Reel librarians on library ladders

I thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into how often the “library ladder” is used in reel librarian films — and how the cinematic use of a library ladder has progressed (or not!) over the years.

I have written before about occupational tasks and props often seen in reel librarian films, including in this post, “Whaddya mean, you’re a librarian?” in which I stated:

Typically, the term “librarian” is rarely said out loud in movies — most likely because of time — and in most films, there is really no need to verbally identify the librarians. Standing behind the counter, shelving books, or pushing a cart is quite enough to establish a reel librarian.

In the invaluable book, The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, by Ray and Brenda Tevis — which I reviewed here in this post — the two framed these occupational tasks and props in a similar way:

 [O]ccupational tasks are utilized to sufficiently establish the character’s identity as a librarian. The occupational tasks used most frequently by actors are:  standing or sitting behind a desk, stamping a book, standing on a ladder, holding or shelving a book, picking up a book from a table, pushing a booktruck, and turning out the lights. (p. 18)

For this post, I thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into how often the “library ladder” is used in reel librarian films — and how the cinematic use of a library ladder has progressed (or not!) over the years.

"Library ladder" by klimkin is licensed under a CC0 public domain license
“Library ladder” by klimkin is licensed under a CC0 public domain license

Below, I’ve arranged films in chronological order by year the films were released. Let’s take a trip down library ladder lane!


The Lost Romance (1921):


This film is notable for being the first film to feature a reel librarian atop a ladder in the library. Alas, this film appears lost. It stars Lois Wilson as public librarian Sylvia Hayes, seen atop the ladder in the pic below. In the film’s plot, she has to deal with two proposals, a child’s disappearance, a meddling aunt, and rekindled love. And of course, Sylvia promptly ends her librarian career at the prospect of marriage.

Library ladder still from A Lost Romance (1921), from the Tevis book
Library ladder still from A Lost Romance (1921), from the Tevis book

When she is standing on the three-step ladder and supposed to be shelving books, Sylvia daydreams instead about her upcoming vacation. While daydreaming, she doesn’t notice the long line of patrons piling up at the Circulation desk. Her boss, played by Mayme Kelso, admonishes her (and Kelso, according to the Tevises, also is the first reel librarian to sport the stereotypical librarian props and hairstyle of eyeglasses and a bun!)


Only 38 (1923):


Actress Lois Wilson plays the lead role, Mrs. Stanley, an “aging” housewife at 38 (!) who wants to assert her independence after sending her 18-year-old twins off to college. The route of this independence? Employment at the college library, of course. This leads to a more youthful appearance (the time-honored cinematic makeover), romance (of course) with an English professor, and confrontations with her outraged children. In one scene, Mrs. Stanley uses the library ladder to fetch a book for a patron.

Movie poster for Only 38 (1923), public domain
Movie poster for Only 38 (1923), public domain

As the Tevises point out, “The film also introduces the tall library ladder as a climbing device for reel librarians to reach high shelves in stack areas while assisting patrons.” The library ladder prop in this scene serves a utilitarian purpose only. “Males leering at the ankles and calves of women librarians on library ladders — occurs for the first time nine years later in No Man of Her Own” (p. 13).


No Man of Her Own (1932):


A con artist and gambler, Babe (Clark Gable), goes to a small town to escape prosecution — and falls in love with the young librarian, Connie (Carole Lombard). A few scenes are set in the library, including one in which Babe looks up the librarian’s skirt while she shelves books!

As detailed in The Image of the Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999 book, this film “contained the first library ladder comedic scene in sound films, allowing Babe the opportunity to ogle Connie’s ankle and calf” (p. 26).

Obviously, we are supposed to believe that Gable’s sex appeal knocks Lombard off her library ladder. 😉 The two actors later married in real life.


Cain and Mabel (1936):


In this film, Clark Gable plays a prizefighter who falls in love with a struggling Broadway actress (Marion Davies). In one scene, they meet at the library to plan their elopement and startle a couple of librarians, played by Lillian Lawrence and Harry C. Bradley in uncredited roles.

As the Tevises sum up the library ladder in this scene, “As they [Clark Gable and Marion Davies] kiss in the aisle, another librarian… whom they fail to notice standing on the higher rungs of a tall library ladder, accidentally drops a book, almost hitting them” (p. 31).

This film highlights another use for the library ladder — it’s convenient for librarians to spy on patrons!

The library scene did make it onto one of the “lobby cards” used in the film’s marketing — but not the library ladder, alas!

Lobby card for Cain and Mabel (1936) showcasing the library scene
Lobby card for Cain and Mabel (1936) showcasing the library scene

Sea Devils (1937):


In this film, Preston Foster stars as Seaman Mike O’Shay, who sets his sights on young librarian Doris, played by Ida Lupino. There is also an older librarian colleague — in this case, actress Fern Emmett playing Miss McGonigle, sporting a severe bun and pince nez — to contrast with the younger female librarian.

The library scene in this film involves BOTH librarians! Doris starts to shelve books under the library ladder, and when Mike tries to kiss Doris, the other librarian comes down the library ladder and steps on his hand.

I do NOT feel sorry for Mike in this scene. Sexual harassment 0, library ladder 1.


Navy Blues (1937):


The film stars Dick Purcell as Russell J. ‘Rusty’ Gibbs, a sailor whose friends bet that he can’t get a woman of their choosing to go out on a date with him. The woman they choose is a librarian, Doris, played by Mary Brian. There are a couple of scenes set in the public library. I reviewed the film more fully here in this post.

He tries to butter up the librarian with cliché phrases like, “Old books, you know, are like old friends” and “When I get engrossed in a book, the hours just fly.” She isn’t having any of it and crisply hands the book over and informs him of closing time.

She also climbs a book ladder a few minutes later, and Rusty makes a face at the closeup of her ankle, encased in sturdy Oxfords. The reel librarian makes a face right back at him.

In Navy Blues (1937), the librarian glares at the male lead after he looks up her skirt while she's atop the library ladder.
In Navy Blues (1937), the librarian glares at the male lead after he looks up her skirt while she’s atop the library ladder.

As the Tevises astutely point out, this library ladder scene contrasts with the library ladder scene in No Man of Her Own, in which the male lead character was excited by the reel librarian’s sight of ankles. (p. 34).


This Was Paris (1942):


In this comic spy thriller set in Paris in 1940, before the German invasion, a reporter suspects a man of being a German spy, so he looks at the newspaper archives—and he makes a mess by throwing pictures and files around. He also takes time to insult Watson, the newspaper librarian.

This scene involves a library ladder, as described by the Tevises, “The scene opens with Butch atop a tall ladder, tossing documents out of folders onto the floor. The newspaper’s librarian… complains that Butch is ‘undoing the work of years’” (p. 41).


The Human Comedy (1943):


This 1944 Best Picture nominee, set in the U.S. homefront during WWII, feature one touching scene at the local public library. Two young boys go to the public library to look at books even though they can’t read yet, and encounter a friendly female librarian (Adeline De Walt Reynolds). This older librarian is atop a tall ladder as she notices the young boys, and she comes down the ladder to ask them questions.

