7 faces of a liberated librarian

Thank you to everyone who voted in the second reader poll to choose the next film for me to analyze! And here you have it, a post about your chosen winner, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).

“Here is the mysterious beauty of the far East and the roaring action of the far West!” [from trailer]

This film, based very loosely on the award-winning 1935 novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney, is a showcase for Tony Randall’s skill at comedic timing and accents — as the title suggests, he plays 7 roles in this film, including the title character. Legendary makeup artist William Tuttle also gets to display his mastery at special effects makeup — after all, he created the “7 faces” of the title — and earned an Honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film.

Reel Librarians  |  DVD case and title card for '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

It’s a strange, uneven film that combines elements of the fantasy and Western genres; mysterious Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) brings a circus to a Western frontier town in Arizona while local newspaperman Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) woos the local teacher/librarian (Barbara Eden), a widow with a young son. The film plot reads like a mash-up of 1962’s The Music Man (a mysterious, shady character comes to a small town and woos the local librarian) and 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (a mysterious circus comes to town, and the town librarian reconnects with his young son). Interesting that ALL THREE films — 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Music Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes — feature reel librarians in prominent roles. Hmmmmmm…

In 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Barbara Eden — one year from her iconic title role in I Dream of Jeannie — plays the town librarian and widow Angela Benedict. She receives third billing in the film’s trailer (but second billing in the film’s credits), but her profession is not mentioned in the trailer. Rather, the trailer highlights the different roles Tony Randall plays; everyone and everything else comes second — or rather, eighth. 😉

The first library scene begins 10 minutes into the film, as Ed putt-putts up to the library in his motorized bicycle — obviously a clue to his inner rebel! This also helps date the film as early 1900s, as motorized bicycles came to the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The prop master wasted no time in featuring the main feature of the library set:  a big SILENCE sign front and center on the reel librarian’s desk. (Sigh.)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Ever the rebel, Ed asks loudly if there’s anything to read, earning an immediate “Shhhhhh!!!” from the reel librarian and dirty looks from the patrons reading at a nearby table. Angela Benedict then directs him to the section on “courtesy and good manners” since he is displaying such bad manners by talking loudly in a library. Then he displays further bad manners by sneaking in a kiss on her neck!!! The librarian shouts in alarm, drawing even more attention. Ed laughs at her reaction, because sexual harassment is soooo funny. 😦

Bias alert:  As a librarian who has had to personally deal with sexual harassment while at work — it’s an all-too-common issue for many, many librarians — I found this entire “romance” between Ed and Angela more than a little creepy and disturbing. So fair warning that I’m bound to get all-capsy in this post!

They then settle down to a legitimate reference question, as he wants a book on China (to look up the village Dr. Lao says he’s from), and Angela directs him not only to a particular shelf — “Section on Asia, third shelf from the top” — but also recites a specific book title, The History of China by D. Boulger.

NOTE:  Y’all know I had to look that book up, right? And it turns out, it’s a real book! D. Boulger is Demetrius Charles Boulger, who wrote several volumes about China in the late 1800s, including Volume I of The History of China available to read online here, published in 1881.

Ed then follows up this legitimate reference query by asking Angela on a date, something he has apparently tried several times before:

Angela:  I should think it would be clear by now that I do not wish to go out with you, Mr. Cunningham. Ever.

Ed:  It’s because you’re afraid.

Angela:  Of you?

Ed:  Of falling in love. Of being a woman. That’s what you are, Angela, underneath all those widow’s weeds.

Gross. Especially as Ed pauses to leer and eyeball her up and down before saying the last half of that sentence above, “underneath all those widow’s weeds.”

Angela is properly shocked at this.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Unfortunately, Angela is saddled with a screenplay determined to make her an example of a “Liberated Librarian” character type — with her “liberation” coming at the hands of a man who cannot take NO for an answer. Because Ed obviously knows that secretly, deep down underneath all those widow’s weeds, she desires him. After all, he is apparently the only eligible man in town.

