Reader poll write-up, Fall 2018 (scary movie edition) | ‘Horror of Dracula’

“My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.”

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll, this week I am analyzing Horror of Dracula (1958)! The first in the series of Hammer horror films starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, Horror of Draculawas a critical and commercial success when it was first released in 1958, and it has remained a go-to classic ever since. The film was directed by Terence Fisher and clocks in at a brisk 82 minutes long.

Horror of Dracula Official Trailer #1 – Christopher Lee Movie (1958) HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube license

This film adaptation differs in several ways from Bram Stoker’s original and groundbreaking source novel. I will not take time out here to enumerate those differences; for a list of them, visit the film’s IMDb.com trivia page. The broad strokes of the main storyline remain relatively intact, however, so I will not go into detail about the plot. Finally, I am also assuming that the reader is familiar with the basic storyline of Dracula and characters like Harker, Lucy, Van Helsing, and Arthur Holmwood.

***SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT***


Meet Jonathan Harker, librarian (?)


John Van Eyssen, a South African actor who later became a literary agent-turned-movie producer, plays Jonathan Harker. Although he only earned seventh billing in the film’s credits, he essentially opens the film, narrating from his diary upon arrival at Count Dracula’s castle in Klausenburg. (Note that the entire film takes place in Germany.)

The diary of Jonathan Harker
The diary of Jonathan Harker

His first words:

The Diary of Jonathan Harker. The 3rd of May, 1885. At last, my long journey is drawing to its close. What the eventual end, I cannot foresee. But whatever may happen, I may rest secure that I have done all in my power to achieve success. […] I deemed myself lucky to have secured this post and did not intend to falter in my purpose.

First glimpse of Jonathan Harker, who poses as a librarian in this Dracula adaptation
First glimpse of Jonathan Harker, who poses as a librarian in this Dracula adaptation
Count Dracula's castle in Horror of Dracula (1958)
Count Dracula’s castle in Horror of Dracula (1958)

Right away, it’s clear that Harker is on a mission.

While Harker eats dinner in the castle and waits for Dracula, he takes out a couple of books from his case. The slim volume with the red cover is Harker’s diary — we will see that volume several times throughout the film. In fact, that diary is so important and onscreen so frequently it’s a wonder the film wasn’t retitled The Diary of Jonathan Harker!

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
My self, my diary

A beautiful but mysterious woman enters the room. Harker hastens to introduce himself.

My name’s Jonathan Harker. I’m the new librarian.

This is the first mention of Harker being a librarian. And tellingly, the word “new” in that introduction indicates there has been a prior librarian. This thread is never followed, but it’s an interesting idea to think about. (The fan fiction practically writes itself, right?! “To all the librarians I’ve loved and lost, XOXO Dracula” ♥ )

His next words are also interesting:

How can I help you?

What I found intriguing about this line is that this is TOTALLY what a (real) librarian *would* say, but Harker says this line in a completely different context than how a librarian would mean it while at, say, a reference desk. Harker says this in response to the lady’s distress, who is insistent that she is being kept in the castle against her will.

She runs away, and then we get our first glimpse of Christopher Lee’s iconic portrayal of Dracula, as he pauses for full dramatic effect at the top of the stairs. (My husband mused at this point, “Why did capes EVER go out of style?!” 😉 )

Dracula and Harker then “meet cute,” and Harker puts away his diary.

Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker, and the all-important diary
Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker, and the all-important diary

They continue talking as Dracula shows him up the stairs to his room, when Dracula references his private library collection.

HarkerHow soon may I start work, sir?

DraculaAs soon as you wish. There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed.

When they get into his room, Dracula reveals Harker’s qualifications to be engaged as his private librarian.

DraculaI consider myself fortunate to have found such a distinguished scholar to act as my librarian.

HarkerI like quiet and seclusion. This house, I think, offers that.

DraculaThen we are both satisfied. An admirable arrangement.

Dracula then leaves. But after Harker unpacks a few things, Dracula comes back into the room and gives him a key.

Dracula:  As I shall be away so long, I think it’s better that you have a key to the library, Mr. Harker. You will find the library to the left of the hall.

The key to the library from Horror of Dracula (1958)
The key to the library!

Dracula then leaves for the night, and he utters the last words we will hear him speak onscreen, “Sleep well, Mr. Harker.” (Dracula only speaks 13 lines in the entire film, all to Harker!)

Harker then sits down to write in his diary, and he reveals to the audience the specifics of his mission — and his subterfuge!

At last, I have met Count Dracula. He accepts me as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as I intended. It only remains for me now to await the daylight hours, when with God’s help, I will forever end this man’s reign of terror.

Ending at less than 15 minutes, this is quite an efficient opening sequence.


