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.

A reel librarian for the ages in ‘The Age of Adaline’

Earlier this year, I watched the 2015 film The Age of Adaline, starring Blake Lively as the title character. I saved my analysis post of this film for the end of this month, as the film is set around the New Year holidays.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The plot? Adaline, a young woman and a recent widow, gets into a car accident in the 1930s and stops aging as a result of the accident. After decades of living alone, she meets a man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman) who makes her question her life choices. Even though that plot has a bit of mumbo jumbo narration thrown in to try and explain the scientific reasoning behind Adaline’s agelessness, it’s played as a pretty straightforward romantic drama. Blake Lively definitely commits to the title role and brings a world-weariness to her portrayal of Adaline. However, the real stars that shine in the movie are Harrison Ford, who plays Ellis’s father, William, and Ellen Burstyn, who plays Adaline’s daughter, Flemming.

The director, Lee Toland Krieger, reveals on the bonus features how much thought he put into the look and feel of the film, focusing on different camera techniques to visually depict the different decades of the film and its flashbacks. The film is stunning to look at.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD*

Just five minutes into the film, we get a sweeping view of Adaline as she walks up the steps of a library. The film is set in San Francisco, but these scenes were filmed at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline walks up the library steps

As she walks into a light-filled room rimmed with bookcases and filing cabinets and card catalogs, we see a woman sitting at the desk by a computer (Cora, played by Indian-British actress Anjali Jay), and a man standing by the window (Kenneth, played by Japanese-Canadian actor Hiro Kanagawa). We also glimpse an older woman in the background by the bookshelves, but she doesn’t get a screen credit. Adaline’s co-workers are surprised to see her.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline’s co-workers are surprised to her on New Year’s Eve

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline greets her co-workers at the library on New Year’s Eve

Kenneth:  We thought you might not be coming in today, it being New Year’s Eve and all.

Adaline:  It’s still a Wednesday. The fun doesn’t start till tonight anyway.

Kenneth:  Well, are you up for a little excitement right now?

Adaline:  Sure, what is it?

Kenneth:  Your favorite. The news reel archives. It’s finally being digitized. We need a little help getting it ready to be shipped.

Adaline:  I’d love to.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline and the archives

We then go into a scene in which Adaline sets up the film reel projector and settles in to watch news reel archives of San Francisco. This is a clever set-up for the narrator to take over and introduce her life while a montage of clips visually accompany the central plot phenomenon. As the narrator explains, at age 29 in 1937, Adaline gets into a car accident. As a result, her cells stop aging, leaving her perpetually 29 years old, even as her daughter and everyone else around her ages.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline watches a news reel from the early 1900s

Although only a few minutes long, these scenes in the library archives are crucial to introducing the film and introducing us to the character (and motivations) of Adaline. Through her conversation with Kenneth, we learn that Adaline eschews socializing and is committed to her work, and that she loves working with archives. And then we find out why through the montage. We also see in the montage that Adaline studies up on her condition, taking a clerical job at a school of medicine. It’s a very clever and compact scene, one that includes an emphasis on archives and the value of researching and reading.

We also get introduced to the style of Adaline, who is in her prime — and dresses accordingly — through multiple decades. She has a classic style, which comes across as retro-inspired in the present day. She is a lady, and her clothing and hairstyles reflect that. I am definitely adding Adaline to my list of most stylish reel librarians!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline in her closet

Reel Librarians | A collage of Adaline's style through the decades

A collage of Adaline’s style through the decades

Adaline then dresses up for a New Year’s Eve party, where she “meets cute” with Ellis in the hotel elevator, setting off the romance part of the film’s plot.

Ellis:  I don’t want to come across like a know-it-all.

Adaline:  Too bad, I adore know-it-alls.

Ellis is (understandably) smitten, but Adaline keeps an emotional distance, as she doesn’t want to get involved with anyone. She is also about to change identities yet again, something she does every decade to escape notice.

Unbeknownst to her, Ellis had already noticed Adaline before the party. Later, he describes how he first noticed her when she was reading a Braille book on the front steps of the library. For someone who’s trying to go unnoticed, she fails spectacularly!

Reel Librarians | A collage of Adaline reading a book in braille on the library steps

A collage of Adaline reading a book in braille on the library steps

A half-hour into the film, Ellis returns to the library to donate a lot of rare first editions. (It turns out he has made a lot of money in the tech industry and is now giving back and doing good works.) Just the way to capture a reel librarian’s heart!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Ellis returns to the library to donate books

Adaline’s co-worker, Cora, gets some lines to provide the backstory — plus reveals the name of where they work.

Cora:  Major news. Mr. Jones is donating $50,000 worth of first edition classics to this library.

Adaline:  What books? Do you know?

Cora:  We’re going to find out very soon. Because his office called to say that he’ll be here to deliver them himself.

Cora [to Ellis]:  On behalf of the San Francisco Heritage Society, I’d like to express our sincere gratitude for your most generous gift.

