Revisiting ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

As we get closer to Christmas, I thought it would be good timing to revisit one of the first posts I ever wrote on the Reel Librarians blog, a post analyzing the 1946 Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Screenshot from 'It's a Wonderful... Stereotype?' post on Reel Librarians

Screenshot from ‘It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?’ post on Reel Librarians

My post, entitled “It’s a Wonderful… Stereotype?” was first posted on Sept. 21, 2011. I have reprinted it below in its entirety. Enjoy!


It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a wonderful movie, truly. One of my personal favorites, actually. And a personal favorite for many, especially as a TV staple at Christmas, thanks to its lapsed copyright in 1974 (although that was successfully challenged in 1993). The director, Frank Capra, is in top form, as is James Stewart, who displays devastating depth as George Bailey, an ordinary man who aches to be extraordinary. Both deservedly earned Oscar nominations, out of 5 total, including Best Picture.

In the film’s nightmarish second half, George gets a rare second chance to see how life would have been without his presence — a concept that’s been seen time and time again, but it still feels fresh and raw every time I rewatch this movie. And I still find tears in my eyes toward the end when everyone chips in to save good ol’ George Bailey, and when James Stewart whispers, “Attaboy, Clarence” and winks after the bell rings on the Christmas tree. Oh, who am I kidding?! I’m tearing up right now even typing about it!

But…. how do you solve a problem like Mary?

Mary is George’s wife and one true love, played with intelligence and warmth by Donna Reed. We see lots of her in the film’s first half, through childhood adventures and young adulthood until George finally realizes he’s in love with her. Throughout these scenes, she is quite lovely and open and trusting and displays a great sense of humor. She is worthy of his love and his equal in every way. And she MUST be believable as his one true love in order for the second half of the film to work, because what she becomes is the straw that finally breaks George. Throughout the nightmare he witnesses in the second half — his brother dying, his mother withdrawing into a bitter old woman — it is the scene with his wife that finally gets to him.

And what does Mary become if George is out of the picture? A Spinster Librarian! Sigh.

Her scene as the Spinster Librarian is only about 30 seconds long, but that image continues to haunt librarians. Just look at the physical before-and-after:

Mary in the movie’s first half

Mary in the movie’s second half, as the Spinster Librarian

In the first half, she looks lovely. Modern hairstyle, flattering clothing, fresh and clean. But without George, she suddenly loses her sense of style?! Glasses, sensible clothes, hat, hair pulled back, gloves, no makeup. She is so covered up, almost hiding, with the hat and the gloves and the buttoned-up clothes. This image is the stereotypical prototype for all Spinster Librarians. This does make sense, as the Spinster Librarian is one of the character types that heavily rely on stereotypical visual cues:  the severe hairstyle, glasses, and prim clothing.

But worse than that is the change in Mary’s personality. In the first half, she is warm and funny and sweet. In the second half, she has become shy, furtive, non-trusting, and scared of men. A typical Spinster Librarian, right? (Sigh.) Mary clutches her purse, and finally screams and faints when he declares her to be his wife.

Clarence telegraphs the change in Mary:  “You’re not going to like it, George. She’s an old maid. She’s just about to close up the library!”

What’s so disturbing about this scene — again, only about 30 seconds long! — is the uncomfortable undertones of this scene (at least for librarians). That without men in our lives, the ultimate nightmare for women is… to become “old maid” librarians?! That if we get married, we are spared from this oh-so-terrible fate? Again, sigh.

I know this scene is taken to extremes for the sake of the plot. George is near breaking point, and he needs a shock to get him to appreciate life again. And Mary becoming an “old maid” highlights the point that they are each other’s true loves — that without the other, they are not truly whole. Plot-wise, this scene makes sense. But emotionally, as a librarian, it is hard to swallow.

So this movie will continue to be a personal favorite — but a personal favorite with an asterisk.

Shushing Meryl Streep in ‘Ironweed’

Movie poster for Ironweed

Movie poster for ‘Ironweed,’ The Paramount Vault

As I mentioned last week, the Paramount Vault YouTube channel features select full-length films, including Ironweed (1987), which includes a short library scene. I immediately set to watching Ironweed — you can view the entire film here — and taking more notes for this analysis post.

