Conan the Librarian and Chainsaw Sally

It’s October, which means it’s scary movie time! I am commencing on my annual tradition of scary movie-themed posts during the month of Halloween. (Want to revisit past October posts? Just click on the Archives drop-down menu on the right navigation menu.)


A few years ago, I mused in my post about Chainsaw Sally (2004) that the title character, Sally, and “Conan the Librarian” in UHF (1989) would probably have a lot to talk about. Upon closer inspection, I believe that “Conan the Librarian” and “Chainsaw Sally” would be a match made in heaven… or hell?! 😉

Let’s explore the love and gore, shall we?

Conan the Librarian

“Conan the Librarian” is a brief — but memorable — character featured in a brief sketch in the Weird Al Yankovic film, UHF (1989). The character is introduced in the form of a television ad for a show on an almost-bankrupt public TV station. “Conan the Librarian” is a parody of the famous “Conan the Barbarian” character created by R. E. Howard, and the clip lasts only 40 seconds. But it’s enough time for two scenes featuring “Conan the Librarian’s” wrath.

"Conan the Librarian" character from 'UHF' (1989)

“Conan the Librarian” character from ‘UHF’ (1989)

Conan’s first scene shows a balding, middle-aged man with thick glasses, cable-knit sweater, and tweedy jacket who, with a tremor in his voice, asks Conan the Librarian, “Can you tell me where I can find a book on astronomy?

Conan heaves the man up by his shirt collar and shouts, “Don’t you know the Dewey Decimal System?!

Conan then goes on to slice a young man in two because his books were overdue.

Here’s the “Conan the Librarian” scene:

I explored this character more in this 2011 post, “He’s… Conan the Librarian!

Chainsaw Sally

“Chainsaw Sally,” the title character in the indie 2004 film, wreaks havoc on library patrons all throughout her film.

Reel Librarians | The lead librarian and title character in 'Chainsaw Sally' (2004)

The lead librarian and title character in ‘Chainsaw Sally’ (2004)

What counts as a killable offense in Sally’s library?

  • A man who talks loudly in the library, spouting off curse words and heckling his girlfriend for needing to finish a school report. He also ignores Miss Sally’s warning that he be quiet in the library. (See his fate in the YouTube video below)
  • A woman who never returns a book she checked out.
  • A woman who works at the local ice cream truck misspells “malt” on an order form and also makes fun of Sally when Sally tries to correct her misspelling.

I delved deeper into this film and title character in this 2013 post, “Little Miss Serial Killer Librarian.”

Conan and Sally sitting in a tree… K-I-L-L-I-N-G

Both films are cult classics, and both characters are quite memorable. Both films are also comedies, although on different points on the comedy scale. (UHF often feels like a long series of comedy bits and sketches, while Chainsaw Sally is more of a dried-blood “dark comedy.”) Conan also serves as Comic Relief while Sally is the ultimate Naughty Librarian.

What is the secret to a successful relationship? One often-read tip is to share common experiences and/or similar values. In a twisted way, that would ring true for Conan and Chainsaw Sally. To wit:

  • They both make fun of patrons for not understanding or appreciating rules or organization (Conan berates a patron for not knowing the Dewey Decimal system while Sally chastises a woman for misspelling a word)
  • They retaliate through violence (hacking, slicing, etc.)
  • They enjoy weapons to aid in violence, like swords and chainsaws
  • They believe in over-the-top and deadly punitive punishments for overdue books

So much to bond over!

Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage

Conan and Chainsaw Sally collage

Sources:

Chainsaw Sally. Dir. Jimmyo Burril. Perf. April Monique Burril, Mark Redfield, Alec Joseph. Shock-O-Rama Cinema, 2004.

Scene From Chainsaw Sally,” uploaded by OneMinuteReviewer, 2011. Standard YouTube license.

UHF. Dir. Jay Levey. Perf. Weird Al Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards. Orion, 1989.

