Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s

My criteria is quality of the films themselves and the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films.

Continuing my picks for best librarian films per decade… Like I said in my Part I post, Best librarian films by decade, 1910s-1950s, my criteria is two-fold:  

  • quality of the films themselves (differing from my Hall of Fame list, although there are some overlaps) and
  • the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films.

The reel librarian depictions aren’t necessarily flattering in my following choices, but they are noteworthy and/or influential. As you’ll see, I haven’t limited my choices to just one per decade (it’s just too difficult!).

1960s:

The Music Man (1962)

The Music Man (1962), a classic musical, includes one of the most indelible reel librarian roles (and songs) in Marian the Librarian. Includes a young Ron Howard!

Related posts: Marian or Marion? ; Revisiting favorites | ‘Marian or Marion?,’ May 28, 2012 ; Marian and Ms. Jones ; Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods ; Updating the list of Best Picture nominees featuring librarians

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

A quirky and sensitive film, I like Goodbye, Columbus (1969) better each time I see it. A lot of it has to do with Richard Benjamin’s leading man portrayal of Neil Klugman (and let’s be honest, Ali MacGraw’s entire wardrobe). The film is refreshingly honest — even about his uncertain attitude about his future working in the public library.

Related posts: The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) is a tense, dramatic, stylish film in black and white. Yet nothing in this film is so clear-cut — especially not Richard Burton’s role as Alec Leamas, a spy who falls from grace (and into a library job). The film also boasts the excellent Claire Boom as fellow librarian Nan.

Related posts: War films and reel librarians ; Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

1970s:

Foul Play (1978)

Foul Play (1978) boasts a glowing Goldie Hawn as public librarian Gloria Mundy. This screwball comedy is cheerfully fun and tongue-in-cheek, with charming performances by the whole cast (Dudley Moore is HILARIOUS in a small role). And Goldie Hawn is so resourceful with an umbrella!

Related posts: Librarians save the day! ; The Liberated Librarian (ladies, you’re up)

Love Story (1970)

Again with Ali MacGraw and a fantastic wardrobe — this time, she’s a student library worker (although not for long) in Love Story (1970). Although never as deep or significant as it thinks it is, the film still has an enduring charm with effective performances by the lead actors and a stirring theme song. Seriously, once that melody gets in my head, it takes a day or two to get it out.

Related posts: Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods ; Stylish female reel librarians

Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green (1973) takes a totally different direction into a dystopian future. Sure, it’s slightly cheesy and grainy, but it all kind of works. The future of libraries and librarians (called Books) — literally the last-standing guardians of history and knowledge — is bleak yet stirring in its own way. This movie makes you think.

Related posts: Reader poll of runner-ups, Fall 2016: ‘Soylent Green’ and the Books ; Reel librarians in political-themed films ; Battle of the sexes

1980s:

Major League (1989)

Major League (1989) still stands up, minus the dated ’80s hair and wardrobe — it’s addictively rewatchable! And bless Bob Uecker. I always enjoy Rene Russo’s turn as special collections librarian Lynn Wells — smart, beautiful, sassy, and a former world-class athlete. A winning combo.

Related posts: Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989) ; A reel librarian returns in ‘Major League II’ (1994) ; Is reading a spectator sport? Librarians in sports movies ; Notable additional occupations for reel librarians ; Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?

Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters (1984) features less-than-desirable librarian roles — a frumpy librarian scared out of her wits by a spinsterish librarian ghost and an uncaring boss — but that opening scene in the New York Public Library sure is memorable! And it’s a good movie. The comedic timing, Sigourney Weaver, the soundtrack, the tagline, and the final villain? Classic.

Related posts: A closer look at the reel librarians in the original ‘Ghostbusters’ ; Who you gonna call? Not the librarians in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) didn’t really impress when it came out. Maybe the expectations were too high. To succeed, this kind of story has to rely on tone and atmosphere — and this film has that in spades. It is a genuinely scary scene when the evil Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce) threatens town librarian — and eventual hero — Charles Halloway (Jason Robards).

Related posts: Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films and thrillers ; ‘Libraries raised me’ – a tribute to Ray Bradbury

1990s:

I know, it seems I can’t make up my mind, as I keep picking more and more films for each decade. But looking back, the ’90s were uncommonly deep in significant reel librarian roles!

Party Girl (1995)

One of my all-time faves, of course, is Party Girl (1995). It’s so unique in so many ways, with its insider look into and hilariously tongue-in-cheek frustrations about libraries and librarians (see clip below). I could quote from this film for days. And Parker Posey in the title role is a joy to behold, so sassy and fearless.