Set in 1938, the film is based on the novel by William Kennedy (who also wrote the screenplay) and features Jack Nicholson, a homeless drifter, who returns to his home town and meets up with an ex-radio singer, played by Meryl Streep, who is ill and homeless. Both Nicholson and Streep were Oscar-nominated for their lead roles in this film. It is also interested to note that Nicholson currently holds the record for most Oscar nominations for an actor, while Streep currently holds the record for most Oscar nominations for an actress, as well as the most Oscar nominations for any actor or actress, period.

The library scene occurs almost exactly halfway through the 2-hour-and-23-minute running time of the film. The interior of the library scene, according to the IMDb.com filming locations trivia, was filmed on the second floor of the Troy Public Library in Troy, New York. (See more pics and read more about the library here in this ‘All Over Albany’ post, which also links the library setting to the Ironweed film.)

Here is the info about the librarian and library scene from reel librarian researcher Martin Raish’s site Librarians in the Movie: An Annotated Filmography. Raish characterizes the librarian’s behavior in Ironweed as welcoming and nice, as evidenced in the sentence, “A librarian… very nicely, tells her she is welcome to use the library.”

Ironweed info from Martin Raish website

‘Ironweed’ info from Martin Raish website

This makes it seem as if the librarian, played by Bethel Leslie, is quite friendly, but a little more is revealed as you watch the remainder of the two-minute library scene.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

Opening shot of the library scene in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

Meryl Streep, as Helen Archer, is sleeping in the library beside the fireplace. The librarian comes over and hands her a Life magazine. She tells her, “My dear. You may stay as long as you read. I don’t allow sleeping.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

The librarian wakes up Helen and hands her a magazine to read.

The librarian is middle-aged-to-older (her lack of makeup and dowdy clues make her seem older), with greying, marcelled hair pulled back at the nape. She is dressed in earth tones and very conservatively, in a long cardigan sweater and long tweed skirt. What appears to be a watch charm or pendant hangs on a long chain from her neck.

As Helen tries to save face by saying, “I wasn’t sleeping. I was waiting for the fire, to die there,” the librarian smiles and pats her on the shoulder. One could see that as a friendly gesture, but it could also be viewed as condescending, as well. Perhaps it is both friendly and condescending? Or perhaps just pitying?

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

The librarian walks away in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

As the librarian walks away, stepping quietly in her sensible brown heels, a smartly dressed woman looks over. She recognizes Helen and comes over, introducing herself as Nora Lawlor. The woman says she hasn’t seen Helen in twenty years and that she used to hear her on the radio but lost track. Helen says she toured abroad for several years, and Nora responds by saying how much she envies her.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

Nora Lawlor in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

As Helen gets up to leave, Nora states she has seen Helen’s brother in church last week. This is a trigger point, as this information immediately riles up Helen, who declares her brother a hypocrite. She then begins shouting that he and her mother cheated her out her inheritance. Not five seconds go by before the librarian is back and shushing Helen.

[Side note:  How awesome would it be to be able to say, “I got to shush Meryl Streep in a movie!” Ah, the benefits of portraying a reel librarian. 😉 ]

The librarian again puts her hand on Helen’s arm — the same hand that patted Helen’s arm and shoulder not one minute beforehand — and this time, the gesture is not so kindly. She states firmly, “I’m sorry, but you have to leave. You’re making MUCH too much noise,” as she propels Helen toward the door.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

The librarian ejects Helen from the library for making too much noise, in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Ironweed' (1987)

Helen leaves the library in ‘Ironweed’ (1987)

Although a very short scene, I have classified the library scene in Ironweed in the Class III category. In my opinion, the reel librarian serves as both a Spinster Librarian and as Information Provider. It is significant that in the first part of the library scene, she states, “I don’t allow sleeping.” I, not we. She personally embodies the rules of the library, and by extension, the rules of society. And in the latter part of the library scene, the arm that gently awakened Helen out of her slumbers is the same arm that forcibly ejects her out of the library one minute later. The librarian will brook no behavior that falls outside the narrow confines of her safe and secure walls. She exhibits the uptight nature and rule-mongering of the Spinster Librarian character type, along with the conservative clothing and hairstyle. The reel librarian in Ironweed also provides information about the library to both Helen and the audience.