UHF Conan The Librarian,” uploaded by sirstrongbad, 2006. Standard YouTube license.

 

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A closer look at the reel librarians in the original Ghostbusters

I have written about 1984’s Ghostbusters in bits and pieces before on the blog, including a “Who you gonna call?” post delving into the Librarian Ghost, as well as a “Repeat offenders” post highlighting John Rothman and his penchant for playing insensitive librarians in the early ’80s, including Ghostbusters. The comedy classic was also on the original list of reel librarians films I watched for my original undergraduate thesis, as well as on my list of best librarian films by decade.

However, when I recently rewatched Ghostbusters, I realized there was an opportunity for a closer, more comprehensive look at the librarians and library scene that opens the film. After all, the film features not one, but three, librarian characters in the opening scenes filmed at the iconic central branch of the New York Public Library.

Opening scenes in the library

The film opens on the steps of the New York Public Library, with a close-up gaze upon one of the iconic “Library Lion” statues guarding the central branch.

Reel Librarians | One of the "Library Lion" statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

One of the “Library Lion” statues at the New York Public Library, opening shot of ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The film then immediately cuts to a close-up of a reel librarian, who is also as stone-faced as the statue outside. Character actress Alice Drummond, 56 years old at the time of filming, plays a public librarian named Alice, and her librarian props are out in full force, with a cart and books. Her clothing, consisting of a ruffled tie blouse and a cardigan sweater, is also conservative and buttoned-up. The only thing missing to complete the picture of a stereotypical librarian is a pair of glasses on a chain!

Reel Librarians | Opening shot of Alice the librarian in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Opening shot of Alice the librarian in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

We follow Alice as she goes downstairs to shelve a few books.  The DVD commentary revealed that while the upstairs scenes were filmed in the actual New York Public Library — the library allowed the film crew to film until 10 a.m., so they had to work quickly! — the downstairs scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Public Library.

As Alice walks deeper into the stacks, spooky things happen behind her back (literally), as books float past shelves, and card catalog drawer fly open and start spewing cards into the air. (I learned through the commentary that this was a practical effects shot of pushing drawers from behind a fake wall and blowing air through tubes to make the cards fly up.)

Reel Librarians | Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Paranormal activity in the library card catalog, in the opening scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

It’s interesting to note that Alice is almost completely silent through this opening scene. The first time we hear her voice is when she screams. It’s also very clever that we don’t see the ghost ourselves in this opening scene. In fact, with the screaming and up-lit visage of the scared librarian, she looks kind of like a ghost herself!

Reel Librarians | Reel librarian screams in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Reel librarian screams in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

You can see a clip from the opening scene here:

Ghostbusters Library Index Card and Entrance Theme,” uploaded by Dan Baierl, Standard YouTube license

A quick scene in-between the two library scenes takes place at a local university, at the Paranormal Studies department, and helps establish the characters of the scientists and soon-to-be-Ghostbusters.

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting an experiment when Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) bursts in, excitedly shouting, “This is it. This is definitely it!” He goes on to explain:

At 1:40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition. It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian.

This bit of dialogue bridges to the library scenes, as Venkman and Stantz meet up with Egon Spengler in the library itself. Venkman makes noise slamming a book on the table, which alerts the library administrator. This is our first glance at Roger Delacourt (John Rothman), who is dressed conservatively in a dark blazer and tie:

Reel Librarians | First glance at the library administrator in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

First glance at the library administrator in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Delacourt — notice that he gets a last name, plus a pair of glasses! — approaches the three scientists. After brief introductions, he immediately gets down to business and reveals his real concern:

Thank you for coming. Hopefully we can clear this up quickly, and quietly.

Reel Librarians | Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Meet cute between the library administrator and the Ghostbusters

Next, everyone is clustered around a table, with “some poor librarian” on her back and murmuring. This scene is also when we first hear her character’s name, Alice (but we only get her first name). Delacourt, the library manager, hovers around as if he’s fighting the urge to all shush them for causing a scene in the library.