And in the VERY NEXT SCENE, we all get to see what is actually underneath all those widow’s weeds. Right after she kisses her son goodnight, Angela changes clothes in front of an open door as she continues a conversation with her mother-in-law. As you do. The framing device of looking through the door as Angela changes in her bedroom also increases the Peeping Tom creep factor.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next scene is a town meeting that takes place in the library, which seems to function also as the City Hall. (Note the two extra SILENCE placards in the library set below.) The scene involves a subplot about a businessman, Mr. Stark, who wants to “save the town” and buy everyone’s land before the water runs out.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

So there are THREE parallel plots going on here about male saviors:

  • Ed, who is trying to save the local librarian;
  • Mr. Stark, who says he’s trying to save the town from going under (but is really a charlatan under his waistcoat of respectability and 10-gallon hat);
  • and the mysterious Dr. Lao, who ends up saving the town from itself (even though everyone suspects he’s a charlatan and a so-called “dirty foreigner”).

During the town meeting, Angela stands up and asks a direct question:  If Abalone is as worthless as Mr. Stark says, why is he so anxious to buy it?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

In Mr. Stark’s response, he also reveals more about Angela’s role in the town: Fair question. I’m glad you asked. Mrs. Benedict, you’re a teacher. A librarian. And as such, you can take a dull boy and make him into a smart boy.

Angela starts to reply and then gets SHUSHED by another lady, who says she ought to be ashamed of herself for doubting Mr. Stark’s integrity! That earns some librarian side eye.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

A majority of the film then focuses on the various sideshow acts — and characters — in Dr. Lao’s circus. One of these characters is Pan, who catches Angela under his musical spell. And OF COURSE, Angela immediately reveals her innermost desires — Ed was right all along! — as she imagines Pan’s face as Ed’s. This results in an unbuttoned blouse, messy hair, and heavy breathing. As you do.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Just as Angela is about to kiss Ed/Pan, a noise distracts her, and she runs away, ashamed of her actions. But her lust lurking “underneath all those widow’s weeds” soon rises again to the top, as we later see Angela in her nightclothes, sweating and unable to sleep.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

The next night, Angela’s liberation is complete, as she has now cast off her dark, severe widow’s weeds and is bedecked in a feminine, frilly light blue dress and hat with blue flowers. She seems more at ease and flirts openly with Ed.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

There are conflicting opinions expressed throughout the film about Angela, the reel librarian. On the one hand, she’s praised — however condescendingly — as a teacher and librarian by Mr. Stark at the town meeting, and Dr. Lao later calls her an “estimable educator.”

On the other hand, we witness her own mother-in-law’s disapproval at Angela’s prim parenting style as well as her loyalty to her dead husband. And we also get this conversation between Angela and Ed, in which Angela criticizes herself — or rather, who she used to be:

Ed:  You remind me of someone. A woman I know. Name’s Angela Benedict… Ever meet her?

Angela:  No. But I’ve heard of her. She’s supposed to be a most unpleasant person.

Ed:  Oh no. Whoever told you, it’s is a lie. Angela’s, well, you see, Angela’s got a problem.

Angela:  What kind of a problem?

Ed:  The worst kind. Same as mine. Loneliness. It’s just about the worst thing that can happen to a person. See, people think Angela’s hard. People think she’s cold. Let me tell you she isn’t hard and she isn’t cold. She’s soft and warm. Only she’s afraid to let anyone know.

[Librarian side eye.]

There is one more scene set in the library, after Dr. Lao exposes Mr. Stark’s scheme. The public votes against selling their land to Mr. Stark, and Angela leads the clapping for Dr. Lao.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from '7 Faces of Dr. Lao'

Angela Benedict as the small-town librarian is a classic Liberated Librarian role:  a young, trapped woman who “discovers herself” with the help of a man or in face of an adventure (or both, in this case). Angela herself explains the transformation:

I woke up, and I found out something. Just that there’s music in the air and that I’m a liar and worse. I’m in love.

So there you have it. Life lessons for us all. Single lady librarians who seem content in their independence and sensible clothing are all liars and need to acknowledge how liberating the love of a good man is. And then change right away into feminine, frilly dresses in pastel shades to demonstrate externally how love has transformed them into real women.

(Sigh.)

After all, we had learned this lesson not 2 years before in 1962’s The Music Man. One of the first things I noted after watching the film was how many similarities there are between the characters of “Marian the Librarian” in The Music Man and Angela Benedict in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. Both Class II portrayals. Both Liberated Librarians who started off as uptight prudes with spectacles (or pince nez). Both small-town librarians transformed by love (and a frilly dress and hat).

