Reel librarian films make ‘best of’ lists for 2017

I was reading Vox’s “21 best movies of 2017” list by my favorite movie reviewer, Alissa Wilkinson (her writing is so articulate and beautiful), when I realized that TWO reel librarian films had made her top movies list of the year! Also, both films were in the top 10!

Columbus (2017)

Coming in at #9 is Columbus, the debut film from director Kogonada, starring Haley Lu Richardson as a young library worker living in Columbus, Indiana, who also loves architecture. She meets Jin (John Cho) and starts to show him her favorite buildings around the city. (A quick glimpse of the library can be seen in the trailer below, at 1:24 mins.)

Columbus Trailer #1 (2017) | Movieclips Indie,” uploaded by Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films, Standard YouTube license

As Wilkinson writes:

“Columbus is beautiful and subtle, letting us feel how the places we build and the people we let near us move and mold us.”

Columbus also made the top movies list for Slate, Entertainment Weekly, The Ringer, as well as Rotten Tomatoes’ Best Reviewed Movies of 2017 (at a 97% fresh rating!).

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Ranking at #2 on the Vox list is Ex Libris, a documentary by Frederick Wiseman about the New York Public Library. It’s rare for a documentary to crack a “best of” list, let alone a documentary about a library! ♥

Trailer de Ex Libris: New York Public Library (HD),” uploaded by Cine maldito, Standard YouTube license

I teared up at Wilkinson’s summing up of this film:

Ex Libris is his mesmerizing look at the New York Public Library and the many functions it fills, which go far beyond housing books. […] It makes a case for having faith in the public institutions where ordinary people work — away from the limelight, without trying to score political points — in order to make our communities truly better.


I have not seen either one of these films (yet)… have you? What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment and share!

Advertisements

Reel librarians on library ladders

I have written before about occupational tasks and props often seen in reel librarian films, including in this post, “Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?” in which I stated:

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

In the invaluable book, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, by Ray and Brenda Tevis — which I reviewed here in this post — the two framed these occupational tasks and props in a similar way:

 [O]ccupational tasks are utilized to sufficiently establish the character’s identity as a librarian. The occupational tasks used most frequently by actors are:  standing or sitting behind a desk, stamping a book, standing on a ladder, holding or shelving a book, picking up a book from a table, pushing a booktruck, and turning out the lights. (p. 18)

For this post, I thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into how often the “library ladder” is used in reel librarian films — and how the cinematic use of a library ladder has progressed (or not!) over the years.

"Library ladder" by klimkin is licensed under a CC0 public domain license

“Library ladder” by klimkin is licensed under a CC0 public domain license

Below, I’ve arranged films in chronological order by year the films were released. Let’s take a trip down library ladder lane!


The Lost Romance (1921)


This film is notable for being the first film to feature a reel librarian atop a ladder in the library. Alas, this film appears lost. It stars Lois Wilson as public librarian Sylvia Hayes, seen atop the ladder in the pic below. In the film’s plot, she has to deal with two proposals, a child’s disappearance, a meddling aunt, and rekindled love. And of course, Sylvia promptly ends her librarian career at the prospect of marriage.

Library ladder still from 'A Lost Romance' (1921)

Library ladder still from ‘A Lost Romance’ (1921), from the Tevis book

When she is standing on the three-step ladder and supposed to be shelving books, Sylvia daydreams instead about her upcoming vacation. While daydreaming, she doesn’t notice the long line of patrons piling up at the Circulation desk. Her boss, played by Mayme Kelso, admonishes her (and Kelso, according to the Tevises, also is the first reel librarian to sport the stereotypical librarian props and hairstyle of eyeglasses and a bun!)


Only 38 (1923)


Actress Lois Wilson plays the lead role, Mrs. Stanley, an “aging” housewife at 38 (!) who wants to assert her independence after sending her 18-year-old twins off to college. The route of this independence? Employment at the college library, of course. This leads to a more youthful appearance (the time-honored cinematic makeover), romance (of course) with an English professor, and confrontations with her outraged children. In one scene, Mrs. Stanley uses the library ladder to fetch a book for a patron.

Movie poster for 'Only 38' (1923), public domain

Movie poster for ‘Only 38’ (1923), public domain

As the Tevises point out, “The film also introduces the tall library ladder as a climbing device for reel librarians to reach high shelves in stack areas while assisting patrons.” The library ladder prop in this scene serves a utilitarian purpose only. “Males leering at the ankles and calves of women librarians on library ladders — occurs for the first time nine years later in No Man of Her Own” (p. 13).


No Man of Her Own (1932)


A con artist and gambler, Babe (Clark Gable), goes to a small town to escape prosecution — and falls in love with the young librarian, Connie (Carole Lombard). A few scenes are set in the library, including one in which Babe looks up the librarian’s skirt while she shelves books!

As detailed in The Image of the Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 book, this film “contained the first library ladder comedic scene in sound films, allowing Babe the opportunity to ogle Connie’s ankle and calf” (p. 26).

Obviously, we are supposed to believe that Gable’s sex appeal knocks Lombard off her library ladder. 😉 The two actors later married in real life.


Cain and Mabel (1936)


In this film, Clark Gable plays a prizefighter who falls in love with a struggling Broadway actress (Marion Davies). In one scene, they meet at the library to plan their elopement and startle a couple of librarians, played by Lillian Lawrence and Harry C. Bradley in uncredited roles.

As the Tevises sum up the library ladder in this scene, “As they [Clark Gable and Marion Davies] kiss in the aisle, another librarian… whom they fail to notice standing on the higher rungs of a tall library ladder, accidentally drops a book, almost hitting them” (p. 31).

This film highlights another use for the library ladder — it’s convenient for librarians to spy on patrons!

The library scene did make it onto one of the “lobby cards” used in the film’s marketing — but not the library ladder, alas!

