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.

Pitfalls and fantasies in ‘The Pit’

A couple of months ago, Movie Vigilante, a long-time reader and supporter of Reel Librarians (thank you!), gave me a heads-up about the new release of the 1981 film, The Pit (aka Teddy). It’s a pretty obscure film, but one that has developed its own cult following. I pre-ordered a copy of the DVD, and it arrived on my doorstep this past weekend, just in time for me to watch and analyze it for the blog. As the film is a horror film — and it even begins with a Halloween party scene! — it’s perfect timing to round out our scary movie theme for October.

*PLOT SPOILERS THROUGHOUT*

The basic plot? This plot summary from IMDb.com sums up The Pit quite well:

Twelve year-old Jamie Benjamin is a misunderstood lad. His classmates pick on him, his neighbors think he’s weird and his parents ignore him. But now Jamie has a secret weapon: deep in the woods he has discovered a deep pit full of man-eating creatures he calls Trogs… and it isn’t long before he gets an idea for getting revenge and feeding the Trogs in the process!

One major detail this plot summary leaves out? That Jamie talks to Teddy, his teddy bear… and Teddy answers him back. Teddy even gets highlighted in the film’s title card sequence, as seen below.

Reel Librarians | Title card from 'The Pit' (1981)

Title card from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The original screenplay, written by Ian A. Stuart, was a bit different from the final film. Jamie was younger, 8 or 9 years old, and the “tra-la-logs” (what Jamie calls the Trogs) were imaginary, not real. It’s kind of a shame that the director, Lew Lehman, didn’t follow that original vision. I always prefer psychological horror — are they real? are they not real? — because your imagination makes things scarier and more horrifying. And that’s the major pitfall (har har) of this film, the cheesy special effects. Plus some gaping plot holes that rival the actual pit in The Pit. ;D

The Pit is definitely an odd film in many ways, including the fact that it’s a Canadian horror movie that was filmed entirely in the United States. More specifically, it was filmed in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, utilizing well-known locales in that city. Beaver Dam is even thanked in the film’s credits!

Reel Librarians | Special thanks in end credits of 'The Pit' (1981)

Special thanks in end credits of ‘The Pit’ (1981)

When I unwrapped the DVD, I read the back of the cover, which states:  “Jamie will teach everyone a lesson:  the kids who teased and bullied him, the mean old lady down the street, even his pretty new babysitter.”

Reel Librarians | DVD cover for 'The Pit' (1981)

DVD front and back covers for ‘The Pit’ (1981)

My senses went up at the “mean old lady” comment, wondering if this was the reel librarian? But I was mistaken! The reel librarian character, Marg Livingstone, is a much younger and attractive woman (in her 30s?) played by Laura Hollingsworth. IMDb.com lists this as Hollingsworth’s sole film credit. She gets 4th billing, and the credits also list a Library Clerk, played by Cindy Auten.

But before we get to the library scenes — there are several in this film! — let’s get to the context. Within the first five minutes of the film, Jamie (played by Sammy Snyders) is seen writing sentences on a school blackboard, punishment for bringing in a naughty book. The schoolteacher opens the book, titled Creative Nude Photography, and comes across a page with a nude silhouette that’s been cut out.

Reel Librarians | Book closeup in 'The Pit' (1981)

Book closeup in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Even though the book clearly has NO CALL NUMBER on the spine (the tell-tale clue to differentiate between books in a bookstore vs. a library), the schoolteacher assumes it’s a library book. She also states that she’s sure “Ms. Livingstone can find some way to repair it [the book].”

We then see her walking up to a large and beautiful stone building with the words “Williams Free Library” in scrollwork atop the front windows.

Reel Librarians | Williams Free Library exterior seen in 'The Pit' (1981)

Williams Free Library exterior seen in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Side note:  The Williams Free Library was also the first public library in the United States to have open stacks, which is quite impressive. This stone building was completed in 1891 and is one of the most well-known buildings in that region. Beaver Dam built a new library in 1984, so this building now houses the Dodge County Historical Society.

