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.
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]
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!” 😉
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.
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! 😦
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.
Have a bon voyage Tuesday!
- 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.