In the next scene, Helen is drowning her sorrows in a glass of wine, still shouting, “Thieves!” at random intervals. The immediate cut from the dark-paneled walls of a library to the dark-paneled walls of a bar is a jarring juxtaposition, to be sure; both locales serve as places of safety and security, in their own, different ways.

And no one at the bar tells Helen to leave or to be quiet.

‘What is thee wish?’ To analyze the librarian in ‘The Philadelphia Story’

The classic 1940 film, The Philadelphia Story, includes a classic reel librarian scene featuring a shushing Quaker librarian. I’ve mentioned the film in several posts, including here, here, here, and here, and it was one of the films in my original thesis. However, I hadn’t yet dedicated an entire post to analyzing the library scene… until now! 🙂

Poster for 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

Poster for ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940)

The film was based on the play by Philip Barry, who wrote the play for Katharine Hepburn, who starred in both the play and the subsequent film adaptation. (She owned the film rights to the play — smart gal!) The plot is a classic love triangle (or rectangle?):  A rich socialite, Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), is about to remarry, and her ex-husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), and reporter, Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart), show up right before her planned wedding. Romantic complications ensue.

The Philadelphia Story is one of the few pictures featuring reel librarians to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The film was also nominated for five other Academy Awards, winning for Best Screenplay and Best Actor for James Stewart. Cary Grant got the girl — SPOILER — but Jimmy Stewart wound up with the Oscar!

In one comedic scene 37 minutes into the film, Mike visits the public library, to do some research on the Lord family history. The public library is in a traditional building with ivy crawling up the brick walls and a hanging sign announcing its hours (open daily from 9 to 5, with additional hours on Wednesday evenings!).

Reel Librarians | Library sign in 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

Library sign in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940)

He wanders over to a bookcase, near where a woman is shelving books. There are no verbal clues about her being a librarian (or her qualifications), but the books she is organizing are effective props to immediately and visually identify her occupation.

Reel Librarians | Library scene in 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

Library scene in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940)

Here’s how their “reference interview” unfolds. Note that the librarian initiates the conversation!

Librarian:  What is thee wish?

Mike:  I’m looking for some local books… what’d you say?

Librarian:  What is thee wish?

Mike:  Local biography or history.

Librarian:  If thee will consult with my colleague in there. [points]

Mike:  Dost thou have a washroom? [Librarian points.] Thank thee.

Mike then discovers Tracy Lord in the library’s reading room, poring over a book he had written years ago. As Connor challenges, “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing? You know what happens to girls like you when they read books like mine. They begin to think. That’s bad.

They continue discussing his book, but their conversation in the library ends when the same librarian walks by and shushes them.

Reel Librarians | The shushing librarian in 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

The shushing librarian in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940)

NOTE:  As far as I have been able to discover so far, this scene is a first for reel librarians — the first American film to feature a librarian saying, “Shush!” on screen. The 1933 British film, The Good Companions, was the first film to do so (again, that I’ve been able to uncover), and I wrote about “The shush heard ’round the world” here. You can also learn about other “reel librarian firsts” here.

The Quaker librarian is seen on screen for only about 30 seconds in total, with Hilda Plowright playing the uncredited role. The female librarian, middle-aged with no glasses, is conservatively dressed in a plain dress with long sleeves and a high collar, with her dark hair pulled back into a bun at the neck. She seems severe (e.g. the shushing) yet also helpful at the same time (initiating the reference interview with Connor). She also seems (rightly) suspicious of Jimmy Stewart as he mocks her “thees” and “thous,” both verbally and visually.

Reel Librarians | Library scene in 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

Library scene in ‘The Philadelphia Story’ (1940)

It’s a short but memorable scene, so The Philadephia Story ends up in the Class III category, in which librarian(s) plays a secondary role in a memorable or significant scene. And what role does the librarian fulfill in this film? From my observations, the shushing Quaker librarian blends two character types:

  • Spinster Librarian:  Her plain hair and clothes immediately identify her visually as a Spinster Librarian, as well as her shushing and enforcing the rule of quiet within her library domain.
  • Comic Relief:  Of course, her use of “thees” and “thous” open her up to ridicule, as Jimmy Stewart pokes (gentle) fun by mocking her speech — and thus making it ok for the audience to laugh at her and the situation.

A few seconds of this scene (at :22 and 1:00) are included in the “Funny Library Clips” video below, compiled by Greene County Library.