Even though a few websites erroneously list Miss Livingstone as a school librarian, it’s clear that she’s actually a public librarian. Here’s a peek into the library itself (the library interiors were actually filmed at Wayland Academy in Beaver dam), when the teacher comes in to the drop off the book. In the screenshot below, you can see a corner of the nameplate on the front counter, which reveals the librarian’s name (and marital status) as Miss M. Livingstone. You are invited to also visually contrast the more formal (and dare I say, more glamorous?) attire and hairstyle of the librarian with the more casual look and hairdo of the library aide beside her.

Reel Librarians | Public library counter in 'The Pit' (1981)

Public library counter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Here’s how this scene plays out:

Librarian:  Hello, Marian. What can I do for you?

Teacher:  I’m returning this. Jamie, one of my little boy borrowed it. There isn’t likely to be any record of it having gone out. Perhaps you could slip it back for me?

Librarian:  I’ll make sure it’s put back on the shelves.

Teacher:  There’s been a little clipping from one of the pages, I’m afraid. One of the figures cut out. Can you fix that?

Librarian:  We’ll just take out the whole page. Thank you.

The dialogue of this exchange seems innocuous enough, but the expressions on their faces reveal a deeper subtext. The librarian’s face visibly tightens when the teacher mentions the clipping, and the teacher notices this and looks a bit puzzled.

The next scene reveals WHY the librarian reacted this way to the news about Jamie and the clipping from the book. After the teacher leaves, Miss Livingstone immediately takes the book and her purse to a back room in the library. Unbeknownst to her, Jamie is also peeking in on this scene. (One of many convenient plot points.)

Reel Librarians | Library backroom in 'The Pit' (1981)

Library backroom in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

She then takes out an anonymous letter from her purse, which reveals that Jamie has sent her the nude clipping with a picture of her head glued on top! Definitely creepy and unsettling! And now the librarian knows who sent her the letter. But instead of alerting authorities, she just rips up the letter.

Reel Librarians | Ripping up an anonymous letter in 'The Pit' (1981)

Ripping up an anonymous letter in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The commentary track, provided by a film critic and film historian, highlights a major problem I had with this scene. It’s clear Miss Livingstone is an object of Jamie’s fantasies, but what was his plan or motivation for sending the letter? Is he trying to flatter her? Or is he trying to creep her out? It’s unclear.

Whatever Jamie’s motives, Miss Livingstone remains suspicious of Jamie. This also rises to the surface in the next scene in the library, almost a half-hour into the film. This is when Miss Livingstone meets Jamie’s new babysitter, Sandy, who has come to the library to check out books on “problem children.”

Sandy:  I’m working for Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin, looking after…

Miss Livingstone:  Jamie. Yes, well, I can certainly understand why you’d want a book on problem children. […] Look, I’d like to tell you something about that little boy that you might not know. As another woman, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Reel Librarians | Library scene in 'The Pit' (1981)

Library scene in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Although Miss Livingstone takes the opportunity to warn Sandy about Jamie, it’s clear that, once again, she chooses NOT to go to the police or other authorities to warn them about Jamie’s escalating behavior.

The next, and final, scene that takes place in the library clocks in at 37 minutes, when Miss Livingstone observes Jamie browsing the shelves at the library. The camera angles on this scene are fantastic, revealing the librarian’s suspicions nature about Jamie. It also visually posits the librarian as the “peeping tom” in this scene. Role reversal!

Reel Librarians | Librarian observes Jamie in 'The Pit' (1981)

Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Reel Librarians | Librarian observes Jamie in 'The Pit' (1981)

Librarian observes Jamie in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

The librarian then questions the library aide, seen shelving behind Jamie, about what he checked out.

Miss Livingstone:  What kind of books was that little boy taking out?

Library Aide:  Art.

Miss Livingstone:  What kind of art?

Library Aide:  Some drawing and painting. How-to-do-it stuff. And some on animal husbandry.  Maybe wants to be some kind of veterinarian.