Note:  I could not find record of a San Francisco Heritage Society (y’all knew I would look that up, right?). However, I suspect it’s standing in for the California Historical Society, which has headquarters in San Francisco. The California Historical Society does have its own library.

Ellis then proceeds with his real mission: to flirt with Adaline. Cue the obligatory library ladder scene!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Library ladder scene in ‘The Age of Adaline’ (2015)

Ellis:  Hey, it’s me. The know-it-all. I got something for you, too. Some flowers. [Gives her a gift of first editions: Daisy Miller, Dandelion Wine, White Oleander.]

Adaline:  Very clever. How did you know I work here?

Ellis:  I just joined the board. I saw you coming out of our meeting.

Adaline:  Oh. You could have mentioned that in the elevator.

Ellis:  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some donating.

Adaline:  Great. I’ll be here.

Ellis:  No way. I would like for you to accept the books on behalf of the library.

Ellis wants to take a photograph of Adaline accepting the books, but of course, she has her own reasons for not wanting to be photographed. She initially refuses, giving him a stern look, as seen in the screenshot below. (By the way, I love the composition of this shot! They all look like professionals, but Adaline stands out in green against the blacks and greys of her reel librarian co-workers.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)

Adaline refuses to be photographed accepting a donation of books to the library

Then Ellis threatens to take away his donation.

Ellis:  Suit yourself. If you won’t accept them, I won’t donate them.

Adaline:  You wouldn’t do that.

Ellis:  I will. I’ll even have a book burning. Okay, fine, fine. Here’s an alternative. Let me take you out tomorrow.

I know this is the central romance of the film, and this is supposed to be another “meet cute” scene, but I was incensed at this. A man “joking” about a book burning?! I was literally shouting at the screen, “NO!!!! That is NOT the man for you. Walk away!”

Ellis then attempts to make up for this later when he woos Adaline by complimenting the way she reads. He seems to appreciate Adaline’s intelligence and knowledge, even saying, “You can tell me anything you want, and I’ll believe it.”

His father, William, is not so easily convinced. Ellis wants Adaline to meet his parents, and we get a brief scene an hour into the film between William and his wife, Kathy. William questions any woman who’s beautiful who is “hiding out in a library,” and he suspects her of being a gold-digger.

William:  So, what’s the story with this girl? She works there?

Kathy:  I’ve told you everything Ellis told me.

William:  A beautiful girl working in a public library.

Kathy:  Maybe she likes books. And silence.

William:  Or maybe she Googled him, and found out about his generous contribution and then worked her way in there so she could get her hooks into him.

But Adaline shows up William when they all play Trivial Pursuit. William has had a longtime winning streak — he’s a professor — but Adaline sweeps the game due to her lifetime of knowledge. It’s an enjoyable scene.

More romantic drama ensues, including a super-awkward love triangle, plus some more scientific mumbo jumbo thrown into the mix. I won’t reveal the ending of the film, but it’s pretty predictable. Enjoyably predictable, but predictable nonetheless.

So why is Adaline working in a library? As the New York Times review puts it, “By the time the present rolls around, Adaline has become an emotional shut-in.” The library — or at least the library at this particular historical society — is a quiet place, which suits her. There is no mention of qualifications or education for any of the four librarians pictured onscreen, but it’s obvious that Adaline has lots of personal experience with the older technology and artifacts.

We see Adaline do a variety of tasks in the library, including helping out with archives, running news reels on film projectors, stacking and shelving books, and filing cards. Her co-workers are seen working on computers. They must leave the older technology to Adaline! 😉

Reel Librarians | A collage of Adaline using older technology in the library

A collage of Adaline using older technology in the library

Adaline mentions several times about having to work for a living:

  • I only get an hour” [for lunch]
  • Some of us work for a living.”

However, we witness a flashback scene in which we learn that she has bought stock in Xerox. My thoughts are that she doesn’t actually need to work for a living; she simply prefers to do so in order to keep her mind alert, to utilize her knowledge and skills, and to indulge her nostalgia for the past. An historical library and museum are a good fit for those purposes.

Adaline’s co-workers serve the role of Information Providers, which is pretty straightforward. We don’t learn much about them as individuals, but I do enjoy the diversity of the reel librarians seen onscreen, representing different ages, genders, and ethnicities.

What purpose then does Adaline provide in this role as a reel librarian? I believe she serves the role of a Liberated Librarian:

  • Female Liberated Librarians tend to “discover” themselves with the help of a man or in the face of an adventure/disaster. (Check. Her life does change when she meet Ellis.)
  • The “liberations” can be positive or negative. (It’s positive in this film)
  • They are usually substantial roles with the librarian’s “liberation” often the film’s major plot. (Check and check. Adaline is the title character, and her “liberation” is both emotional and physical.)

Adaline is, indeed, “hiding out” in the library, trying to go unnoticed and to stay emotionally unattached. She is perfectly content in her life and at the library — but she is also content to leave that job and move on in order to preserve her privacy.

The Age of Adaline (2015) ends up in the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.