First fight in the castle library:


Harker dozes off in a chair by the fire and awakes when he hears his door knob start to turn. He goes downstairs and into the library, the room opposite the main dining hall. It’s our first peek at the library, and considering what we had heard Dracula say before (“There are a very large number of volumes to be indexed“), the first impression is… underwhelming. There seem to be only a few rows of bookshelves along the back wall. I think the fireplace in this set may be larger than Dracula’s private library!

First glimpse of Dracula's private library
First glimpse of Dracula’s private library

As Harker enters the room, he is startled to find the mysterious woman behind him.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
I don’t think she’s there to help index the books

Once again, she pleads with him to help her escape Dracula… and of course she turns out to be a vampire! (The three brides of Dracula in the novel are condensed into this sole role.) After she bites his neck, Harker pushes her away as Dracula rushes in through a door in the middle of the bookshelves. Harker attempts to stop Dracula from hurting the woman, but Dracula pushes him away and then grabs his bride and takes her through the door in the library.

Fight in the library!
Fight in the library!
Harker and Dracula duel in the library
Harker and Dracula duel in the library
There's a shortcut tunnel in and out of the library!
There’s a shortcut tunnel in and out of the library!

Lights out:


Harker then wakes up on his bed, still fully clothed, and realizes that he has been bitten. He takes out his diary again and writes:

I have become a victim of Dracula and a woman in his power. It may be that I am doomed to be one of them; if that is so, I can only pray that whoever finds my body will possess the knowledge to do what is necessary, to release my soul. I have lost a day. Soon it will be dark. While my senses are still my own, I must do what I set out to do. I must find the resting place of Dracula and there, end his existence forever.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
Dear diary

He then hides his diary in a boulder outside the house. This detail will be important later!

Hiding the diary before he looks for Dracula's lair
Hiding the diary before he looks for Dracula’s lair

Harker then discovers a door to an underground lair, where he finds caskets for both Dracula and his bride. He has a wooden stake and hammer, yet his instincts are not as sharp as his stake. Instead of fulfilling his stated mission — “I will forever end this man’s reign of terror” — he starts by staking the woman.

Dracula's lair
Dracula’s lair
Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
Stake and shake
Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
Uh-oh!

Dracula wakes up, and OF COURSE night then falls, right on cue. Harker’s brain starts to work again, as he realizes the mistake he’s made when he finds Dracula’s casket empty. But it’s too late, and it’s (literally) lights out for Harker.

And I know what y’all must be thinking right now… will Dracula’s books NEVER get indexed?! 😉


The diary of Jonathan Harker:


But never fear, at least ONE book doesn’t get forgotten: Harker’s diary!

The next scene takes us into the village, where Dr. Van Helsing, played by top-billed Peter Cushing, enters a local inn. Van Helsing starts immediately asking questions about his friend, but the innkeeper is reticent to tell him any information. Inga, the innkeeper’s daughter, lets slip that she remembers Harker and a letter he had her post.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
Do you remember this letter?

The innkeeper and Van Helsing continue talking, and Van Helsing reveals more information about why and how he and Harker were working together.

InnkeeperLook, sir, you’re a stranger here in Klausenburg. Some things are best left alone, such as interfering in things which are beyond our powers.

Van HelsingPlease don’t misunderstand me. This is more than a superstition, I know. The danger is very real. If the investigation that Mr. Harker and I are engaged upon is successful, then not only you, but the whole world will benefit. 

The innkeeper’s daughter then comes back to serve Van Helsing dinner, with a little extra on the side.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
Have you seen this diary?

IngaThis was found at the crossroads near that place. He told me to burn it. But your friend was such a nice gentleman, I couldn’t.

This then leads Van Helsing to Dracula’s castle, where he finds the underground lair… and his friend, Harker.

Librarian turned vampire?
Librarian turned vampire?

As a distraught Van Helsing takes up the stake and hammer Harker had left on the floor, the camera fades.

The next scene reveals Van Helsing informing Arthur Holmwood and his wife, Mina, about Harker’s death. In this film, Arthur is the brother of Lucy, Harker’s fiancée. In this short scene, when learn that Arthur is suspicious of Harker’s death; that Harker died 10 days ago; that Harker was cremated (“As his friend and colleague, he told me some time ago that he would wish it“); that Arthur and his wife will tell Lucy the news; and that Lucy is ill. This film is certainly efficient in its storytelling, isn’t it?!

Thirty-five minutes into the film, Van Helsing reviews Harker’s diary while a recording plays on a gramophone. The recording is Van Helsing’s own voice, detailing the dangers and signs of vampires. Again, a clever way to include a lot of expository details in a short amount of time!

Reviewing Harker's diary
Reviewing Harker’s diary

Van Helsing then starts recording himself, likening vampirism to drug addiction. He also invokes the death of Harker as an additional reason to kill Dracula:

Since the death of Jonathan Harker, Count Dracula, the propagator of this unspeakable evil, has disappeared. He must be found and destroyed.