Related posts: Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’ ; Stylish female reel librarians

The Mummy (1999)

I appreciate genre films that revel in its genre and have fun with it. The Mummy (1999) is an adventure film with lots of humor — and damn proud of it! (Not so much the sequels.) And Rachel Weisz makes me smile every time in her drunken “I’m a librarian” campfire scene.

Related posts: Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’ ; Librarians save the day! ; Reel librarians on library ladders

Shooting the Past (1999, TV movie)

You may not be familiar with this British TV movie, but it’s a real gem. Shooting the Past (TV, 1999) is about a special collections library — with priceless photo archives — and its oddball librarians who fight to save it. A suspenseful and intriguing film, it boasts one of the most complex reel librarian roles ever, Lindsay Duncan as head librarian Marilyn Truman.

Related posts: What’s in a name?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Ah, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Another totally rewatchable film that never gets old. Although it’s a bit long — that’s probably why it’s such a popular move to air on TV during any kind of holiday — I can watch it at any point and get caught up in the story, as well as the universally excellent acting. And I tear up each time I think of Brooks, the old prison librarian.

Related posts: Updating the list of Best Picture nominees featuring librarians ; A list of banned reel librarian movies

2000s:

The Librarian TV movie trilogy

They’re cheesy, I know, but the TV movies of The Librarian trilogy (The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, 2004; The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines, 2006; The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice, 2009) are so much fun! Although the plots are pretty predictable, and the special effects not-so-great in places, Noah Wyle’s performance (as the Liberated Librarian male prototype, Flynn Carsen) is worth the effort.

Related posts: ‘Quest for the’ Liberated Librarian ; All about ‘The Librarian’ ; A promotional peek behind ‘The Librarian’ ; The Quotable Librarian 4 ; Stylish male reel librarians

Before Night Falls (2000)

In an Oscar-nominated role, Javier Bardem stars as real-life poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (2000). He gets his start by winning a writing contest sponsored by the National Library — the prize is a job at the library! A beautiful and complex film — but be warned, it’s a wrenching journey.

Related posts: Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

The Station Agent (2003)

The Station Agent (2003) is a quiet film, heartfelt and quirky. It’s about a man born with dwarfism (Peter Dinklage, always a first-rate actor) who just wants to be alone. But of course, that’s just not possible in a small town. Starting with this film, Michelle Williams — although in a minor role as public library assistant Emily —  really began her quest to break out of Dawson’s Creek and develop into a serious actress.

Related posts: Librarians save the day!

Best librarian films by decade, Part I: 1910s – 1950s

My criteria is quality of the films themselves and the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films.

The end of the year, and it’s time for every web site and blog to send up some “best of” lists. This blog is no exception. Plus, I’m a listmaker. It just feels natural. So here are my top choices — for right now, at least — for best librarian films per decade.

My criteria is two-fold:  

  • quality of the films themselves (differing from my Hall of Fame list, although there are some overlaps)
  • the prominence and depiction of the librarians in those films

The reel librarian depictions aren’t necessarily flattering in my following choices, but they are noteworthy and/or influential. As you’ll see, I haven’t necessarily limited my choices to just one per decade (it’s too hard!).

This is Part I, through the 1950s. Enjoy!

1910s:

It appears that the major librarian films of this decade are all presumed lost. However, from the thorough write-ups in The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 (culled from primary source docs and reviews), I would say the following films are the most noteworthy:

A Wife on Trial (1917) and its sequel, The Wishing Ring Man (1919)

A Wife on Trial (1917) and its sequel (!) The Wishing Ring Man (1919), feature a librarian in a leading role. Phyllis is a children’s librarian who dreams of a rose garden. The film is based off The Rose-Garden Husband, a bestseller in 1915.

Related posts: Librarians lost ; Reviewing ‘The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999’

A Very Good Young Man (1919)

Bryant Washburn plays LeRoy Sylvester, a public librarian and the title role in A Very Good Young Man (1919). In fact, in a decidedly rare occurrence, the leading man’s occupation was changed from a brass bed factory worker in the original stage play to a librarian in the film!