The film’s conclusion, however, does not answer whether or not she will continue to work at the library. My guess — or rather, hope? — is that she will, but then, I’m also a romantic librarian at heart. ♥


And with that, 2016 comes to a close for Reel Librarians. I’ll be back next week — and next year! — with a wrap-up for 2016. Have a great New Year’s holiday!

Reader poll write-up: Navy Blues

It’s time for my analysis of the movie that readers chose in the latest reader poll, 1937’s Navy Blues. The film stars Dick Purcell as Russell J. ‘Rusty’ Gibbs, a sailor whose friends bet that he can’t get a woman of their choosing to go out on a date with him. The woman they choose is a librarian, Doris, played by Mary Brian. Here’s her opening screen credit(s), which provide a sneak peek at the plot to come:

Reel Librarians | Opening credits in 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Reel Librarians | Opening credits in 'Navy Blues' (1937)

One reader shared that they voted for Navy Blues because the main star, Dick Purcell, portrayed Captain America in the 1943 serial film. As good a reason as any!

*SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

I first mentioned the film Navy Blues on this site in the 2012 post “Have you seen this movie?,” in which I highlighted movies with major librarian characters that I had not been able to locate copies of. I did locate a streaming copy of it available online via YouTube (but of course, the video quality is not the best).

In their book The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, Ray and Brenda Tevis do not mince words about this film:

Navy Blues renders such a visual and verbal assault on librarians that the motion picture effectively released the film industry from continuing any semblance of decent and respectful cinematic depictions of librarians. […] More importantly, in this film the sailors continually lambaste its librarian, demonstrating outright disrespect for women librarians. (p. 33)

In addition to being a mediocre film, Navy Blues is an extremely insensitive assault on librarians. Not all cinematic depictions of librarians in preceding motion pictures are commendatory toward the occupation, but none is more outlandish in its derision of librarians. (p. 35-36)

It is a mediocre film, one that starts off on a comedic, happy-go-lucky tone, and about two-thirds of the way in, elements of spy and action thrillers get added into the mix. It’s an odd combination. And due to its extremely negative portrayal of reel librarianship, I have to admit at having to stop the film at certain points to get my blood pressure down before continuing. And that’s before I reread the film’s entry in the Tevis book!

Less than five minutes into the 77-minute film, the librarian is referred to as a “bow-wow,” a slang term for “dog” — and in this context, also a slang term for “ugly.”

Here’s how that scene plays out, which takes place after Rusty’s sailor pals go ashore to start their shore leave.

Chips: I saw a dame in a public li-berry once.

Biff and Gateleg:  Where?!

Chips: Now don’t get me wrong, boys, I just popped in there out of the rain. Well, I took one gander at this dame and ran right out again, rain or no rain.

Biff:  That bad?

Chips: Yeah. A bow-wow.

A few minutes later, Rusty takes the bet, and they drop him off at the library. The sign says it’s the “Harbor Branch.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Chip:  In there, sailor.

Rusty:  A library, eh? I’ve been in libraries before. They don’t scare me.

Chip:  Don’t you think you’ll need an introduction?

Rusty:  Say, how will I know her?

Chip:  She’s got on a pair of glasses as thick as cookies. You know the type! [Laughs hysterically]

Rusty strides into the library and asks for the first book title he sees, Advanced Algebra by Hammersmith. This turns out to be an important plot point — as the book he picks out turns out to be used as a code book for a spy ring! As Rusty later laments, “Of all the books in the library, I had to take that one!”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

He tries to butter up the librarian with cliché phrases like, “Old books, you know, are like old friends” and “When I get engrossed in a book, the hours just fly.” She isn’t having any of it and crisply hands the book over and informs him of closing time.

She also climbs a book ladder a few minutes later, and Rusty makes a face at the closeup of her ankle, encased in sturdy Oxfords. The reel librarian makes a face right back at him.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Rusty’s friends are waiting for him outside the library, wondering what is taking him so long. When the librarian — we learn her name is “Miss Kimbell” and later learn her first name, Doris — closes up the library, she walks out with another man named Julian. (By the way, Julian turns out to be a spy who was using the Advanced Algebra book to pass through codes and secret information! Because no one could actually be interested in a woman librarian!) Rusty manages to infiltrate himself into the situation and helps walk Mary home.

His friends are astounded, and we get these further insults in rapid-fire succession:

He must be a glutton for punishment.

It must be Thanksgiving or something. She’s all made up like a pilgrim.

It’ll take a brave man to wheel that museum piece into the Crow’s Nest.

So within the film’s first 10 minutes, the reel librarian is the subject of multiple insults, from “bow wow” to “museum piece.” And we still have 60 minutes to go!

Even her aunt and uncle get in on the insults:

Aunt Beulah:  How do I know where he’s luring Doris to?

Uncle Andrew:  She’s probably luring him, to some roundtable discussion. And that’ll end it.

I will highlight just two more scenes.

First, the romantic scene that includes a makeover, or at least the description of a makeover. (At this point, my husband — who was only half paying attention — looked up and said, “This plot sounds just like the movie She’s All That!” He’s not wrong about that, at least until the spy ring and naval intelligence get involved.)