Reel Librarians | Library steps from 'The Pit' (1981)

Library steps from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

We then see Jamie opening up one of the animal husbandry books on the library steps, where he learns about carnivores. Uh oh! This is a pivotal scene, as the library book provides Jamie with knowledge about what to feed carnivores. He starts out buying meat from the butcher’s shop to feed the tra-la-logs… and then when his money funds out, he starts feeding them humans! Convenient that he only feeds them people who have been mean to him…

Jamie’s next prank is quite complex, as he successfully blackmails the librarian. He waits until her niece, Abigail (which he keeps mispronouncing as Abrigail, very annoying), is out of the house and Miss Livingstone is doing yoga in her leotard. He then plays a tape recording over a public pay phone with a pre-recorded message stating that he has kidnapped Abigail and won’t release the child unless Miss Livingstone takes off her clothes. Jamie then sneaks under her window and takes pictures of her on his Polaroid as she undresses.

Reel Librarians | Peeping Tom and polaroids from 'The Pit' (1981)

Peeping Tom and polaroids from ‘The Pit’ (1981)

Major plot holes with this scene? First, Jamie makes NO ATTEMPT to disguise his voice on the recording, and Miss Livingstone has had several disturbing encounters with Jamie already. Why doesn’t she recognize his voice? (The commentary track also brings up this issue.) Second, he says on the recording that he’s watching her yet she DOESN’T BOTHER to look out the window, where she could easily spot Jamie with his camera. Third, a 12-year-old boy has pre-recorded the blackmail message, therefore having to anticipate the reactions of a 30-ish woman. Like I said before, another very convenient plot point.

When Jamie takes the Polaroids home, he shows them to Teddy, who says, “I’m going to look at these a lot.” Creepy! And then I realized that these Polaroids of the librarian are actually included on the film’s poster. Double creepy!

Reel Librarians | Polaroids in a scene from and poster for 'The Pit' (1981)

Polaroids in a scene from and poster for ‘The Pit’ (1981)

We never see the library or librarian again in the film. It’s interesting to note that Miss Livingstone does survive in the end, and there doesn’t seem to be any attempt on Jamie’s part to include her with the “bad people” he lures into the pit. (By the way, the aforementioned niece, Abigail, is not so lucky. She was mean to Jamie and played a trick on him with her bicycle. She got scolded by her librarian aunt for this trick, but that was not punishment enough for Jamie… )

In general, Miss Livingstone comes across as a pleasant, stylish, competent, and intelligent woman (except for when she didn’t recognize Jamie’s voice over the phone). She is seen both inside and outside the library, including at home with her hair down) as well as around town. The reel librarian is a supporting character, earning The Pit a spot in the Class III category.

Reel Librarians | Closeups of the librarian in 'The Pit' (1981)

Closeups of the librarian in ‘The Pit’ (1981)

As for what purpose or role she fulfills in the film? Primarily, she’s an Information Provider:  she, or the library she represents, provides pivotal information to Jamie — unwittingly helping escalate his behavior. Miss Livingstone also provides a reference point, a touchstone, for the audience as she mirrors our growing dread and suspicion of Jamie.

Although she doesn’t actually portray a Naughty Librarian in the film, it’s almost as if the filmmakers are pitting her character against that fantasy in others, namely Jamie. This is also echoed in the commentary track for the first library scene, as the film critic and film historian (both males) talk about how Miss Livingstone is an object of Jamie’s affection.

1st commentator:  You can tell because the glasses are so enticing. [sarcastic tone]

2nd commentator:  At some point … the hair’s going to go down and the glasses are going to come off, and she is going to be a hottie.

Here’s how the reel librarian character is described on the Canuxploitation site:

“Miss Livingston is the world’s most uptight librarian and appears to hold some deep, dark secret which is never revealed.”

I don’t agree with this characterization, that she is “the world’s most uptight librarian.” I interpreted her reactions to Jamie’s behavior as quite understandable, as a woman who is trying to do her job and go about her daily life. Instead, she has to deal with unwanted and inappropriate — not to mention unsolicited! — sexual attention and fantasies from a young boy.

Can you tell who I sympathize with in this movie? It sure isn’t Teddy…

One final note:  Although the creatures are listed as “Trogs” in the film’s credit, Jamie refers to them as “tra-la-logs” throughout the entire film. Every single time, this made me think of the “Mr. Trololo” singer and YouTube video clip that made the rounds on the Internet a couple of years ago. More creepiness!

