A tale of seven shushes in ‘City Slickers II’

Subtlety is not its strong suit, as we will also see in the library scene.

The 1994 film City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold includes a brief scene filmed in the beautiful Doheny Library Reference Room, University of Southern California. This library has starred in several films. Opened in 1932, the library has an elegant yet cozy feeling, with tall windows, light woods, tile floors, and stunning light fixtures.

That’s the good stuff.

Now for the rest…

In this vastly inferior sequel, the main plot is pretty obvious by the film’s subtitle. Subtlety is not its strong suit, as we will also see in the library scene.

The MacGuffin? Mitch (Billy Crystal) has discovered a treasure map in Curly’s hat. His excitable friend Phil (Daniel Stern) has been researching the Western Pacific Railroad because he suspects the money traces back to a train robbery. A trip to the library — a logical next step, no? — basically serves to legitimize the plot, such as it is.

The library scene takes place a little over 30 minutes into the film. The camera pans down from the gorgeously ornate library ceiling to a closer shot of Billy Crystal rifling through bound newspaper volumes. Blink, and you might miss a male reel librarian cruise by. Although unidentified in the film’s credits, how do you know he’a reel librarian? Because he’s pushing a shelving cart, of course! This unidentified African-American male is quite young (maybe in his 30s?), dressed in typically conservative outfit of grey slacks and a red button-down shirt.

Librarian with library cart in City Slickers II
Library cart alert!

I counted 7 shushes in this 3 1/2 minute scene — or a one-shush average per 30 seconds. Let’s count ’em down:

Phil is looking up old newspaper clippings on a microfiche machine, his eyes wide. He shouts out “I got it!” as he reads an article from the Carson City News.

He and Mitch talk loudly, and Phil excitedly shouts out again: “This is fate!”


SHUSH ONE:


Brought to us by an older man — billed in the credits as Annoyed Man in Library. There’s no indication that he’s a librarian, only that he’s following library rules. Phil shoots back an “Up yours” to Annoyed Man.

They get excited again (of course).

Annoyed Man in Library
Annoyed Man in Library

SHUSH TWO:


Again, by the Annoyed Man in Library. This time, Mitch whispers back, “Sorry, sorry.”

The Annoyed Man throws some more exasperated looks their way. Finally, he stands up, slams his book closed, and walks away.


SHUSHES THREE & FOUR:


These shushes come from other library users.

Mitch pushes Phil across the aisle and into the stacks — still arguing loudly.


SHUSH FIVE:


Time to bring out the big guns! This time, a white, middle-aged female librarian gives them the shush, contributing her bit to Comic Relief. The reel librarian (Helen Sigh) whizzes by, pushing a shelving cart (of course). She wears conservative jewelry (gold button earrings and brooch) and clothing (a long-sleeved and high-necked green blouse), with glasses hanging off a lanyard.

Note:  She’s billed as Shushing Lady. Subtle.

Shushing Lady in City Slickers II
Shushing Lady in City Slickers II

SHUSHES SIX & SEVEN:


Still more arguing. As Mitch turns away, Phil cries out after him, earning SHUSHES SIX and SEVEN from Mitch himself. Phil’s reaction? “Don’t shush me!”

A few seconds later, after spying a picture of the train robber who looks just like the deceased Curly, Mitch then lets rip a shush-curdling scream. The film cuts away immediately, so we can only imagine the reaction in the library!


Sources used:


  • City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold. Dir. Paul Weiland. Perf. Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Jon Lovitz, Jack Palance. Castle Rock Entertainment/Warner Home Video, 1994.

With or without honors

The quintessential feel-good movie about how terrible higher education is.

Ah, With Honors (1994). A major film of my youth, and very mid-’90s (the soundtrack, the earnest acting, the annoying Joe Pesci accent, the lumpy sweaters and plaid). The quintessential feel-good movie about how terrible higher education is.

Some scenes were filmed on the Harvard campus, but film locations also included the University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; and the University of Minnesota. The Widener Library plays a big role in the film, although its librarians are featured only briefly.

"Widener Library, Harvard University 2009" by chensiyuan is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0
“Widener Library, Harvard University 2009” by chensiyuan is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0

*SPOILER ALERT*

At the end of the opening credits, campus radio DJ (Patrick Dempsey) reports on a Walt Whitman ghost sighting in Widener Library (“America’s greatest poet haunting the library?”). A few minutes later, uptight Harvard student Monty (Brendan Fraser) accidentally drops his thesis down the grate and discovers that the library ghost is a homeless man, Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), living in the bowels of the library. Simon strikes up a deal with Monty — food and lodging in exchange for the thesis.

