A ‘Libeled Lady’ and a library

“Don’t get those books wet!”

Another week, another William Powell movie. Also, another Class V film, which means no reel librarian. But wait! This classic 1936 film, Libeled Lady, includes an interesting kind of library rarely mentioned in film:  a ship’s library.

First, a little background on film itself. Nominated for Best Picture, Libeled Lady stars Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy. Harlow and Powell were engaged in real life during the filming, and this was their last screen outing before her untimely death in 1937. The plot of this screwball comedy involves a newspaper editor (Spencer Tracy), his long-suffering fiancée (Jean Harlow), and his lawyer (William Powell), who aim to compromise a high-society lady (Myrna Loy) before she can sue the paper for libel.

To this end, lawyer Bill Chandler (Powell) sets sail on an ocean liner to England, to make contact with the high-society lady, Connie (Loy). In an attempt to cozy up to her, he does a little research, first reading newspaper articles about her father and his love of fishing.

Screenshot of Libeled Lady
Newspaper article research!

Almost a half-hour into the film and after reading the newspaper articles, he rings for the ship’s steward:

Steward:  You rang, sir?

Bill Chandler:  Yes. Steward, do you know if they have any books in the ship’s library on angling?

Steward:  Angling, sir?

Bill:  Yes. You know, trout fishing?

Steward:  Oh, yes. We have several. Shall I fetch you one, sir?

Bill:  Yes, just bring me all of them.

Steward:  All of them, sir? [incredulous]

Bill:  Yes.

The next scene shows Bill rehearsing what he learns from the books, studying up in the bathroom while he shaves. OF COURSE my librarian side mentally shouted out, “Don’t get those books wet!” 😉

Screenshot of Libeled Lady
Shaving and reading don’t mix!

Although this steward does happen to have a useful knowledge of the ship’s library holdings — very convenient indeed! — he sets out only to to fetch the books, in his role as steward, not to research the topic. Therefore, he does not fulfill the role of a reel librarian.

And by the way, sensing that Bill is out for a different kind of angling, Connie tries to avoid him by reading books in her room and on deck. But no ship’s steward this time around! Her personal maid brings Connie a stack of books to read.

Screenshot of Libeled Lady
So little time, so many books to read

And do the books prove useful for Bill? Yes, indeed! Perhaps a little TOO useful … He does impress Connie’s father, who later says Bill is “the best-informed man on angling I’ver met.” However, Bill later gets roped into going fishing with Connie and her father. And this time, he DOES get the book wet! 😦

Screenshots of Libeled Lady
Fishing and reading definitely don’t mix!

Libeled Lady only mentions a ship’s library, but the 1962 film Bon Voyage!, actually does feature a ship’s librarian. They are the only two films I’ve come across so far that highlight a ship’s library, which is indeed a special kind of library. Let’s briefly compare the two films:

Libeled Lady (1936):

  • Class V (no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries)
  • No reel librarian mentioned or seen; the ship’s steward seems to have adequate knowledge of ship’s library holdings and good at customer service
  • Books are briefly glimpsed in shaving scene, but no actual library set or scene
  • Played for laughs (see the shaving scene above), as his self-professed love of fishing leads him into a comedic dilemma later on

Bon Voyage (1962):

  • Class III (librarian plays a secondary role, with a brief but memorable/significant scene)
  • James Millhollin as Ship’s Librarian (Comic Relief), very knowledgeable about ship’s collection but terrible at customer service
  • Scene set in the ship’s library, with row of bookshelves and tables visible
  • Reel librarian fulfills Comic Relief role

You can read more about Bon Voyage! (1962) here in this post on the Reel Librarians blog.

Screenshot of Bon voyage to the Ship's Librarian post
Screenshot of Bon voyage to the Ship’s Librarian post

Have a bon voyage Tuesday!

Sources used:

  • Bon Voyage! Dir. James Neilson. Perf. Fred MacMurray, Jane Wyman, Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley. Buena Vista/Walt Disney, 1962.
  • Libeled Lady. Dir. Jack Conway. Perf. Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy. MGM, 1936.

Missed opportunities in ‘Wanted’ and ‘Phenomenon’

Sometimes, I am disappointed by NOT seeing reel librarians, especially in movies that include libraries.

I come across reel librarians unexpectedly all the time — see my recent posts about My Week with Marilyn and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But sometimes, I am disappointed by NOT seeing reel librarians, especially in movies that include libraries. I was recently disappointed twice in as many days by the movies Wanted (2008) and Phenomenon (1996).

Wanted (2008):

I had been wanting (hee hee) to see the movie Wanted (2008) for quite some time, as I had heard it was a solid genre flick. And I like a good genre film, one that owns its genre and just goes for it (see Salt or Taken or The Bourne trilogy). James McAvoy stars as Wesley, a regular guy who finds out one day he shares his (dead?) father’s super-human assassin skills. But in addition to being disappointed by no librarian in the movie, I was also disappointed by the movie itself. It could have been so cool (with talent like Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, and Morgan Freeman, how do you mess that up?!), but turned out to be quite silly and over-the-top with countless, pointless slo-mo scenes.

With an early scene set in a warehouse library, my interest was piqued, and I kept hoping for a reel librarian. There are several more scenes set in the library, including the final showdown fight. But nope, no librarian. No spoilers here — except for the fact that there’s no librarian, of course — but this film also demonstrates how research isn’t actually research if you go into it looking for sources just to back up what you already think! Rookie mistake. 😉

Phenomenon (1996):

And I had also never seen the John Travolta flick Phenomenon (1996). Remember when Travolta had that late-career resurgence in the mid-’90s? Good times. Personally, I thought Phenomenon was ok, but it went on for too long. It’s about this small-town guy, George Malley (Travolta), who becomes super-smart after seeing a light in the sky one night. (Put that way, the plot kind of resembles the Wanted plot, right? Superficially, of course, but hmmm, interesting.)

