So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library!
Happy Holidays, y’all! Nothing feels so Christmas-y as a little adultery, kidnapping, and family arguments that cause kids to cry, right?! 😉 The Oscar-nominated Fatal Attraction (1987) has all three in spades. The film is considered an ’80s classic, but somehow, neither my husband nor I had managed to watch it yet. (We both knew about the infamous bunny scene, and we were both kids when this movie came out, so maybe that explains it. Animal cruelty is scary!) But when it came up on our Amazon Prime video subscription, we decided to watch it.
Imagine my surprise that almost exactly halfway through the film, at almost 1 hour and 3 minutes, we get introduced to a reel librarian! (Y’all can hear my groans from here, right? “Oh no, I’m going to have to take notes now! Hit pause!”)
We see a young black man shelving (or unshelving?) books, dressed in a button-front shirt and tie, pushing a cart full of books.
This character is uncredited in the cast list, so it’s unclear exactly who this character is: A law librarian? A fellow lawyer? Researcher? Paralegal? But there is a clue on the film’s Goofs page on IMDb.com, seen below, which states that this character is a librarian. Therefore, I’m going with law librarian!
In the back corner of their law firm’s library, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is having a private conversation with a friend and fellow lawyer. So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library. Now you know. Because there’s no one to disturb you, except for perhaps a law librarian just trying to get some work done? (Sigh.)
This uncredited reel librarian fulfills the Information Provider role. This character type is the most common for reel librarians, with the most diverse range of physical characteristics, including diversity of ages and ethnicities. This is also demonstrated in this brief role, as the law librarian is young, male, and black.
Ultimately, this brief law librarian sighting lands the film in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.
Call number inconsistency
I also thought it funny that this short law library scene, which lasts a little over a minute, showcases some wildly inconsistent call numbers. In the screenshots below, we see:
Books with large call number labels shelved vertically, as seen near Michael Douglas’s elbow, as well as on the books stacked horizontally to the right of his colleague’s head, in the first screenshot below.
Books with NO call numbers at all, as seen in the back shelves in-between the two men in the first screenshot, and stacked haphazardly in the second screenshot below.
Clearly, the law librarian does not have enough time to properly label all the books, due to all the lawyers who keep whispering in the back corners of the law library! 😉
Explore more reel law librarians and libraries
Interested in more reel librarian sightings in law libraries? Check out a few related posts below:
Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.
I recently rewatched The Pelican Brief(1993), based on the John Grisham thriller of the same title and directed by Alan J. Pakula. I didn’t have a copy of the film itself, so I checked out a (double-sided!) DVD from my local public library.
Don’t you just love the fact that after you read on the back that The Pelican Briefis a “heart-stopping, spine-chilling, adrenaline-pumping, run-for-your-life thriller” … you then see a photo of Julia Roberts studying in a library?! Research CAN BE adrenaline-pumping, y’all! 😀
If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen this legal thriller, it stars Julia Roberts as law student Darby Shaw, who uncovers the reason behind the recent assassinations of two Supreme Court justices and, therefore, unwittingly becomes a target herself. Denzel Washington co-stars as Gray Grantham, a well-known and respected newspaper reporter who joins Darby in her quest to uncover the truth. Sam Shepard also shines in a supporting role as law professor Thomas Callahan, who is also dating Darby.
Here’s a trailer to (re?)familiarize yourself with this star-packed movie:
*POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*
The research process begins
At almost 17 minutes into this 141-minute movie, Darby begins musing theories aloud to Thomas about the recent assassinations of the two Supreme Court justices. Next stop? The library, of course! (But we don’t yet get to see the library. But patience, dear reader, we’ll get there. 😉 )
A couple of minutes later, Thomas follows up with Darby. Their ensuing conversation provides a peek at how Darby’s mind works, and highlights the planning and prep work of her research process.
Thomas: Where have you been?
Darby:The library. I studied a printout of the Supreme Court docket. I even made a list of possible suspects. And then threw it in the garbage because they’d be obvious to everyone.
Thomas: Then you looked for areas Jensen and Rosenberg [the two Supreme Court justices who have been assassinated] had in common.
Darby: Exactly. … Everyone is assuming the motive is either hatred or revenge, but what if the issue involved old-fashioned material greed? A case that involves a great deal of money?
We then see Darby visiting a records office. She’s in the research process stage of gathering evidence for her thesis and seeing where evidence leads her.