Reel Librarians | Lobby card for 'Cain and Mabel' (1936) showcasing the library scene

Lobby card for ‘Cain and Mabel’ (1936) showcasing the library scene


Sea Devils (1937)


In this film, Preston Foster stars as Seaman Mike O’Shay, who sets his sights on young librarian Doris, played by Ida Lupino. There is also an older librarian colleague — in this case, actress Fern Emmett playing Miss McGonigle, sporting a severe bun and pince nez — to contrast with the younger female librarian.

The library scene in this film involves BOTH librarians! Doris starts to shelve books under the library ladder, and when Mike tries to kiss Doris, the other librarian comes down the library ladder and steps on his hand.

I do NOT feel sorry for Mike in this scene. Sexual harassment 0, library ladder 1.


Navy Blues (1937)


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. There are a couple of scenes set in the public library. I reviewed the film more fully here in this post.

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)

In ‘Navy Blues’ (1937), the librarian glares at the male lead after he looks up her skirt while she’s atop the library ladder.

As the Tevises astutely point out, this library ladder scene contrasts with the library ladder scene in No Man of Her Own, in which the male lead character was excited by the reel librarian’s sight of ankles. (p. 34).


This Was Paris (1942)


In this comic spy thriller set in Paris in 1940, before the German invasion, a reporter suspects a man of being a German spy, so he looks at the newspaper archives—and he makes a mess by throwing pictures and files around. He also takes time to insult Watson, the newspaper librarian.

This scene involves a library ladder, as described by the Tevises, “The scene opens with Butch atop a tall ladder, tossing documents out of folders onto the floor. The newspaper’s librarian… complains that Butch is ‘undoing the work of years’” (p. 41).


The Human Comedy (1943)


This 1944 Best Picture nominee, set in the U.S. homefront during WWII, feature one touching scene at the local public library. Two young boys go to the public library to look at books even though they can’t read yet, and encounter a friendly female librarian (Adeline De Walt Reynolds). This older librarian is atop a tall ladder as she notices the young boys, and she comes down the ladder to ask them questions.

You can view the full library scene in the clip below:

The Wonder of Books: Library Scene from The Human Comedy (1943),” uploaded by Lunamation, 2013, Standard YouTube license


The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)


In this film, a notorious criminal, Dimitrios, fascinates mystery writer Leyden (Peter Lorre). In one early scene, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and gets help from an easily frustrated archives clerk. I analyzed the film more fully here in this post.

The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less.

It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out… you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Mask of Dimitrios' (1944)

Library ladders and file cabinets in ‘The Mask of Dimitrios’ (1944)


Weird Woman (1944)


While on an expedition in the South Seas, college professor Norman Reed (Lon Chaney, Jr.) marries Paula (Anne Gwynne), a native woman who continues her superstitious beliefs upon their return to the U.S. His unexpected marriage angers his ex-girlfriend, college librarian Ilona (Evelyn Ankers, who starred in several horror films, including the classic The Wolf Man), who embarks on revenge. Hell hath no fury… like a librarian scorned! I delve more into this horror film here in this post.

Ilona is blonde, young, beautiful, and wears striking modern clothing. However, she does not seem like a dedicated librarian because she is never in the library; rather, she is always in her office, which appears as large as or even bigger than the actual library. Of the actual college library, we only get to see a glimpse of bookcases, a tall library ladder, and a dictionary stand.

As the Tevises put it, “the library, which is drastically inadequate for any college but, for cinematic purposes, establishes the illusion of a library” (p. 49).

Here is a trailer for the film:

Weird Woman – Classic Movie Trailer,” uploaded by Cliff Held, 2013, Standard YouTube license


Wonder Man (1945)


Nightclub singer Buster Dingle (Danny Kaye) gets killed by a mob boss, and his spirit enters his identical twin, Edwin (also played by Danny Kaye). Edwin, a bookworm writing a history book, gets involved with a young and attractive librarian (Virginia Mayo).

The library scene includes two rolling library ladders (and you can see a photographic still of the library ladder scene online here). While trying to woo the librarian, Edwin falls off one of the ladders, bringing down several shelves of books. We learn that this incident actually gets the librarian fired! NOT COOL.

This also goes to show how dangerous library ladders can be!


The Trespasser (1947)


This late ’40s murder mystery stars Dale Evans in a rare non-Western film. And although Evans received top billing, she apparently has only a minor role. The real star of the film is Janet Martin, who plays Stephanie “Stevie” Carson, a recent college graduate who starts work at a newspaper’s research library. She teams up with her boss, Danny Butler (Warren Douglas), to investigate a rare book forgery and the frame-up of one of their newspaper editors.

The large newspaper library includes rolling ladders and floor-to-ceiling file cabinets. This scene also shows how dangerous rolling library ladders can be.

It appears that the library ladders play a role in multiple library scenes. Here’s how the scenes are summed up in the Tevis book: “When Stevie reports to work, Danny, standing on a ladder as he works in the films, informs Steve, ‘I expect people who work for me to be on their toes. I demand, well, I think you got what I demand'” (p. 60). He’s known as a womanizer. Stevie, an intelligent and independent woman, responds to him by grabbing the ladder and pushing it forcefully — “the abrupt stop causes Danny to go somersaulting off the ladder” (p. 61) and onto a desk. Later, Stevie has to climb the ladder to file folders, and Danny ogles her ankles. Stevie complains — way to go! — and says later to Danny that “from now on… I’ll keep my feet on the ground.”


The Web (1947)


In this film, a lawyer (Edmond O’Brien) and a detective (William Bendix) team up to trap a financier who has framed the lawyer for murder.

The film includes a 45-second scene in a newspaper’s “Index Department.” Robin Raymond plays the newspaper librarian, who is standing on a ladder at the beginning of the library scene, and she proceeds to retrieve a large volume from one of the top shelves.


Katie Did It (1951)


Ann Blyth stars as the title character, Katie, who works at the local public library in a rigidly Puritan New England town. In this kind of romantic comedy, she’s got to fall in love with someone, and in this case, she falls in love with Peter Van Arden (Mark Stevens), a “city slicker commercial artist.”