Related posts: Reel librarian firsts ; Librarians lost

1920s:

The Blot (1921)

The Blot (1921) boasts one of the best women directors of that time period, Lois Weber, who also one of the highest-paid directors of the era, period. The tone of this silent film is both sensitive and intelligent, with a touching story about poverty and societal disregard for intellectual professions as well as effective acting, including Claire Windsor as public librarian Amelia Griggs. The film was generally well-received upon its release, earning good reviews in Variety and Motion Picture News. It’s an important film to showcase early independent film — and good works by early women directors — as well as highlighting librarians as efficient, pleasant, and well-liked (although lowly paid) members of the community.

Related posts: Silence is golden in the silent film ‘The Blot’

1930s:

Forbidden (1932)

Forbidden (1932) features a spirited performance by Barbara Stanwyck as public librarian Lulu Smith, who quits her library job and sets sail for Havana, en route for romantic adventure. Deliciously melodramatic!

Related posts: Reel librarian firsts ; Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods

Fast and Loose (1939)

I have a soft spot for Fast and Loose (1939), a comedic mystery in the Thin Man style, this time with the dynamic duo of Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. It includes two male librarians as supporting characters — and fellow murder suspects! — and the rarely featured world of archival manuscripts and private libraries. Although not on the same level as the Thin Man series, the film is still witty and fun. Keep an eye out on TCM for this one.

Related posts: Private libraries + librarians onscreen, reader question follow-up ; Literary librarians, reader question follow-up

1940s:

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Of course. Was there any doubt this would make the list? It’s a great film, one of the best ever on ANY list. Sure, I sigh and roll my eyes at its Spinster Librarian fate alternative for Mary, but I still love the film. A noteworthy, if not flattering, entry for the reel librarian.

Related posts: ‘It’s a wonderful’… stereotype? ; All hail Mary? ; The Spinster Librarian

Movie musicals: Good News (1947), Wonder Man (1945), and Strike Up the Band (1940)

And for those of you who like a bit of music, the 1940s had a surprising number of noteworthy musicals featuring reel librarians in leading roles, including Good News (1947), Wonder Man (1945), and Strike Up the Band (1940). The latter is one of the best of the Mickey-and-Judy “let’s put on a show!” series and includes one musical number, “Nobody,” in the public library.

Related posts: Musical numbers for the library-minded ; Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods

1950s:

Desk Set (1957)

Desk Set (1957) is one of the finest efforts pairing Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn plays the best reel librarian EVER — sassy, funny, smart as hell — a woman who isn’t afraid to downplay her professional skills or love of pretty dresses. The film crackles with wit, style, chemistry, and an enduring central issue of how technology affects libraries and librarians.

Related posts: Comparing two ‘Desk Sets’ (and I don’t mean furniture) ; Revisiting favorites | ‘Comparing two desk sets,’ Jan. 26, 2012 ; Reel librarian love for Valentine’s Day: Movies for different romantic moods ; Stylish female reel librarians

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Sam Jeffe earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal as an ex-convict and former prison librarian in The Asphalt Jungle (1950). A gritty film noir classic.

Related posts: Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

Enjoy Part II, Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s!

Sources used:

  • Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.

A ‘brief encounter’ with a librarian

Chemist’s shops, lending libraries, and lies

The 1945 film Brief Encounter is one of the greats. Yet it’s one of those films that still flies pretty low under the radar — but those who have seen it and share it with each other light up in remembrance. It’s a simple, quiet film, heartbreakingly beautiful. With the best use of Rachmaninoff EVER.

The film, based on Noel Coward’s 1935 one-act play Still Life, stars Celia Johnson (luminous in an Oscar-nominated role) as Laura Jesson, an ordinary English wife and mother, and Trevor Howard as Dr. Alec Harvey, an ordinary English husband and father. They meet one day by chance and fall in love. It’s that simple. But life is never really that simple, is it?

Almost twenty minutes into the film, Laura’s going about her usual shopping day in nearby Milford. She walks past a display window, full of new “holiday reads.” We then see her in what looks to be a kind of public library, smiling with a friendly female librarian (uncredited). The library is lined with shelves, with a main desk in the center stacked with books. The librarian is a white female with short, wavy blonde hair. She looks to be in her 30’s, appears quite friendly, and is dressed in a quite stylish cardigan (yes, there ARE some out there) with what looks to be military-style embellishments.

Boot's Lending Library in Brief Encounter
Boot’s Lending Library

Laura narrates:  “I changed my book at Boots. Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.”

Note:  Kate O’Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright (1897-1974), who explored gay/lesbian themes in several of her works. Some of her work was quite controversial, as two of her books were banned in her native Ireland. It is also interesting to note that upon its initial release, Brief Encounter was itself banned in Ireland, due to its sympathetic portrayal of adultery.

