Reel Substance: A look at Class V… and a Class VI?

Shining a spotlight on the “Reel Substance” portion of my Reel Librarians site.

Finishing up my spotlight on the “Reel Substance” part of my site… This week, let’s look at the (current) final category, Class V films. (Last week was Classes III and IV, and the week before that Classes I and II.)

If you’re new to this mini-series, then here’s a quick note about what the “Reel Substance” section is all about. One way I analyze and categorize films is according to the importance of the librarian role to the film overall. The “Reel Substance” section of this site is currently divided into 5 categories, starting with major librarian characters integral to the movie’s plot (Class I), and on down.

Reel Substance section
Reel Substance section

The basics:

Currently this is how I define Class V films:  They have no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries. Some of these films have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

So there are two different kinds of films I currently include in Class V, with examples:

Includes scenes set in libraries or mentions librarians (but doesn’t include any actual librarians):

  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
  • Blackmail (1929)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
  • Slightly Dangerous (1943)
  • Urban Legend (1998)
  • Wanted (2008)

Mistakenly listed as including reel librarians:

  • Big (1988)
  • The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
  • The Final Cut (2004)
  • Night at the Museum (2006)
  • Red Dragon (2002)
  • Sitting Pretty (1948)
  • Summertime (1955)

With the latter — films mistakenly listed on other sites or lists as including reel librarians — many times, a bookseller is mistakenly identified as librarian, or a bookstore mistakenly identified as a library. That’s the case with The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), The Final Cut (2004), Night at the Museum (2006), Red Dragon (2002), and Sitting Pretty (1948). In my post analyzing Night at the Museum, I point out some helpful tips on how to spot the difference between a bookstore and a library onscreen. Other times, a mousy or spinster-ish female lead is mistaken for a librarian, like Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (1955) — in that film, she’s actually described as a “fancy secretary”.

Side note:  Katharine Hepburn did play a librarian in Desk Set (1957). Plus, one of her sisters, Peg Hepburn Perry, was a children’s librarian in real life, for over 50 years! She was featured in The Hollywood Librarian documentary, which I reviewed here in this post.

Wherefore art thou, reel librarians?

Films that complicate matters are the ones that mention librarians but don’t include any actual librarians. Here are four interesting examples:

Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941):  In this film, Miss Bishop, a college English professor, reflects back on her life. Miss Bishop advises a female student to take the librarian’s course, but we later find out the student became a “world-famous historian” instead. At one point, Miss Bishop also tells the university president that she is leaving to become an assistant librarian in New York, but he convinces her to stay on at the college. Therefore, there is no actual librarian in this film, but it is interesting that the film mentions a college librarian course.

You can read my full post about Cheers for Miss Bishop here.

Demolition Man (1993):  In this film, Sylvester Stallone plays John Spartan, a cop who is brought out of cryogenics in order to pursue an old enemy (Wesley Snipes) running rampant in a future, nonviolent society. Sandra Bullock also co-stars as Lenina Huxley, a cop in the future. About an hour into the film, Lenina mentions visiting the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library to find archives of John’s past cases.

You can read my full post about Demolition Man here.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970):  The main plot of this film involves the opportunistic Mr. Sloane, who lodges with an eccentric family, consisting of the aging nymphomaniac Kath, her uptight brother Ed, and their doddery Dadda. Kath lies to Ed, saying she met Sloane in the library.

You can read my full post about Entertaining Mr. Sloane here.

Spellbound (1945):  A psychiatrist realizes that the mental hospital’s new director, Dr. Edwardes, is an impostor and suffers from paranoid amnesia. They go on the run to find out what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes. There is no actual librarian in this film, although a character in the film, a hotel detective, guesses that her occupation is that of a librarian.

You can read my full post about Spellbound here.

Should there be a Class VI?

I have been thinking for awhile that the films that have been mistakenly listed as having reel librarians should be their own category, a new Class VI. What do y’all think? Does it overcomplicate matters? Or would it help clarify my “Reel Substance” section and balance out the film categories?

Please leave a comment and let me know!

2019 UPDATE: 

I have added a Class VI category! The official description for this new category is “films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, as these films have been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.”

The Class V category now focuses solely on “films with no identifiable librarians and/or archivists, although they mention librarians and/or have scenes set in libraries.”


No reel librarian, no biggie in ‘Big’

No reel librarian, but a short research scene sets up the rest of the movie’s plot.