So although Harker is no longer physically part of the film, he and his diary remain central to the film and propel the plot forward. This time, it’s personal!

The last mention of Harker’s diary occurs at 47 minutes into the film, when Arthur is upset at Van Helsing and blames him for (SPOILER!) Lucy’s death. Van Helsing gives Jonathan’s diary to Arthur, stating:

I cannot expect you to believe me, but you will I know believe Jonathan. Here are his last words, his diary. When you have read it, you will understand.

Screenshot from 'Horror of Dracula' (1958)
The diary holds the key

Final fight in the castle library:


The final scene and showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula occurs five minutes before the end of the film.

As Van Helsing follows Dracula to this castle, they meet up in the library — where else?! — and Van Helsing spies sunlight peeking in through the heavy curtains at one end of a large table scattered with piles of books. Van Helsing dashes across the table and throws upon the curtains. Van Helsing leaps back upon the table — scattering books in his wake, and the librarian in me could not help but exclaim, “Don’t take it out on the books!” — and grabs candlesticks to form a cross and force Dracula into the sunlight. Dracula then starts crumbling to ash in the sunlight.

Final showdown in the library
Final showdown in the library — don’t take it out on the books!
Aftermath in the library
Aftermath in the library

Why a librarian?


Harker is clearly posing as a librarian, as the line in the opening sequence that Dracula “accepts [Harker] as a man who has agreed to work among his books, as [Harker] intended” reveals. It does stand to reason, therefore, that Harker is a scholar of some merit. It would be too easy to check otherwise, especially as the action takes place in such a limited geographic area. And Van Helsing is a scientist, so it is plausible that he and Harker met because of common scientific, or psychiatric, interests.

The idea that Jonathan is a scholar does provide some kind of plausibility about him being able to pass himself off as a librarian — or rather a freelance kind of indexer or cataloger — for Count Dracula’s private library.

I also wonder if the screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, chose “librarian” for Harker’s reason for being at Dracula’s castle (rather than as a solicitor arranging real estate transactions for Dracula, as in the source novel) as a way for Harker to throw Dracula off the scent; i.e. that posing as a librarian would not arouse suspicion in Dracula, as librarians are (stereotypically) seen as mild-mannered. Of course, that reasoning only works when Harker goes in knowing about Dracula to begin with, as is obvious from the beginning narration of this film.

Ultimately, although Harker has quite a significant role in this film, his attempts at being a reel librarian really only amount to that of being an Information Provider. He is there to provide context for thwarting Dracula, and his diary provides clues along the way for Van Helsing, as well as for the audience.


Final tidbits:


Although we don’t really learn much about Harker on a personal level, I was greatly amused by the variety of facial expressions John Van Eyssen packed into his role.

Behold:

The many faces of Jonathan Harker
The many faces of Jonathan Harker

Although Harker’s change of occupation did not get mentioned on the VHS copy I have of this film, I was amused to discover that the first library scene DID make the side cover!

VHS cover of Horror of Dracula (1958)
VHS cover of Horror of Dracula (1958)

Past classification struggles:


I first saw this film years ago — clearly, when VHS tapes were commonplace! — and I have to admit, that I have found it difficult to classify this film within my usual “Reel Substance” categories.

I first classified this film under the Class V category, films in which there are no actual librarians, because Harker is posing as a librarian in this film. But that never felt quite right, so I eventually decided to reclassify the film under the Class I category, because the fact that he’s posing as a librarian serves as the catalyst for the rest of the film’s plot as well as Van Helsing’s (re)commitment to destroying Dracula.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love for you to leave a comment and share your thoughts on this or other aspects of Horror of Dracula.

And thanks to everyone who voted for Horror of Dracula! It was fun to revisit this horror classic.


Sources used:


Past reader poll winners:


Interested in write-ups of past reader poll winners? Check out them out below:

Private libraries + librarians onscreen, reader question follow-up

I am primarily interested in the purpose of librarians onscreen, but it’s an interesting exercise to extend that question to thinking about the purpose of showing private libraries onscreen.

I am following up on another reader question from my call earlier this year for reader questions and ideas, a question posed by Kvennarad, who left a comment that contained several very intriguing post ideas, including this one:

Every novel and every adaptation of a novel set in a big house in England will, at some point, feature a library. This is a rule. Every novel and every adaptation of a novel where any of the characters are at university will feature a scene where a character is studying in the university library. These are the rules!

Here was my initial response to Kvennarad’s comment, in my reader Q and A follow-up post:

This is so true! I primarily focus on the portrayals of librarians, rather than just libraries, but I have also often written about onscreen libraries, especially in film analysis posts of Class V films. I have thought about writing a post about private libraries, like the ones seen in films or series set in a big house in England (have you found your Gutenberg Bible, yet, Lord Grantham of Downtown Abbey?!)


What is the purpose of private libraries onscreen?