I have not been able to track down a copy of this film yet, but there’s a Meet Cute moment that involves a ladder — this time, outside the library — as well a funny scene that involves a ladder inside the library.

Here’s how the Tevises describe the significance of this scene, in which Katie, a librarian, is walking to the library when she stops and talks to an inn owner — and the painter (Stevens), atop a tall ladder while painting a new sign for the inn, drips paint on her hat: “In preceding films, librarians in their own bailiwicks, the library, are always on the ladder. In this film there is a touch of irony, a sarcastic twist of events, as the librarian, no longer within the safe confines of a library, is under the ladder, becoming the unintentional target of a falling object” (p. 71).

However, in a later library scene, Katie is the one on a library ladder when Peter the painter comes in, and he takes the opportunity to ogle and whistle at her calves and ankles.

Still from library ladder scene in 'Katie Did It' (1951)

Still from library ladder scene in ‘Katie Did It’ (1951), taken from “Katie Did It 1951 Ann Blyth Mark Stevens Cecil Kellaway,” uploaded by Kemal Baysal, 2017, Standard YouTube license. Click the image to view the video.


As Young As You Feel (1951)


In this comedy, John R. Hodges (Monty Woolley) is enraged that he is being forced to retire at age 65, and in a very short scene, he goes to the library to find out the name of the president of his business’s parent company. Carol Savage plays the young librarian, who is standing on a ladder in the library and consulting a reference book. She gets very excited at finding the information Hodges asks for, scampering down the ladder and shouting, “Here it is! I found it!”

Gotta love an enthusiastic librarian! 😀


A Girl Named Tamiko (1962)


The title character of Tamiko (Frances Nuyen), who is from a wealthy Japanese family, works as a librarian for the Foreign Press Club in Tokyo. There are a couple of scenes set in the Foreign Press Club library.

Here’s how the Tevises describe the scene that includes the library ladder:  “The film’s second library scene utilizes one occupational clue — standing on a ladder. Tamiko’s occupation, however, is not pertinent to the story line” (p. 118).

Below is a trailer for the film, which includes a glimpse of the library — and the library ladder! — at 2:07 minutes into the trailer:

The Girl Named Tamiko – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2013, Standard YouTube license.


Twisted Nerve (1968)


Martin (Hywel Bennett) is a troubled young man with an obsessive mother, a dismissive stepfather, and a brother with Down’s Syndrome who lives in an institution. Martin becomes fixated on Susan Harper (Hayley Mills), a young library assistant studying to be a teacher. There are a few scenes set in the public library with Susan and the head librarian, Mr. Groom. I analyzed this film more in-depth in this post.

Our first introduction to Susan in a library setting is a classically sexist and stereotypical one; while looking for a book atop a library ladder, two young lads enjoy the view up her (short) skirt.

Library ladder screenshot from 'Twisted Nerve'

Library ladder scene in ‘Twisted Nerve’ (1968)


Goodbye, Columbus (1969)


A poor Bronx librarian, Neil Klugman (Richard Benjamin), has a summer romance with a privileged “Jewish-American princess” (Ali MacGraw), and their affair highlights how different their worlds are. Neil works in a public library, and in one scene, he helps a black boy who is hanging out in the art room, climbing a ladder to talk to him. He shows genuine interest in the boy and real humanity in the art books the boy is interested in — in contrast to the other librarians, who are very suspicious (and frankly, racist) toward the boy.


My Side of the Mountain (1969)


A boy, Sam (Ted Eccles), leaves home to spend a year in nature, like Thoreau. He goes to the public library in one scene, and librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. In the first library scene, Miss Turner climbs a library ladder to find some books for him.


Maxie (1985)


In this film, a couple (Glenn Close & Mandy Patinkin) move into a new apartment, where the ghost of a 1920s starlet still resides. The ghost, Maxie, takes over Close’s body. Patinkin plays a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

In one scene, he is on a rolling metal ladder and gets sexually harassed by his supervisor, Ophelia Sheffer (Valerie Curtin as Miss Ophelia Sheffer), who fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type.

More sexual harassment atop a library ladder — but this time, a gender reversal! (That doesn’t make it any better.)

Below is a trailer for the film, and you can see the library scene — and the library ladder — at 1:37 minutes into the trailer:

MAXIE [1985 TRAILER],” uploaded by W. David Lindholm, 2009, Standard YouTube license


Criminal Law (1988)


Hotshot lawyer Ben Chase (Gary Oldman) successfully defends a client (Kevin Bacon), realizing after that his client is guilty. In one scene about a half-hour into the film, Ben visits an old professor in the law library. Everyone seems to be on familiar and friendly terms with the librarian.

Rounding a corner, Ben finds his old professor, Clemens (Michael Sinelnikoff), sitting on a library ladder and decked out in a long, grey cardigan. An older lady (Irene Kessler) is handing him thick volumes and helping him shelve books. At first glance, it’s hard to tell which is the librarian!

Library ladder scene in 'Criminal Law' (1988)

Library ladder scene in ‘Criminal Law’ (1988)

I analyzed the film more in-depth here in this post.


Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)


Comprised of three story segments based off of H. P. Lovecraft’s works, this film also includes a “wraparound” entitled The Library, which serves as a framing device for the other stories. H. P. Lovecraft goes to a monastery library and steals a librarian monk’s key in order to read the Necronomicon, the book of the dead — and in the process, he opens up more than he intended.

After signing in, we next spy the librarian on a library ladder. Obviously up to something, Lovecraft nervously directs the librarian to the alchemical encyclopedia on the top shelf (of course). While the librarian is busy reaching for the volume, Lovecraft manages to unhook the librarian’s keys from his waist sash without him noticing the sound of jangling keys or the sudden missing weight. Yeah. Right.

Library ladder scene in 'Necronomicon: Book of the Dead' (1993)

Library ladder scene in ‘Necronomicon: Book of the Dead’ (1993)

This scene not only features a reel librarian using a library ladder to help aid a patron — but the patron uses the ladder as a means to distract the librarian! I also think this library ladder gets the prize for the most ornate ladder design.