Funny Library Clips,” uploaded by Greene County Public Library on Dec. 9, 2011. Standard YouTube license.

What is thee wish? To rewatch this classic film, of course! 😉

Reel librarians with ‘A Bone to Pick’

A few months ago in this post, I highlighted a preview of a new Hallmark TV movie, “A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery,” based on the book series by Charlaine Harris. The title character is a younger librarian, played by Candace Cameron Bure, who also served as executive producer.

The Aurora Teagarden Mystery series continues this summer, with the next TV movie set to premiere this Sunday, July 26, on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Will you be watching along with me?

Snapshot of Real Murders:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery episode

I also recently rewatched the premiere movie, “A Bone to Pick,” and overall, it’s an enjoyable show. If there’s a bone to pick — I couldn’t resist the pun! — it is a typically “cozy” type of mystery, nothing too scary or mentally taxing. It’s the kind of show where there is a lot of light, and everyone seems to have huge living rooms. I most enjoyed the warm portrayal of its title character as a multi-faceted and multi-talented reel librarian.

Setting the stage for sleuthing

The TV movie starts out not in the library, but instead in Aurora’s bedroom, where she is braiding her hair and practicing a presentation about a notorious historical murder, a speech she delivers in a town hall where the “Real Murders Club” has gathered.

Reel Librarians  |  Opening shot in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  | Real Murders Club in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

After the successful presentation, an older member, Jane, ruffles up some controversy by stating that Aurora should run for president of the club. Jane then invites Aurora to her house the next day to pick up a few out-of-print titles about true crime, and we learn a lot of character background — including the fact that Jane is a retired librarian! The plot doesn’t get going until we learn that soon after, Jane has passed away and left her house and estate to none other than Aurora. Part of the legacy she left to Aurora includes a hidden skull and a mystery to solve….

*MILD SPOILER ALERTS*

The resulting mystery is not all that interesting:  It includes break-ins and cheating spouses and a really far-fetched conclusion involving a pregnant cop practically giving birth while arresting the perps.

Librarian role call

This TV movie and the series definitely fit into the Class I category, with Candace Cameron Bure as the title character Aurora Teagarden, or “Roe” for short. Here are the other librarian characters in the story (who, strangely, don’t get seem to get screen credits):

  • Jane, the spinster librarian who died and left Roe her estate
  • Lillian, the middle-aged spinster librarian meanie who scares children and is always on Roe’s case
  • Characters also mention a Mr. Crowley, the head of the library, but we never see him onscreen
Reel Librarians  |  Reel librarians in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel librarians Roe, Jane, and Lillian in ‘A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery’ (2015)

Salary and education

The low salary given to librarians gets mentioned quite a lot throughout the TV movie. Roe doesn’t even expect to afford rent on her librarian’s salary (her mother pays her rent), and she wonders how Jane was able to afford such a big house (it turns out Jane had inherited money).

  • I can’t afford a new dress.  /  Because you are woefully underpaid.
  • I never thought I’d own a house, not on a librarian’s salary.
  • Too bad I can’t afford it.

Moral of the story? Pay librarians what they are worth! (This means at least a living wage, y’all.)

Education and “library science” also merit a mention, mostly in the early exposition scene between Roe and Jane. Her master’s thesis was in true-crime literature, which sounded odd to me. Jane agreed!

Roe:  I wish I had had access to a collection like this when I was getting my master’s. My thesis was in true-crime literature.

Jane:  That wasn’t a speciality of library science in my day.

Roe:  It’s still not, officially. I think I’m the only librarian in the state who has it.

Side note:  I also did a research project in my Children’s Literature graduate class, a project all about character types in detective and mystery stories for children and young adults. We’re so alike! 😉

Here’s how Roe would probably react to that statement:

Reel Librarians  |  Librarian eye-rolling in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Whatever, Jen.

There are several scenes highlighting the bright and spacious public library. The sign on the front door says “Lawrenceton Public Library,” which is a nod to the Lawrenceton, Georgia, setting of the books. However, the TV movie was filmed in British Columbia.

Librarian tasks we see onscreen include: opening up the library, researching on the computer, shelving books, and helping a little boy find a book (he’s scared of Lillian, the dragon-lady librarian, who is really rude and condescending to him). Lillian is a total rule-monger and Spinster Librarian character type.