So that wraps up this year’s scary movie posts, an annual tradition each October on the Reel Librarians blog. Here are the scary movies and reel librarians we looked at this past month:

After collating this list, I also realized that during this past month we have looked at movies from four different decades:  the ’50s, the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s. 🙂

Which scary movie post was your favorite? Please leave a comment and share.

Nymphomaniac librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’

That post title should get some visits for sure! 😉

The 1973 British cult classic, The Wicker Man, is a slow-burning (hah!) mystery, a film that slowly builds tension and horror as the central character, Sergeant Howie, along with the audience, slowly put all the pieces together behind the mysterious disappearance of a young girl. The screenwriter, Anthony Shaffer, wanted to craft a more literate kind of horror film, and he definitely succeeded! 

Sgt. Howie is played by Edward Woodward, a stick-up-his-ass policeman who travels from the mainland by boat to a remote island to investigate the girl’s disappearance, and is frustrated by the villagers’ attempts to mislead or thwart his efforts. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark… er, I mean, Summerisle.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of title screen from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Title screen from ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

When first released, the film did receive an “X” rating from the British Board of Film Censors, now the British Board of Film Classification. The BBFC site explains why the film received that rating; the film is now classified as “15.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot of X rating card for 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

X rating card for ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

*SPOILER ALERTS*

Ingrid Pitt, a well-known star of the Hammer horror films of the early 1970s, is listed 5th in the credits as simply “Librarian.” But Pitt herself, in a documentary about the film, stated, “My part isn’t very much, actually. What can a nymphomaniac librarian do? Not very much. But I thought it would be interesting to be involved in this type of film.”

In another video interview, she states (with a wink), “It was a nymphomaniac librarian I was playing, and I always liked the librarian bit, because I’m really into books.

The Wicker Man : Ingrid Pitt Interview (1998),” uploaded by Blackdog TV – Cinema, Standard YouTube license.

When I first watched the film, back in college, I thought this film was incorrectly listed as having a librarian, despite the “Librarian” credit for Pitt. Why? Because in one scene, Howie visits an office with a sign on the door that reads, “Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. Authorised Registrar for Civil Marriages,” and he researches the Index of Deaths. I had written back then that “The credits list Ingrid Pitt’s role as “The Librarian,” even though she works in a office clearly marked as Registrar.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registrar sign in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

But there’s more to it than that! It is confusing, as there are two separate scenes, and two separate sets or locations:  one scene in the Registrar’s office and another scene in the public library, when Sgt. Howie researches May Day rituals. It adds to the confusion that Ingrid Pitt does appear in the Registar’s office scene but not appear in the actual library scene. The film’s Wikipedia entry splits the difference, stating, “Ingrid Pitt, another British horror film veteran, was cast as the town librarian and registrar.”

So let’s dig a little deeper. It’s “nymphomaniac librarian” time! 😉

A little over a half-hour into the 90-odd-minute film, Sgt. Howie goes to an office with a sign on the door, “Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Authorized Registrar for Civil Marriages,” as seen in the above screenshot. He walks into a shabby, disorganized office, with cubbies full of leaning books and folders, and paperwork littering a desk, where a blonde woman sits, eating lunch. 

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registar’s office in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Registrar’s tight-lipped smile in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

He asks to see the Index of Death, and she immediately responds, “Do you have authority?” He has to get permission from Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee. Sgt. Howie threatens her with jail on the mainland, and she reluctantly opens a drawer and hands him a thin ledger, accompanied by a curt, thin-lipped smile. This scene showcases the “Information Provider” part of her role.