I’m not classifying the woman at the counter as an archivist, as she seems to be more like a city or county clerk or office manager. Their verbal exchange is satisfying to watch Darby flex a little of her law school knowledge and know-how.
Clerk: Can I help you?
Darby: I’d like to see this file please.
Darby: It’s public record isn’t it?
Darby: Are you familiar with the Freedom of Information Act?
Darby’s sass gets her to a back room of filing cabinets, where all the records are. We also learn of an upcoming appeals deadline of a local case, but we don’t yet know the details of this case that Darby is researching.
Law library scene #1
We then see the culmination of her research process, pulling it all together. And where’s the best place to do that? The library, of course!
We get treated to a montage of Darby in various spots in the library, first at a microfilm machine:
And then typing on a computer in a study desk carrel, deep in the stacks:
The camera slides away as Darby continues to type, and the shadows darken, signifying the passage of time as Darby concentrates on finishing her research project.
Side note: I appreciated that this was filmed in a real library. How do I know? The books have call numbers! 😀 The IMDb.com Film Locations page for this movie listed Tulane Law Library, so that’s where I’m assuming this library montage was filmed. What’s missing from this scene, of course, is any recognizable librarian onscreen.
The ACTUAL Pelican Brief
And now for the finished product! Next we see a closeup of her brief — the title role — as it prints out. Darby collects the pages into a folder. It’s important for reasons of PLOT to note that Darby’s name and address are included on the cover sheet.
Alas, the moment of triumph is brief, as Darby then drops the folder onto her cluttered desk and dismisses her research. But Thomas is not so easily dissuaded.
Thomas: So, whodunit, Miss Shaw? You have some obscure suspect unknown to the FBI and the CIA and the secret service and 10,000 police departments?
Darby: I had one which I have now discarded.
Thomas: You mean, you skipped class and ignored me for a week and now you’re throwing it away? Let me see it.
Darby: Don’t laugh. It was ludicrous of me to think that I could solve it. Hubris of the young huh?
This series of scenes highlighting the research process — the description of the initial visit to the library, the local records office, and the holing up in the law library to write the brief — lasts three minutes in total screen time, representing what we hear took a week of work. I do appreciate that the movie takes pains to highlight that good research takes time and involves several steps.
Thomas later shares Darby’s brief with a former law school buddy who works in intelligence, who then takes the brief up the chain. The only problem? Darby’s theory turns out to be correct, and the baddies find out who and where she is. Thomas, therefore, unknowingly has put Darby in danger — and himself!
More than 70 minutes into the movie, after many attempts on her life (and others close to her), Darby gets interviewed by reporter Gray Grantham in Washington, D.C., and we finallllllllly get to learn all the details about what’s in the brief. (Fun tidbit: Darby’s theory all started because of a PBS Frontline special! #GoPBS)
And that’s when we finalllllllly get to see a reel librarian! It’s fleeting, but we can glimpse a white, middle-aged woman pushing a cart of books as Gray walks in. Book cart? Book props? Yep, that’s our reel librarian.
The law librarian, who is uncredited, serves as your basic Information Provider, helping establish the library setting. Information Providers are most closely identified by occupational tasks; in this case, that happens to be pushing a cart full of books.
But we’re not done in this law library — or with research! Gray walks over to where Darby is sitting. He taps the table and whispers to Darby to meet him “by the stacks.” Gotta love that library lingo! 😉
Darby has been looking up law firms, and she is totally prepared for research with her pad of paper and pencil. We also get a closeup of the legal book she’s been looking at, open to an entry for a law firm located in the Washington D.C. area.
We then see a long overhead shot of the tables and library as Darby packs up. It makes sense that director Alan J. Pakula would insert an overhead view of a library in this film; he did the same thing with the Library of Congress Reading Room in 1976’s All the President’s Men. (Click here to revisit my analysis of that classic political drama.)
The final shot in the library is Gray and Darby talking together in what presumably is a group study room in the library. This final law library scene lasts a minute long.
Wrapping it up
And there we have it! A (literal) roll-by cameo of a reel law librarian, scenes in two law libraries, and extended shots of Darby going through stages of the research process. Not bad for a Class IV film, eh?
Did you remember the law libraries in The Pelican Brief? How long has it been since you’ve seen this movie? Please leave a comment and share.
The Pelican Brief. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard. Warner Bros., 1993. Based on the John Grisham novel.
“The law has been such a star in pop culture that some law schools study the intersection between the courtroom and the theater and the effect of its influence on perceptions of the legal profession and court system.”