Reel Librarians  |  The Music Man vs. 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

The Music Man is admittedly a superior film, and Marian Paroo has quite a bit more spunk than the character of Angela Benedict, who comes across as a watered-down, pale imitation of Marian the Librarian. It’s also telling that the character of Angela Benedict — indeed, the entire subplots of Angela and Ed, as well as Mr. Stark’s business proposition — was NOT in the book.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao was not a hit when it was first released, but it has become a kind of cult fantasy classic over the decades, most likely because of its special effects and nostalgic stop-animation sequences. The story, however, does not age well, nor do the numerous jokes at the expense of racism and sexism. The film is equal-opportunity offensive, however, making fun of the Chinese, rednecks, nagging housewives, Native Americans, “dirty foreigners,” and of course, librarians. In a film that features — no, celebrates! — a white man playing a gapped-toothed Chinaman, is it any wonder that is also includes a stereotypical librarian?

And last but not least, the 7 faces (or rather, facial expressions) of a Liberated Librarian:

Reel Librarians  |  7 faces of a Liberated Librarian

Until next time… 🙂

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Scream librarian scream

In Scream Blacula Scream (1973), the sequel to the 1972 cult classic Blacula, an ex-policeman investigates a series of suspicious deaths. William Marshall reprises his role as Blacula, and Pam Grier joins the cheesy thrill ride as a voodoo priestess. Predictably, with the return of Blacula, (undead) bodies begin to pile up…

Coming two-thirds into the film, clocking in at a little over an hour, ex-policeman Justin Carter (Don Mitchell) learns about bat hairs present at the scene of a crime. His next step? A library, of course!

The next scene cuts to a shot of bookcases and a white hand slowly reaching out…

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

… which belongs to a reel librarian.

Played by Sybil Scotford, the librarian is onscreen for only a few seconds in this brief scene. She is decked out in typical early ’70s clothes — plenty of polyester and orange paisley on display — with her long brown hair pulled back in a bouffant and low ponytail. Her character has no name in the credits, only “Librarian,” listed below Pimp #1 and Pimp #2. As you do. 😉

After she locates the hand-lettered “OCCULT” sign on the bookcase, she says, “Let’s see. This is it. This whole shelf. Black arts, occult. That should keep you busy for awhile.” She smiles (a little coyly?) at Justin and takes off her glasses as she leaves.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Already interested in the books on the shelves, Justin answers back, “Yeah. Mmm hmmm” before turning back to the shelf. He picks out a thick book and goes to a chair beside the last bookcase. Time passes as we see multiple books stacked up on the chair beside him.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

The entire library scene lasts just over a minute, with the reel librarian onscreen for merely seconds. Therefore, it lands in the Class IV category of librarian films, and the librarian fulfills the typical Information Provider role. Justin obviously found some information to help him in the case, as in the next scene, he tries to convince the police supervisor that they need to investigate vampires.

The most notable aspect of the scene is how badly this library is organized. It is obviously a set — all you need are bookcases, books, a chair or two, hand-lettered signs, and a woman in glasses! — but not a very well-thought-out set. The three signs we see on the bookcases are all placed where they hang OVER the books — highly inconvenient for anyone to see or reach the books shelved behind the signs.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Scream Blacula Scream' (1973)

Also, the signs that are visible go from “GRAPHICS” to the “OCCULT” to “FICTION.” Huh? What kind of library system or collection is this?! You guessed it — the fake kind! Also, NO CALL NUMBERS on the books!

Those screams you hear in the background? They’re from real librarians watching this scene! 😉

‘Meet cute’ marathon

I feel like quite a few of my posts begin by accident rather than design. I will happen to be watching a film when BAM! out of nowhere pops a library and/or librarian. Sometimes, I am elated. Sometimes, I am cranky because I wanted to watch the film instead of immediately taking notes and pics, if possible. Such is life for the Reel Librarian. 😉

While rewatching the 1976 thriller Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, I was at first surprised when there was a scene at a college library. I did not remember that scene the first time I watched the film, although to be fair, that was several years ago. One cannot help but admire the library interior, which is, of course, the focus — but you can juuuuuust spy the reel librarian checking out books in the lefthand corner, as seen in the screenshot below.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

I was even more surprised when I realized that the library interior — while supposed to be the Columbia University Library in New York — was actually filmed in Los Angeles! More specifically, it was filmed at Doheny Library on the USC campus, which has been the library setting for many films, including City Slickers II (click here for that film analysis post). It was ALSO the library setting for Dustin Hoffman’s 1967 classic film, The Graduate. It’s a small world, after all, for reel libraries. 😉

A little more than a half-hour into Marathon Man (1976), Dustin Hoffman has a “meet cute” moment with a French-speaking lady sitting at his table. They both have a stack of books beside them.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Marathon Man'

Dustin Hoffman, as graduate history student Babe, then hides one of her books — it happens to have her contact info printed inside on the front page — and then uses it as an excuse to meet up with her later. A little creepy, no? Here is their revealing conversation as he makes a play for her:

Elsa:  Why do you pursue people who sit at your library table?