She answers his questions with civility — but no more — and there are a few closeups of her face, buttoned-up clothing, and braided bun hairstyle. This scene serves a purpose, to provide a contrast with how we later see the librarian/registrar. (The Registrar’s messy, cluttered office, also provides a contrast with the clean and tidy library we see later.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Closeup of Registrar/Librarian character in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

So let’s get to when Sgt. Howie visits the public library, an hour into the film, where he researches May Day rituals. There’s a closeup of the stone sign, “Public Library,” and a well-lit, tidy room full of bookcases and tables. We hear an overlay of narration as he reads about the May Day rituals of sacrifice.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Public Library sign in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Research scene in the public library in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

What’s confusing about this scene, as I mentioned before, is that Ingrid Pitt is NOT in this scene very clearly set in the public library, even though her character is listed as the librarian. But there IS another woman in the scene, an older woman with grey hair, who is clearly annoyed at Sgt. Howie when he reads aloud a few lines. When I first watched the film, I thought this woman must be the librarian, but that’s what I get for assuming! 😉

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

A patron’s frown in the library scene

When do we next get to see the librarian? Sgt. Howie goes searching for the missing girl, vowing to search every house in the village. Upon entering one house and bathroom, we get a glimpse of the “nymphomaniac” side of this reel librarian. Ingrid Pitt lounges in a half-tub of water, clearly naked, with her hair loosely pinned up. One hand covers her breasts while the other hand rests in-between her legs. She reaches up to bite her thumb in a coquettish way — much different from her earlier, tight-lipped smile in the Registrar’s office! This visual contrast definitely emphasizes the part of her role that is the “Naughty Librarian“!

Reel Librarians | Collage of contrasts for librarian character in 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Collage of contrasts for librarian character in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Sgt. Howie is clearly embarrassed and stammers, “I’m sorry.” As he closes the door, we can see a lacy negligee hanging on the hook.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Librarian’s negligee in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

And we get yet another clothing change for our erstwhile librarian. No lacy negligee but this time a peasant blouse and flowing yellow skirt, as well as flowing, loose hair, for her part in the May Day ritual.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

Another look for the librarian in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

The librarian’s May Day costume in ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)

The librarian gets one more scene, toward the end, blocking Sgt. Howie atop the cliffs. In again fulfilling the “Information Provider” part of her role, she helps explains why he’s “the right kind of adult” they’ve needed and researched for their May Day ritual of sacrifice. 

Even though this is a reel librarian role that is never actually seen in the library — isn’t it confusing that she is only seen, in a professional capacity, in the Registrar’s office, and not in the library?! — Ingrid Pitt does appear in scenes throughout the film. It is obvious, therefore, that she is an important person in the community, part of Lord Summerisle’s inner circle.

The story was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual, but the novel was uncredited in the film. I haven’t read the novel, so I don’t know if there’s a librarian character or not in the book. I also haven’t seen the 2006 American remake of the film starring Nicolas Cage and how closely it aligns (or not) to the book or the 1973 original film.

Has anyone else read the book or seen the 2006 remake? If you have, please leave a comment and let me know if a librarian character is in either one.

You, Me, Dupree, and the Naughty Librarian

You, Me, and Dupree (2006) is an odd film. It stars Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, and Matt Dillon, and it’s directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who also executive-produced the TV comedy, Community. You’d think those are ingredients for a potentially amusing film. But overall, those ingredients never really come together, and the half-baked film ends up feeling much longer than its 108 minutes.

It also does and does not include a reel librarian. Confusing? Stick with me.

The main plot is pretty simple:  Molly (Kate Hudson) and Carl (Matt Dillon) are newlyweds, and Carl’s best man, Dupree (Owen Wilson), crashes on their couch after he loses his job (due to attending their wedding). To put it mildly, Dupree overstays his welcome.

*SPOILER ALERTS*

Almost 40 minutes into the film, Molly and Carl are arguing — again — about Dupree staying at their house. Molly is attempting to problem-solve the situation. HINT, it involves a reel librarian:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

Molly:  What if he had a girlfriend?

Carl:  Good idea. But how’s a guy with no job, no car, living on somebody’s couch going to find any kind of  girlfriend?

Molly:  Our new librarian? She seems really nice.

Carl:  You want to fix Dupree up with a ‘really nice librarian’? listen, I’ve known the guy for 25 years. I think he’s more into the young, foreign, non-librarian type.

Molly:  It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Carl:  I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

Cut to next scene, after Molly shows Dupree the librarian’s picture in the faculty guide:

Dupree:  I’ll do it.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

That must be some school picture! We also learn the name of this “really nice librarian,” Mandy. And that she has a car. She is a catch! As is Dupree, obviously. 😉

Molly and Carl come home after a date night to a tie on the front door handle and “Funky Cold Medina” playing inside. Their reactions mirror their earlier conversation about hooking Dupree up with the school librarian:  Carl is worried as Molly gets excited.