I delved headlong into this oddball of a  film and analyzed it here in this post.


The Mummy (1999)


In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene,” uploaded by Hammerfall541, 2013, Standard YouTube license

The Tevises call this library ladder scene “one of the funniest library ladder scenes in twentieth century cinema” (p. 180).


The Age of Adaline (2015)


Adaline (Blake Lively), 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 (Michel Huisman) who makes her question her life choices. Adaline works in the archives at the San Francisco Heritage Society library, and there are several scenes set in the library.

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!

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)

You can read many more details and library scenes in this film analysis post.


Films that include library ladders but do not include reel librarians:


  • Slightly Dangerous (1943): Although no librarian in sight, a library ladder does get featured! In a scene set in a newspaper archives, room, Peggy (Lana Turner) finds a bound volume of newspapers atop a conveniently placed library ladder. Read more about the film in this post.
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959):  Lawyer Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) defends Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is charged with murder of a local man. Biegler argues temporary insanity and pulls an all-nighter in a law library to find a case to use as a precedent. No library ladder — but there IS a chair on which Stewart climbs to reach a book on a high shelf. Read more about the film in this post.
  • What’s New Pussycat? (1965):  In one scene, Carole (Romy Schneider) and Victor (Woody Allen) argue in a library, and another man takes a book that Carole wanted. To prove his love for her, Victor “fights” with the man. No librarian in sight, although there is a quiet, bespectacled man (uncredited in the film cast) reading in the corner who doesn’t stir throughout the entire fight scene. Victor and Carole also kiss atop library ladders.
  • The Lickerish Quartet (1970) has a scene that involves “The Visitor” (Silvana Venturelli) who gets invited into the castle owner’s private library through a secret doorway and ladder.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973): Two siblings, Claudia and her brother, Jamie, run away from home to stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They try to solve the mystery of the new angel statue, rumored to be the work of Michelangelo, which leads them to the statue’s donor and famous recluse, Mrs. Basil E. Frankerweiler. Her private library and filing cabinets also includes a library ladder, which you can see here in this post.
  • Homicide (1991):  Joe Mantegna stars as conflicted Jewish cop Bobby Gold. While investigating a minor case, he gets involved with a secretive Jewish group, which makes him question his faith and self-worth. He investigates the word Grofaz at a special archives library for Jewish studies in one pivotal scene. And OF COURSE, while Gold is placing the book high on a shelf, he just happens to overhear a suspicious conversation between the head librarian and the grey lady assistant. In earlier films, library ladders served as convenient spots for librarians to spy on patrons — here’s a scene in which a patron uses a library ladder to spy on librarians! Read more about the film here in this post.
  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006):   Uma Thurman plays Jenny Johnson as well as her superhero alter ego G-Girl. She starts dating Matt (Luke Wilson), but goes crazy when he breaks up with her. Although initially described as “an uptight librarian on the outside,” we find out Jenny’s an art curator. There is a scene at Matt’s workplace, a design firm, that includes a library ladder. Read more about the film here in this post.
  • Atonement (2007):  In this drama, there is a sexual tryst LITERALLY ON A LIBRARY LADDER — very memorable!

Honorable mention:


In the 1994 animated classic and Oscar-nominated film, Beauty and the Beast, features a rolling library ladder — but in a bookstore, not a library. But the scene is SO memorable that I had to include it as an Honorable Mention entry!

Beauty and the Beast ‘Bonjour’ Bookshop scene,” uploaded by cmekhail, 2010, Standard YouTube license


Have you enjoyed this trip down library ladder lane? Did I miss any? Please leave a comment and let me know!


Source used:


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

A list of banned reel librarian movies

Banned Books Week, as described on ALA’s site, is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Banned Books Week is a big deal for librarians — and for ALL of us, really, as censorship and challenges to our freedom to read occur every day — which got me thinking, what about banned films?

"Banned" graphic by HypnoArt is licensed under CC0

Movie censorship has its own history in the United States, including with the “Motion Picture Production Code” in the 1930s, when only a few big film studios controlled the content of almost all films made in this country. This code was more commonly known as the “Hays Code,” named after after Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), which later became the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This code, enforcing rules of decency and conduct, was implemented in 1930, but wasn’t strictly enforced until 1934, and it lasted through 1968. The MPAA board, itself the subject of a 2006 documentary called This Film is Not Yet Rated, continues to cause controversy with its film rating system (the G through NC-17 scale). Some argue that this board’s non-transparent methods of rating films creates a chilling effect on filmmakers.

And censorship is nothing new internationally. Many countries still have boards that review and censor books and films. I saw the effects of this firsthand when I lived and worked overseas in the UAE. A lot of movies I watched in theaters in the UAE had scenes cut from them — it made watching The Watchmen, for example, very confusing, since sooooooo much was cut, including almost every scene with Dr. Manhattan — and I bought a book once because it had been censored. (Trinny & Susannah’s Who Do You Want To Be Today?: Be inspired to Dress Differently included photos of a topless Josephine Baker, and these photos had been marked through with a large black Sharpie.)

Circling back around to reel librarians, I wondered if any reel librarian movies have been banned. Short answer? YES.

Reel librarian movies banned graphic

Long answer:  I did some research! The first step was to locate lists of banned or challenged films, including ones here, here, and here. I then compared these lists, and others listed below in the “Sources” section, to my Master List of reel librarian films.

Below is my (starting) list of titles of reel librarian movies that have been banned, either in the U.S. or internationally. I’ve arranged the list alphabetically by film title.


All foreign films made before 1980:

Where they were banned:

  • Uganda:  From 1972-79, President Idi Amin banned all foreign films on the grounds that they contained “imperialist propaganda.” So technically, that means that all foreign films made before 1980 were banned in Uganda. Based on my recent post about reel librarian movie totals, that means at least 83 reel librarian films that were made before 1980 were banned.