You can view the full library scene in the clip below:

The Wonder of Books: Library Scene from The Human Comedy (1943),” uploaded by Lunamation, 2013, Standard YouTube license

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944):


In this film, a notorious criminal, Dimitrios, fascinates mystery writer Leyden (Peter Lorre). In one early scene, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and gets help from an easily frustrated archives clerk. I analyzed the film more fully here in this post.

The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less.

It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out… you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)

Library ladders and file cabinets in The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Library ladders and file cabinets in The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

Weird Woman (1944):


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! I delve more into this horror film here in this post.

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 tall library ladder, and a dictionary stand.

As the Tevises put it, “the library, which is drastically inadequate for any college but, for cinematic purposes, establishes the illusion of a library” (p. 49).

Here is a trailer for the film:

Weird Woman – Classic Movie Trailer,” uploaded by Cliff Held, 2013, Standard YouTube license

Wonder Man (1945):


Nightclub singer Buster Dingle (Danny Kaye) gets killed by a mob boss, and his spirit enters his identical twin, Edwin (also played by Danny Kaye). Edwin, a bookworm writing a history book, gets involved with a young and attractive librarian (Virginia Mayo).

The library scene includes two rolling library ladders (and you can see a photographic still of the library ladder scene online here). While trying to woo the librarian, Edwin falls off one of the ladders, bringing down several shelves of books. We learn that this incident actually gets the librarian fired! NOT COOL.

This also goes to show how dangerous library ladders can be!


The Trespasser (1947):


This late ’40s murder mystery stars Dale Evans in a rare non-Western film. And although Evans received top billing, she apparently has only a minor role. The real star of the film is Janet Martin, who plays Stephanie “Stevie” Carson, a recent college graduate who starts work at a newspaper’s research library. She teams up with her boss, Danny Butler (Warren Douglas), to investigate a rare book forgery and the frame-up of one of their newspaper editors.

The large newspaper library includes rolling ladders and floor-to-ceiling file cabinets. This scene also shows how dangerous rolling library ladders can be.

It appears that the library ladders play a role in multiple library scenes. Here’s how the scenes are summed up in the Tevis book: “When Stevie reports to work, Danny, standing on a ladder as he works in the films, informs Steve, ‘I expect people who work for me to be on their toes. I demand, well, I think you got what I demand'” (p. 60). He’s known as a womanizer. Stevie, an intelligent and independent woman, responds to him by grabbing the ladder and pushing it forcefully — “the abrupt stop causes Danny to go somersaulting off the ladder” (p. 61) and onto a desk. Later, Stevie has to climb the ladder to file folders, and Danny ogles her ankles. Stevie complains — way to go! — and says later to Danny that “from now on… I’ll keep my feet on the ground.”


The Web (1947):


In this film, a lawyer (Edmond O’Brien) and a detective (William Bendix) team up to trap a financier who has framed the lawyer for murder.

The film includes a 45-second scene in a newspaper’s “Index Department.” Robin Raymond plays the newspaper librarian, who is standing on a ladder at the beginning of the library scene, and she proceeds to retrieve a large volume from one of the top shelves.


Katie Did It (1951):


Ann Blyth stars as the title character, Katie, who works at the local public library in a rigidly Puritan New England town. In this kind of romantic comedy, she’s got to fall in love with someone, and in this case, she falls in love with Peter Van Arden (Mark Stevens), a “city slicker commercial artist.”

I have not been able to track down a copy of this film yet, but there’s a Meet Cute moment that involves a ladder — this time, outside the library — as well a funny scene that involves a ladder inside the library.

Here’s how the Tevises describe the significance of this scene, in which Katie, a librarian, is walking to the library when she stops and talks to an inn owner — and the painter (Stevens), atop a tall ladder while painting a new sign for the inn, drips paint on her hat: “In preceding films, librarians in their own bailiwicks, the library, are always on the ladder. In this film there is a touch of irony, a sarcastic twist of events, as the librarian, no longer within the safe confines of a library, is under the ladder, becoming the unintentional target of a falling object” (p. 71).

However, in a later library scene, Katie is the one on a library ladder when Peter the painter comes in, and he takes the opportunity to ogle and whistle at her calves and ankles.

Still from library ladder scene in Katie Did It (1951)
Still from library ladder scene in Katie Did It (1951), taken from “Katie Did It 1951 Ann Blyth Mark Stevens Cecil Kellaway,” uploaded by Kemal Baysal, 2017, Standard YouTube license. Click the image to view the video.

As Young As You Feel (1951):


In this comedy, John R. Hodges (Monty Woolley) is enraged that he is being forced to retire at age 65, and in a very short scene, he goes to the library to find out the name of the president of his business’s parent company. Carol Savage plays the young librarian, who is standing on a ladder in the library and consulting a reference book. She gets very excited at finding the information Hodges asks for, scampering down the ladder and shouting, “Here it is! I found it!”

Gotta love an enthusiastic librarian! 😀


A Girl Named Tamiko (1962):


The title character of Tamiko (Frances Nuyen), who is from a wealthy Japanese family, works as a librarian for the Foreign Press Club in Tokyo. There are a couple of scenes set in the Foreign Press Club library.

Here’s how the Tevises describe the scene that includes the library ladder:  “The film’s second library scene utilizes one occupational clue — standing on a ladder. Tamiko’s occupation, however, is not pertinent to the story line” (p. 118).

Below is a trailer for the film, which includes a glimpse of the library — and the library ladder! — at 2:07 minutes into the trailer:

The Girl Named Tamiko – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2013, Standard YouTube license.

Twisted Nerve (1968):


Martin (Hywel Bennett) is a troubled young man with an obsessive mother, a dismissive stepfather, and a brother with Down’s Syndrome who lives in an institution. Martin becomes fixated on Susan Harper (Hayley Mills), a young library assistant studying to be a teacher. There are a few scenes set in the public library with Susan and the head librarian, Mr. Groom. I analyzed this film more in-depth in this post.

Our first introduction to Susan in a library setting is a classically sexist and stereotypical one; while looking for a book atop a library ladder, two young lads enjoy the view up her (short) skirt.

Library ladder scene in Twisted Nerve (1968)
Library ladder scene in Twisted Nerve (1968)

Goodbye, Columbus (1969):


A poor Bronx librarian, Neil Klugman (Richard Benjamin), has a summer romance with a privileged “Jewish-American princess” (Ali MacGraw), and their affair highlights how different their worlds are. Neil works in a public library, and in one scene, he helps a black boy who is hanging out in the art room, climbing a ladder to talk to him. He shows genuine interest in the boy and real humanity in the art books the boy is interested in — in contrast to the other librarians, who are very suspicious (and frankly, racist) toward the boy.


My Side of the Mountain (1969):


A boy, Sam (Ted Eccles), leaves home to spend a year in nature, like Thoreau. He goes to the public library in one scene, and librarian Miss Turner (Tudi Wiggins) helps him find information about peregrine falcons. In the first library scene, Miss Turner climbs a library ladder to find some books for him.