Carl:  Looks like Dupree brought his date home.

Molly:  What is a tie doing on our door?

Carl:  Molly, I think we ought to drive around the block a couple of times.

Molly:  Wait a minute. No way. Mandy’s a Mormon. She’s not the kind of girl to get busy on the first date.

Carl:  You fixed Dupree up with a Mormon librarian?

And Carl’s skepticism seems to be justified. I will just let the next three screenshots sum up Molly’s — and our — introduction to Mandy, the Mormon librarian:

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

Dupree then runs out of the house with a pillow covering his private parts and thanks Molly “for the best night of my life” while Mandy, left alone in the house with all those open candle flames, sets the house on fire. Yes, that’s right. The Mormon librarian sets the house on fire.

That sure is some flammable symbolism, y’all.

The next shot has Dupree wrapped in a blanket and sitting on the sidewalk, talking to Mandy who’s in her car. All we see of her this time is the back of her curly hair. But we do get a nice view of her bumper sticker, which reads:  DO THE DEWEY!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

‘Do the Dewey!’ bumper sticker on reel librarian’s car

Molly and Carl, understandably, have had enough, and they blame Dupree. (Why not blame the librarian?) But Dupree is cool with that, as he plans on moving in with Mandy. Timeline reminder:  He met her yesterday.

Molly:  You sure you got a place to go?

Dupree:  Yeah, I got a place to go. I’m going to Mandy’s.

Carl:  The librarian.

Molly:  Don’t you think that’s kind of moving a little quickly, Dupree?

Dupree:  Maybe it is, but so what? Something special’s happening there. I’m not gonna fight it.

End result? Molly and Carl come home that night to find Dupree sitting in the rain, playing the song “Mandy” on his headphones. No points for correctly guessing what happened with his plan to move in with the librarian.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

And yet we are NOT DONE with Mandy the Mormon librarian. Almost an hour into the film, Dupree shows up to do a Career Day presentation at Molly’s school, thinking this will win Mandy back. Molly tries to let him down easy, making an excuse that Mandy “had a book that was lost.”

Every scene that mentions the reel librarian, we learn more about her. Thus far, we have learned:

  • she’s new at the school
  • she has a name, Mandy
  • she has a car
  • she’s Mormon
  • she’s ok with getting busy on the first date
  • she likes butter
  • she shaves her legs
  • she’s not to be trusted around open flames
  • she has curly, reddish hair
  • she loves the Dewey Decimal system
  • she’s not ok with Dupree crashing on her couch one day after meeting (and sleeping) with him

And here are the final things we learn about Mandy:

Molly:  There’s something you need to know about Mandy. Well, it turns out she’s a total slut, sleeping with half the male faculty.

Dupree:  What? No.

Molly:  I’m sorry.

Dupree:  My Mandy?

Molly:  Yeah. I’m sorry, I would never have set you up with her if I would have known. Ever.

Dupree:  There really aren’t any more Audrey Hepburns out there, are there? What a sucker.

This conversation continues when Molly comes home after school to find Dupree watching the end of Roman Holiday, the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn.

Molly:  You really were serious about Audrey Hepburn.

Dupree:  She had it all. Style, grace, ethereal beauty. Just like I thought Mandy did.

Molly:  I don’t know. I have a hard time imagining Audrey Hepburn getting buttered up to “Funky Cold Medina.”

Dupree:  Really? I don’t.

All that carnage Mandy causes — setting the house on fire and breaking Dupree’s heart — and we still don’t ever get to properly see her. At first, that felt like yet another odd thing in an overall odd movie. Even though Mandy plays an arguably substantial role in the latter half of the film — she is part of the motivation for Dupree getting his act together, as he wants to win Mandy back (and he keeps trying, by the way, calling her later) — she is never technically, fully seen onscreen. We learn so much about this reel librarian, yet we never fully see her. We hear her name dozens of times, yet she doesn’t even earn a screen credit!