A couple of months ago, I was fortunate to enjoy a special tour of the Washington State Law Library, which has a fascinating history. Their collections also hold some gems, including an original set of the Pentagon Papers!
One of the displays in the public entrance to the library I enjoyed most was a “Law in Pop Culture” display, seen below. (And yes, you can also see the back of me in the photo below — I’m the one in the red jacket.)
I chatted with the law librarian who created the display — and lo and behold, she had recently written about this very topic on the Washington State Law Library blog!
The law has been such a star in pop culture that some law schools study the intersection between the courtroom and the theater and the effect of its influence on perceptions of the legal profession and court system. After all, what we see in the movies and on TV and read in books can heavily influence how we view the real life subjects they portray.
That last line pretty sums up the point of this Reel Librarians blog! 😀
The real-life case behind the 1952 novel Anatomy of a Murder. I have written about the 1959 Oscar-nominated film version, starring Jimmy Stewart, here in this “Anatomy of a law library” post; the film version showcases a law library (but no law librarian, alas).
The real-life case behind the Oscar-winning film Philadelphia . There IS a reel librarian in this film, but I haven’t yet analyzed the film for this blog. It’s on my list!
I have also written about a reel law librarian portrayal in the 1989 film Criminal Law, a legal thriller starring Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon. Can you tell which one is the law librarian from the screenshot below? Check out my “Criminal law librarian” post to find out!
Sometimes, ideas for posts come from the most unlikeliest of places. This past week, I decided to give the TV series Suits a try (while we are still enjoying a free preview of Amazon Prime!).
Trying Suits on for size:
In the pilot episode, I was particularly drawn to the character of Rachel Zane (played by very-soon-to-be-a-princess-in-real-life Meghan Markle), who is the law firm’s top paralegal and researcher — and knows it! I do love a woman who is smart and is not afraid to be smart.
Here are just a couple of snippets of how Rachel describes herself and her work ethic in the pilot episode:
“I take my job seriously.”
Breaking down the research scene:
A little over halfway into the episode, the newbie assistant lawyer, Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams), asks Rachel for her help on a case. Let’s beak down their conversation.
First, the ask and recognition of Rachel’s research skillz. (I also have to admit that at one point, I thought seriously about becoming a paralegal and putting my own research skills to use in a different way.)
Mike: Rachel! I need your help!
Rachel: So why are you coming to me?
Mike: Because Donna says you’re the best researcher in the firm.
They walk into her office, which, in the pilot episode at least, is lined with bookshelves. A woman after my own heart!
Mike: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You have an office? How do you have an office, and I have a cubicle?
Rachel: Like you said, I’m the best researcher in the firm.
Next, the research set-up:
Rachel: You’re asking to look at private files without any evidence of your assertion.
Mike: Yeah, but the only way we can find the evidence is to look at those files.
Mike: Yeah, but the only way we can find the evidence is to look at those files.
Mike: But is there precedent?
Rachel: Let’s go see if we can find one.
Finally, the pay-off at the firm’s in-house law library. (Two stories, no less!)
Rachel: Research is as much art as science. So, we’re gonna look at privacy and harassment law to see if we can find a combination of cases to make an argument. I’ll take privacy.
Mike: I’ll take harassment law.
Rachel: This’ll take a while.
Final lessons about research:
What do we learn from these few seconds about research with ace paralegal Rachel Zane?
Research is a combination of art and science — in other words, being BOTH “book smart” AND “street smart”
Have a plan before you start researching
Think about multiple starting points/keywords/potential sources
Research can take time
If you need help, ask a research expert!
I’m admittedly new to Suits — even though its final season is about to air, having already hit that 100-episode marker! — but I was very pleasantly surprised by how invested I was in the characters by the end of the pilot episode.
Have you seen Suits? Do you like Rachel Zane’s character? Please leave a comment and share!
“Pilot.” Suits, Season 1, Episode 1. USA, June 2011.
I recently rewatched the courtroom classic Anatomy of a Murder(1959), as it was on my Master List. I didn’t remember a librarian being in the film, but I did remember a pivotal scene set in a law library. And my memory was correct, there is no actual reel librarian in the movie — landing it in Class V territory — but there is indeed a law library scene in the film that is key to the trial, and therefore the plot of the film itself.
In the early scenes setting up the tone of the film and the main character Paul Biegler, played by James Stewart, we also get treated to Paul’s personal law library. His love of the old law books helps the audience trust him and his actions, as he is shown to be a careful and thoughtful person. Paul and his lawyer friend, Parnell, are settling down for a night in. Let’s listen in:
Paul: In the evening, I sit around and drink bourbon whisky and read law with Parnell Emmitt McCarthy, one of the world’s great men.