I am primarily interested in the purpose of librarians onscreen, but it’s an interesting exercise to extend that question to thinking about the purpose of showing private libraries onscreen. As I went through my own lists and prior posts that mentioned private libraries, I noted a few recurrent themes about what purposes private libraries served when seen onscreen:

  • Private libraries are used to reflect personal OR work collections of books or materials
  • Private libraries often help establish setting, particularly of characters in upper social classes (like those seen in English country homes) and/or characters whose occupations are in academia or education.
  • Private libraries can be used to reflect the level of education or culture for a character, even if that character is seen as coming from a lower social class
  • Private libraries can be used to contrast with a public or college library setting — a smaller, personal collection versus a larger, more impersonal collection
  • Private libraries can sometime serve as the setting for a main action in the film, providing a contrast to heighten the plot and provide interest (such as a brutal murder taking place against the relatively sedate backdrop of a private collection of books)
  • The collection or items within a private library can serve as the reason or impetus for the main plot, like a rare book or artifact that someone would steal or kill for.

List of notable private libraries/librarians onscreen:


Below are a list of films, organized alphabetically by title, that I’ve analyzed thus far on this site that feature notable personal libraries or personal librarians and their purpose in their respective films. It is not an exhaustive list, but rather I tried to spotlight films in which private libraries serve one, or more, of the purposes I outlined above.


Abandon (2002):


College senior Katie (Katie Holmes) deals with exams, finishing her thesis, job interviews, and a cop (Benjamin Bratt) investigating the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam). Then Katie starts seeing her boyfriend again around campus—is she hallucinating, or is he stalking her? A few scenes highlight the socially awkward Mousy Julie, a student library assistant at the college library.

When I analyzed this low-key horror film, I noticed that in addition to several scenes set in the college library, there were also quite a few private library collections featured in the film, including rows of books and bookshelves in:

  • the thesis advisor’s office
  • the counselor’s office
  • the cop’s home
  • Katie’s dorm room
  • Embry’s dorm room
  • and… you could argue the thesis-related collection Katie builds in her private study cubicle in the college library serves as a miniature version of a personal library collection!
Personal cubicle in Abandon (2002)
Personal cubicle in Abandon (2002)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “An Abandon-ed reel librarian“]


Fast and Loose (1939):


This comedic mystery revolves around a stolen manuscript and the rare books business. A personal library in a private home serves as the main setting for the film — and the library’s collection serves as the main motive for the murder mystery!

Joel Sloane (Robert Montgomery), a rare books dealer, takes a commission to buy a Shakespeare manuscript from a personal collection and private library. Joel meets up with his protégé, Phil Seargent (Anthony Allan), who is currently working as private librarian and secretary. The plot quickly spirals into murder. As Joel says early on, “something funny is going on at that library.”

Here’s an original trailer for Fast and Loose, which includes footage of a private office library starting at the 1:37 mark, as well as a larger country home’s private library at the very end of the trailer, at the 2:16 mark:

FAST AND LOOSE 1939 trailer,” uploaded by One Minute Move, 2016, Standard YouTube license

From a Whisper to a Scream, aka The Offspring (1987):


In this film, a private library serves as the main setting and structure for the plot — a collection of “short stories,” so to speak.

In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local private librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories — stories about the town’s “long history of violence” — to a nosy reporter (Susan Tyrrell). White and the stories from his library serve as a framework for the film, but none of the stories he retells involve a library or librarian.

The historian’s private library is set in his private home, and the reporter walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire.

Private library setting in From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
Private library setting in From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Welcome to Oldfield“]


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. Frankweiler (played by Ingrid Bergman).

At the end of the film, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler takes Claudia to her private library to find a particular file. Her private library and filing cabinets are organized from floor to ceiling. I love that in this film, the personal library — or rather, the files within them — serve almost as title characters! 😉 It also shows a bit of diversity in what constitutes a private library collection, as her library is a collection of files more so than books.

Private library and files from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)
Private library and files from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “From the mixed-up files“]


Ghostbusters (2016):


In this recent remake of the 1984 original Ghostbusters with female leads, the personal library in a private home has become part of a museum — and it is the main setting for the opening scene, which puts into motion the rest of the film.

The film begins in a library, a private library in a house museum called the Aldridge Mansion Museum. The ghost in the opening scenes is not a reel librarian, however, but rather the ghost of an Aldridge family member. (Definitely not as memorable as the original film’s opening scene in the New York Public Library, which I analyzed in-depth in this post.)

It is an impressive private library, although the word “library” is not mentioned at all during the tour. However, there is an “Announcements” sign by the guest book that includes “library hours,” as well as a large sign beside the velvet ropes in the atrium, which reads, “Aldridge Family Library, circa 1830.”

Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in Ghostbusters (2016)
Tour of the Aldridge Mansion library in Ghostbusters (2016)

The Aldridge Mansion Museum’s historian, Ed Mulgrave (played by Ed Begley Jr.), then seeks out help from scientist Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), because of a book she wrote years ago, Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively: The Study of the Paranormal.