Reel Librarians | Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Not a meet-cute between the scared librarian and the Ghostbusters

Remember, up to this point, all we’ve heard from Alice is her screaming. This next scene, we get to hear her actual speaking voice as Venkman asks her a series of questions, in order to gauge her competency.

Alice:  I don’t remember seeing any legs but it definitely had arms, because it reached out for me.

Peter Venkman:  Alice, I’m gonna ask you a couple of standard questions, okay? Have you or any member of your family ever been diagnosed schizophrenic, mentally incompetent…?

Alice:  My uncle thought he was St. Jerome.

Peter Venkman:  I’d call that a big yes. [Pause] Are you habitually using drugs, stimulants, alcohol?

Alice: No. [horrified]

By this point in the interview, Roger begins to look even more nervy and agitated.

Peter Venkman:  No, no, just asking. Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?

Roger can no longer stand it and butts in.

Roger Delacourt:  What has THAT got to do with it?

Peter Venkman:  Back off, man. I’m a scientist.

Reel Librarians | The library administrator gets the jitters in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library administrator gets the jitters in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The three paranormal scientists then go down to the library basement themselves. The first spooky thing is… symmetrical book-stacking! The horror! As Venkman assesses, “You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

We learn on the DVD commentary that it was Ivan Reitman’s idea on the day to do the symmetrical book-stacking!

Reel Librarians | Paranormal book-stacking in a library scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

Paranormal book-stacking in a library scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

They then come across the card catalog drawers and ectoplasmic residue — “Look at this mess!” — and as they round a corner, a bookcase topples. Turns out, this bit was not planned!

The part where the bookcase falls over and Venkman asks Ray “Has this ever happened to you before?” was not part of the original script. The bookcase actually fell over of its own accord (possibly from being disturbed by various crew members) and the subsequent lines were ad-libbed. It was decided to leave this material in as it added an extra element of mystery to the atmosphere as to whether it was a natural occurrence, or a malicious act on the part of the ghost for which the soon-to-be Ghostbusters were looking. (from IMDB.com Trivia page)

Reel Librarians | A library bookcase falls -- by accident! -- in a library scene from 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

A library bookcase falls — by accident! — in a library scene from ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The scientists then come across the Librarian Ghost — excuse me, the “full torso vaporous apparition” — who is reading a book and floating in her Victorian-style dress.

When Venkman tries to speak to her, the ghost shushes him. (That’s how we know it’s a librarian!)

Reel Librarians | The library ghost in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library ghost in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

When they try to corner the Librarian Ghost, she morphs into a monstrous form and scares the socks off them, “some poor scientists.”

The DVD commentary revealed that this scene was one of the first ones they finished the special effects for. This first moment of seeing the librarian ghost was one the producers screened about 3 weeks after editing the film, and the audience freaked out, screaming and laughing at the same time. That’s when they knew the film was going to work!

As the soon-to-be Ghostbusters run screaming from the library, the hapless library director runs out after them.

Did you see it? What was it?

We’ll get back to you.

WHAT?!

Reel Librarians | The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The library administrator freaks out, at the end of the library scene in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The role of the librarians

Now that we’ve gotten a look at all three reel librarian in Ghostbusters, let’s delve into the roles and purposes they provide in this Class III film:

I previously identified Alice as fulfilling the dual roles of the Spinster Librarian character type, as well as the Comic Relief character type.

Her Spinster Librarian role is reflected in:

  • Her conservative, buttoned-up clothing
  • Uptight demeanor, as shown in the first shot, turning into timid/meek personality, after being scared by the librarian ghost
  • Rule-monger who is horrified first by the mess made by the spilling of library cards in the card catalog
  • Her sexual undesirability, or at least de-emphasis on her femininity, as revealed through the menstruation question and her horrified (and speechless) reaction to it

In my post about Comic Relief librarians, I wrote:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for comedic purposes only also are the films that depict the crudest portrayals overall of librarian stereotypes. The Comic Relief librarians mostly wind up in comedies — shocker, I know — or at least in films that include comedic undertones or situations. Their purpose is the most obvious of all reel librarian roles, but the librarians of this type do not necessarily entertain themselves or other characters in the film — rather, they entertain the audience. Exclusively minor characters, the Comic Relief librarians serve as the target of jokes, and the audience is encouraged to laugh at them.”