Angels and Demons (2009)

Summary:

A mystery thriller film directed by Ron Howard, based on Dan Brown’s novel of the same name and the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code. It once again stars Tom Hanks as historian-adventurer Robert Langdon, who travels to the Vatican and Rome to track down a vial of antimatter that has gone missing. Set against a conclave to select a new Pope, this movie includes scenes in the Vatican Library.

Where it was banned:

  • Samoa:  Banned by film censor Lei’ataua Olo’apu for being “critical of the Catholic Church” and to “avoid any religious discrimination by other denominations and faiths against the Church.”

Angels & Demons Clip Watermark” uploaded by Seb2009aetd, 2009, Standard YouTube license


The Big Sleep (1946)

Summary:

A complex crime story with private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) hired to keep an eye on General Sternwood’s daughter (Lauren Bacall). In a brief library scene, a young, blonde librarian is curious about Marlowe’s reading choices. The Hollywood Public Library and another female librarian, a brunette, also feature in the film’s trailer.

Where it was banned:

  • Ireland:  In its original release due to sexual references.
  • Malaysia:  It was banned originally, but the film passed in 1999 with a VCD release and a delayed DVD release from Warner Malaysia Video.

The Big Sleep Trailer 1946” uploaded by Video Detective, 2014, Standard YouTube license


Blade (1998)

Summary:

Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-vampire, is on a mission to destroy vampires, while vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is on a mission to destroy the human race. Blade tortures the Record Keeper, who confesses he helped Deacon in translating the Vampire Bible’s prophecy.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia:  The film was never released in cinemas, but it passed for a VCD release and a delayed DVD release.

Pearl the Fat Vampire – Blade (original)” uploaded by Sean Field, 2010, Standard YouTube license


The Blue Kite (aka Lan feng zheng, 1993)

Summary:

This film, directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang, shows the perspective of a young boy, Tieto, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in Beijing, China. The film is organized into three episodes:  Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Tieto’s father works in a library and, while he goes to the bathroom, is selected by his colleagues as a “rightist” to report to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.

Where it was banned:

  • China:  For being “offensive” and overtly criticizing government policies. The film was also smuggled out of China for final editing and not submitted to the China’s Central Film Bureau for post-production approval. Its director received a 10-year ban from making films.

The Blue Kite film review” uploaded by jabarbadi, 2009, Standard YouTube license


Brief Encounter (1945)

Summary:

A classic romantic drama about an ordinary English wife and mother (Celia Johnson) and an ordinary English husband and father (Trevor Howard) who meet one day by chance and fall in love. The woman stops by the Boots Lending Library on her weekly shopping trip.

Read here for my analysis post for Brief Encounter.

Where it was banned:

  • Ireland:  The film was considered “too permissive of adultery”
Screenshot of Boots Lending Library and librarian in 'Brief Encounter' (1945)

Screenshot of Boots Lending Library and librarian in ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945)

Note:  As I mentioned in my analysis post for Brief Encounter, when she picks up her book at the Boots Lending Library, she states that “Miss Lewis had at last managed to get the new Kate O’Brien for me. I believe she’d kept it hidden under the counter for two days.” Kate O’Brien was an Irish novelist and playwright (1897-1974), who explored gay/lesbian themes in several of her works. Some of her work was quite controversial, as two of her books were banned in her native Ireland. Just like this film!


Carrie (1976)

Summary:

A supernatural horror film directed by Brian De Palma and based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel. The film focuses on Carrie, a shy, bullied high school student who is also in the process of discovering her supernatural powers. In one scene, Carrie searches through her high school library looking for books on mental telepathy.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia:  This film was never shown in cinemas during its release. The ban lifted by 1996 with a VCD release from Warner-MGM Malaysia and with its out-of-print DVD release. Most other films based on or written by Stephen King have also been banned in Malaysia.

Carrie (1976) – Original Trailer” uploaded by Movies Fan, 2010, Standard YouTube license


Citizen Kane (1941)

Summary:

A classic saga about the rise and fall of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). A reporter visits the Thatcher Memorial Library of Philadelphia to research Kane and runs into the steely, no-nonsense presence of the librarian.

Where it was banned:

  • United States:  The film was not technically banned, but newspaper magnate and publisher Willian Randolph Hearst — who was the inspiration for the film’s main character — ran a dirty campaign to try and suppress the film, which included efforts of intimidation, blackmail, negative articles, and even FBI investigations. The film finally premiered in the U.S. in May 1941.
  • Hungary:  As per a reader comment below:  “[I]n the documentary “Visions of Light,” cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond tells an interviewer that in Hungary “the movie played in theaters for just one week, then the [Communist] government pulled it.” He says the next chance to see it came years later, in a tiny screening room at a film school.”

Citizen.Kane.(1941).WMV” uploaded by deanxavier, 2008, Standard YouTube license


A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Summary:

Sometime in the not-to-distant future, gangs of teenage thugs roam the streets and terrorize citizens. Alex, the leader of one of the gangs, is sent to prison, where there is, if I remember correctly, at least one scene is in the prison library. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!

Where it was banned:

  • Canada:  Provinces Alberta and Nova Scotia banned the film, but Alberta reversed the ban in 1999. The Maritime Film Classification Board has also reserved the ban, and both provinces have now granted an R rating to the film.
  • Ireland:  The film was banned due to its “extreme depictions of violence and rape.” The ban was lifted in 2000.
  • Singapore:  The film was banned for over 30 years. An unsuccessful attempt at releasing the ban was made in 2006, but the ban was not lifted until 2011, when the film was shown as part of the Perspectives Film Festival.
  • South Africa:  The film was banned under the apartheid regime for 13 years, then released with minor cuts and only available for people aged 21+.
  • South Korea:  The film was banned due to “depictions of violence and gang rape,” but the ban has since been lifted.
  • United Kingdom:  When the film was first released without cuts in the UK, it created a huge uproar because of its depiction of violence, and stories soon began circulating about “copycat” crimes. Kubrick also allegedly received death threats against his family. The film was then withdrawn from the UK for 27 years. The film returned to British screens in 2000, after director Kubrick’s death in 1999.
  • United States:  The film was not banned in the U.S., but Kubrick was forced to cut 30 seconds of the film to transition from an X rating to an R rating.