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Analyzing the library scene in the ‘Ghostbusters’ remake“]


The Kennel Murder Case (1933):


In the first five minutes of the film, we are introduced to a private library, as well as a book called Unsolved Murders that becomes central to the “locked room” mystery plot. Another private library that serves as the main setting and impetus for the film’s plot!

The private library in question belongs to Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy), who employs a private secretary, Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan). Five minutes into the film, we are treated to a classic cinematic shot of a bookshelf, revealing a close-up of Brisbane’s face. The bookshelves serve as a natural framing device. Brisbane grabs a book entitled Unsolved Murders, places it in an overnight bag, and prepares to leave on a trip.

Book closeup and private library central to The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Book closeup and private library central to The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

A little over a half-hour into the film, Philo Vance (William Powell) leads the detectives to Grand Central Station, where they locate Brisbane’s bag. Philo takes out the Unsolved Murders book, which has a bookmark opening up to a chapter that includes a description just like the murder scene of his brother. The plot thickens from there!

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Kennel clubs and unsolved murders“]


Pride and Prejudice (1940):


The 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman in Jane Austen’s original novel to a personal librarian for Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.

Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice (1940)
Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice (1940)

It is also interesting to note that we, the audience, never actually get to see the inside of the library that Collins curates for Lady Catherine; his profession is mentioned once at the beginning and never referred to again. And it is quite revealing on retrospect that Mr. Bennet, who has his own personal library which serves as an important personal retreat, does not mention libraries or books at all with Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet does not take the opportunity of using an apparently mutual love of libraries to bond with his cousin and heir.

[Click here for my full analysis post of “Pride and Prejudice and librarians“]


Soylent Green (1973):


Another major character who serves as a private librarian! Edward G. Robinson, in his final film role, plays Sol Roth, and we meet him within the first five minutes of the film. He’s described in the trailer as:

Sol Roth, Thorn’s private library. A Living Book in a world without books.

This futuristic world has stopped printing books for almost 20 years. The word “Book” now refers to people, to former scholars and librarians who serve as personal researchers for others. Sol is a self-described “Police Book,” assigned to Detective Sergeant Thorn (Charlton Heston), and there is a “Supreme Exchange” where he goes almost daily for information and to talk to other Books.

Real books are treasures to be hoarded in this overcrowded, dirty, violent nightmare of a future, and Thorn and Sol live together in comparative luxury, in an apartment filled with bookcases. You could argue that they live inside their own private library.

Private library in Soylent Green (1973)
Private library in Soylent Green (1973)

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Reader poll of runner-ups: Soylent Green and the Books“]


A real-life private librarian:


Before wrapping up this post, I had to mention Casanova, the famous lover — who in real life ended up a private librarian on a private estate. However, in the 2005 film version of his adventures in Venice, in which Heath Ledger plays the title role, libraries and librarians are never mentioned in this film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film, and a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), visits a libreria, which is Italian for bookstore. There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.

[Click here for my full analysis post, “Casanova, the lover and the librarian“]


Private and personal:


And a final note about private libraries, you can tell a lot about a person’s interests by looking at their personal collection of books. Private libraries are therefore quite personal, in both real and reel life. As Douglas Groothius stated in this blog post, “Thoughts on Your Personal Library” from his personal blog and website:

If your collection of books crosses the mystical threshold and becomes a library, then you should curate it well. It is both a reflection of you and you are reflection of it.

What does your own private library reveal about you? Is there a notable private library in a film that I have not included in this post? Please leave a comment — or two! — and share.


Sources used:


  • Abandon. Dir. Stephen Gaghan. Perf. Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel. Buena Vista, 2002.
  • Casanova. Dir. Lasse Hallström. Perf. Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Lena Olin, Charlie Cox. Buena Vista Pictures, 2005.
  • From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring). Dir. Jeff Burr. Perf. Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Rosalind Cash. Conquest Productions, 1987.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (aka The Hideaways). Dir. Fielder Cook. Perf. Ingrid Bergman, Sally Prager, Johnny Doran. Warner Home Video, 1973.
  • Ghostbusters. Dir. Paul Feig. Perf. Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones. Columbia Pictures, 2016.
  • Groothuis, Douglas. “Thoughts on Your Personal Library.” Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., 19 May 2016.
  • The Kennel Murder Case. Dir. Michael Curtiz. Perf. William Powell, Mary Astor. Warner Bros., 1933.
  • Pride and Prejudice. Dir. Robert Z. Leonard. Perf. Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Maureen O’Sullivan, Edna May Oliver, Edmund Gwenn. MGM, 1940.
  • Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Perf. Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Brock Peters, Joseph Cotten. MGM, 1973.