Here’s a clip of that scene, coming in at 20 minutes into the film and lasting about 3 minutes.

This scene has Rusty assuring that Doris doesn’t need to wear glasses — “But you can see without them?” — and that she should make more of an effort to look feminine — “I don’t know how long you’ve been wearing this disguise, but I’m gonna be around to see the unveiling.” (More jabs at the “museum piece” analogy.)

Rusty also “accidentally” drops her glasses while they kiss on the beach at sunset, and her glasses break on the rocks. Grrrrrrrrr… this necessitated me pausing the film. Because RAGE. Laser beams coming out of my own pair of glasses, which I will keep right on wearing, thank you very much.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

Rusty — never offering to pay for her broken eyeglasses, no surprise there — has an ulterior motive for her makeover, as he wants to bring her to the Crow’s Nest bar to show her off to his friends and collect his cash for the bet. But his plan backfires, as his pals don’t believe it’s the “li-berrian” they saw before. They refuse to pay, because “That girl’s a ringer.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

To convince them, he makes up a story — it involves him lying about being an undercover naval intelligence agent, which had me seriously doubting Doris’s intelligence — and forcing her to put on another pair of glasses while he hand-mimics “four eyes” in the background. Now they recognize her!

This scene is like the flip side of Superman’s “disguise” as Clark Kent, with no one recognizing him whenever he wears glasses. In this movie, no one recognizes the librarian unless she’s wearing glasses!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

At the end of this scene, Doris finds out about Rusty’s bet and storms off, and he goes after her. Fair warning, this is the most rage-inducing scene in the entire film:

Rusty:  Sure I made that bet. Why else would I have bothered with a freak like you?

Doris:  A freak?!

Rusty:  Well, that’s what you were. I changed you over from a crow, a bookworm. Made you into a girl that could take her pick of anything.

The actress’s facial expression matched my own:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Navy Blues' (1937)

She rightly slams the door in his face. Attagirl! (Too bad she later forgives him.)

I have to admit, this film was exhausting to watch and to weather all the insults hurled at reel librarians — and insults hurled at women in general. I cannot divorce my analysis of this film apart from my being a librarian and a woman librarian at that. I am biased. So is this film. (Written by two men, I might add.)

The librarian profession is central to the plot, making it a Class I film, but the profession is there to be mocked at! I mean, isn’t it funny that a man was TRICKED to court a librarian?! HILARIOUS. :/

The character seems destined for early spinsterhood and is rules-obsessed (in the opening library scene, she says, “[I]f it’s so important to you, I might waive a rule”), but as the film continues, it’s obvious that Doris Kimbell fulfills the Liberated Librarian character type. I mean that in a tongue-in-cheek, rolling-my-eyes kind of way, as she doesn’t need to be liberated from anything. But this is the kind of film in which stereotypes will be stereotypes, and the star always gets the girl, even if the star plays a character who is arrogant, rude, and a pathological liar.

Reel Librarians | Closeup of library book in 'Navy Blues' (1937)

I will end this post with a tidbit about the book at the center of this film, Hammersmith’s Advanced Algebra. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? Well, you were right — I used both a basic Google search plus a search in WorldCat, the “world’s library catalog.” I could not find any book with that exact title and author, and from the closeup above, it does look like the title on the spine could be pasted on. However, I did find a book in WorldCat titled Advanced Algebra (Vol. 2), published in 1937 (the same year as this film) and written by Clement Vavasor Durell and Alan Robson — and here’s the kicker — with a copy in the Hammersmith & Fulham Libraries in Hammersmith, UK.

Coincidence? You be the judge! Discuss and share your thoughts about the film in the comments.

7 faces of a liberated librarian

Thank you to everyone who voted in the second reader poll to choose the next film for me to analyze! And here you have it, a post about your chosen winner, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).

“Here is the mysterious beauty of the far East and the roaring action of the far West!” [from trailer]

This film, based very loosely on the award-winning 1935 novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney, is a showcase for Tony Randall’s skill at comedic timing and accents — as the title suggests, he plays 7 roles in this film, including the title character. Legendary makeup artist William Tuttle also gets to display his mastery at special effects makeup — after all, he created the “7 faces” of the title — and earned an Honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case and title card for '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

It’s a strange, uneven film that combines elements of the fantasy and Western genres; mysterious Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) brings a circus to a Western frontier town in Arizona while local newspaperman Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) woos the local teacher/librarian (Barbara Eden), a widow with a young son. The film plot reads like a mash-up of 1962’s The Music Man (a mysterious, shady character comes to a small town and woos the local librarian) and 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (a mysterious circus comes to town, and the town librarian reconnects with his young son). Interesting that ALL THREE films — 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Music Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes — feature reel librarians in prominent roles. Hmmmmmm…

In 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Barbara Eden — one year from her iconic title role in I Dream of Jeannie — plays the town librarian and widow Angela Benedict. She receives third billing in the film’s trailer (but second billing in the film’s credits), but her profession is not mentioned in the trailer. Rather, the trailer highlights the different roles Tony Randall plays; everyone and everything else comes second — or rather, eighth. 😉