Maxie (1985):


In this film, a couple (Glenn Close & Mandy Patinkin) move into a new apartment, where the ghost of a 1920s starlet still resides. The ghost, Maxie, takes over Close’s body. Patinkin plays a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

In one scene, he is on a rolling metal ladder and gets sexually harassed by his supervisor, Ophelia Sheffer (Valerie Curtin as Miss Ophelia Sheffer), who fulfills the Naughty Librarian character type.

More sexual harassment atop a library ladder — but this time, a gender reversal! (That doesn’t make it any better.)

Below is a trailer for the film, and you can see the library scene — and the library ladder — at 1:37 minutes into the trailer:

MAXIE [1985 TRAILER],” uploaded by W. David Lindholm, 2009, Standard YouTube license

Criminal Law (1988):


Hotshot lawyer Ben Chase (Gary Oldman) successfully defends a client (Kevin Bacon), realizing after that his client is guilty. In one scene about a half-hour into the film, Ben visits an old professor in the law library. Everyone seems to be on familiar and friendly terms with the librarian.

Rounding a corner, Ben finds his old professor, Clemens (Michael Sinelnikoff), sitting on a library ladder and decked out in a long, grey cardigan. An older lady (Irene Kessler) is handing him thick volumes and helping him shelve books. At first glance, it’s hard to tell which is the librarian!

Library ladder scene in Criminal Law (1988)
Library ladder scene in Criminal Law (1988)

I analyzed the film more in-depth here in this post.


Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993):


Comprised of three story segments based off of H. P. Lovecraft’s works, this film also includes a “wraparound” entitled The Library, which serves as a framing device for the other stories. H. P. Lovecraft goes to a monastery library and steals a librarian monk’s key in order to read the Necronomicon, the book of the dead — and in the process, he opens up more than he intended.

After signing in, we next spy the librarian on a library ladder. Obviously up to something, Lovecraft nervously directs the librarian to the alchemical encyclopedia on the top shelf (of course). While the librarian is busy reaching for the volume, Lovecraft manages to unhook the librarian’s keys from his waist sash without him noticing the sound of jangling keys or the sudden missing weight. Yeah. Right.

Library ladder scene in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)
Library ladder scene in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

This scene not only features a reel librarian using a library ladder to help aid a patron — but the patron uses the ladder as a means to distract the librarian! I also think this library ladder gets the prize for the most ornate ladder design.

I delved headlong into this oddball of a  film and analyzed it here in this post.


The Mummy (1999):


In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene,” uploaded by Hammerfall541, 2013, Standard YouTube license

The Tevises call this library ladder scene “one of the funniest library ladder scenes in twentieth century cinema” (p. 180).

You can read more about the movie here in this film analysis post.


The Age of Adaline (2015):


Adaline (Blake Lively), a young woman and a recent widow, gets into a car accident in the 1930s and stops aging as a result of the accident. After decades of living alone, she meets a man, Ellis (Michel Huisman) who makes her question her life choices. Adaline works in the archives at the San Francisco Heritage Society library, and there are several scenes set in the library.

A half-hour into the film, Ellis returns to the library to donate a lot of rare first editions. (It turns out he has made a lot of money in the tech industry and is now giving back and doing good works.) Just the way to capture a reel librarian’s heart!

Ellis then proceeds with his real mission: to flirt with Adaline. Cue the obligatory library ladder scene!

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)
Library ladder scene in ‘The Age of Adaline’ (2015)

You can read many more details and library scenes in this film analysis post.


Films that include library ladders but do not include reel librarians:


  • Slightly Dangerous (1943): Although no librarian in sight, a library ladder does get featured! In a scene set in a newspaper archives, room, Peggy (Lana Turner) finds a bound volume of newspapers atop a conveniently placed library ladder. Read more about the film in this post.
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959):  Lawyer Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) defends Lt. Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is charged with murder of a local man. Biegler argues temporary insanity and pulls an all-nighter in a law library to find a case to use as a precedent. No library ladder — but there IS a chair on which Stewart climbs to reach a book on a high shelf. Read more about the film in this post.
  • What’s New Pussycat? (1965):  In one scene, Carole (Romy Schneider) and Victor (Woody Allen) argue in a library, and another man takes a book that Carole wanted. To prove his love for her, Victor “fights” with the man. No librarian in sight, although there is a quiet, bespectacled man (uncredited in the film cast) reading in the corner who doesn’t stir throughout the entire fight scene. Victor and Carole also kiss atop library ladders.
  • The Lickerish Quartet (1970) has a scene that involves “The Visitor” (Silvana Venturelli) who gets invited into the castle owner’s private library through a secret doorway and ladder.
  • 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. Frankerweiler. Her private library and filing cabinets also includes a library ladder, which you can see here in this post.
  • Homicide (1991):  Joe Mantegna stars as conflicted Jewish cop Bobby Gold. While investigating a minor case, he gets involved with a secretive Jewish group, which makes him question his faith and self-worth. He investigates the word Grofaz at a special archives library for Jewish studies in one pivotal scene. And OF COURSE, while Gold is placing the book high on a shelf, he just happens to overhear a suspicious conversation between the head librarian and the grey lady assistant. In earlier films, library ladders served as convenient spots for librarians to spy on patrons — here’s a scene in which a patron uses a library ladder to spy on librarians! Read more about the film here in this post.
  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006):   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. Although initially described as “an uptight librarian on the outside,” we find out Jenny’s an art curator. There is a scene at Matt’s workplace, a design firm, that includes a library ladder. Read more about the film here in this post.
  • Atonement (2007):  In this drama, there is a sexual tryst LITERALLY ON A LIBRARY LADDER — very memorable!

Honorable mention:


In the 1994 animated classic and Oscar-nominated film, Beauty and the Beast, features a rolling library ladder — but in a bookstore, not a library. But the scene is SO memorable that I had to include it as an Honorable Mention entry!

Beauty and the Beast ‘Bonjour’ Bookshop scene,” uploaded by cmekhail, 2010, Standard YouTube license

Have you enjoyed this trip down library ladder lane? Did I miss any? Please leave a comment and let me know!


Sources used:


  • The Age of Adaline. Dir. Lee Toland Krieger. Perf. Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn. Lionsgate, 2015.
  • Anatomy of a Murder. Dir. Otto Preminger. Perf. James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, George C. Scott. Columbia Pictures, 1959.
  • As Young as You Feel. Dir. Harmon Jones. Perf. Monty Woolley, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe. 20th Century Fox, 1951.
  • Atonement. Dir. Joe Wright. Perf. Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan. Universal, 2007.
  • Beauty and the Beast. Dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Perf. Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury. Disney, 1991.
  •  Cain and Mabel. Dir. Lloyd Bacon. Perf. Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Allen Jenkins. Cosmopolitan/Warner Bros., 1936.
  • Criminal Law. Dir. Martin Campbell. Perf. Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon, Tess Harper. MGM, 1988.
  • 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.
  • A Girl Named Tamiko. Dir.John Sturges. Perf. Laurence Harvey, France Nuyen, Martha Hyer. Wallis-Hazen, 1962.
  • Goodbye, Columbus. Dir. Larry Peerce. Perf. Richard Benjamin, Ali MacGraw, Jack Klugman. Paramount, 1969.
  • Homicide. Dir. David Mamet. Perf. Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy and Vincent Guastaferro. Triumph Releasing Corp., 1991.
  • The Human Comedy. Dir. Clarence Brown. Perf. Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, Marsha Hunt. MGM, 1943.
  • The Lost Romance. Dir. William C. de Mille. Perf. Lois Wilson, Jack Holt. Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, 1921.
  • Katie Did It. Dir. Frederick De Cordova. Perf. Ann Blyth, Mark Stevens. Universal, 1951.
  • The Lickerish Quartet. Dir. Radley Metzger. Perf. Silvana Venturelli, Frank Wolff. Carstein, 1970.
  • The Mask of Dimitrios. Dir. Jean Negulesco. Perf. Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott. Warner Bros., 1944.
  • Maxie. Dir. Paul Aaron. Perf. Glenn Close, Mandy Patinkin, Ruth Gordon, Valerie Curtin. Orion, 1985.
  • The Mummy. Dir. Stephen Sommers. Perf. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo. Universal, 1999.
  • My Side of the Mountain. Dir. James B. Clark. Perf. Ted Eccles, Theodore Bikel, Tudi Wiggins. Paramount, 1969.
  • My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Dir. Ivan Reitman. Perf. Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Farris, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard. 20th Century Fox, 2006.
  • Navy Blues. Dir. Ralph Staub. Perf. Dick Purcell, Mary Brian, Warren Hymer. Republic Studios, 1937.
  • Necronomicon: Book of the Dead. Dir. Christophe Gans, Shûsuke Kaneko, and Brian Yuzna. Perf. Jeffrey Combs, Tony Azito, Bruce Payne. Turner Home Entertainment, 1993.
  • No Man of Her Own. Dir. Wesley Ruggles. Perf. Carole Lombard. Clark Gable. Paramount, 1932.
  • Only 38. Dir. William C. de Mille. Perf. May McAvoy, Lois Wilson. Paramount, 1923.
  • Sea Devils. Dir. Benjamin Stoloff. Perf. Ida Lupino, Victor McLaglen. RKO Radio Pictures, 1937.
  • Slightly Dangerous. Dir. Wesley Ruggles. Perf. Lana Turner, Robert Young, Walter Brennan, Dame May Whitty. MGM, 1943.
  • Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.
  • This Was Paris. Dir. John Harlow. Perf. Ann Dvorak, Ben Lyon. Warner Brothers-First National Productions, 1942.
  • The Trespasser. Dir. George Blair. Perf. Dale Evans, Warren Douglas. Republic, 1947.
  • Twisted Nerve. Dir. Roy Boulting. Perf. Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw. Charter Film Productions, 1968.
  • The Web. Dir. Michael Gordon. Perf. Ella Raines, Edmond O’Brien, Vincent Price. Universal, 1947.
  • Weird Woman. Dir. Reginald Le Borg. Perf. Lon Chaney, Jr., Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers. Universal, 1944.
  • What’s New Pussycat? Dir. Clive Donner. Perf. Peter Sellers, Peter O’Toole, Romy Schneider, Woody Allen. United Artists, 1965.
  • Wonder Man. Dir. H. Bruce Humberstone. Perf. Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen, Donald Woods. Goldwyn/RKO, 1945.
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Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’

As the new version of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella as the title character, opened to scathing reviews this past week, I noticed a trend of reviewers referencing the 1999 version of the film, and several critics urging people to just go and rewatch the 1999 version of The Mummy instead of watching the new version. As the 1999 version also happens to star a reel librarian in a lead role (Rachel Weisz as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan, a librarian and Egyptologist), I thought it a perfect opportunity to follow their advice!

My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)
My DVD copy of The Mummy (1999)

Snippets from current reviews of the new version of The Mummy which reference the 1999 version:

  • But alas, The Mummy turns out to be a drab, nonsensical affair that squanders its potential for humor, atmosphere, and sweep — qualities that the much-maligned, Fraser-starring 1999 Mummy had in droves.” (from The Village Voice)
  • No one over the age of 10 ever confused them [Universal’s film archive of monsters] with good movies, but the “Mummy” franchise that kicked off in 1999 had a joyously sinister and farfetched eye-candy pizzazz.” (from Variety)
  • [I]f you want to watch a fun Mummy movie this weekend, the newest option isn’t your safest bet.” (from Rotten Tomatoes)

And finally, the review from Vox, which sums up its review of the new version with this takeaway:

The Mummy is playing nationwide. You would be better off watching the 1999 version, and I don’t even like that movie.

But I do!

I still find The Mummy (1999) a fun adventure film, tongue firmly in cheek, and winking at its own spectacle; I agree with IndieWire, which called it “enduringly delightful.” I must admit two biases up front:  (1) I have always been a fan of genre films that commit unabashedly to their genres, like the 1999 version does (not so much the sequels), and (2) I love films with meaty reel librarian roles. Because OF COURSE. Especially reel librarians who kick ass onscreen and win at camel races. 😉

Oh, and SPOILERS.

If you need a reminder of the plot, here’s a trailer for the 1999 version:

The Mummy Official Trailer #1 – Brendan Fraser Movie (1999) HD,” uploaded by Movieclips Trailer Vault, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

In this adventure, Egyptian priest Imhotep is accidentally brought back to life. Egyptology librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), her brother (John Hannah), and an American soldier (Brendan Fraser) join forces to stop Imhotep.

Here’s a look at my original notes from when I first analyzed the film (and yes, I initially misspelled Rachel Weisz’s name in those notes, mea culpa):

My original notes for the 1999 version of The Mummy
My original notes for the 1999 version of The Mummy

I could go in many different directions in analyzing this film, but I’m going to stay in the direction these early notes took me:  focusing on Evie’s reel librarian role and how that role evolved. Even in this one snapshot from my notes, you can see my scrawled notes describing her character and how Evie’s character evolves on screen:

  • “quiet at first but becomes forceful by end”
  • “wants to move up”

Liberated Librarian:


Evie is one of the lead characters of the film, and her character arc fulfills the role of Liberated Librarians. Let’s check off the hallmarks of a Liberated Librarian that connect and describe Evie’s character and role in the film:

  • A naïve, inexperienced woman who discovers herself—and what she’s capable of—in face of an adventure/disaster
  • Her “liberation” is intertwined with the major plot — the discoveries of the “Book of the Dead” and the “Book of Amun-Ra” mirror her own self-discovery
  • Young in age
  • Clothing more conservative and buttoned-up at first
  • Undergoes a change of appearance, dressing more feminine and more exotic (and her hair comes down from its bun!)

The scene in which we meet Evie comes early in the film, after the introduction that sets up Imhotep’s backstory. The library scene takes place in the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, and Evie is on a tall ladder and shelving books. While trying to take a shortcut to shelve a wayward title, she accidentally topples all the bookcases in the library. (One of the lessons learned in this film? Don’t take shortcuts while shelving books!) Also, during the commentary of this scene on the DVD, director Stephen Sommers reveals that they got this scene in one take!

the mummy library scene” video uploaded by Hammerfall541 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

As director Sommers also states on the DVD commentary:

“We learn everything we need to know about Evie and her backstory without it seeming like lame exposition.”