Casanova, the lover and the librarian, in real life and in ‘Casanova’ (2005)

Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

This past week, I rewatched the 2005 film Casanova, starring the late Heath Ledger as “the world’s greatest lover.” It’s a slight film, to be sure, but an enjoyable one amidst stunning backdrops. Heath Ledger is well cast as the title role, and a large cast of well-known actors — including Oliver Platt and Jeremy Irons (!) — romp their way through the film.

It starts off with a closeup of Casanova writing his memoirs, and flashbacks reveal tales of love and adventure (along with heartbreak). “10,000 pages, my life and loves. That’s just about 1 woman for every page.”

Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Casanova writing his memoirs in Casanova (2005)
Nice handwriting

So what does this have to do with librarians?


In REAL life:


Casanova spent the last dozen or so years of his life as private librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein at the Castle du Dux in Bohemia. In 1783, Casanova was exiled from his birthplace, Venice, for the second time, and from 1785 to 1798, he spent the remainder of his life at the Castle du Dux. While the job — and locale — must have been quite a lonely one, Casanova used that time well by writing his memoirs, Histoire de ma vie (Story of my Life). All 12 volumes of it! And it is because of these memoirs that we know his name today. Becoming a librarian, therefore, helped Casanova in preserving his legacy — and by his own hand, cement his place in history.

(See, librarianship helps EVERYONE. 😉 )


In REEL life:


Libraries and librarians are never mentioned in the 2005 film. There is, however, a literary angle explored in the film. Casanova falls in love with a young lady, Francesca Bruni (played by Sienna Miller), who is a (fictional) swashbuckling intellectual who writes philosophical texts under a male nom de plume. She visits a libreria, which is Italian for “bookstore,” as seen below (Library would be “biblioteca,” FYI). There are a few scenes throughout the film set in this bookstore.

Screenshot from Casanova (2005)
Libreria means bookstore, not library, in Italian
Screenshot from Casanova (2005)
Inside the bookstore

Additional fun reads about Casanova and other surprising former librarians:


There’s an interesting history to how his memoirs made it to the public, here in this article about Casanova on the Smithsonian site. The memoirs were published in bowdlerized versions all through the 19th century through the mid-20th century, and the complete text was not published until 1960. You can read the (bowdlerized) English translation of his memoirs here on the Project Gutenberg site.

You might also enjoy this round-up of 10 surprising former librarians. As well as my review of the book Casanova Was a Librarian: A Light-Hearted Look at the Profession, written by librarian Kathleen Low.


Sources used:


Welcome to Oldfield, ‘From a Whisper to a Scream’

“The atmosphere of this library is getting to me, but I don’t think it would drive me to commit murder.”

In a small Tennessee town named Oldfield, a local librarian and historian (Vincent Price, in one of his later roles) retells four horror stories to a nosy reporter — stories that reveal the town’s “long history of violence.” The library and its records serve as a framing device for the other stories in From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring, 1987), similar to the structure of the 1993 film Necronomicon, Book of the DeadThat film is based on a series of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories; this film raises a glass — literally — to Lovecraft, as well as Poe, “those two masters of horror.”

DVD case for From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
DVD case for From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)

A classic tale, this is not. The most frustrating thing about the film is that you can see how it could have been a decent film, had its production values been higher and the different stories bound more closely together. The film’s fatal flaw is that for a film whose premise is based entirely on place, its stories have a total lack of place. The stories, although set in different time periods, could be set almost anywhere:

  • The first tale is modern-day, and its only sense of location is that it’s a town with some kind of factory or shipping business.
  • The second story takes place in a swamp filled with voodoo magic (more like Louisiana than Tennessee).
  • The third story takes place in the 1930s at a creepy carnival.
  • The fourth and final story could be anywhere in the U.S. South at the end of the Civil War.

The films opens on a woman being executed by lethal injection (we later find out she’s a serial killer who’s been murdering people since she was seven years old). A reporter present at the execution (Susan Tyrrell) then drives to Oldfield to interview the woman’s uncle, Julian White (Vincent Price).

Screenshots of From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
Welcome to Oldfield

She walks through decaying, crumbling hallways until she stumbles upon the equally decaying, crumbling library. The room is filled with books, antique furniture, books piled over a big desk, and red velvet curtains. The librarian/historian sits in a red leather chair, his own personal throne amidst a crumbling empire. His more formal, professorial attire — a tweed coat, shirt and tie, pocket square — blends in with the shabby library interior.

Screenshot of From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
A crumbling library
Screenshots of From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
A crumbling librarian

Julian White is not pleased at this late visitor, stating, “The library is closed, and I want to be alone right now.” But as she continues to ask questions, both about the town and about his niece, he relents and starts providing information and stories about the town’s history.

  • “You could read the whole history here yourself.”
  • “I have something I want to show you. These are the original town records. If you read these, you’d find out what kind of people settled here, what kind of lives they chose to live. It goes back to the Civil War.”
  • “Oldfield’s history is written in blood.”