The first library scene begins 10 minutes into the film, as Ed putt-putts up to the library in his motorized bicycle — obviously a clue to his inner rebel! This also helps date the film as early 1900s, as motorized bicycles came to the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The prop master wasted no time in featuring the main feature of the library set:  a big SILENCE sign front and center on the reel librarian’s desk. (Sigh.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Ever the rebel, Ed asks loudly if there’s anything to read, earning an immediate “Shhhhhh!!!” from the reel librarian and dirty looks from the patrons reading at a nearby table. Angela Benedict then directs him to the section on “courtesy and good manners” since he is displaying such bad manners by talking loudly in a library. Then he displays further bad manners by sneaking in a kiss on her neck!!! The librarian shouts in alarm, drawing even more attention. Ed laughs at her reaction, because sexual harassment is soooo funny. 😦

Bias alert:  As a librarian who has had to personally deal with sexual harassment while at work — it’s an all-too-common issue for many, many librarians — I found this entire “romance” between Ed and Angela more than a little creepy and disturbing. So fair warning that I’m bound to get all-capsy in this post!

They then settle down to a legitimate reference question, as he wants a book on China (to look up the village Dr. Lao says he’s from), and Angela directs him not only to a particular shelf — “Section on Asia, third shelf from the top” — but also recites a specific book title, The History of China by D. Boulger.

NOTE:  Y’all know I had to look that book up, right? And it turns out, it’s a real book! D. Boulger is Demetrius Charles Boulger, who wrote several volumes about China in the late 1800s, including Volume I of The History of China available to read online here, published in 1881.

Ed then follows up this legitimate reference query by asking Angela on a date, something he has apparently tried several times before:

Angela:  I should think it would be clear by now that I do not wish to go out with you, Mr. Cunningham. Ever.

Ed:  It’s because you’re afraid.

Angela:  Of you?

Ed:  Of falling in love. Of being a woman. That’s what you are, Angela, underneath all those widow’s weeds.

Gross. Especially as Ed pauses to leer and eyeball her up and down before saying the last half of that sentence above, “underneath all those widow’s weeds.”

Angela is properly shocked at this.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Unfortunately, Angela is saddled with a screenplay determined to make her an example of a “Liberated Librarian” character type — with her “liberation” coming at the hands of a man who cannot take NO for an answer. Because Ed obviously knows that secretly, deep down underneath all those widow’s weeds, she desires him. After all, he is apparently the only eligible man in town.

And in the VERY NEXT SCENE, we all get to see what is actually underneath all those widow’s weeds. Right after she kisses her son goodnight, Angela changes clothes in front of an open door as she continues a conversation with her mother-in-law. As you do. The framing device of looking through the door as Angela changes in her bedroom also increases the Peeping Tom creep factor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next scene is a town meeting that takes place in the library, which seems to function also as the City Hall. (Note the two extra SILENCE placards in the library set below.) The scene involves a subplot about a businessman, Mr. Stark, who wants to “save the town” and buy everyone’s land before the water runs out.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

So there are THREE parallel plots going on here about male saviors:

  • Ed, who is trying to save the local librarian;
  • Mr. Stark, who says he’s trying to save the town from going under (but is really a charlatan under his waistcoat of respectability and 10-gallon hat);
  • and the mysterious Dr. Lao, who ends up saving the town from itself (even though everyone suspects he’s a charlatan and a so-called “dirty foreigner”).

During the town meeting, Angela stands up and asks a direct question:  If Abalone is as worthless as Mr. Stark says, why is he so anxious to buy it?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

In Mr. Stark’s response, he also reveals more about Angela’s role in the town: Fair question. I’m glad you asked. Mrs. Benedict, you’re a teacher. A librarian. And as such, you can take a dull boy and make him into a smart boy.

Angela starts to reply and then gets SHUSHED by another lady, who says she ought to be ashamed of herself for doubting Mr. Stark’s integrity! That earns some librarian side eye.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

A majority of the film then focuses on the various sideshow acts — and characters — in Dr. Lao’s circus. One of these characters is Pan, who catches Angela under his musical spell. And OF COURSE, Angela immediately reveals her innermost desires — Ed was right all along! — as she imagines Pan’s face as Ed’s. This results in an unbuttoned blouse, messy hair, and heavy breathing. As you do.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Just as Angela is about to kiss Ed/Pan, a noise distracts her, and she runs away, ashamed of her actions. But her lust lurking “underneath all those widow’s weeds” soon rises again to the top, as we later see Angela in her nightclothes, sweating and unable to sleep.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next night, Angela’s liberation is complete, as she has now cast off her dark, severe widow’s weeds and is bedecked in a feminine, frilly light blue dress and hat with blue flowers. She seems more at ease and flirts openly with Ed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

There are conflicting opinions expressed throughout the film about Angela, the reel librarian. On the one hand, she’s praised — however condescendingly — as a teacher and librarian by Mr. Stark at the town meeting, and Dr. Lao later calls her an “estimable educator.”