Reel Librarians  |  Public library in  'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe helping a young boy in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel librarian style

Roe’s fashion sense is subjected to many negative comments throughout the TV film, mainly by Roe’s mother — and by Roe herself!

  • This has no pizzazz. [her mother, referring to a blazer with piped trim, seen above]
  • I’m sorry, I wanted to change into something nicer. [Roe, wearing a sweater on a date]
  • This is what you wore, on a date?! [Her mother, after Roe’s date]
  • Please tell me you’re not wearing that to church. [Roe’s mother]
  • I wish I had more fashion sense. [Roe, going shopping]

I didn’t really get this style criticism, because she looks cute, relatable, and modern to me. Cardigans and practical coats abound. (I did think they overdid it with the praise whenever she wore a dress.) But no one except her mother ever comments on her hair and her signature side braid.

Reel Librarians  |  Collage of Roe's style in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Collage of Roe’s style in ‘A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery’ (2015)

Librarian skillz

Roe has got skillz. She is smart, observant, and resourceful, and she’s not afraid to do research and get her hands dirty. And it’s nice to see how she uses her skills as a public librarian, as well, using knowledge of patrons she observed who were frequent visitors to the library. People also trust her, given her position in the community.

We definitely see a well-rounded character in Roe and an atypical reel librarian portrayal. I haven’t read the series, so I don’t know how close it is to the character in the books. We get to see different sides to Roe, the good and the flawed. Other characters, including her friends, both compliment and challenge her.

Reel Librarians  | Best friends in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Best friends Roe and Sally

Roe has relatable flaws — she is stubborn and doesn’t really listen to her closest friend or her mother. She prioritizes her own pleasure in figuring out a puzzle above the logical (and legal) step of handing over evidence to the police — and then doesn’t want to return the skull to the police because she doesn’t want to get in trouble for withholding evidence! Gotta go with her mother on that one — “maybe you deserve to be behind bars.”

Roe is also warm-hearted, friendly, and generous. And she’s definitely got spunk! It is interesting to note that Roe is susceptible to stereotypes — she starts dating a young minister — but is also open-minded when those stereotypes are challenged. (As a librarian, wouldn’t Roe be used to being stereotyped by one’s profession?)

Her sleuthing skills are highly praised throughout, including how she had set up a crime board in the living room of her new house. But it really annoyed me that common sense takes a back seat sometimes. For example, she set up her “secret” crime board — complete with maps and post-it notes and records — in full view of the front door and the front windows with blinds wide open for anyone to see what she was up to.

Reel Librarians  |  Snapshots of Roe's evidence wall in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Roe’s evidence wall, which is visible from the front door and windows

Connections between research and sleuthing

Does Roe being a librarian matter to the story? In some ways, it seems more important that she’s a member of the Real Murders Club, but the fact that she’s a librarian is emphasized throughout the TV movie. She applies the same skills — her intelligence and logical way of thinking, her organizational and research skills, as well as her friendly demeanor — to both her job as a librarian and to her adventures as an amateur sleuth.

Roe connects the dots for the audience by using research in her sleuthing, skills she obviously picked up as a librarian. So I would argue that yes, identifying Roe as a librarian not only helps the audience trust Roe but also helps us believe in her skills as an amateur detective.

Reel Librarians  |  Roe researching in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe studies a skull in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

Reel Librarians  |  Roe compares maps in 'A Bone to Pick:  An Aurora Teagarden Mystery' (2015)

I mentioned in this prior post, “Nancy Drew as a librarian?,” how much overlap I personally see between private detectives and librarians, and I’ve already stated that I think Nancy Drew would have been an AWESOME librarian. I’d like to think that in the character of Aurora Teagarden, we can have the best of both worlds — why choose between being a private detective and a librarian? You can be good at both! 😉

I will wrap things up with a compliment(?) that Jane bestowed upon Roe in an early scene:

You have a mind for murder like no one else I know.

Thank you. I think.

Again, the next Aurora Teagarden Mystery movie, “Real Murders,” premieres in a few days, on July 26. Are you interested in watching along with me?

 

Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

In the 1946 film Boston Blackie and the Law, reformed thief Blackie performs a magic show in a women’s prison, and one of the inmates, Dinah, escapes during the “disappearing booth” trick. Turns out Dinah was a former magician’s assistant! D’oh!