This description perfectly sums up how Alice fulfills the Comic Relief role in this film. We most definitely laugh at her distress, or at least remove ourselves, like the Ghostbusters, from her personal distress in order to focus on the cause (the ghost) rather than the effect (“some poor librarian”).

I also enjoyed putting together the different facial expressions of Alice the librarian. Her facial range is impressive!

Reel Librarians | The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The many facial expressions from Alice the librarian in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

Interestingly, the Librarian Ghost (Ruth Oliver) also fulfills the Spinster Librarian role:

  • Conservative, buttoned-up clothing? Check.
  • Hair in a bun? Check.
  • Rule-monger? CHECK. (Evidenced by her shushing.)
  • Unfriendly/stern demeanor? DOUBLE CHECK. (She suffers no fools, y’all.)
Reel Librarians | The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The varied facial expressions of the library ghost in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

The library administrator, Roger Delacourt, is in his early 30s, a white male. He is an insensitive, nervy library bureaucrat, one who is more concerned about his precious reputation than about his librarian employee who got the shock of her life in the New York Public Library basement. His role fulfills the Anti-Social Librarian character type:

  • Conservative clothing
  • Poor social skills
  • Elitist—rates the library and its rules above the public
Reel Librarians | The main facial expression from the library administrator in 'Ghostbusters' (1984)

The main facial expression from the library administrator in ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984)

His job centers on protecting the library’s reputation. He seems totally oblivious that a poor librarian (Alice Drummond) was scared out of her wits by a ghost. He is concerned only with how people will regard the library, and by association, himself.

Hmmm… I think I should add him to either my Hall of Shame or Dishonorable Mention lists…

The role of research

The combined scenes in the library wrap up by 12 minutes into the 105-minute film. We never go back to the New York Public Library — what happened to the Librarian Ghost?! — but the role of research still played a vital role in the film.

Even though the Ghostbusters lose their university funding because their “methods are sloppy” and their “conclusions are highly questionable” — thus providing the incentive to start the Ghostbusters business — the three scientists do highlight their scientific chops in a brief scene after Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) comes to report a demon named Zuul in her refrigerator.

Venkman:  There are some things we do, standard procedures in a case like this, which often brings us results.

Stantz:  I could go to the Hall of Records and check out the structural details in the building. Maybe the building itself has a history of psychic turbulence.

Spengler:  I could look for the name “Zuul” in the usual literature.

Stantz:  Spates Catalog.

Spengler:  Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

Dr. Spangler also references the book, The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects (also known as simply the Roylance Guide), in the film.

Side note:  Y’all know I looked up those titles, right? Although they were invented for the film, making Wikipedia’s List of Fictional Guidebooks, each title does play a role in subsequent Ghostbusters-related series and games. Each title — as well as the book Dr. Spengler wrote later on, Spengler’s Spirit Guide — is detailed in the Ghostbusters Wikia site. See here for the entry on Tobin’s Spirit Guide, here for the entry on Spates Catalog, and here for the entry on the Roylance Guide. Also, Ghostbusters: Tobin’s Spirit Guide was published last year, as a guide for the original movies, as well as the “expanded Ghostbusters universe, delving into supernatural phenomena from the comics, animated shows, video games, and other aspects of the franchise.”

An hour and 10 minutes into the film, Stantz pulls out the building plans — in a jail cell, as you do — and reveals that “the whole building… was designed and built expressly for the purpose of pulling in and concentrating spiritual turbulence…. Spook Central.

Their research pays off! 😀

Need more Ghostbusters?