On the other hand, we witness her own mother-in-law’s disapproval at Angela’s prim parenting style as well as her loyalty to her dead husband. And we also get this conversation between Angela and Ed, in which Angela criticizes herself — or rather, who she used to be:

Ed:  You remind me of someone. A woman I know. Name’s Angela Benedict… Ever meet her?

Angela:  No. But I’ve heard of her. She’s supposed to be a most unpleasant person.

Ed:  Oh no. Whoever told you, it’s is a lie. Angela’s, well, you see, Angela’s got a problem.

Angela:  What kind of a problem?

Ed:  The worst kind. Same as mine. Loneliness. It’s just about the worst thing that can happen to a person. See, people think Angela’s hard. People think she’s cold. Let me tell you she isn’t hard and she isn’t cold. She’s soft and warm. Only she’s afraid to let anyone know.

[Librarian side eye.]

There is one more scene set in the library, after Dr. Lao exposes Mr. Stark’s scheme. The public votes against selling their land to Mr. Stark, and Angela leads the clapping for Dr. Lao.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Angela Benedict as the small-town librarian is a classic Liberated Librarian role:  a young, trapped woman who “discovers herself” with the help of a man or in face of an adventure (or both, in this case). Angela herself explains the transformation:

I woke up, and I found out something. Just that there’s music in the air and that I’m a liar and worse. I’m in love.

So there you have it. Life lessons for us all. Single lady librarians who seem content in their independence and sensible clothing are all liars and need to acknowledge how liberating the love of a good man is. And then change right away into feminine, frilly dresses in pastel shades to demonstrate externally how love has transformed them into real women.

(Sigh.)

After all, we had learned this lesson not 2 years before in 1962’s The Music Man. One of the first things I noted after watching the film was how many similarities there are between the characters of “Marian the Librarian” in The Music Man and Angela Benedict in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Both Class II portrayals. Both Liberated Librarians who started off as uptight prudes with spectacles (or pince nez). Both small-town librarians transformed by love (and a frilly dress and hat).

Reel Librarians  |  The Music Man vs. 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

The Music Man is admittedly a superior film, and Marian Paroo has quite a bit more spunk than the character of Angela Benedict, who comes across as a watered-down, pale imitation of Marian the Librarian. It’s also telling that the character of Angela Benedict — indeed, the entire subplots of Angela and Ed, as well as Mr. Stark’s business proposition — was NOT in the book.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao was not a hit when it was first released, but it has become a kind of cult fantasy classic over the decades, most likely because of its special effects and nostalgic stop-animation sequences. The story, however, does not age well, nor do the numerous jokes at the expense of racism and sexism. The film is equal-opportunity offensive, however, making fun of the Chinese, rednecks, nagging housewives, Native Americans, “dirty foreigners,” and of course, librarians. In a film that features — no, celebrates! — a white man playing a gapped-toothed Chinaman, is it any wonder that is also includes a stereotypical librarian?

And last but not least, the 7 faces (or rather, facial expressions) of a Liberated Librarian:

Reel Librarians  |  7 faces of a Liberated Librarian

Until next time… 🙂

The Killing Kind vs. The Attic

As I mentioned in last week’s post, The Attic (1980) serves as a kind of cinematic continuation of two characters featured in The Killing Kind (1973). I have a copy of both films, so I set about watching The Killing Kind this past weekend and comparing the two. There are some eery similarities in both films, but some interesting differences, as well. Enjoy!

(Beware:  SPOILER ALERTS throughout)


Basic details:


The Killing Kind The Attic
1973 1980
Director:  Curtis Harrington Directors:  George Edwards & Gary Graver (uncredited)
Screenwriters:  Tony Crechales & George Edwards Screenwriters:  Tony Crechales & George Edwards
Filmed in and around Los Angeles, California Filmed and set in Wichita, Kansas
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' poster Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' poster

The two screenwriters,  Tony Crechales and George Edwards, wrote both films, and they obviously wanted to further explore the themes and characters introduced in the first film.


Opening scene:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
The film begins with a gang rape of a young girl on a beach. Terry Lambert (John Savage), the central character, is involved in the gang rape by peer pressure, taunted by his friends to participate. This film begins with the suicide attempt of Louise Elmore, the reel librarian. She is watching old home movies of her ex-fiance and has slit her wrists.

Both films begin with a violent opening scene. The later film starts with a more subtle visual introduction to the suicide attempt, panning around Louise’s bedroom before closing in on her bloody wrists. The first film, however, is quite shocking in its immediate, graphic depiction of a gang rape.

It is also important to note that there are also several depictions of violent, gruesome murders in this first film, which qualifies more as a horror film or thriller. The second film is more of a suspenseful drama, with depictions of murderous fantasies in place of actual murders.