First things first… who’s “Boston Blackie”? This film was one of the last in a series of films featuring “Boston Blackie,” a reformed crook who became an amateur detective. Jack Boyle started writing short stories about “Boston Blackie” in 1914, and the stories were published as a collection in 1919. There were a series of silent films as well as a series of popular talkies in the 1940s starring Chester Morris as Blackie. There was even a TV series in the 1950s! You can read all about it — and more! — here at the Boston Blackie website.

After Dinah’s disappearance at the prison, the police interrogate Blackie back at police headquarters, who manages to escape police custody. From a public phone booth, he then calls a friend and urges him to “drop everything and meet me at the Reading Room of the uptown public library. Right away.” The police find out and tail him there.

The library scene occurs 20 minutes into the film, and it looks like a typical reel library set. Complete with stereotypical “spinster librarian” in residence. (Sigh.)

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

In just a few seconds of screen time, we witness:

  • A female patron sneezing and incurring the immediate wrath of the librarian, who shushes her and points to the “Silence please” sign behind her
  • Blackie’s friend entering and shouting, “Hey, boss!” — and also receiving and immediate glare and shushing from the librarian
  • A close-up of the “Silence please” sign
  • A name placard for “Miss Burton,” the librarian
  • The librarian silently fussing at the friend to remove his hat
  • The librarian dropping a book off the high library counter and receiving a reciprocal shush and sign-pointing from Blackie’s friend, as comically illustrated below

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian
Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian
Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

And wow, does this librarian check off all the boxes for what a stereotypical spinster librarian looks like. It’s almost like a Halloween costume checklist:

√ bun
√ pince nez glasses on a chain
√ high-collared blouse
√ cardigan
√ sour expression

So why is Blackie at the public library? To research background about Dinah, and he finds a series of newspaper articles in a bound volume of newspapers. Blackie then proceeds to read the articles OUT LOUD to his friend — but somehow manages to escape the shushing wrath of Miss Burton, the reel librarian. Amazing, that movie magic! 😉

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

After reading up on Dinah — who turns out to have been involved in a robbery that netted $100,000 that was never recovered! — Blackie and his friend escape out a side door when two police detectives enter the library.

The detectives are smoking cigars and talking loudly. And guess what happens? The librarian is LIVID at this spectacle — and even gets out of her chair to admonish the two detectives, up close and personal.

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

Miss Burton:  Young man, this is a library where people are trying to think.

Detective:  Lady, we ain’t here to think.

Miss Burton:  I can certainly believe that. Take off your hat and that thing in your mouth. [pointing to the cigar]

The two detectives do leave — but they also leave a trail of cigar smoke in their wake. This then makes the librarian sneeze — and she then causes a scene in the library! All of the patrons turn to stare at her, and she looks very embarrassed. She has tasted her own medicine — and it is bitter! 😉

Reel Librarians | Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

Maudie Prickett is uncredited as Miss Burton, the reel librarian.

It is amusing to note how the librarian and the chief detective both look each other up and down in mutual disgust. Two worlds — and two worlds with their own set of rules! — colliding, to be sure. The entire library scene is played for laughs, and the humor is quite crude.

My husband’s reaction to this scene? “Are you pained by the portrayal? This just keeps getting harder, doesn’t it?” (Yes, it does at times. Sigh.)

I’ve categorized this film in the Class III category. The scene is quite short, only lasting about three minutes, but the portrayal of the reel librarian is quite memorable (if for all the wrong reasons).

The reel librarian in Boston Blackie and the Law doesn’t actually help in any way — Blackie does that himself — and her only function seems to be stamping books and shushing people. She is most definitely a Spinster Librarian character type, a minor character who is an uptight “old maid” and rule-monger who hoards information. She is all about the rules — and woe unto anyone who breaks those rules — even if it’s herself!

And finally, as I was taking screenshots, I (accidentally) managed to capture a great shot! The picture below is transitioning from the reel librarian pointing at the “Silence Please” sign in the library into a closeup of that sign. And the result perfectly sums up this reel librarian portrayal — as well as the Spinster Librarian character type in general:

Reel Librarians  |  Boston Blackie and the shushing librarian

Silence, please, as you enjoy that photo. 😉