Alice, the one who got her “socks scared off” in the film, is also featured in the music video for the Oscar-nominated title song by Ray Parker, Jr.

Ray Parker Jr. – Ghostbusters,” uploaded by RayParkerJuniorVEVO, Standard YouTube license

For those who would like to read more of those bits and pieces I’ve written previously about Ghostbusters:

Do you vividly recall the film’s opening scenes in the library? I have to admit that I had forgotten that the two scenes in the library were on either side of the scene in the Paranormal Studies office. I had melded the two library scenes together in my mind.

Have you revisited the original Ghostbusters lately? Or seen the recent remake? Please leave a comment and share! 🙂

 

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!

 

The reel librarian in The Handmaid’s Tale

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

The Handmaid’s Tale Trailer (Official) • The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu” uploaded by Hulu is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

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

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

The 1990 version

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

Here’s a trailer from the 1990 film version:

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

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

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

Differences between the book and the film

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

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

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

Getting to know the narrator

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

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

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

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

Scrabble and revelations

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

The Commander and Offred play Scrabble for the first time, in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

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

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

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

Offred: Why?

Commander:  Because you’re a librarian.

Offred:  Was.

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

The Commander shows Offred his secret stash of women’s fashion magazines, in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

The significance of knowing how to read

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

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

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

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

Commander:  I don’t mean you.

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

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

Naughty Librarian fantasy?

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

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

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

Reel Librarians | A screenshot from 'The Handmaid's Tale' (1990)

Offred dresses up for a night in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1990)

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I wrote then:

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

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

Why a librarian?

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

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

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

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

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

Reader poll write-up: Teenage Mother

Teenage Mother (1967) won the recent reader poll, squeaking past at the last minute due to my husband’s shameless promotion. He gets the credit blame for this post, as he wanted to watch ME watching this film, just for my reactions. I had some. 😉

My DVD copy of this film is from Something Weird Video in Seattle, with a “special edition” DVD. Something Weird promotes itself as “the very best in exploitation cinema,” and that rings true for Teenage Mother. The back of the DVD case has Handsome Harry Archer’s complete review of Teenage Mother, which opens with stating it as a “textbook example of classic old-school exploitation.” The film was directed by Jerry Gross, who would later direct the cult classic I Spit on Your Grave.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Reel Librarians | DVD case for 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

DVD case for ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

The basics

Here’s the basic plot, such as it is:  A new health teacher is hired to teach sex education in a high school and gets blamed when a student turns up pregnant. Except the student isn’t actually pregnant. She just told her boyfriend that so that he wouldn’t leave her and go off to medical school. Winners, all. And there’s footage of a live birth at the end. And an extended musical interlude in the middle. Cue the sweet anticipation!

As my husband said:

When you have a 70-minute film and only 40 minutes worth of plot, you HAVE to fill it with musical interludes and a live birth at the end!

To be clear, this movie is NOT good. It is bad. I knew it would be bad. But the question in my mind was this:  Was it SO bad that it would turn out to be awesomely bad? Unfortunately, NO. But as my husband quipped:

It’s the kind of bad that almost feels like a cultural moment.

The film starts off with footage of a stock-car race. Because WHY NOT.

Reel Librarians | Title screen from 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Title screen from ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Introducing the books and the school librarian

Fifteen minutes into the film, the coach gets to introduce the new health teacher, Miss Erika Petersen (Julie Ange), who dives straight into the required and supplemental texts for the new “anatomical biology” course.

Fun fact:  This film was the film debut of Fred Willard, who plays the coach!

Reel Librarians | Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Miss Petersen introduces the two textbooks for the new sex education class, in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Two texts are required reading for this course. The first, Moreline’s (?) Basics in Human Anatomy is the best for our line of work. In fact, most colleges use it today. This will be supplemented by Caracola’s (?) Adult Sexual Behavior. Both of these books have been ordered, and we should have them for you early next week.