Central characters & conflict:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Terry Lambert (John Savage) and his mother, Thelma (Ann Sothern). Terry comes back to live with his mother after spending 2 years in jail for the rape. Mysteriously, those with a connection to the rape — and subsequent prosecution — start being killed off. Louise Elmore (Carrie Snodgress) and her father, Wendell (Ray Milland). Louise is a librarian being forced to retire, and has been forced to take care of her wheelchair-bound father all her adult life.
Terry’s mother, Thelma, is overbearing in the sense that she is too intimate with her son, almost smothering him with affection. She often kisses him and demands more kisses (“That wasn’t much of a kiss”) but then complains that she will “get a hickey.” She also surprises him in the shower in one scene and takes a photo of him naked. Wendell is overbearing in that he is repeatedly cruel in his actions and words toward Louise. He is constantly criticizing and berating her verbally, comparing her unfavorably to her mother. He does stay too long in her bedroom in one scene, watching her get dressed, until Louise tells him to leave.
Terry makes a point of calling his mother “Thelma” instead of “Mom” or “Mother” — further confusing the boundaries of their mother/son relationship Louise always refers to her father as “Father” and never calls, or refers, to him by his first name.

Both films feature former screen stars in prominent roles:  Ann Sothern and Ruth Roman in The Killing Kind (1980), and Ray Milland in The Attic (1980).

It is also interesting to note that the central relationships in both films focus on single parents, but the gender of the single parent is switched (one mother vs. one father).


The reel librarian:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Luana Anders as Louise (no last name), a supporting role Carrie Snodgress as Louise Elmore, the main character
Class III Class I
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot
Louise does not mention her occupation until her second big scene, when she talks to Terry by the pool. She also doesn’t mention what kind of library she works in. Louise is identified as a librarian right away, in the first scene after the opening credits. It is quite clear that she works in a public library and is referred to as the “head librarian.”
Louise is the only reel librarian in this film. There are three other librarians featured in this film besides Louise:  Ruth Cox as Emily, a supporting character and second female lead; Terry Troutt as Donald; and Frances Bay as Librarian, an older lady

Luana Anders was 35 during The Killing Kind (1973), and Carrie Snodgress was 34 during filming of The Attic (1980). The two actresses look similar in that they are about the same age and both white females with light brown hair. Louise in the first film wears glasses — and always sports the same hairstyle of bangs and a low bun. In the second film, Louise does NOT wear glasses, and changes up her hairstyle quite frequently.

It’s interesting to note that Louise’s age is specified in the first film, as she has Terry guess her age; he (correctly) guesses 35. Louise’s disappointed reaction? “Too old?” Louise’s age in the second film is not explicitly stated, but she must be around 40 years old, considering that she was jilted 19 years before. So, age-wise, one could see the second film as a natural continuation from events in the first film.


The father:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Peter Brocco as Louise’s Father (no name) Ray Milland as Wendell Elmore
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' screenshot

Both characters are wheelchair-bound, although the reasons why are explored more in the second film. The two actors approach the role quite differently. In The Killing Kind (1973), Peter Brocco seems to play the role a bit effeminately, as evidenced by lifting up his pinkie finger to sip tea, the abundance of makeup on his face (although that could be shoddy film makeup work), and his whiny, needling voice. He seems to be of a weaker internal character than that of the cruel, confident, bombastic Wendell in The Attic (1980).

Also, in both films, Louise admits to having fantasies about harming or killing her father. In The Killing Kind (1973), Louise tells Terry that “[S]ometimes I have this terrific urge to put ground glass in my father’s food. I can almost hear his false teeth grinding on the glass.” In The Attic (1980), the film visually acts out several of Louise’s fantasies about killing her father, including putting poison in his glass at dinner.


The library:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
No scene set in the library; Louise is seen only in her bedroom or around the neighboring houses Several scenes set at the city library, including a retirement party scene.
Louise first shows up 12 minutes into the film, typing on a typewriter and sitting at an outdoor table with her father in a wheelchair beside her. A long scene after the opening credits introduces the physical library space. There are also external shots of the library exterior, including wide front steps and a closeup of the “City Library” sign etched in stone.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' screenshot

Both characters state — in no uncertain terms — that their work in the library is boring. (SIGH.) However, in the second film, Louise seems genuinely sad both during and after her retirement party.


The fires:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
The first scene in which we meet Louise and her father, their conversation hints that Terry set their house on fire, because, as he puts it, “the boy’s a psychopath.” There’s no mention, however, that the fire is tied to the father’s paralysis or why he’s in a wheelchair. In the first scene set in the library, a gossipy old lady hints that the reason Louise is being retired is due to an accidental fire in the library. She also hints at a prior house fire that caused the paralysis of Louise’s father — the implication that Louise caused both fires.
In a later scene, in which Louise tries to seduce Terry after having a few drinks, she reveals that “I have these hallucinations that are so real about burning all the books!” Louise also describes the book-burning scene, but this time to a younger librarian, Emily. “The books were my enemy. Destroy them, before they destroy you, a voice whispered to me. It felt so wonderful, to see all those books going up in flames.” This description is accompanied by a visual depiction of the book-burning.
There are no visual representations of Louise’s hallucinations in this film. Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot

Sex and the single librarian:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
There are two sexually charged scenes in this film. One occurs a little over a half-hour into the film, after Louise has been drinking. She has been watching Terry swim in the pool at night and goes over to talk. She reveals several personal tidbits (like wanting to burn all the books) and then moves closer to Terry, even taking off her glasses and rubbing them along his thigh. Then she reveals another personal fantasy, “It must feel wonderful. […] Being raped. I wouldn’t have told on you.” !!!!! While there are several shots of old home movies featuring a young Louise kissing Robert, there is only one overtly sexual scene in this film. When Louise goes to the movies and then goes back to a hotel room with a sailor, she is visibly nervous and over-talkative. It isn’t until she pretends the stranger, the sailor, is her ex-fiance — even calling him Robert — does she engage in sex. This act of “getting laid” (her exact words) begins her slow climb to self-confidence and independence.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians  |  'The Attic' screenshot
The other sexual scene comes in ten minutes later, when Louise goes over to the pool — this time in daylight — to make excuses for her behavior. Terry makes fun of her (“Why don’t you just hop into a goddamn cold shower?”), but Louise turns on him instead. She has a cruel smile on her face as she taunts his guitar-playing:  “That thing that you hold so close to you, like a woman, you can’t even play it.” Late in the film, after being retired from the library, Louise mistakes (hallucinates?) the young man who comes over to mow the lawn as her ex-fiance, Robert. Dressed in a nightgown, she goes out to the young man and tries to kiss him, as she believes he has finally come back to her. She is ridiculed later by her father for this embarrassing incident.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot

Different librarian roles:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
In this film, Louise comes across as no-nonsense. She stands up to her father frequently and seems almost dismissive of him. She also declares her independent streak, stating outright that she’s not afraid of Terry. She also taunts Terry in a later scene. In the later film, Louise has a more multi-faceted personality; this is not unusual, given that she is the main character and given more scenes and scope to explore emotionally. Overall, Louise is more tentative, pathetic, and less confident. She also expresses sensitivity and openness to her librarian friend, Emily.
In her relationship with her father, she comes across the more domineering, cruel personality. In her relationship with her father, Wendell is the more domineering personality.
In the scene where she tries to seduce Terry, she does reveal her loneliness. “I’d rather be with somebody I didn’t like than to be alone.” Louise is very lonely, but the cause of this loneliness is explained by being left at the altar 19 years ago.
We see Louise hiding a liquor bottle behind her pillow one night when her father comes up at bedtime. She also apologizes for her drunken behavior to Terry. It’s interesting to note that she does admit her drinking. “Like I said, I was drunk.” Louise is shown drinking in several scenes but never admits her alcoholism. Rather, she makes excuses for having a drink at lunch, etc. and hides a bottle behind the front library counter.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot
Louise serves the role of a Naughty Librarian in this film. She’s shown to be a peeping tom — even with binoculars! — spying on Terry and his increasingly violent behavior. She also tries to seduce Terry one night by the pool — and resorts to vindictive behavior when her sexual desires are rebuffed. Louise’s primary role in this film is that of a Liberated Librarian. She is a trapped/naïve woman who discovers herself — and what she’s capable of — under extreme circumstances. Louise’s “liberation” supplies the main plot of this film.

Biddies and birdies:


The Killing Kind (1973) The Attic (1980)
Mrs. Orland is the name of an older, gossipy woman. She rents a room in Thelma’s house and is shown to be affectionate toward Terry. Mrs. Orland is played by character actress Marjorie Eaton. Mrs. Fowler is the name of the older, gossipy woman who reveals the back story about the fires. Although the character name is different, it’s played by the SAME character actress, Marjorie Eaton!
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot
Terry buys a myna bird for his mother, after one of her cats mysteriously dies early on in the film. The myna bird calls out, “Are you a good boy?” repeatedly through the film — which was the original working title for the film! When the two main librarians, Louise and Emily, stop by the pet store, there are both birds and chimps pictured in the front window. Emily eventually buys the chimp as a present for Louise.
There are a few shots of stuffed animals, particularly a stuffed teddy bear and a Raggedy Andy doll that Terry curls up to after another gruesome murder. The film begins with shots of stuffed animal monkeys, which cover every surface of Louise’s bedroom.
Reel Librarians  |  'The Killing Kind' screenshot Reel Librarians | 'The Attic' screenshot

There are still more striking similarities and differences between the two films. For example, Terry has personal hallucinations in The Killing Kind (1973) that feature Louise the librarian vs. the hallucinations in The Attic (1980) that come from Louise herself. Also, Louise’s bedroom in the first film is quite stark and sparsely furnished, whereas Louise’s bedroom in the second is quite cluttered and almost juvenile in tone (because she’s mentally stuck 19 years in the past).

All in all, I found this an intriguing exercise in comparing and contrasting the two films. Each film does stand alone on its own merits. While, like I said before, the two films are not officially recognized as a series, the recurring characters of Louise and her wheelchair-bound father, as well as the recurring themes of fires, hallucinations, overbearing parents, and repressed sexual desires do strongly link the two films together.