From her light sparring with the museum director, as seen in the clip above, we also learn this crucial characteristic at the heart of this reel librarian character:  She stands up for herself when others directly challenge her. However else she changes, and her story arc evolves, this remains true. She also knows her own intelligence, and that her intelligence is an asset.


“I am proud of what I am. I am a librarian.”


One of the major ways that Evie’s character breaks from the Liberated Librarian character type is that unlike most Liberated Librarians, Evie is committed to and proud of her profession.

This is most apparent in the (in)famous scene around the campfire in which Evie is inebriated, as seen in the clip below. (I also highlighted this scene and quote in a previous Quotable Librarian post.)

“Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure seeker, or a gun fighter… But I am proud of what I am. I… am a librarian!”

However much I love this rallying cry — “I am a librarian!” — I do think she undersells herself in this moment. She has already proven onscreen that she is indeed an explorer and an adventurer, and she shot a gun in a skirmish just minutes before this campfire scene. It is true, however, that it is her brother (played by the cheeky John Hannah) who is the treasure seeker.

The.Mummy.WMV” video uploaded by deanxavier is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

The power of reading:


Evie also underestimates the power of reading. And from a librarian, too — for shame! But it sets the rest of the movie in motion, and serves as another way to highlight how she evolves over the course of the film.

In another campfire scene, after she has discovered the “Book of the Dead,” she figures out how to open the book and starts to read from it.

“It’s just a book. No harm ever came from reading a book.”

Yeah… except by doing so, she conjures up the mummy. (Next time, maybe try reading silently first.) The other Egyptologist, played by veteran Australian actor Jonathan Hyde, knows the danger, but he is too late in shouting, “No! You must not read from the book!

In a word, “Oops.”

This is a cautionary tale enveloped within an adventure story. Reading = Power.

The Mummy: Imhotep Revived” video uploaded by rpetteson is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Reel librarian hero:


The hero in the story who got all the attention at the time was Brendan Fraser as American soldier Rick O’Connell. But the real hero in this story, in my opinion, is Evie.

Here’s evidence from the film to back that up:

  • Evie saves Rick from hanging in an Egyptian prison by negotiating his release — and setting the plot in motion to find Hamunaptra, the city of the dead
  • She saves Rick’s life again on the boat, by pulling him aside from a spray of bullets (this is a clever bit, as she sees the pattern of gunshots along the wall and anticipates that Rick is in the way — demonstrating that she’s not just book smart!)
  • She beats Rick at camel racing
  • She figures out the solution to reverse the curse is to find the Book of Amun-Ra AND figures out where the Book of Amun-Ra is buried
  • Evie sacrifices herself to Imhotep in order to save her friends
  • She helps her brother translate the Book of Amun-Ra while SHE HERSELF is fighting off a mummy — thinking in action!
  • She helps make Imhotep mortal so that Rick can finish him off

Evie is the one who (accidentally) conjured the curse, so following standard hero-story arcs, she therefore has to be the one to figure out how to solve it. And she does. She comes through stronger in the end, further highlighting her intelligence and resilience.

However, Evie is never called a hero in this story by others. Instead, there are a variety of phrases and terms, often unflattering, that other characters use to describe Evie, including:

  • “Compared to you, the other plagues were a joy”
  • “catastrophe”
  • “damsel in distress”
  • “broad”
  • “lady”
  • “not a total loss”
  • “old Mum”

SIGH.

But instead of dwelling on those less-than-flattering descriptions, let’s instead focus on appreciating Evie and the actress who first brought her to life in The Mummy (1999):

Tribute to Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999 version)” video uploaded by King Achilles is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Fun facts:


I came across this fun fact that I came across while reading the film’s trivia on IMDb.com:

When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was found on November 4, 1922, the person in charge was George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Along with him was his daughter, Lady Evelyn Carnarvon. Rachel Weisz’s character is named Evelyn Carnahan. Originally, her character was meant to be Evelyn Carnarvon. She and her brother were to be the children of the “cursed” Lord Carnarvon. The only evidence of this left in the film is in the line where Evelyn tells O’Connell that her father was a “very, very famous explorer”. The Mummy novelization goes into a bit more detail on her back story.

Amazing! Here’s a picture of Lady Evelyn Carnarvon with her father at King Tut’s tomb in 1922:

At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left. Image is in the public domain.
At the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 (from left to right): Lady Evelyn Carnarvon and her father on the left. Image is in the public domain.

You can see more pics and read more about the real-life inspiration for Evie’s character here on this site.

And one final fun fact:  the ancestral Carnarvon home is none other than Highclere Castle — which served as the locale for Downton Abbey in the TV series! The website for Highclere Castle even has a whole section dedicated to its Egyptian connection.


I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down Mummy memory lane and learning more along the way. Hope you did, too!

Next week, I will be back with a post about another adventurer librarian!


Sources used:


A reel librarian for the ages in ‘The Age of Adaline’

“Too bad, I adore know-it-alls.”

Earlier this year, I watched the 2015 film The Age of Adaline, starring Blake Lively as the title character. I saved my analysis post of this film for the end of this month, as the film is set around the New Year holidays.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The Age of Adaline Official Trailer #1 (2015) – Blake Lively, Harrison Ford Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

The plot? Adaline, a young woman and a recent widow, gets into a car accident in the 1930s and stops aging as a result of the accident. After decades of living alone, she meets a man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman) who makes her question her life choices. Even though that plot has a bit of mumbo jumbo narration thrown in to try and explain the scientific reasoning behind Adaline’s agelessness, it’s played as a pretty straightforward romantic drama. Blake Lively definitely commits to the title role and brings a world-weariness to her portrayal of Adaline. However, the real stars that shine in the movie are Harrison Ford, who plays Ellis’s father, William, and Ellen Burstyn, who plays Adaline’s daughter, Flemming.

The director, Lee Toland Krieger, reveals on the bonus features how much thought he put into the look and feel of the film, focusing on different camera techniques to visually depict the different decades of the film and its flashbacks. The film is stunning to look at.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD*

Just five minutes into the film, we get a sweeping view of Adaline as she walks up the steps of a library. The film is set in San Francisco, but these scenes were filmed at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Adaline walks up the library steps
Adaline walks up the library steps

As she walks into a light-filled room rimmed with bookcases and filing cabinets and card catalogs, we see a woman sitting at the desk by a computer (Cora, played by Indian-British actress Anjali Jay), and a man standing by the window (Kenneth, played by Japanese-Canadian actor Hiro Kanagawa). We also glimpse an older woman in the background by the bookshelves, but she doesn’t get a screen credit. Adaline’s co-workers are surprised to see her.

Adaline's co-workers are surprised to her on New Year's Eve
Adaline’s co-workers are surprised to her on New Year’s Eve
Adaline greets her co-workers at the library on New Year's Eve
Adaline greets her co-workers at the library on New Year’s Eve

Kenneth:  We thought you might not be coming in today, it being New Year’s Eve and all.

Adaline:  It’s still a Wednesday. The fun doesn’t start till tonight anyway.

Kenneth:  Well, are you up for a little excitement right now?

Adaline:  Sure, what is it?