Babe:  You’re pretty.

Elsa:  [Laughs, then starts to walk away]

Babe:  I can’t talk about how smart you are. I don’t even know you. … You won’t meet another thief like me in the library.

Charming.

You see the reel librarian in this film for a few seconds only, and it comes as no surprise that the character is left out of the film’s credits. Therefore, this anonymous reel librarian gets to “meet cute” with the other Class IV reel librarians.

If you’re interested in more Marathon Man filming locations, check out this interesting post, complete with screenshots. The film holds up well, and the director, John Schlesinger, ratchets up the tension quite effectively. It’s also a film notable for turning its MacGuffin into a catchphrase (“Is it safe?”).

So is it safe to watch this film? Yes. But it’s not so safe to have your contact info pencilled in your books and then leave those books unattended in the library. Now you know. You’re welcome. 😉

In Dewey’s country

I was able to catch the 2007 TV movie, In God’s Country, recently on my cable subscription. It’s a film I saw ages ago, so I already had notes — but I hadn’t taken screenshots at the time. It’s interesting to go over notes I wrote years ago, to see what I focused on then and if the notes differ to how I view the film now.

Reel Librarians  |  Notes from 'In God's Country' (2007)

Initial notes for ‘In God’s Country’ (2007)

This Lifetime TV movie — which has been renamed The Ultimate Sin — is an earnest but ultimately mediocre effort taking aim at a big issue, the issue of young women who feel trapped in polygamous religious communities. Kelly Rowan stars as Judith Leavitt — her last name foreshadows the plot! — who “leaves it,” leaving her community, her house, and her life as she has known it. She takes her five children with her and tries to start fresh. Of course, they struggle to adjust living “on the outside.”

The children particularly struggle at public school (Judith reveals that she wasn’t allowed to go to school past grade 7). In one short scene a little over an hour into the TV movie, Judith’s 12-year-old daughter, Alice, visits the school library. Alice wants a book on astronomy in order to teach the names of the stars to her mom. She goes up to the library counter, where the librarian (Agi Gallus) is checking out books to another student.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  Can I help you?

Alice:  I’m looking for a book on astronomy.

Librarian:  Astronomy is in the 520’s.

Alice:  [shakes her head, clueless]

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Librarian:  520’s. Dewey Decimal system.

Librarian: [Hands stack of books to the other girl.] Millie, can you show her for me?

Millie: All the books are numbered. You just have to look at the spines. I know where the astronomy ones are because I like astronomy, too. Actually, I have a telescope.

Alice:  You have a telescope at home?

Millie:  You should come and see it.

The librarian here is friendly — and it’s nice to see a reel librarian in a bright color! — but as clueless about service as much as Alice is clueless about the Dewey Decimal system. She essentially passes off her reference duties to a young student, who has to explain the classification system to Alice. Peer learning can be great, but there was no good reason that the librarian couldn’t step out from behind her desk and do her job. Of course, the plot required that Alice make a friend, so I understand in terms of plot why the reference duty got passed on to Millie. But in terms of real life, this is NOT a great example of a reference interview!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'In God's Country' (TV, 2007)

Ultimately, this reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, in which librarians appear only briefly with little or no dialogue. The librarian in this film is onscreen less than a minute, and fulfills the basic Information Provider role. She doesn’t provide that much useful information to Alice, of course, but the librarian also provides information to the audience. She is yet another example of how the “real world” doesn’t really understand what goes on in these kinds of communities and the impact of different social and educational structures.

At least the script writers got the Dewey Decimal system right, as this system of classification is the most common for school and public libraries. They also got the 520’s section right, as this is the general call number area for astronomy.

There is also a scene involving the 520’s — one with a decidedly less favorable ending — in UHF (1989) and starring Conan the Librarian. Read all about that scene here in this post. When I relayed this tidbit to my husband, he laughed, and said that I might be the only person to have made a connection between this TV movie and Conan the Librarian.