About a half-hour into the film, Simon and Monty enter the Widener Library together (see film clip below). Simon attracts a lot of negative attention but waxes rhapsodic, “This library’s like a church isn’t it?” (Yes, it is quite beautiful.) An older, bespectacled librarian (Patricia B. Butcher as Librarian) with a short, grayish bob and wearing conservative clothes (a grey suit and a white, frilly, high-necked blouse) and conservative jewelry (a string of pearls and a brooch), walks across the room to the pair. She taps Simon the shoulder and tells him he can’t stay there. How do we know she’s a librarian? She’s carrying a book, of course!

Monty hurriedly says he’s with him, “He’s part of my research project.” The librarian responds, “Oh, I beg your pardon” and walks away, looking back once over her shoulder.

Not bothered by the incident, Simon remarks, “Women. Ain’t they perfect?”

Monty — still reflecting a similar attitude to the librarian — warns him to keep his voice low so he won’t attract attention. But then when Monty asks a question, he earns a “Shhh!” from Simon.

The unnamed librarian is your basic Information Provider, reflecting the general social attitude toward homeless people.

The Library Scene (With Honors)” video uploaded by gaiaquest is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

A little over an hour into the film, Monty spends Christmas by himself. After hearing bad news about Simon’s health conditions, Monty’s back in the Widener Library, gazing blankly over a pile of books. Behind him, it looks like the library staff are (quietly) sharing Christmas gift exchange at a desk. We see the same librarian as before, sitting to the left, dressed in a festive red cardigan and white blouse. Three other females and one male librarian are grouped around the desk/table. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in a scene highlighting Monty’s loneliness and sadness, the librarians provide the (literal) backdrop!

Screenshot of With Honors (1994), where librarians are as much decoration as the actual holiday decorations
Screenshot of With Honors (1994), where librarians are as much decoration as the actual holiday decorations

Altogether, the reel librarians appear onscreen for less than a minute total, earning this film a spot in the Class IV category.

Although the reel librarians here don’t come across too well — neither does higher education — libraries still get a shout-out. Simon compares libraries to churches. He also is mad about losing his home in the library’s furnace room, and for good reason:  “I had a home. I had a warm place to sleep. 17 bathrooms and 8 miles of books. I had a goddamn palace!”

And at the very end of the film, after Simon has passed away, Monty goes back to the Widener Library. He looks around reverently and — bringing the film full circle — places a well-worn copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on an empty library table. The library/church has become Simon’s de facto mausoleum, a fitting conclusion to his memory and influence.


Sources used:


  • With Honors. Dir. Alek Keshishian. Perf. Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey. Warner Bros., 1994.

A ‘weird’ librarian

Hell hath no fury… like a librarian scorned!

The 1944 film Weird Woman, directed by Reginald Le Borg, is a horror story, one whose title character could be either of the two main female characters in the film.

Weird Woman – Classic Movie Trailer” video uploaded by Cliff Held is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

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!

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 ladder, and a dictionary stand.

Her student assistant, Margaret, shelves books, and students always have to open Ilona’s door in order to talk to her. Margaret, obviously intelligent and efficient, displays an eagerness to help. She  is a brunette with shoulder-length hair, skirt suit, and no glasses. Ilona, of course, abuses her assistant’s eagerness and stirs up trouble among Margaret, her boyfriend, and Professor Reed.

Ilona is a classic example of a Naughty Librarian who turns to violent and/or criminal manipulation when her love is unrequited or thwarted. She also uses her library’s resources to create more mischief (of course!). She is the (deserving?) recipient of several nasty, unflattering comments, including the following descriptions:

“A jealous old cat”

“There’s something about your smile right now that makes me think of Jack the Ripper”

An interesting note about the film’s 1962 remake: In Burn, Witch Burn! (aka The Night of the Eagle), the librarian character is changed to a female professor. The character’s name is also changed, from Ilona Carr to Flora Carr. The student library assistant’s name, Margaret Mercer, is also changed in the remake, to Margaret Abbott; her occupation, other than that of a student, is unknown in the 1962 version.


Sources used:


  • Weird Woman. Dir. Reginald Le Borg. Perf. Lon Chaney, Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers. Universal, 1944.