Parnell: That was a kind word, Paulie. You know, I might have been. I look at you and see myself years ago, with the same love for the smell of the old brown books and the dusty office. [Pointing to the bookcase of law books] … The United States Supreme Court reports. Well, what should we read this evening, counselor? How about a little Chief Justice Holmes?
At that point, the phone rings. It’s a call from Laura Manion (Lee Remick), and her call for Biegler’s legal aid propels the story forward. Her husband, Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara) is in jail for murdering a local man, Barney Quill; his stated reason for doing so is that he believed Quill had raped his wife. Is this killing legally justified?
By the way, this film was a landmark movie in being open about the issue of rape, at least in a legal setting. It also caused controversy — and banning in some states — because of its inclusion of such words as “bitch,” “contraceptive,” “panties,” “penetration,” “rape,” “slut,” and “sperm.”
Later, Lt. Manion meets with the army psychologist, Dr. Matthew Smith (Orson Bean), and brings back notes that he’s suffering from “dissociative reaction,” also known as “irresistible impulse.” This is their ticket to a temporary insanity defense.
Paul: And what did he say about your knowing the difference between right and wrong when you shot Quill?
Manion: I don’t think he said anything. Why, is that important?
Lt. Manion goes back to jail, and Parnell and Paul strategize:
Parnell: You ever heard of a Michigan court accepting ‘irresistible impulse’ as insanity? .. Well, tomorrow’s Saturday. We just have the weekend before the trial. When do you want to start working?
Paul: Tomorrow morning, early.
And, of course, “start working” means … going to the library! 😀
Apparently, they research in the law library all weekend, as the next scene dawns on a new day with the judge walking to the courthouse. Judge Weaver, played by legendary real-life lawyer Joseph N. Welch — he went up against and brought down Joseph McCarthy! — introduces himself to the court by saying, “And while I might appear to doze occasionally, you’ll find that I’m easily awakened, particularly if shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” ♥
Judge Weaver walks up past the door marked “Library” and stops after hearing a book thud. He quietly opens up the door and peeks in on the two lawyers drowning in law books. Judge Weaver smiles and backs out again, unnoticed by Paul and Parnell.
In this double-decker law library, the two lawyers find the precedent they need — at the same time!
Paul: Hey listen to this, Parn.
Parnell: Never mind that. Just find People v. Durfee, 62, Michigan, 486, Year 1886.
Paul: That’s it. I have it right here in the A.L.R. Listen. “The right and wrong test, though deemed unscientific, is adhered to by most states but the fact that one accused of committing a crime may have been able to comprehend the nature and consequences of this act and to know that it was wrong. Nevertheless … if he was forced to its execution by an impulse — by an impulse which he was powerless to control, he will be excused from punishment.” The Michigan Supreme Court did accept irresistible impulse. This is precedent.
Note: The A.L.R. stands for American Law Reports, published since 1919, which remain a key resource for legal research. And I looked the case in the LexisNexis library database, and it’s a real case! Here’s a related screenshot of that case and its appeal:
That piece of precedent does get its day in court — or rather, its day in chambers. About 2 hrs and 15 mins into the film, the prosecution lawyers ask for a recess after the testimony of the army psychologist. Paul is ready and brings his law book to the conference in chambers, as seen in the screenshot below.
The Assistant State Attorney Dancer (George C. Scott) and District Attorney Lodwick (Brooks West) ask if the defense wants to change its plea:
Lodwick: You know a guy’s not considered legally nuts in Michigan unless he didn’t know right from wrong. Why don’t you get this over with?
Paul: Your Honor, will you turn to page 486?
Lodwick: What’s that?
Judge: Appears to be a law book, Mr. Lodwick.
And, of course, Paul just happens to have left a fishing line hook in the book to mark its place. He and Judge Weaver enjoy a brief conversation about catching frogs, which frustrates the two prosecuting attorneys!
Lodwick: What case is he citing, Judge? What is it, your honor?
Judge: People vs. Durfee, 1886. Looks like a precedent. Would you like to read it Mr. Dancer?
Dancer: No, thank you, Your Honor. I think I recall the case. We’re hooked … like the frog.
It’s a relatively subtle moment, but I like that it echoes back to Judge Weaver’s personal introduction that he appreciates being “shaken gently by a good lawyer with a nice point of law.” 🙂