns to Kala.
Kala: So. It is Sardo Numspa.
Chandler: What’s this knife?
Kala: The cross-dagger of Ajanti. He brought it to this world to kill the second Golden Child, the bearer of justice. His death was a great loss.
Doctor Hong: Sardo needs it to kill the child, but you can use it to save him.
Kala: You must obtain the knife and lure Numspa into freeing the child. But you must never let him get possession of the knife.
In this 30-second scene, Kala once again provides important details (the main baddie’s name), backstory (the knife), the high stakes (the killing of a previous Golden Child), PLUS directs Chandler onto the next quest. Librarians are so efficient!
Librarian scene #3
At 1 hour and 18 minutes into the film, Chandler has successfully completed his quest to obtain the Ajanti dagger and returned to Los Angeles, but Kee has died in a fight with the baddies. Chandler, filled with grief and anger, returns to the brick basement, this time taking Kee’s body with him.
Kala: You can save her. The Golden Child can bring her back, as long as sunlight still shines on her body.
Chandler: No more magic. No more riddles, all right? She’s dead!
In anger, Chandler rushes up to the screen and throws it aside. We get our first true glimpse at the dragon lady librarian, scales and all.
Kala tries to block Chandler’s gaze with her arms, and he looks terrified (rightly so, because that move was seriously disrespectful!). Dr. Hong then sternly redirects Chandler’s attention and reiterates Kala’s final task for Chandler, that he has until nightfall to the find the Golden Child and save Kee.
My final thoughts
Although we know the dragon lady librarian is named Kala — by the credits and by the captions — her name is never actually mentioned onscreen, at least not in the scenes featuring her. And we are told by someone else, Kee, that she is a librarian; without that line of vital dialogue, we would never know Kala is a librarian, as she’s never seen in a library or with typical library props.
I’m pretty confident in stating that this is the only reel librarian with a bag of props that include a screen, a headdress, and a long-handled cigarette holder. #LibrarianGoals 😉
Ultimately, although Kala is a most unconventional reel librarian by way of accessories and backstory, she serves a relatively conventional reel librarian role, that of an Information Provider. Right on cue throughout the film, she provides vital plot points and helps propel the plot forward.
Kala is seen onscreen for less than 5 minutes total, yet her presence is quite memorable. Ultimately, I have classified her reel librarian portrayal as Class III, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with memorable or significant scenes.
Have you seen The Golden Child? Was it a comedy staple during your childhood? Do you remember the dragon lady librarian? Please share your thoughts below.
The Golden Child. Dir. Michael Ritchie. Perf. Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis. Paramount, 1986.