He is a classic Information Provider, a supporting but necessary role; therefore, his portrayal joins the Class III category of reel librarian films.

Screenshot of From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
Research in the research library
Screenshot of From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
One more question… how long has it been since you’ve shelved books in this library?

The reporter also gets in a few choice zingers in reference to the library:

  • “The atmosphere of this library is getting to me, but I don’t think it would drive me to commit murder.”
  • “Tonight, your niece becomes another sickening entry in your library.”

The librarian reveals the history of the librarian before him, who used to bring young girls to back room for “romantic interludes” — until one night, a husband “dealt with their indiscretions with an axe” and buried both of them under the floorboards. “At night, I swear, you can sometimes hear the lovers’ screams.” Too bad there are no flashbacks to that Naughty Librarian. 😉

There is not much scope or depth to this reel librarian, but Vincent Price manages to inject what dignity he can into the role. Julian is a watcher of history, not a participant in life. As he states late in the film, he “was lucky enough to sit back and watch the murderous parade pass by” from the (seemingly) safe walls of his library. But is that safety an illusion?

The films ends on a twist — but one could also argue the film ends where it begins. “Welcome to Oldfield” indeed.

Screenshots of From a Whisper to a Scream (1987)
Goodbye to Oldfield

And now I have to go dust my books… 😉


Sources used:


  • From a Whisper to a Scream (aka The Offspring). Dir. Jeff Burr. Perf. Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Rosalind Cash. Conquest Productions, 1987.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ and librarians

Mr. Collins is changed from clergyman to … you guessed it, a librarian.

This week’s post is about a film version of one of the classic romantic novels, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, featuring the central love story between Elizabeth Bennet, a gentleman’s daughter, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a gentleman of the gentry.

But wait! There’s no librarian in Pride and Prejudice.

If you’ve read the classic novel, or seen one of a handful of more modern adaptations, such as the seminal 1995 miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy and Colin Firth as Darcy or the Oscar-nominated 2005 version with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, then you are correct.

There is no librarian in Pride and Prejudice.


From the church to the library:


However, in the very first film adaptation of any Jane Austen work, the 1940 MGM adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the vocation of Mr. Collins is changed from clergyman to … you guessed it, a librarian. (Sigh.) Pride and prejudice indeed.

As portrayed by well-known comedic character actor Melville Cooper, all the hallmarks of the bumbling, fussy, socially awkward Mr. Collins are still present. One of the Bennet sisters describes him early on as “a pudding face,” and our first visual introduction is one of him bouncing down the stairs and nearly overturning a vase. Cooper plays Mr. Collins as a perfectly ridiculous man, a fop who bounces on his toes and manages to offend everyone he intends to flatter.

Screenshots of Mr. Collins in the 1940 Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Collins collage

When we first meet Mr. Collins in this 1940 screen adaptation, he rushes to explain his lowly, humble position:

Although I act as her ladyship’s librarian, she has always spoken to me as she would to any other gentleman.

By his own admission, a librarian is not on par with a gentleman; instead, the implication is that a librarian is beneath a gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) notice or concern. Forehead, hand, slap, repeat.

Mr. Collins is a clergyman in the book, earning some of Jane Austen’s sharpest wit and scathing commentary. As a clergyman’s daughter herself, it is perhaps surprising how little difference religion makes in Jane Austen’s novels. Pastors and reverends in Austen’s novels are either well-meaning (and a little boring), like Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park , or on the other spectrum, they are socially tone-deaf, like Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Elton in Emma.

As stated in The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen:

[T]here are two types of pastors — those who make things worse and those who, in their own bumbling way, make things better. (p. 35)

So why DID they change Mr. Collins’s profession for the movie?

There are a couple of theories that I have gathered through a little research.


Screwball comedy influence:


First, as mentioned in Sue Parill’s work, Jane Austen on Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Adaptations, the feel and pace of the 1940 adaptation is influenced by the screwball comedy genre, which was popular at the time. Events were changed or added to highlight comedic elements, and storylines — such as the Lydia and Wickham elopement — were rushed over.

True to the screwball comedy genre, the minor roles are played for broad humor. Since MGM has a large stable of well-known contract players, these roles were played by actors who were familiar to audiences from other screwball and romantic comedies. (p. 50)

This roster of contract players included Cooper, who had played buffoonish characters in such films as 1934’s The Scarlet Pimpernel and in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, as a decidedly clownish Sheriff of Nottingham.

As Parill further elaborates:

It uses them [characters] solely for comedy. Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper) has been changed from clergyman to Lady Catherine’s librarian, but he is still the same ingratiating and officious today that he is in the novel. (p. 52)


The Hays Code:


Another highly likely theory is that the role was changed to a librarian due to the overly comedic, and disparaging, portrayal of a clergyman. This was during a high point in the Motion Picture Production Code, commonly known as the Hays Code, which demanded censorship and sanitization of so-called “risqué” or “immoral” elements. On the Don’ts list of the Hays Code, “ridicule of the clergy” is ranked as #10!