A Clockwork Orange (1975) Official Trailer – Stanley Kubrick Movie” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2014, Standard YouTube license


Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)

Summary:

WWII propaganda film about a G-Man (Edward G. Robinson) who investigates a Nazi spy ring in the United States. There is a brief but important scene in the New York Public Library’s periodicals room.

Read here for my detailed analysis post of Confessions of a Nazi Spy.

Where it was banned:

  • Nazi Germany:  Banned by Adolf Hitler because it was the first anti-Nazi movie made in Hollywood. Hitler also banned all Warner Bros. films and reportedly planned to execute the makers of this film upon winning the war. This film was not publicly screened in Germany until 1977.
Reel Librarians | 'Confessions of a Nazi Spy' screenshot

Screenshot of NYPL periodicals librarian in ‘Confessions of a Nazi Spy’ (1939)


The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Summary:

An adaptation of the controversial Dan Brown adventure and mystery thriller involving a murder in the Louvre and a quest to find the Holy Grail. In the book, the main character, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is a historian, and goes to a library for research. I need to rewatch the film, but if I remember correctly, that library scene was changed to a Google search on Langdon’s cell phone. I need to rewatch the film to make sure!

Where it was banned:

  • China:  It was withdrawn from cinemas three weeks after the film’s release for “blasphemous content” and political reasons for upsetting Catholics in China.
  • Egypt:  “Blasphemous content”
  • India:  Banned in several states in India, includingPunjab, Goa, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, for its “perceived anti-Christian message.”
  • Jordan:  “Blasphemous content”
  • Lebanon:  “Blasphemous content”
  • Malaysia
  • Pakistan:  Banned due to protest by the Christian community in Pakistan, due to “blasphemous content”
  • Philippines:  “Blasphemous content”
  • Samoa:  The film was banned outright after church leaders watching a pre-release showing filed a complaint with film censors. This banned included local television stations in Samoa, as well as the country’s only cinema. The government censorship office also prohibited the sale or rental of future VHS and DVD versions of the film.
  • Solomon Islands:  Banned by Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who states that the film “undermines the very roots of Christianity in Solomon Islands.”

The Da Vinci Code (2006) Official Trailer 1 – Tom Hanks Movie” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2017, Standard YouTube license


Elephant (2003)

Summary:

A drama edited, written, and directed by Gus Van Sant, chronicling the events surrounding a school shooting, based in part on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. There are a few scenes in the school library, including a school librarian and a student library worker.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

Elephant (Library Scene)” uploaded by atqmen, 2015, Standard YouTube License


Ghostbusters (2016)

Summary:

An all-female reboot of the classic film. There is a library scene featured in the film’s trailer, but I have not been able to watch this film yet to determine if it’s a reel librarian or not.

Read here for my analysis of the film’s trailer.

Where it was banned:

  • China:  Despite dropping the Chinese character for “ghost” from its Chinese title, the film was barred from premiering in the country.

GHOSTBUSTERS – Official Trailer (HD)” uploaded by Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2016, Standard YouTube License


The Girl Next Door (2004)

Summary:

A romantic comedy about a high school senior who falls in love with the girl next door, before learning but that she is a former pornographic actress. At the end of the film, the main character breaks into the high school library to shoot a porn video.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

The Girl Next Door (Trailer)” uploaded by RaulElisha, 2009, Standard YouTube License 


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2012)

Summary:

American version of the Swedish novel about a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) who investigates the 40-year disappearance of a young woman. He is aided in his search by a punk investigator/computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Late in the film, Lisbeth researches records in a company’s archives, disgruntling an older archives librarian.

Read here for my detailed analysis post of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Where it was banned:

  • India:  The film was banned for its “adult scenes of rape and torture,” and director David Fincher refused to cut scenes demanded by the Central Board of Film Certification.
  • Vietnam:  It was banned because its international distributor, Sony Pictures, did not accept the requirement by the Vietnamese National Film Board to cut some sensitive scenes.
Lindgren the librarian in 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)

Lindgren the librarian in ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)


Peeping Tom (aka Face of FearFotographer of Panic, 1960)

Summary:

A young man (Carl Boehm) uses a handheld movie camera to film the dying expressions of girls he murders. Helen (Anna Massey) is a young woman who befriends him, and she reveals in one scene that she works at the public library.

Banned:

  • Finland:  Banned for 21 years
  • United Kingdom:  This film was very controversial, blasted by critics, and pulled from theaters. Director Michael Powell’s career never recovered, although the film has subsequently earned critical praise.

Peeping Tom Trailer (1960) – Official” uploaded by MrHorrorTVNetwork, 2011, Standard YouTube License


The Reader (2008)

Summary:

German-American film about Michael Berg, a German lawyer who, as a teenager in 1958, has an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-winning performance), who resurfaces years later in a war crimes trial about from her actions as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Hanna learns to read in the prison library and with the help of the prison librarian.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

‘The Reader’ Trailer” uploaded by Associated Press, 2009, Standard YouTube License


Sex and the City (2008)

Summary:

Movie sequel to the HBO comedy series of the same name about four female friends in New York City: Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte York Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon). Carrie sees a wedding at the New York Public Library while returning a book, which inspires her to hold her upcoming wedding there, too.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

Sex And The City (2008) Official Trailer #1 – Sarah Jessica Parker Movie” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2014, Standard YouTube License


The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Summary:

In this modern classic, young banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife. Andy maintains his innocence and plots to escape. Andy works as an assistant in the prison library and becomes friends with the prison librarian, Brooks.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia:  For “depiction of cruelty, profanity, and violence.” It was later released on DVD.