The 1988 film Big, starring Tom Hanks in his first Oscar-nominated role, is a modern classic. Such a simple premise:  A boy’s wish to be big comes true — literally. And the film, anchored by Hanks’s luminous, all-in performance, still holds up (even if the technology featured in the film does not).

It’s also a film that has been mistakenly identified as one that features a reel librarian. On the “Librarians in the Movies” site by Martin Raish, Big is included in the Group B films. Raish describes Group B as films in which “A library is used for research, for study, to meet someone or for some other purpose, but any librarian that might be visible is essentially no more important than a piece of furniture that helps to identify the setting.” (By the way, Martin Raish’s site is still a great place to start on this topic, even if the site is no longer maintained.)

This is Raish’s synopsis of Big itself in relation to libraries:

Screenshot of 'Big' movie on Librarians in the Movies site
Screenshot of ‘Big’ movie on Librarians in the Movies site

The first part of this synopsis is correct — until the part about going to a reference desk in a library.

A little after 20 minutes into the film, Josh and his best friend are trying to find their way back to Zoltar, the fortune teller machine that made Josh “big.” They first visit a video game store, with no success, and the next scene sees them walking up steps to some kind of City Hall building (or perhaps a Public Works building — but not a library).

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Public Works building, not a library

Josh is not optimistic:  “They’re not going to have it.” His friend, however, is unfailingly positive:  “They’ll have it.”

Their first stop in the building — again, very clearly NOT a library — is to ask an Administrative Clerk (Jordan Thaler) for a list of all carnivals and fairs and arcades in the city. The clerk, who is standing in a glass Information Booth, directs them to Consumer Affairs, down the hall.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Information booth, not a reference desk

The film then cuts to a young woman (Nancy Giles), who snaps out directions as quickly as she snaps her gum.

Screenshot from Big (1988)
An administrative clerk, not a reel librarian

Administrative Woman:  Fill this out in triplicate, $5 filing charge. One month to process, you’ll get it in 6 weeks.

Josh:  6 weeks?

Administrative Woman:  Sometimes longer, but you could get lucky. Next, please.

Screenshot from Big (1988)

And there you have it! No reel librarian, but this short research scene sets up the rest of the movie’s plot, as Tom Hanks is stuck being an adult for the next six weeks, waiting for the info about where Zoltar is.

And that info does arrive, almost an hour later into the film, when his friend receives a manilla envelope in the mail… stamped with the logo for The City of New York and the Department of Consumer Affairs. (By the way, there is a real NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? 😉 )

Screenshot from Big (1988)
Department of Consumer Affairs return address

Final evidence that there was no reel librarian or library in Big (1988) — but in the end, it’s no biggie. 😉

Ultimately, this classic film lands in the Class VI category of films, films with no identifiable librarians and that has been mistakenly listed on other sites or lists of reel librarians.

Sources used:

  • Big. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, John Heard, David Moscow. 20th Century Fox, 1988.
  • Raish, Martin. “The B Group.” Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Bibliography, 5 Aug. 2011.

‘Sitting pretty’ in the book shoppe

The Book Shoppe Proprietress does exhibit some librarian-like behavior

In Sitting Pretty (1948), eccentric Lynn Belvedere (Best Actor nominee Clifton Webb) answers a family’s ad for a live-in babysitter and shakes up the family, as well as the neighborhood, with his particular manner and methods. This film spawned a couple of sequels, Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949) and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951), as well as the 1980s (and personally much-beloved!) TV series Mr. Belvedere, starring Christopher Hewett in the title role.

About an hour into the film, nosy neighbor Mr. Appleton (Richard Haydn) visits the “Hummingbird Hill Book Shoppe” — there’s a closeup shot of this sign as he walks by — in order to engage in a local gossip session with Della (Mary Field, in an uncredited role), the Book Shoppe Proprietress. Although she’s listed on some other film sites as a librarian, it’s quite clear she is the owner of the local bookstore. Therefore, this film belongs in the Class VI category of films with no reel librarians.

However, this Book Shoppe Proprietress does exhibit some librarian-like behavior, as showcased in her introductory scene.

Della:  Here you are, Mrs. Gibbs. I know you’ll enjoy it. [handing over a book]

Mrs. Gibbs:  Thank you, Della. I certainly liked the last book you recommended.

Della:  Good. Do come in again.