Kenneth:  Your favorite. The news reel archives. It’s finally being digitized. We need a little help getting it ready to be shipped.

Adaline:  I’d love to.

Adaline and the archives
Adaline and the archives

We then go into a scene in which Adaline sets up the film reel projector and settles in to watch news reel archives of San Francisco. This is a clever set-up for the narrator to take over and introduce her life while a montage of clips visually accompany the central plot phenomenon. As the narrator explains, at age 29 in 1937, Adaline gets into a car accident. As a result, her cells stop aging, leaving her perpetually 29 years old, even as her daughter and everyone else around her ages.

Adaline watches a news reel from the early 1900s
Adaline watches a news reel from the early 1900s

Although only a few minutes long, these scenes in the library archives are crucial to introducing the film and introducing us to the character (and motivations) of Adaline. Through her conversation with Kenneth, we learn that Adaline eschews socializing and is committed to her work, and that she loves working with archives. And then we find out why through the montage. We also see in the montage that Adaline studies up on her condition, taking a clerical job at a school of medicine. It’s a very clever and compact scene, one that includes an emphasis on archives and the value of researching and reading.

We also get introduced to the style of Adaline, who is in her prime — and dresses accordingly — through multiple decades. She has a classic style, which comes across as retro-inspired in the present day. She is a lady, and her clothing and hairstyles reflect that. I am definitely adding Adaline to my list of most stylish reel librarians!

Adaline in her closet
Adaline in her closet
A collage of Adaline's style through the decades
A collage of Adaline’s style through the decades

Adaline then dresses up for a New Year’s Eve party, where she “meets cute” with Ellis in the hotel elevator, setting off the romance part of the film’s plot.

Ellis:  I don’t want to come across like a know-it-all.

Adaline:  Too bad, I adore know-it-alls.

Ellis is (understandably) smitten, but Adaline keeps an emotional distance, as she doesn’t want to get involved with anyone. She is also about to change identities yet again, something she does every decade to escape notice.

Unbeknownst to her, Ellis had already noticed Adaline before the party. Later, he describes how he first noticed her when she was reading a Braille book on the front steps of the library. For someone who’s trying to go unnoticed, she fails spectacularly!

Adaline reads a book in Braille on the library steps
Adaline reads a book in Braille on the library steps

A half-hour into the film, Ellis returns to the library to donate a lot of rare first editions. (It turns out he has made a lot of money in the tech industry and is now giving back and doing good works.) Just the way to capture a reel librarian’s heart!

Ellis returns to the library to donate books
Ellis returns to the library to donate books

Adaline’s co-worker, Cora, gets some lines to provide the backstory — plus reveals the name of where they work.

Cora:  Major news. Mr. Jones is donating $50,000 worth of first edition classics to this library.

Adaline:  What books? Do you know?

Cora:  We’re going to find out very soon. Because his office called to say that he’ll be here to deliver them himself.

Cora [to Ellis]:  On behalf of the San Francisco Heritage Society, I’d like to express our sincere gratitude for your most generous gift.

Note:  I could not find record of a San Francisco Heritage Society (y’all knew I would look that up, right?). However, I suspect it’s standing in for the California Historical Society, which has headquarters in San Francisco. The California Historical Society does have its own library.

Ellis then proceeds with his real mission: to flirt with Adaline. Cue the obligatory library ladder scene!

Library ladder scene alert!
Library ladder scene alert!

Ellis:  Hey, it’s me. The know-it-all. I got something for you, too. Some flowers. [Gives her a gift of first editions: Daisy Miller, Dandelion Wine, White Oleander.]

Adaline:  Very clever. How did you know I work here?

Ellis:  I just joined the board. I saw you coming out of our meeting.

Adaline:  Oh. You could have mentioned that in the elevator.

Ellis:  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some donating.

Adaline:  Great. I’ll be here.

Ellis:  No way. I would like for you to accept the books on behalf of the library.

Ellis wants to take a photograph of Adaline accepting the books, but of course, she has her own reasons for not wanting to be photographed. She initially refuses, giving him a stern look, as seen in the screenshot below. (By the way, I love the composition of this shot! They all look like professionals, but Adaline stands out in green against the blacks and greys of her reel librarian co-workers.)

Adaline refuses to be photographed accepting a donation of books to the library
Adaline refuses to be photographed accepting a donation of books to the library

Then Ellis threatens to take away his donation.

Ellis:  Suit yourself. If you won’t accept them, I won’t donate them.

Adaline:  You wouldn’t do that.

Ellis:  I will. I’ll even have a book burning. Okay, fine, fine. Here’s an alternative. Let me take you out tomorrow.

I know this is the central romance of the film, and this is supposed to be another “meet cute” scene, but I was incensed at this. A man “joking” about a book burning?! I was literally shouting at the screen, “NO!!!! That is NOT the man for you. Walk away!”

Ellis then attempts to make up for this later when he woos Adaline by complimenting the way she reads. He seems to appreciate Adaline’s intelligence and knowledge, even saying, “You can tell me anything you want, and I’ll believe it.”

His father, William, is not so easily convinced. Ellis wants Adaline to meet his parents, and we get a brief scene an hour into the film between William and his wife, Kathy. William questions any woman who’s beautiful who is “hiding out in a library,” and he suspects her of being a gold-digger.

William:  So, what’s the story with this girl? She works there?

Kathy:  I’ve told you everything Ellis told me.

William:  A beautiful girl working in a public library.

Kathy:  Maybe she likes books. And silence.

William:  Or maybe she Googled him, and found out about his generous contribution and then worked her way in there so she could get her hooks into him.

But Adaline shows up William when they all play Trivial Pursuit. William has had a longtime winning streak — he’s a professor — but Adaline sweeps the game due to her lifetime of knowledge. It’s an enjoyable scene.

More romantic drama ensues, including a super-awkward love triangle, plus some more scientific mumbo jumbo thrown into the mix. I won’t reveal the ending of the film, but it’s pretty predictable. Enjoyably predictable, but predictable nonetheless.

So why is Adaline working in a library? As the New York Times review puts it, “By the time the present rolls around, Adaline has become an emotional shut-in.” The library — or at least the library at this particular historical society — is a quiet place, which suits her. There is no mention of qualifications or education for any of the four librarians pictured onscreen, but it’s obvious that Adaline has lots of personal experience with the older technology and artifacts.

We see Adaline do a variety of tasks in the library, including helping out with archives, running news reels on film projectors, stacking and shelving books, and filing cards. Her co-workers are seen working on computers. They must leave the older technology to Adaline! 😉

Adaline uses older technology in the library
Adaline uses older technology in the library

Adaline mentions several times about having to work for a living:

I only get an hour” [for lunch]

Some of us work for a living.”

However, we witness a flashback scene in which we learn that she has bought stock in Xerox. My thoughts are that she doesn’t actually need to work for a living; she simply prefers to do so in order to keep her mind alert, to utilize her knowledge and skills, and to indulge her nostalgia for the past. An historical library and museum are a good fit for those purposes.

Adaline’s co-workers serve the role of Information Providers, which is pretty straightforward. We don’t learn much about them as individuals, but I do enjoy the diversity of the reel librarians seen onscreen, representing different ages, genders, and ethnicities.