Miss Petersen:  If any of you would like to do additional reading on this subject, I strongly recommend Saucer’s (?) Male and Female. I’m sure your school library has a copy available.

Tony [a student]:  I’ve already checked the library, and Miss Fowler, the librarian, told me it wasn’t available.

Miss Petersen:  That’s very interesting, Tony. I didn’t know you knew of this book.

Tony:  Well, I’d like to become a doctor. In fact, our family physician Dr. Wilson told me to read this book last year.

Miss Petersen:  And Miss Fowler didn’t know of the book? Well, it’s fairly recent. Perhaps she didn’t notice it in the book publisher’s catalog.

Tony:  She knew of it. She said it was indecent for our library.

[classroom erupts in laughter]

Miss Petersen:  Nonsense. At least 90% of all colleges and universities have this book in their libraries, and as many as 50% of all high schools. I’ll discuss this matter personally with Miss Fowler.

The bell rings, ending this scene after a couple of minutes.

Editor’s note: There were no captions available, and the actress’s “European” accent (dubbed?) makes it hard to understand the authors’ names she was saying, which explains why I put in question marks beside names in the quotations above. I couldn’t find any record of the first two books she mentions in this scene. Also, in the scene above and in the later scene with the school librarian, Miss Petersen clearly states the supplementary book, Male and Female, is by an author whose last name sounds like “Saucer” and that it has been newly published. I searched WorldCat — ’cause y’all know I would, right?! — but could not find any book published by that title in the late ’60s by an author with a similar last name. There was, however, a well-known text in this field, Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World, written and published in 1949 by Margaret Mead. And interestingly, there was another edition of this book published by Penguin in 1967, the same year of this film. So why use the same title but change the author? Just another question among many when it comes to this movie!

School library scene

At almost half an hour into the film, we get the library scene. It’s a very short scene, lasting a minute or less. But it is memorable. I have also nicknamed the school librarian “Fowler the Scowler,” as you shall soon see why.

Reel Librarians | School library and librarian in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

School library and librarian in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

The scene begins with a wide shot of the school library — the film was filmed at East Rockaway High School in Long Island, so I assume this was also their school library — and the school librarian (an uncredited role) is checking in or filing cards in card catalog drawers. The school library is (surprisingly?) filled with lots of students and lots of books.

Miss Petersen walks in, and they make nice for about 5 seconds.

Reel Librarians | The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

The school librarian and the new health teacher meet in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Good morning, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  Good morning, Miss Petersen. Can I be of some assistance?

Miss Petersen:  Yes, one of my students, maybe you know him, Tony Michaels. He told me he was unable to find Saucer’s Male and Female on file here. You do have the book, don’t you?

Miss Fowler:  Most certainly not.

Miss Petersen:  Why not, Miss Fowler? It’s one of the most standard texts on anatomical hygiene.

Miss Fowler:  It’s a filthy book.

This outburst and Miss Fowler’s high-pitched exclamation catch the attention of nearby students! Miss Fowler clears her throat.

Reel Librarians | A startled student in the school library in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

A startled student in the school library in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Filthy?

Miss Fowler [in a lower voice]:  Yes, filthy! I wouldn’t allow one of our students to even leaf through it. The illustrations are positively vulgar.

Miss Petersen:  They only show the beauty of the human body.

Miss Fowler:  Teenage children are not meant to see such things.

Miss Petersen:  That’s just the point. These youngsters are not children any longer. Their bodies are the bodies of young adults, with all the needs and desires of young adults.

Miss Fowler:  I wouldn’t know about that. [turns her head and looks down, rapidly blinking her eyelids]

Reel Librarians | Librarian closeup from 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Miss Petersen:  Apparently not. These young people have the right to know about the facts of life. which you say they cannot read. This is a free country, Miss Fowler.

Miss Fowler:  That book has never appeared in this library and never will, as long as I’m here.

Miss Petersen:  Let’s hope that’s not too long.