Mrs. Gibbs:  Oh, I will.

Mrs. Gibbs, Della the Book Shoppe Proprietress, and gossipy Mr. Appleton in a scene from Sitting Pretty
Mrs. Gibbs, Della the Book Shoppe Proprietress, and gossipy Mr. Appleton in a scene from Sitting Pretty

But after this pleasant exchange of reader’s advisory, Della engages in some decidedly UN-librarian-like behavior (I would hope) in gossiping with Mr. Appleton and helping to cause a local scandal. As seen below, even in profile, it’s obvious how much she she delights in this conversation, clasping her hands in anticipation.

Gossip, delicious gossip in Sitting Pretty
Gossip, delicious gossip

A couple of following scenes also feature the bookseller, including a quick montage of Della handing out copies of Belvedere’s “sensational new novel” to a cluster of customers. Also, as secrets of the community come out through Belvedere’s book, later we see a Mr. McPherson walking into the bookshop, seen below, and asking for a copy of the book as he’s heard a rumor that he’s been mentioned in it.

Book Shoppe Proprietress at work in Sitting Pretty
Book Shoppe Proprietress at work

Again, exhibiting librarian-like skills of organizational practicality, she quickly runs her finger down a “who’s who” list of those mentioned in the book, complete with corresponding page numbers. Essentially, she’s made her own index!

Index closeup in Sitting Pretty
Index closeup

Alas, this index ultimately belies her non-librarian status, as this list is in neither alphabetical nor numerical order. Tsk, tsk. So close. 😉

Sources used:

  • Sitting Pretty. Dir. Walter Lang. Perf. Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara, Clifton Webb, Ed Begley. 20th Century Fox, 1948.

‘My Super Ex-Girlfriend’ is not a librarian

“What do we have here? Kind of uptight librarian on the outside. Ready to rumble on the inside. Go ask her out.”

Years ago, I had picked up a $5 used copy of My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006), because the trailer mentioned a librarian (scroll below). And then I forgot about the movie. But one night recently, we finally dug this DVD out. Uma Thurman plays Jenny Johnson as well as her superhero alter ego G-Girl. She starts dating Matt (Luke Wilson), but goes crazy when he breaks up with her — like throwing-a-shark-into-his-apartment-kind-of-crazy. An odd movie all the way around. It’s like the idea for the movie was pitched back in the early ’90s, but it didn’t get the green light until over a decade later.

Oh, and there’s no librarian in it, making it a Class V film. However! Not all is lost. There are some interesting references to librarians and libraries throughout.

About 5 minutes in, we get introduced to Matt, who’s on the subway with his friend Vaughn (Rainn Wilson) and they spy Jenny across the way.

Looks like a librarian? in My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Looks like a librarian?

Vaughn’s the first one to notice her:

Oh, dude, check her out. Wow. What do we have here? Kind of uptight librarian on the outside. Ready to rumble on the inside. Go ask her out.

Fast forward to their first date, we learn that she’s NOT a librarian, but rather an assistant curator at an art gallery. And here’s how Matt describes his work:

I’m a project manager at a design firm. We design and build, like, private estates, libraries, hotels. That sort of thing.

Also, in the scene that introduces Luke Wilson’s work environment, there’s yet another library reference. (Also interesting that the references to libraries came mostly in introductory scenes).

Private library at a design firm in My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Private library at a design firm

Matt and co-worker hottie, Hannah (Anna Faris), are shelving some books. Or rather, Hannah is on the ladder, shelving, while he’s checking out her rear end when his boss, Carla (Wanda Sykes), walks in.

Carla: What are you doing?

Matt: Oh, nothing, just re-shelving some reference material, trying to stay ahead.

Carla: You were staring at her butt.


The design firm’s reference library — and library ladder! — even make it into the credits:

Library ladder and a private library in the credits scene for My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Library ladder and a private library in the credits scene

I wouldn’t have been surprised if the filmmakers had decided to go the librarian route for Jenny’s occupation — and they still managed to sneak in a Naughty Librarian kind of reference, with the whole prim-librarian-on-the-outside but a wild-woman-on-the-inside remark at the beginning. Which they TOTALLY cash in on in the film’s trailer:

My Super Ex-Girlfriend” video uploaded by filmenoi is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

It actually was refreshing to hear several compliments regarding Jenny’s appearance in her “real life” disguise. For example, Matt says in a later scene, “You look nice without your glasses. You look good with them, too.” So why the decision to not make her a librarian in real life? Maybe skipping in and out of the library regularly for superhero quests would have been more noticeable than in an art gallery?