What purpose then does Adaline provide in this role as a reel librarian? I believe she serves the role of a Liberated Librarian:

  • Female Liberated Librarians tend to “discover” themselves with the help of a man or in the face of an adventure/disaster. (Check. Her life does change when she meet Ellis.)
  • The “liberations” can be positive or negative. (It’s positive in this film)
  • They are usually substantial roles with the librarian’s “liberation” often the film’s major plot. (Check and check. Adaline is the title character, and her “liberation” is both emotional and physical.)

Adaline is, indeed, “hiding out” in the library, trying to go unnoticed and to stay emotionally unattached. She is perfectly content in her life and at the library — but she is also content to leave that job and move on in order to preserve her privacy.

The Age of Adaline (2015) ends up in the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.

The film’s conclusion, however, does not answer whether or not she will continue to work at the library. My guess — or rather, hope? — is that she will, but then, I’m also a romantic librarian at heart. ♥


And with that, 2016 comes to a close for Reel Librarians. I’ll be back next week — and next year! — with a wrap-up for 2016. Have a great New Year’s holiday!


Sources used:


Reader poll write-up, Spring 2016: ‘Navy Blues’

“In addition to being a mediocre film, Navy Blues is an extremely insensitive assault on librarians.”

It’s time for my analysis of the movie that readers chose in the latest reader poll, 1937’s Navy Blues. One reader shared that they voted for Navy Blues because the main star, Dick Purcell, portrayed Captain America in the 1943 serial film. As good a reason as any!

Purcell plays Russell J. ‘Rusty’ Gibbs, a sailor whose friends bet that he can’t get a woman of their choosing to go out on a date with him. The woman they choose is a librarian, Doris, played by Mary Brian. Here’s her opening screen credit(s), which provide a sneak peek at the plot to come:

Opening credits in Navy Blues (1937)
Opening credits in Navy Blues (1937)
Opening credits in Navy Blues (1937)
Opening credits in Navy Blues (1937)

*SPOILER ALERTS THROUGHOUT*

I first mentioned the film Navy Blues on this site in the 2012 post “Have you seen this movie?,” in which I highlighted movies with major librarian characters that I had not been able to locate copies of. I did locate a streaming copy of it available online via YouTube (but of course, the video quality is not the best).

Navy Blues (1937) – Full Movie” video uploaded by Freemeo is licensed under a CC BY license

In their book The Image of Librarians in Cinema, 1917-1999, Ray and Brenda Tevis do not mince words about this film:

Navy Blues renders such a visual and verbal assault on librarians that the motion picture effectively released the film industry from continuing any semblance of decent and respectful cinematic depictions of librarians. […] More importantly, in this film the sailors continually lambaste its librarian, demonstrating outright disrespect for women librarians. (p. 33)

In addition to being a mediocre film, Navy Blues is an extremely insensitive assault on librarians. Not all cinematic depictions of librarians in preceding motion pictures are commendatory toward the occupation, but none is more outlandish in its derision of librarians. (p. 35-36)

It is indeed a mediocre film, one that starts off on a comedic, happy-go-lucky tone, and about two-thirds of the way in, elements of spy and action thrillers get added into the mix. It’s an odd combination. And due to its extremely negative portrayal of reel librarianship, I have to admit at having to stop the film at certain points to get my blood pressure down before continuing. And that’s before I reread the film’s entry in the Tevis book!

Less than five minutes into the 77-minute film, the librarian is referred to as a “bow-wow,” a slang term for “dog” — and in this context, also a slang term for “ugly.”

Here’s how that scene plays out, which takes place after Rusty’s sailor pals go ashore to start their shore leave.

Chips: I saw a dame in a public li-berry once.

Biff and Gateleg:  Where?!

Chips: Now don’t get me wrong, boys, I just popped in there out of the rain. Well, I took one gander at this dame and ran right out again, rain or no rain.

Biff:  That bad?

Chips: Yeah. A bow-wow.

A few minutes later, Rusty takes the bet, and they drop him off at the library. The sign says it’s the “Harbor Branch.”

Harbor Branch Public Library sign in Navy Blues (1937)
Harbor Branch Public Library sign in Navy Blues (1937)

Chip:  In there, sailor.

Rusty:  A library, eh? I’ve been in libraries before. They don’t scare me.

Chip:  Don’t you think you’ll need an introduction?

Rusty:  Say, how will I know her?

Chip:  She’s got on a pair of glasses as thick as cookies. You know the type! [Laughs hysterically]

Rusty strides into the library and asks for the first book title he sees, Advanced Algebra by Hammersmith. This turns out to be an important plot point — as the book he picks out turns out to be used as a code book for a spy ring! As Rusty later laments, “Of all the books in the library, I had to take that one!”

Screenshot from Navy Blues (1937)
Not a “meet cute” moment for the reel librarian

He tries to butter up the librarian with cliché phrases like, “Old books, you know, are like old friends” and “When I get engrossed in a book, the hours just fly.” She isn’t having any of it and crisply hands the book over and informs him of closing time.

She also climbs a book ladder a few minutes later, and Rusty makes a face at the closeup of her ankle, encased in sturdy Oxfords. The reel librarian makes a face right back at him.

Screenshot from Navy Blues (1937)
Stop looking up my skirt!

Rusty’s friends are waiting for him outside the library, wondering what is taking him so long. When the librarian — we learn her name is “Miss Kimbell” and later learn her first name, Doris — closes up the library, she walks out with another man named Julian. (By the way, Julian turns out to be a spy who was using the Advanced Algebra book to pass through codes and secret information! Because no one could actually be interested in a woman librarian!) Rusty manages to infiltrate himself into the situation and helps walk Mary home.

His friends are astounded, and we get these further insults in rapid-fire succession:

He must be a glutton for punishment.

It must be Thanksgiving or something. She’s all made up like a pilgrim.

It’ll take a brave man to wheel that museum piece into the Crow’s Nest.

So within the film’s first 10 minutes, the reel librarian is the subject of multiple insults, from “bow wow” to “museum piece.” And we still have 60 minutes to go!

Even her aunt and uncle get in on the insults:

Aunt Beulah:  How do I know where he’s luring Doris to?

Uncle Andrew:  She’s probably luring him, to some roundtable discussion. And that’ll end it.

I will highlight just two more scenes.

First, the romantic scene that includes a makeover, or at least the description of a makeover. (At this point, my husband — who was only half paying attention — looked up and said, “This plot sounds just like the movie She’s All That!” He’s not wrong about that, at least until the spy ring and naval intelligence get involved.)

Here’s a clip of that scene, coming in at 20 minutes into the film and lasting about 3 minutes.

Navy Blues (1937) – Full Movie” video uploaded by Freemeo is licensed under a CC BY license

This scene has Rusty assuring that Doris doesn’t need to wear glasses — “But you can see without them?” — and that she should make more of an effort to look feminine — “I don’t know how long you’ve been wearing this disguise, but I’m gonna be around to see the unveiling.” (More jabs at the “museum piece” analogy.)