Shawshank Redemption – Building Library Scene” uploaded by brownsuga1122, 2017, Standard YouTube License


The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Summary:

American horror-thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in two Oscar-winning roles. In the film, Clarice Starling, a young U.S. FBI trainee, seeks the advice of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter to apprehend another serial killer. In one scene, Clarice looks at newspapers on microfilm to learn more about Hannibal Lecter’s past. I need to rewatch it to doublecheck if this or other scenes include or mention a library or librarians.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

The Silence of the Lambs Official Trailer #1 – Anthony Hopkins Movie (1991) HD” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, 2012, Standard YouTube License


Sleeping with the Enemy (1990)

Summary:

Sara Waters (Julia Roberts) fakes her own death to escape her abusive husband (Patrick Bergin), and he comes after her once he discovers the deception. When Sara relocates to a small town, she starts working at the public library.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

Sleeping with the Enemy | #TBT Trailer | 20th Century FOX” uploaded by 20th Century Fox, 2015, Standard YouTube License


Spotlight (2015)

Summary:

Best Picture winner for 2015. Focuses on the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team of reporters who published a series of stories in 2002 about Catholic priests who, for decades, had been sexually abusing children in their parishes. A few scenes and montages feature the Boston Globe news librarians and research methods of using church directories to track down priests.

Read here for my detailed analysis post of Spotlight.

Where it was banned:

  • Lebanon:  The film was technically not banned by the country’s government. Instead, the country’s film distributors made a collective decision to self-censor the film by not presenting it to the General Security censors, which kept the film from being shown in the country. The reason was due to the “sensitive” topic of the film, the topic of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Reel Librarians | Print collection of news library in 'Spotlight' (2015)

Boston Globe news library and librarian in ‘Spotlight’ (2015)


The Ten (2007)

Summary:

The film is comprised of ten stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. Chaper two, “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain,” stars Gretchen Mol as a librarian who experiences a sexual awakening in Mexico with a local man (Justin Theroux) who turns out to be Jesus Christ.

Where it was banned:

  • Malaysia

The Ten (Official Trailer)” uploaded by FilmBuff Movies, 2010, Standard YouTube License


Have you seen any of these reel librarian movies that have been banned or suppressed? Are you inspired now to watch any of them? Does your library shine the spotlight on censorship during Banned Books Week?

Please leave a comment and share!


Sources:

Dirks, Tim, “The 100+ Most Controversial Films of All-Time,” AMC Filmsite, n.d.

Film Censorship in China,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Khalife, Leyal, “5 Films that were Banned in Lebanon Other than ‘Wonder Woman’,” Step Feed, 2017.

List of Banned Films,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in India,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in Malaysia,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in Pakistan,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

List of Films Banned in the United Kingdom,” Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Pillai, Shruti, “17 International Films that Were Banned In India By The Censor Board,” Scoop Whoop, 2016.

Robertson, Victoria, “15 Controversial Movies that have been Banned Around the World.” Screen Rant, 2015.

Sabelhaus, Clare, “Top 10 Movies that have been Banned Around the World,” Listverse, 2017.

Reel librarians by the numbers + through the decades

This is a post inspired by the comment posed by longtime reader Michael of the Century Film Project site. He left a short comment on my call for reader questions and ideas that contained several very intriguing post ideas:

I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found:  first reel librarian you’ve found so far, oldest library in a movie, first “liberated” librarian, first instance of each character type, maybe first of each class of reel librarian as well!

Two weeks ago, I detailed the earliest reel librarian portrayals I’ve been able to come across so far, and last week, I detailed the earliest portrayals for each character type category.

Calculator photo by edar is licensed under CC0

As I prepared those posts, I made notes of the number of films for each decade per class, so I thought I’d share those totals here in this follow-up post and in the table below.

As a quick reminder, here are the brief descriptions for each class category of reel librarian films:

  • Class I:  Films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst or is otherwise integral to the plot.
  • Class II:  Films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.
  • Class III:  Films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
  • Class IV:  Films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

Class I

Class II

Class III

Class IV

Decade Totals

1920s

0 1 0 0 1

1930s

4 1 3 2 10

1940s

4 2 12 1 19

1950s

3 4 4 1 12

1960s

6 6 10 3 25

1970s

2 4 7 3 16

1980s

5 8 18 14 45

1990s

10 9 22 27 68

2000s

7 7 24 12 50

2010s

2 2 5 4 13

Class Totals

43 44 105 67 259

Please note that the above table is a snapshot, by decade, of the 259 films I have seen and analyzed thus far. This is not a reflection of every reel librarian film that exists, or those I have identified thus far on my Master List.

Looking at the totals by this angle, I am most surprised by how many 1990s reel librarians I have identified and analyzed thus far. In general, I have watched more recent films than older films. This might be partly explained by the fact that it’s simply easier to get copies of newer films and more difficult to get copies of older films.

I am not surprised that Class III, filled with supporting characters, garners the most reel librarian portrayals for all but one decade (the 1930s).

If you love numbers, then I also broke down more numbers of the Master List I’ve compiled thus far, and more, here in this “Revisiting reel librarian totals” post.

Stay tuned for next week…

Next week, I will be begin celebrating the 6th year anniversary of Reel Librarians — and I will be hosting a special giveaway for readers!

Earliest reel librarians in different character type categories, reader question follow-up

I am following up on another reader question from my call for reader questions and ideas, a question posed by longtime reader Michael of the Century Film Project site. He left a short comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including this one:

I would ask about some of the earliest things you’ve found…  first “liberated” librarian, first instance of each character type…

I cross-referenced my reel substance lists with my character types section to answer this reader query.


Spinster Librarian

The “Spinster Librarian” is arguably the most stereotypical female librarian image. This character type includes “old maid” librarians who are uptight and sexually undesirable (or at least, seen as asexual).

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across is in 1936’s Cain and Mabel. In this film, Clark Gable plays a prizefighter who falls in love with a struggling Broadway actress (Marion Davies). In one scene, they meet at the library to plan their elopement and startle a couple of librarians — one of whom is Lillian Lawrence in an uncredited role!