And bonus! This shot — when Jenny strips off her glasses to reveal her “true” identity as G-Girl to Matt — could have totally been a promo for a Naughty Librarian, eh?

Mistaken for a librarian in My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Mistaken for a librarian… is it the glasses? Cardigan? Buttoned-up shirt?

Sources used:

  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Perf. Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Farris, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard. 20th Century Fox, 2006.

Identity crisis in ‘Red Dragon’

She’s working in a bookstore — remember those? — not a library.

The 2002 film Red Dragon has been on my Master List for awhile, but I just hadn’t gotten around to watching it. Maybe it was my high regard for Manhunter (1986), which I found a far superior film to this version. Red Dragon seems to stuff in too many big-name actors, and the pace drags.

If you’re not familiar with either film, the story serves as a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). FBI Agent Will Graham goes into early retirement because of an encounter with “Hannibal the Cannibal” — sending Hannibal Lecter to prison — but then gets called back in to catch a brutal serial killer. Of course, Graham ends up consulting Hannibal on the case.

About 50 minutes in, Graham (Edward Norton) needs to look up a quotation. He’s shown looking up at a thin white female in her early 20s (Azura Skye), who’s standing behind a wooden counter and holding a thick book of quotations.

Bookseller looking up a quotation in Red Dragon
Bookseller looking up a quotation

“Ta da! Red breast in a cage!” she says, looking through the book’s index. She then finds the full quotation, “A robin red breast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage,” by poet William Blake. She confirms they have the book the quote’s from, and offers additional resources: “We have some books of Blake’s paintings, too. Wanna see ’em?”

She seems quite friendly — very smiley and slightly flirty — and quite knowledgeable about resources. The film seems to be set the 1980s (I think), which explains her early-Maddona look:  crimped, dyed blond hair, plastic hair clip, skinny tie over a denim vest and black dress, piled-on makeup, and lots of silver and black jewelry.

We also spot her — or rather, her crimped hair — in the background a couple of minutes later, as Graham looks through the book of paintings by William Blake. He comes across a biblical watercolor, “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” (below), which provides a clue to the killer’s identity crisis.

William Blake (British, 1757-1827) The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4), ca. 1803-1805, is in the public domain
William Blake (British, 1757-1827) The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (Rev. 12: 1-4), ca. 1803-1805, is in the public domain

Martin Raish described the helpful young lady as “a gum cracking young blonde” on his Librarians in the Movies web site, and she seems to serve the same basic function as an Information Provider. Only problem is, she’s not technically a librarian. She’s working in a bookstore — remember those? — not a library.

What are the clues?

  • First, she seems to be standing above him, like she would if she were behind a shop counter.
  • We see lots of wood shelving, but the books are crammed in everywhere, with little breathing space. Quite unlike a library (hopefully).
  • In the couple of shots, you can glimpse a book display in the lower left-hand corner (see below). Multiple copies of several titles are facing outward, like in displays at a bookstore’s front counter.
  • And finally… the actress is listed as “Bookseller” in the credits.
Bookseller, not librarian in Red Dragon
Bookseller, not librarian

So why the choice of a bookseller, rather than a librarian? It might have simply been a visual opportunity to solidify the time period, and a librarian at that time might not be as believable if dressed as a Madonna wannabe. Most of the film seems to be set at nighttime (because it’s spookier?), so maybe the public library would have been closed already. But I’m probably overthinking it.

A few minutes after the quotations scene, my ears perked up when a fellow detective (Ken Leung) runs off for another clue and shouts for the others to meet him “at the library.” The resulting short scene shows him at the Library of Congress, but alas, no librarian in sight. There is yet another teaser, with a Museum Secretary (Hillary Straney) and an uncredited Museum Curator (Mary Beth Hurt), who both appear for a few seconds late in the film.

The bookseller in this film serves the same function as an Information Provider librarian, but, technically, this films joins others in the Class VI category — films with no identifiable librarians and are a result of a listing error.

Sources used:

  • Raish, Martin. “The A Group.” Librarians in the Movies: An Annotated Filmography, 5 August 2011.
  • Red Dragon. Dir. Brett Ratner. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson. Universal, 2002.
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