But then we see Laura turn and step from the library into a chemist’s shop (see below). What??? From our travels overseas, I knew that Boots is a British pharmacy chain. What’s the deal? Is this library actually a bookstore? Is this just an odd film set?

Laura walks from the library into the chemist's shop in Brief Encounter
Laura walks from the library into the chemist’s shop

Doing a little more digging (thanks, IMDb!), there’s an interesting answer:

Laura borrows books from the Boots Lending Library. Such Lending Libraries were an offshoot of Boots Pharmacies. Boots is a major pharmacy chain in the UK. It was founded in 1849 and still exists, although in a much different, more diversified form. The Lending Libraries were started in 1898.

Boots is still around, but their lending libraries ceased in the late 1960s. The Boots Lending Library was an example of a subscription library. You’d pay a small monthly or annual fee to the library — or a small fee per item — to be able to check out materials. Sound familiar? It’s basically the same idea as video rental stores or Netflix.

Library label for Boots Booklovers Library by alan.98 via Flickr is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0
Library label for Boots Booklovers Library by alan.98 via Flickr is licensed under CC BY NC SA 2.0

Ok, back to the film. That’s the only time we see the librarian, Miss Lewis — a typical Information Provider seen only for a few seconds — but her character still plays a role in the film, as you’ll see.

The library books are also mentioned a few more times throughout. A couple of minutes later, Laura and Alec are enjoying lunch, and he asks if she comes into town every week.

“Yes, I do the week’s shopping. Change my library book, have lunch and generally go to the pictures. Not a very exciting routine, but it makes a change.”

After spending the afternoon together, Laura is thinking about Alec as she boards the train to go back home. She sees a clergyman in the corner and flushes: “I felt myself blushing and opened my library book and pretended to read.”

Just over an hour into the film, their would-be love affair comes to a head. We see Laura running down the wet streets, with her library book under her arm. She knows she’s late and ducks into a tobacco shop to phone her husband.

No librarian in this phone booth in a scene from Brief Encounter
No librarian in this phone booth

We hear only her side of the conversation:

“Yes, everything’s perfectly all right, but I shan’t be home to dinner.

—–

I’m with Miss Lewis. Miss Lewis, dear. You know, the librarian I told you about at Boots.

—–

Yes, I can’t explain in any detail because she’s outside the box now.

—–

I met her in the High Street a little while ago in a terrible state. Her mother’s been taken ill, and I’ve promised to stay with her until the doctor comes.

—–

Yes, I know, but she’s always been awfully kind to me, and I feel so sorry for her.”

So she uses poor Miss Lewis (“Miss” – of course) as an excuse for being late!!!

Why? Most likely, the library book she had with her provided the inspiration. Also, being with a librarian MUST be respectable and above board, right? 😉 There would be no questions asked (and really, why WOULDN’T one feel sorry for a poor librarian?), and as Laura says, “It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly.”

I can’t help but wonder how Laura will react to Miss Lewis the next time she visits the lending library…


Sources used:


‘(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration’ | How my inspiration for this blog began

I couldn’t help thinking…. wouldn’t this be so fun to do for librarians?!

A little Righteous Brothers to start out the day is nice, eh? (And if you don’t get my title reference, then there is a hole in your life, and you need to fill it in with some Righteous soul. So listen to some Righteous Brothers now or rewatch Top Gun, your choice.)

So the long-term inspiration for this blog stems deep, from my childhood love of movies and librarians. But there is another, more specific inspiration for connecting the two, to seek out and analyze reel librarians specifically.

This came in the form of the July 1997 issue of the now-defunct print version of Movieline magazine. Movieline is now online, but back then, it was a treat to be able to go to the nearest Hastings store and grab my own copy, in person. I still own this July 1997 copy — ok, definitely feeling older now — and it is well-worn and loved. Seriously, almost every article in this issue is top-notch, and the writing sharp just like I like it.

Movieline inspiration, my own copy of the July 1997 magazine issue
Movieline inspiration, my own copy of the July 1997 magazine issue

And the star article in that issue for me is “The Drilling Fields: An Oral History of Hollywood’s Unfair Depiction of a Tragically Downtrodden Minority — Dentists” by Joe Queenan. Queenan goes through a history of dentists onscreen in leading roles, beginning with the 1925 film Greed, directed by Erich von Stroheim, which “introduced two themes that would characterize dental films for the rest of the century. One, dentists are butchers. Two, dentists are always looking to cop a feel.”