So what purpose does this reel librarian serve in this film? Since she is referenced so much — and we do see parts of her — I am going to classify this film in the Class III category, which includes films with reel librarians as supporting or memorable minor characters.

For the role that “Mandy the Mormon librarian” fills, it has to be the Naughty Librarian:

  • She is definitely a flirtatious or sexually charged librarian, a seemingly conservative young woman who then “lets her hair down” outside the library.
  • Adding the detail that she’s Mormon sets up the “conservative” aspect that immediately leads to the payoff that she is not-so-conservative after all.
  • Naughty Librarians also tend to have sexual undertones in their conversation. Since we never actually hear Mandy talk, the sexual undertones in this case come from her “Do the Dewey” bumper sticker!
  • Naughty Librarians also have a tendency to become violent or exhibit otherwise criminal behavior when their love/sex desires are repressed (see Personals, Maxie, Tomcats, etc.)… and Mandy happens to set a house on fire when their lovemaking session is interrupted. Just sayin’.
Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'You, Me and Dupree' (2006)

Screenshot from ‘You, Me and Dupree’ (2006)

In this light, knowing that she fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type, it makes more sense about why we never actually see her face onscreen. That would ruin the fantasy, right? Naughty Librarians are fantasies — sometimes even violent fantasies — and without actually seeing her onscreen (or rather, just parts of her, like her bare leg and curly hair), viewers are free to conjure whatever image they have that fulfills their own personal “really nice librarian” fantasy.

So while this reel librarian portrayal is disappointing, to say the least — and equal-opportunity offensive to librarians, school teachers, Mormons, and Audrey Hepburn — it does serve up some interesting twists to the Naughty Librarian character type. Not enough for me to recommend the film — but that’s why I watch and analyze these reel librarian movies films, so you don’t necessarily have to. You’re welcome.

Final lessons from You, Me, and Dupree? Stay safe, y’all. 😉

Little miss serial killer librarian

Would you like to meet “the girl of your screams” this Halloween? Look no further than the title character in Chainsaw Sally (2004)!

In this lower-than-low-budget indie horror film — made with a budget of $40,000, at least half of which must have gone toward purchasing gallons of fake blood — Sally Diamon (played with red-lipped relish by April Monique Burril) plays a buttoned-up librarian by day and serial killer by night. The ultimate Naughty Librarian.

By day By night
Reel Librarians |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot Reel Librarians |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot
Wears drab, oversized clothing Wears short, tight clothing, ripped stockings, corsets
Says phrases like “hunky dory” and “that’s swell” Curses and uses sexual innuendos
Wields a pointing finger to say “shhhhhh” to loud patrons Wields a chainsaw to slice up patrons who break library rules

I first wrote about this Class I film last Halloween in this round-up of killer librarians. I had also bought a DVD copy of the film, but didn’t get around to watching it until this Halloween. This low-rent film seems to have achieved a kind of cult status, even inspiring two seasons of web series, entitled “The Chainsaw Sally Show,” both starring April Monique Burril as the titular character (in more ways than one). It should come of no surprise that the director of all things Chainsaw Sally, Jimmyo Burril, is also the husband of the main star. In fact, April Monique Burril was pregnant during the filming of this first film!

Even though it seems to be a minor cult film, is it any good? The film seems to have inspired an either love-it-or-hate-it kind of reaction. Some find the purposefully over-the-top gore and camp refreshing, like in the DVD Verdict review here, whose reviewer proclaimed it as a “nifty little indie horror-comedy,” while others dislike the trashy, low-rent look and feel. It is decidedly trashy, but also very self-aware of being so. The overall acting talent, as well as the production values and sets, are really bad, be warned. Really bad. And the ending is ludicrous. Throughout the film, I was also distracted by the main star because she kept reminding me of someone. Toward the end, I figured it out:  April Monique Burril looks like a cross between Shelley Duvall and Kristen Stewart!