Rusty also “accidentally” drops her glasses while they kiss on the beach at sunset, and her glasses break on the rocks. Grrrrrrrrr… this necessitated me pausing the film. Because RAGE. Laser beams coming out of my own pair of glasses, which I will keep right on wearing, thank you very much.

Screenshot from Navy Blues (1937)
A reel librarian takes off her glasses

Rusty — never offering to pay for her broken eyeglasses, no surprise there — has an ulterior motive for her makeover, as he wants to bring her to the Crow’s Nest bar to show her off to his friends and collect his cash for the bet. But his plan backfires, as his pals don’t believe it’s the “li-berrian” they saw before. They refuse to pay, because “That girl’s a ringer.”

Screenshot from Navy Blues (1937)
That reel librarian is a ringer

To convince them, he makes up a story — it involves him lying about being an undercover naval intelligence agent, which had me seriously doubting Doris’s intelligence — and forcing her to put on another pair of glasses while he hand-mimics “four eyes” in the background. Now they recognize her!

This scene is like the flip side of Superman’s “disguise” as Clark Kent, with no one recognizing him whenever he wears glasses. In this movie, no one recognizes the librarian unless she’s wearing glasses!

Screenshot from Navy Blues (1937)
Making fun of a reel librarian? This is one of many such scenes in Navy Blues (1937), unfortunately.

At the end of this scene, Doris finds out about Rusty’s bet and storms off, and he goes after her. Fair warning, this is the most rage-inducing scene in the entire film:

Rusty:  Sure I made that bet. Why else would I have bothered with a freak like you?

Doris:  A freak?!

Rusty:  Well, that’s what you were. I changed you over from a crow, a bookworm. Made you into a girl that could take her pick of anything.

The actress’s facial expression matched my own:

Screenshot from Navy Blues (1937)
I am offended, too, reel librarian!

She rightly slams the door in his face. Attagirl! (Too bad she later forgives him.)

I have to admit, this film was exhausting to watch and to weather all the insults hurled at reel librarians — and insults hurled at women in general. I cannot divorce my analysis of this film apart from my being a librarian and a woman librarian at that. I am biased. So is this film. (Written by two men, I might add.)

The librarian profession is central to the plot, making it a Class I film, but the profession is there to be mocked at! I mean, isn’t it funny that a man was TRICKED to court a librarian?! HILARIOUS. :/

The character seems destined for early spinsterhood and is rules-obsessed (in the opening library scene, she says, “[I]f it’s so important to you, I might waive a rule”), but as the film continues, it’s obvious that Doris Kimbell fulfills the Liberated Librarian character type. I mean that in a tongue-in-cheek, rolling-my-eyes kind of way, as she doesn’t need to be liberated from anything. But this is the kind of film in which stereotypes will be stereotypes, and the star always gets the girl, even if the star plays a character who is arrogant, rude, and a pathological liar.

Closeup of library book in Navy Blues (1937)
Closeup of library book in Navy Blues (1937)

I will end this post with a tidbit about the book at the center of this film, Hammersmith’s Advanced Algebra. Y’all knew I would look that up, right? Well, you were right — I used both a basic Google search plus a search in WorldCat, the “world’s library catalog.” I could not find any book with that exact title and author, and from the closeup above, it does look like the title on the spine could be pasted on. However, I did find a book in WorldCat titled Advanced Algebra (Vol. 2), published in 1937 (the same year as this film) and written by Clement Vavasor Durell and Alan Robson — and here’s the kicker — with a copy in the Hammersmith & Fulham Libraries in Hammersmith, UK.

Coincidence? You be the judge! Discuss and share your thoughts about the film in the comments.


Sources used:


  • Navy Blues. Dir. Ralph Staub. Perf. Dick Purcell, Mary Brian, Warren Hymer. Republic Studios, 1937.
  • Tevis, Ray, and Brenda Tevis. The Image of Librarians in Cinema 1917-1999. McFarland, 2005.

‘The mask of’ organization

“Organization is the secret of modern statecraft, but patience is necessary”

In the film noir-style drama, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), a mystery writer becomes obsessed with Dimitrios, a master criminal. In the opening scene, Dimitrios appears to have washed up dead on a beach. Is he dead? Has he faked his death? Just how dangerous is Dimitrios?

Peter Lorre stars as Leyden, the mystery writer — he gets to play a good guy for once! Sydney Greenstreet plays a smuggler with his own agenda, and Zachary Scott plays the shadowy Dimitrios. The story structure consists of a series of flashbacks, in which we witness the ruthlessness and cunning of the mysterious Dimitrios.

In one early scene almost 20 minutes in, Leyden travels to the Bureau of Records in Athens to research Dimitrios’s past and seeks help from an archives clerk. The scene is short, only 2 minutes long, landing the film in the Class III category. However, the archives clerk makes a distinct impression as an Anti-Social Librarian.

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Bureau of Records sign

A white male archives clerk (30s?, extremely thin, dark suit and tie, thick glasses, dark hair, starting to go bald) looks up records in this uncredited role. The clerk seems very anal-retentive, and spouts off phrases like, “Organization is the secret of modern statecraft, but patience is necessary” and “This is organization.”

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
This is organization

At first, he does not find the file and gives up easily, until Leyden asks him to look under another name (Talat, an alias used by Dimitrios). Ironic, then, that the clerk had emphasized patience! But obviously, that patience is one-sided in his mind.

The clerk becomes agitated when another man (Greenstreet, seen in the screenshot below) enters the office and then leaves. He sputters, “I have no assistance in my work of organization here. The whole burden falls on my shoulders. People have no patience. If I am engaged for a moment, they cannot wait. A man can do his duty, no more, no less.”

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
A librarian doing his duty, no more, no less
Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Those are very deep drawers, aren’t they?

The clerk appears frustrated by people and their requests  — answering inquiries seems to be more about showing off his organizational skills than anything else — and he becomes extremely agitated when his methods are not successful or are called into question. This display of poor social skills, elitist attitude about rules and organization, and general dislike of the public, are all hallmarks of the Anti-Social Librarian character type. The archives clerk also plays a secondary role as Information Provider, as he is helpful in the end in confirming Dimitrios’s identity and alias.

Screenshot from The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Curiosity isn’t always a good thing, librarian

The set for the Bureau of Records is very spare, with its glass block window, stark walls, file cabinets, and desk. Its only extravagance is having TWO library ladders! The archives room is obviously a set — and to paraphrase the clerk — does its duty, no more, no less. 😉

It is also interesting to note that the archives clerk has devised his own system of organization that he keeps touting. He first looks in drawer #13 because “M” for “Makropoulous” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. When looking up the alias, Talat, he then seeks out… you guessed it, drawer #20, as “T” is the 20th letter of the alphabet. (Odd that he has to cross the room and climb up a different library ladder to get to a drawer only 7 spaces away. Organization ≠ efficiency.)

Leyden’s reaction to the clerk’s system of organization? “Very clever.” So clever that Leyden takes the opportunity to leave as the archives clerk turns away to boast, yet again, “You see? That is organization!”


Sources used:


  • The Mask of Dimitrios. Dir. Jean Negulesco. Perf. Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott. Warner Bros., 1944.