The article has many more delicious bon mots like that, including:

“Ask the average person to name a movie about doctors and he’ll probably cite something epic like Doctor Zhivago. Ask the average person to name a movie about dentists, and he’ll almost certainly cite Marathon Man, in which a completely over-the-top Laurence Olivier plays a fiendish Nazi who uses macabre dental techniques to extract information from bug-eyed Dustin Hoffman, the archetypal reluctant patient. Anyone who has seen the film will agree that Olivier’s hair-raising performance is not fair to dentists. It may not even be fair to Nazis.”

Just substitute It’s a Wonderful Life for Marathon Man up there, and you’ve pretty much got the picture for reel librarians. Except the bit about torture, of course. 😉

Reel dentists article, from my own copy of the magazine
Reel dentists article, from my own copy of the magazine

So after I first read this article and stopped chuckling over Queenan’s irresistible mix of smarty-pants film analysis and interesting trivia, I couldn’t help thinking…. wouldn’t this be so fun to do for librarians?!

And I’ve been having fun ever since.


Sources used:


  • Queenan, Joe. “The Drilling Fields: An Oral History of Hollywood’s Unfair Depiction of a Tragically Downtrodden Minority — Dentists.” Movieline, July 1997.

Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?

Few films mention the education required for librarians.

In the film history of librarians, anyone who works in a library is deemed a librarian. I confess to doing the same for the purposes of this web site, even when the characters are not technically — or the audience has no way of knowing if they are — librarians. Sometimes, a character will make a distinction between librarians and library workers, as in Party Girl (one of my favorite librarian movies!), but that is the exception, not the rule.

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

Above is a clip, with transcript below, from a library scene between Mary (Parker Posey) and her godmother, Judy (Sasha von Scherler), a public librarian:

Judy: I lost two dedicated clerks last month because I couldn’t afford to pay them a competitive wage. They make more money at McDonald’s. You… no, a girl like you couldn’t —

Mary: What do you mean, a girl like me? … You think I couldn’t be a librarian?

Judy: Darling, a librarian is a professional with a master’s degree in library science. Even a clerk, who merely shelves and stamps —

Mary: You think I couldn’t be a library clerk? …

Judy: A library clerk is smart, responsible —

Mary: You don’t think I’m smart enough to work in your fucking library?

Judy: I think nothing of the sort.  … Fine, you can start right now!

Mary:  Fine! I will. Great.

Typically, the term “librarian” is rarely said out loud in movies — most likely because of time — and in most films, there is really no need to verbally identify the librarians. Standing or sitting behind a counter or desk, shelving books, or pushing a cart is quite enough to establish a reel librarian.

Few films mention the education required for librarians. Again, Party Girl (1995) is an exception! There is a wonderful scene toward the end where Mary and her co-workers discuss the value of different library science degree programs. There is also a scene in the film, shown below, that highlights the 19th century qualifications for a “lady librarian”:

Party Girl: Mary Gets Fired” video uploaded by HackerX5 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Major League (1989) includes a subplot about veteran ballplayer Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) trying to woo back his ex-wife, athlete-turned-librarian Lynn Wells (Rene Russo). This scrap of info about her education comes in the scene where he runs into her at a restaurant:

Lynn:  Jake? How’d you know I was here?

Jake:  Oh, just a hunch. I took you there when you got your master’s degree, remember?

A few other films also mention education specific to librarians. In The War of the Worlds (1953), Sylvia Van Buren (played by Ann Robinson) teaches library science courses, and the main character in Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941) almost quits her teaching position to take a college librarian course in New York. In Desk Set (1957), head librarian Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) mentions taking a few college courses in her interview with efficiency expert Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy). Miss Watson more than earns Mr. Sumner’s respect — and ours! [The battle-between-the-sexes witticisms begin flying about a minute into the clip below].

Desk Set 1957 Part 4” video uploaded by angeloflove is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • Cheers for Miss Bishop. Dir. Tay Garnett. Perf. Martha Scott, William Gargan, Edmund Gwenn. United Artists, 1941.
  • Desk Set. Dir. Walter Lang. Perf. Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill. 20th Century Fox, 1957.
  • Major League. Dir. David S. Ward. Perf. Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Rene Russo. Paramount, 1989.
  • Party Girl. Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Perf. Parker Posey, Sasha von Scherler, Guillermo Diaz, Liev Schreiber. First Look, 1995.
  • The War of the Worlds. Dir. Bryon Haskin. Perf. Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite. Paramount, 1953.
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