Anyways, because George starts reading multiple books a day, the library is mentioned several times throughout the movie. They even hold a library book fair showcasing all the library books he’s read in the past 2 months! George takes a long time getting ready for that book fair. Alas, no librarian. Which felt really odd to me. Wouldn’t a scene showing a librarian’s shock at George checking out all those books have been funny? It would have been interesting to juxtapose George’s all-of-a-sudden smartness with a librarian’s all-around intelligence. Missed opportunity, IMHO.

Sources used:

  • Phenomenon. Dir. Jon Turteltaub. Perf. John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker. Touchstone Pictures, 1996.
  • Wanted. Dir. Timur Bekmambetov. Perf. James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Common. Universal, 2008.

Library of the future (?) in ‘Demolition Man’

The Schwarzenegger Library?!

In Demolition Man (1993), 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 fellow cop Lenina Huxley. There’s no librarian in the movie, so, alas, it joins the others in Class V. I didn’t plan on having two Class V movies so close to each other (see my previous post about Moscow on the Hudson), but that’s the order I received these movies from my local public library.

But not all is lost. About an hour into the film, Lenina and John mention a library during a conversation in the car. Let’s listen in:

Lenina: I’ve been an enthusiast of your escapades for quite some time now. I have, in fact, perused some newsreels from the Schwarzenegger Library…

John:  Hold it. The Schwarzenegger Library?!

Lenina:  Yes, the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn’t he an actor when you…

John:  Stop! He was president?

Lenina:  Yes. Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity caused the 61st amendment…

John:  I don’t want to know. President.

You can enjoy this brief scene — and the variety of amusing facial expressions from Stallone — in this clip below.

Demolition Man (1993) Predicts Arnold Schwarzenegger President” video uploaded by Paul Herbig is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:

  • Demolition Man. Dir. Marco Brambilla. Perf. Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt. Warner Bros., 1993.

Are you not entertained?! Library references in ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’

She lies and says, “In the library.”

The 1970 film Entertaining Mr. Sloane is a film adaptation of Joe Orton’s play of the same name. I didn’t know anything about Joe Orton before I watched Prick Up Your Ears (1987), a biopic of his life and murder (that film includes two reel librarians, whose characterizations made my Hall of Shame list). Orton was a controversial figure who wrote controversial plays.

I can see how Entertaining Mr. Sloane was a groundbreaking play. It takes a comedy of manners and twists it through a lens of satire, sex, and pitch-black humor. The main plot involves the opportunistic Mr. Sloane (Peter McEnery) who lodges with an eccentric family, consisting of the aging nymphomaniac Kath (Beryl Reid), her uptight brother Ed (Harry Andrews), and their doddery Dadda (Alan Webb).

Entertaining mr sloane (1970) trailer” video uploaded by rocknrollheart67 is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Does it have a librarian? No.

But there’s a bit more to the story. So stick with me.

About twenty-one minutes in the film, after Kath has picked up the lodger, her brother Ed returns and demands to know where she picked him up.

She lies and says, “In the library.”

Where did she actually pick him up? In the cemetery, where he was lounging on a tombstone with no shirt on.

Ed goes up to talk to the lodger in his bedroom. Sloane — after a run-in with a pitchfork (don’t ask, nothing really makes sense) — is lounging this time on the guest bed, clad only in his undies.

After a bit of chit-chat, Ed muses, “You’re a librarian.”

Sloane’s response. “NO!”

Ed: “No? That’s what she said.”

Sloane mumbles something about having worked at a tobacconist, but who knows if that’s the truth. He’s an opportunistic, manipulative liar. But even HE couldn’t see his way through to make believe he was a librarian. 😉

It’s interesting, however, that even in a film like this which has no reel librarian, the profession is used in a lie. The sister uses the location of the library in a desperate attempt at respectability. Alas, in the case of Mr. Sloane, plausibility was not an option.

I suspect Orton also included the mention of the library to wink at his own criminal past — he and his lover amused themselves by stealing library books and defacing them. For this guerilla artistic expression, Orton served 6 months in jail in 1962 — an incident included in the biopic Prick Up Your EarsAnd in classic pop culture fashion, the book covers have since become a popular collection for the Islington Local History Centre! Check out the online gallery of these infamous book jackets.

Sources used:

  • Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Dir. Douglas Hickox. Perf. Beryl Reid, Harry Andrews, Peter McEnery. Canterbury Film Productions, 1970.
  • Gallery.” Joe Orton Online, n.d.

Mistaken identity in ‘Spellbound’

A step backward for (real) librarians

How should a woman react when she is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian? To her credit, Dr. Constance Petersen, played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, takes it in good humor. The moment does inject a bit of comedy (although at the expense of librarians!) in the otherwise suspenseful and dramatic film, Spellbound (1945).


In this Hitchcock classic — which features a stunning dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali — Dr. Petersen (Bergman) realizes that the mental hospital’s new director, Dr. Edwardes (Peck), is an imposter and suffers from paranoid amnesia. They go on the run to find out what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes.

Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in 'Spellbound' (1945); image is in the public domain
Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in ‘Spellbound’ (1945); image is in the public domain

While Bergman waits for Peck in a hotel lobby — remember, they are on the run, so recognition would be disastrous — she comes under the scrutiny of the house detective. He tries to guess her occupation, and by her conservative appearance (dark and conservative suit & hat), he guesses either schoolteacher or librarian! She is mistaken for a Spinster Librarian. A success for her character, as her real identity and occupation are safe, but alas, a step backward for (real) librarians.

Sources used:

  • Spellbound. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Leo G. Carroll, Michael Chekhov. Selznick International, 1945.
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