In Dewey we trust, right? 😉

Librarian by chance

The movie Chances Are (1989) is a romantic comedy about reincarnation. A woman’s (Cybill Shepherd) husband is killed in the 1960s, and in a brief heaven scene — complete with fluffy clouds and angels with clear tablets shaped like the Ten Commandments — we see the husband head off to get reincarnated. The only problem is, he doesn’t get the all-important forgetfulness inoculation. Through the rest of the film, Corinne (Shepherd) believes her husband’s soul has come back in the body of her daughter’s boyfriend, Alex (Robert Downey, Jr.).

As you can imagine, the creep factor is quite high in this film. If Alex is Corinne’s reincarnated husband, then he’s dating his own daughter. If he’s not her reincarnated husband, then Corinne is stealing her daughter’s boyfriend. Oh, and she’s been cooking her dead husband dinners for over 20 years. And her husband’s best friend (Ryan O’Neal) has been in love with Corinne all this time, and has basically helped raised Corinne’s daughter. Like I said, the creep factor is high.

It’s a strange premise for a romantic comedy, and it requires a good half-hour or so of set-up and character introductions. The first time we meet Alex is about fifteen minutes into the film, as he coasts along on a book cart in the Yale University Library. This introduces his personality as boyish and fun-loving — traits at odds in a serious setting like the library.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Coming through!

He then coasts into a scene in which Miranda (Masterson) — whom is later revealed to be Corinne’s daughter — is getting schooled by a librarian called Mrs. Handy (Kathleen Freeman). The librarian is middle-aged, dressed in conservative layers and has short hair — but no glasses!

Let’s listen in as Alex does:

Mrs. Handy:  So you just assumed that nobody at Yale University or Yale Law School had any interest in checking out these 6 books in the last 3 months? You are going to make some lawyer. You owe $87.25.

Miranda:  Can I put that on a credit card?

Mrs. Handy:  This isn’t a boutique. Cash only, or we’re have to hold up your grades.

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Alex then swoops into action, coming to the rescue of the damsel in distress.

Alex:  Mrs. Handy. The rare books room. The Shakespeare folios.

Mrs. Handy:  Fooling with the folios?

Alex:  Yes and they’re fiddling, too. Go!

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Miranda’s reaction as the librarian rushes off?

God. Is she always that awful?

Reel Librarians  |  Screenshot from 'Chances Are'

Interesting to realize that the librarian replaces Miranda as the “damsel in distress.” And she is so worried about people “fiddling” with the folios — and her character name is Mrs. Handy. Such clever screenwriters. 😉

This “meet cute” scene continues as Alex jokes that the librarian is his mother — we are rewarded with a priceless reaction on Miranda’s face! — and then he magically wipes away the fines in the computer:

Uh-oh. This is bad. Worse than I thought. According to this, these books were never legally checked out. So that means I can’t charge you for them. You beat the system.

Alex then introduces himself, and we learn that he’s about to graduate. Miranda rushes off — she’s got a ride waiting, because she just had NO IDEA that it would take very long to return books that were 3 months overdue — but doublechecks that the “awful” librarian isn’t his mother.

This is definitely a scene played for laughs, and the university librarian fulfills the Comic Librarian character type. We laugh at her distress over the folios, which OF COURSE is what she gets for being mean to the pretty young girl with a credit card in one hand and overdue library books in the other. Oh, wait … am I showing my real librarian bias at this reel librarian portrayal? 😉

Another side note:  After rewinding this scene to make sure I had gotten the quotes right, my husband piped up with the information that the library fines turned out to be 15 cents a day. Doesn’t it sound like one of those word problems you had in school:

Your library fines total $87.25. You checked out 6 books, which are 3 months overdue. What then is the daily rate for library fines?

This “meet cute” introductory scene also recalls the “meet cute” scene in the 1970 film Love Story, co-starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, one of the four leads in Chances Are. In Love Story, Ali MacGraw plays a library assistant and is the one who schools Ryan O’Neal.

Reel Librarians  |  Library scenes in 'Chances Are' and 'Love Story'

And in yet another coincidence, Robert Downey, Jr. starred in another reincarnation comedy a few years later, in the 1993 comedy Heart and Souls. That film also included a reel librarian character, a supporting character named Harrison Winslow, played by Charles Grodin. Harrison in  Heart and Souls turns out to be a Liberated Librarian — as does Alex in Chances Are. The librarian, Mrs. Handy, definitely fulfills the Comic Relief role in this Class II film.

For more examples of Comic Relief portrayals, click here.

And for more about Liberated Librarians, click here and here.