Actress lookalikes
Click collage for sources

Ok, so what’s the film all about? No spoilers that Little Miss Chainsaw Sally is a serial killer, sawing off victims left and right in a small Maryland town called Porterville. But how did she become a serial killer? The film has an easy answer for that:  Sally and her brother, Ruby (who grows up to be a stay-at-home transvestite), witnessed their parents’ murders years earlier when they were kids. Flashbacks reveal that they witnessed three escaped mental patients shoot their father before raping and killing their mother. But lo and behold, their father managed to kill the killers with a chainsaw before dying of the gunshot wound. And just to MAKE SURE we pieced together all the bits of symbolism, we see that Sally also wore her hair in braided pigtails during the traumatic event, as seen below; no wonder she does the same when she straps on the chainsaw as an adult.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

The film also has a few scenes set in the home that Sally and Ruby share together. It is a rarity to see any kind of home life for a reel librarian. And this reel librarian’s home is definitely a house of horrors.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

We’ve covered the why, now on to the who. Because her daddy’s dying words were that he killed the men because they were bad, Sally sticks to killing people she decides are bad. And because she’s a librarian … that’s right, she goes after people who disrespect librarians and the library! She and “Conan the Librarian” in UHF would probably have a lot to talk about. 😉

What counts as a killable offense in Sally’s book? Let’s take a look at some of her victims in this film (SPOILERS):

  • 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 sasses Miss Sally, calling her “Miss Frosted Flake and “frigid little freak.” He gets sliced in the library bathroom, with Sally’s words ringings in his ears, “I said, be quiet in the library.” Should have paid attention to the sign, dude.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

  • A young woman named Tina never returns a book she checked out. Sally hunts her down in the woods, yelling, “Is it not true that in June of last year you checked out a book from the public library? … And is it not true that since then that book has not been able to be checked out by any other patron of the Porterville Public Library? Is it?!”
  • A young woman who works at the local ice cream truck misspells “malt” on an order form and also makes fun of Sally when she tries to correct her misspelling. Later, after seducing the Ice Cream Girl at a nightclub one night and taking her home, Sally gets revenge by carving out the correctly spelled word on the girl’s belly.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

I get that the film’s tone is firmly tongue-in-bloodied-cheek. The ultimate message? Don’t mess with a librarian! (And return books on time. Seriously. You really are depriving others if you don’t bother to return items you’ve checked out. Golden rule, y’all.) But the film also wants it both ways. It wants to make fun of librarian stereotypes and all those library rules, but it also wants to give Sally an easy out with her family’s tragic backstory.

And even though Sally uses library rule-breaking as an excuse to kill, they are just that — excuses. Every person Sally kills has insulted her personally, or insulted other women in her presence. And each of those insults earns a look that could kill. Literally.

ChainsawSallyStare

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

There are also lots of fun nods to scary movies or memorabilia throughout the film:

  • The film opens with a closeup of a “Miss Sally” nameplate, as well as a closeup of the book Sally’s reading, The Big Book of Serial Killers

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

  • The calendar on the wall by Sally’s desk reads October

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

  • Sally and her brother reenact scenes from scary movies, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but her brother keeps confusing scary movie villains and plotlines

In the midst of all the killing, does Sally do any work during her day job? Yes … to a degree. She helps a local real estate owner, Steve Kellerman, locate articles about her parents’ murders (after first cutting out any mention of herself, of course, in old newspaper clippings, of course). And upon discovery of the (self-)mutilated clippings, she complains, “Why do some people have to destroy everything?”

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

We also see her interact briefly with a blind library assistant, George (Kit Bateman), an Information Provider there to reinforce the library setting. In a scene late in the film, she asks him if he minds “watching things out here” while she makes a private phone call. He responds, “No problem, hon.” Awkward.

Reel Librarians  |  'Chainsaw Sally' screenshot

Last, but not least, I’ll finish with some choice quotes about our resident serial killer librarian:


Guy at pool hall (talking about ex-girlfriend):  She’s a mental case.

Sally:  And how do you know I’m not a mental case?

Guy:  I can tell, babes. You got your shit together. There ain’t nothing wrong with a girl like you.


Bumbling cop:  Librarians. It’s always the quiet ones.  Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I dated a mime?


Steve Kellerman:  There is more strangeness here than you may be aware of. You just might be the most normal person in this town.

Sally:  That’s funny.


Funny, indeed. Of course, Steve is wrong about our Chainsaw Sally. Dead wrong. 😉

Happy Halloween!