In her book Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures, author Claudia L. Johnson counts Mr. Collins’s character change as one of the “ludicrous” changes in the 1940 film:

…a good deal of ludicrousness — antebellum costumes, Mr. Collins’s metamorphosis into a librarian (the Hollywood production forbidding irreverent representations of the clergy)… (p. 88)

It is quite telling that while clergyman were a protected class in early Hollywood, the same could NOT be said for librarians. (Double sigh.)

So the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice changes the already humorous character of Mr. Collins from a clergyman to a personal librarian. The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.

It is also interesting to note that we, the audience, never actually get to see the inside of the library that Collins curates for Lady Catherine; his profession is mentioned once at the beginning and never referred to again. And it is quite revealing on retrospect that Mr. Bennet, who has his own personal library which serves as an important personal retreat, does not mention libraries or books at all with Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet does not take the opportunity of using an apparently mutual love of libraries to bond with his cousin and heir. Curious, no?


Writing credits:


In addition to the source novel by Jane Austen — who probably would opt not to take credit for this film adaptation — the film’s writing credits are lengthy:  Aldous Huxley (!) and Jane Murfin are credited as co-authors of the screenplay, which also borrowed heavily from Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. I haven’t obtained a copy of the play — and only bits of it are available to read for free online — to check if the character of Mr. Collins was turned into a librarian in Jerome’s version. I doubt it, but it would be nice to close that loop.

However, critic Andrew Wright does state that “Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennett, and Lady Catherine were always played farcically in the Jerome play” (as quoted in Parrill, p. 50). When the play was first performed in New York in 1936, the stage actor Harold Scott (1891-1964) played the role of Mr. Collins.

Excerpts from the 'Pride and Prejudice' stage play
Cover and insert of the play when it opened in New York, 1936.

There are quite a few other major shifts in the 1940 adaptation, including a time period pushed forward to allow for puffy sleeves and ridiculous hoop skirts (again, to heighten broad comedic moments), a total reversal of Lady Catherine’s character at the end of the film, and completely made-up bits shoehorned in, like an archery scene. (Elizabeth Bennet gets to take aim in more ways than one!) The pacing is also different from the book. Lizzy’s refusal of Darcy’s initial marriage proposal comes in the middle of the novel, a stroke of genius on Austen’s part. We then get to witness Lizzy’s change of heart and deepening maturity throughout the book’s second half. However, in the play, as well as in the 1940 film, the proposal comes at the end of the second of three acts. This rapid-paced ending is also indicative of screwball comedies.

The ads for the film also highlighted the screwball elements, with taglines such as:

Five love hungry beauties in search of husbands!!

The Gayest Comedy Hit of the Screen! Five Gorgeous Beauties on a Mad-Cap Manhunt!

When pretty girls t-e-a-s-e-d men into marriage…


Film’s reception:


How was the film received when it was released in July, 1940? It was a crowd-pleaser and broke attendance records at Radio City Music Hall. The film was a hit with audiences and earned the Oscar for Best Black-and-White Art Direction.

And I have to admit, this film was my own personal introduction to Jane Austen, as well! I have quite fond memories of this film; I loooooooooved watching, and rewatching, this movie as a child. I didn’t read the novel until junior high, when I was shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to learn that Lady Catherine de Burgh did not, in the end, approve of Darcy’s choice to marry Lizzy.

The film also earned mostly positive reviews from critics. For example, Bosley Crowther’s film review in The New York Times praised the film’s “cast of such uniform perfection,” with notable exceptions:

Only Melville Cooper as Mr. Collins and Marsha Hunt as Mary Bennet permit their characterizations to degenerate into burlesque.

Ouch. A reel librarian portrayal that also manages to draw comparison to burlesque? (Triple sigh.)

All in all, odious Mr. Collins’s role as a reel librarian in the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice does not help the reel librarian’s cause in any way. It’s also notable that this film is not even included in the round-up of librarian films in The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999. As a minor character, our Mr. Collins winds up a Class III reel librarian, fulfilling the character role of Comic Relief.

No surprise there, right? 😉


Sources used:


  • Adams, Carol, Douglas Buchanan, and Kelly Gesch. The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen. Continuum, 2008.
  • Crowther, Bosley. “Pride and Prejudice (1940).” The New York Times Review. 9 August 1940.
  • Johnson, Claudia L. Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2012.
  • Parrill, Sue. Jane Austen on Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Adaptations. McFarland & Co., 2002.
  • Pride and Prejudice. Dir. Robert Z. Leonard. Perf. Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Maureen O’Sullivan, Edna May Oliver, Edmund Gwenn. MGM, 1940.
  • Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen For Dummies. Wiley, 2006.