Interesting that, although her role was uncredited, Lawrence made it onto one of the “lobby cards” use in the film’s marketing:

Reel Librarians | Lobby card for 'Cain and Mabel' (1936) showcasing the library scene

Lobby card for ‘Cain and Mabel’ (1936) showcasing the library scene


Anti-Social Librarian

The “Anti-Social Librarian” character type serves as essentially the male equivalent of the “Spinster Librarian.” This character type hoards knowledge and is a supporting or minor character rarely seen outside the library.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Ian Wolfe as Mr. Wilkes in 1939’s Fast and Loose, a comedic mystery involving a stolen manuscript, rare books, and a collector’s private library. Ian Wolfe’s role fulfills both the “Anti-Social Librarian” and “Male Librarian as Failure” character types. But Wolfe’s role is so small that it doesn’t even make the film’s trailer!


Spirited Young Girl

The “Spirited Young Girl” character type describes a young girl who works in the library — only a temporary job — and usually meets the leading man while working. These tend to be more substantial roles.

Claire Windsor as Amelia Briggs in 'The Blot' (1921)

Claire Windsor as Amelia Briggs in ‘The Blot’ (1921)

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Claire Windsor as Amelia Griggs in 1921’s The Blot. In this silent film, Amelia is courted by both a wealthy young man and a poor minister. Her family is poor, but her librarian’s salary makes no difference in her family’s finances.

See here for an analysis post of The Blot I wrote a few years ago.


Male Librarian as Failure

The “Male Librarian as Failure” character type is suggestive of flaws in library:  only “failures” would choose to—or resort to—work in a library. Sometimes, this failure is used as a pretense or social construct (e.g. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold).

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Ian Wolfe as Mr. Wilkes in 1939’s Fast and Loose, a comedic mystery involving a stolen manuscript, rare books, and a collector’s private library. Ian Wolfe’s role fulfills both the “Anti-Social Librarian” and “Male Librarian as Failure” character types. (See above for the film’s original theatrical trailer.)


Liberated Librarian

The “Liberated Librarian” female character type denotes a trapped and/or naïve woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—with the help of a man or in face of an adventure/disaster.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu Smith in 1932’s Forbidden:  Lulu quits her librarian job in the film’s first five minutes, setting off to Havana and adventure.

You can view the opening library scene here on the TCM site.

Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu in 'Forbidden' (1932)

Barbara Stanwyck as Lulu in ‘Forbidden’ (1932)

The “Liberated Librarian” male character type seems initially similar to the “Male Librarian as Failure” type — but eventually breaks free (often at the very end of the film). They usually need outside force or action to instigate the “liberation.”

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Anthony Allan as Phil Sergeant in 1939’s Fast and Loose:  Sergeant is a rare book dealer who became a private librarian — and finds himself involved in a mystery and reunited with his former mentor!

For each “Liberated Librarian,” the liberation can be positive or negative, and they are usually substantial roles, with the librarian’s “liberation” often serving as the film’s major plot.


Naughty Librarian

The “Naughty Librarian” female character type describes a flirtatious or sexually charged librarian who often engages in violent (or otherwise criminal behavior) when her love or sexual desires go unfulfilled or are repressed. Sometimes, these characters are quiet when working in the library and then “let their hair down” after work.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Sarah Selby as Miss Gottschalk in 1943’s The Seventh Victim. She gives away confidential patron records in exchange for a flirtatious interlude with Jason Hoag (Erford Gage), a book clerk by day and poet by night. Naughty Librarians tend to be major characters; however, Miss Gottschalk’s character is a minor character in only one (but pivotal) scene. She is also a mild-mannered “Naughty Librarian” compared with later portrayals (e.g. the serial killer librarian in 1990’s Personal Ads), but she does engage in unethical behavior for the sake of her desires.

Read my analysis post of The Seventh Victim here in this post — the film also serves as the first horror film featuring a reel librarian!

Miss Gottschalk as Sarah Shelby in 'The Seventh Victim' (1943)

Miss Gottschalk as Sarah Shelby in ‘The Seventh Victim’ (1943)

The “Naughty Librarian” male character type is a sexually charged male librarian — focused on sex rather than a diluted vision of love — who is usually unsuccessful professionally.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far is Laurence Payne as Edgar Marsh in 1960’s The Tell-Tale Heart. He also engages in violent behavior when his sexual desires go unfulfilled!

Read more about this adaptation in my analysis post of The Tell-Tale Heart.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1960)

Screenshot from ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ (1960)


Information Provider

The “Information Provider” character type, male or female, provides information — or sometimes, misinformation — to a character, or to the audience. This includes establishing the library setting, highlighting rules, and occupational tasks, like shelving, stamping, pushing book carts, checking out books, answering a reference question, closing up, etc. These characters tend to be supporting or minor characters.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far are:

  • An uncredited female in 1921’s The Blot, who works with one of the film’s leads, Claire Windsor. In the screenshot below, you can see a glimpse of her answering the telephone. Read more about her role and the film here in my analysis post of the film.
An uncredited librarian in 'The Blot' (1921)

An uncredited librarian in ‘The Blot’ (1921)

Opening library scene in 'Forbidden' (1932)

Opening library scene in ‘Forbidden’ (1932)


Comic Relief

The “Comic Relief” characters are usually the target of jokes. These are the crudest portrayal of librarians and usually supporting or minor characters.

The earliest example of this character type I’ve come across thus far are:

  • Harry C. Bradley in an uncredited role in 1936’s Cain and Mabel.
  • Hilda Plowright as the Quaker Librarian in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story (1940). The audience is invited, along with Jimmy Stewart, to make fun of the Quaker Librarian’s “thee’s” and “thou’s.” Read my analysis post of The Philadelphia Story here.
Reel Librarians | The shushing librarian in 'The Philadelphia Story' (1940)

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


Thanks again, Michael, and I’ll be back next week with one more follow-up post inspired by your comments and ideas! 😀