“Fowler the Scowler” then adjusts her glasses and goes back to filing her cards, an even more pinched look on her face. She ends as she begins the scene, as an uptight, sexually repressed librarian whose mind is closed to new ideas. An uplifting cinematic message for all librarians. 😦

Reel Librarians | The school librarian goes back to filing cards in 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

The school librarian goes back to filing cards in ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

I put together a collage of facial expressions to illustrate the reason for my “Fowler the Scowler” nickname of this school librarian:

Reel Librarians | Collage of 'Fowler the Scowler' from 'Teenage Mother' (1967)

Collage of ‘Fowler the Scowler’ from ‘Teenage Mother’ (1967)

Town meeting and attempted censorship

The rest of the film delves into the Tony’s relationship with his girlfriend, Arlene Taylor (played by a real-life Arlene, Arlene Farber), the one who lies about being pregnant in order to trap her boyfriend. She attempts to run away, and her friend confesses the (fake) secret pregnancy to Arlene’s dad, who somehow has the clout to call an immediate “town meeting” at the high school in order to get Miss Petersen fired.

Here’s one memorable line from the town meeting scene, in which the principal defends his decision to hire Miss Petersen:

If your daughter became pregnant, it wasn’t because of anything she read in a book.

Oddly, “Fowler the Scowler” is NOT at that meeting, which I found disappointing. A missed opportunity! In my head, it would have been an awesome ending to have Miss Fowler also join the attempt to get Miss Petersen fired — and then the reverse happens! It would close the loop on Miss Petersen’s final words in the library scene, that she hopes it’s “not too long” before Miss Fowler is gone.

And that’s what this film does:  It makes a real-life librarian root AGAINST a reel librarian. 

In the excellent and thorough reference book on reel librarians, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, which I reviewed here in this post, the Tevises sum up the censorship message of the film and the ultimate contrast and conflicting messages of the school principal and the school librarian:

Teenage Mother is one of the few films that confronts the topic of sex education materials in secondary schools. Although the principal of the school is progressive, the librarian scorns the value of sex education. Without the support of the librarian, whose responsibility includes obtaining the appropriate learning materials to support instruction and student research, the program’s success is problematical. The film depicts the librarian as the high school’s moral watchdog who uses her power to censor library materials. (p. 122)

Spinster Librarian role

So what role does Miss Fowler play in this film? I would say most definitely the Spinster Librarian character type, with her uptight manner and closed-minded outlook on collection development. The midpoint of her conversation with Miss Petersen — the self-confession of “I wouldn’t know about that” in response to the health teacher’s remark about the body’s “needs and desires” — clinches the deal.

Also, all of the stereotypical physical traits are there:  an older white woman, hair pulled back in a bun, glasses on a lanyard, high-necked blouse, etc. Even though her time onscreen is short, “Fowler the Scowler” is memorable, landing her librarian role and film in the Class III category.

The 30 seconds of “Fowler the Scowler” in Teenage Mother almost rival the 30 seconds of Spinster Librarian infamy in the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Final review and trailer

Here’s an excerpt from Ian Jane’s DVD Talk review of the film:

Preaching to its audience from a fairly lofty perch, the picture purports to deliver a social message about why kids should abstain or at the very least play it safe, but it’s been made so cheaply and marketed with such a sleazy, hyper-sexualized marketing campaign (be sure to watch the trailer which completely misrepresents the film in every way possible) that all of that gets thrown aside. Why? Because it’s obvious that all of this build up and moralizing was simply an excuse to bust out some really graphic footage of a baby popping its way out of some gooey female genitalia.

And finally, I’ve linked to that spectacularly misleading trailer below. I usually like to begin a film analysis post with a trailer, but this trailer needs to come AFTER the film, not before. Also, this trailer IS graphic — as it warns, it includes footage of the live-birth scene from the end of Teenage Mother.

Teenage Mother (1967) Trailer,” uploaded on April 18, 2016, by Vulture Graffix, is licensed under a CC BY license.