Regarding a public library

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, directed by Mike Nichols and written by J. J. Abrams (!), a library scene takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie.

Movie plot

But first, let’s set the context. Harrison Ford plays the title role, a hot-shot and ruthless New York lawyer who is out of sync with his 12-year-old daughter, Rachel, or his wife, Sarah (played by Annette Bening). One fateful night, Henry gets shot by a kid holding up a corner store, a shot that causes brain damage. When Henry wakes up, he has to figure out how to start all over again — including the basics of movement and speech — including getting to know his family again.

Here’s a trailer for the film:

The library scene — over 10 seconds of it! — makes the trailer, at 1:45 seconds into the clip above.

Library rules

Rachel takes her father to the library, and she explains the basic rules of the library on the walk there.

Rachel: Some of them [books] you can borrow and take home, but some of them you have to read here.

HenryAnd you can’t talk loud.

RachelRight.

Books and silence — libraries in a nutshell. (Sigh.)

Library scene

The camera then pans quickly through the library, following the polished floors and atmosphere so quiet you can hear every step of every shoe and squeak of every chair. Every table is occupied, showcasing a variety of people.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Henry’s daughter hard at work in the library

Henry’s daughter is working and studying, writing in a notebooks. A stack of National Geographic magazines are on the table in-between father and daughter. (It isn’t clear if the magazines are for Henry or for his daughter.) There is also a large photography book open in front of Henry.

Henry then starts throwing wads of paper from a box of call number slips, crumpling them up, and then flicking them at his daughter. (This is the part of the scene that makes the trailer.) The sly expressions on Harrison Ford’s face make this scene a(n initially) comic one.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

What? I’m not up to anything…

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Nothing to see here…

His daughter is not so amused. She keeps saying, “Stop it!” and “Dad, I’m serious.

Henry’s mocking response? “I know. VERY.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The library is VERY serious.

But the third time he flicks a paper wad at her, Rachel cracks a smile. But then this short scene turns serious.

Rachel: Read your book.

HenryI can’t.

Rachel:  [Realization dawning on her face] I’m sorry.

Rachel’s mother no doubt hid a lot of the details about Henry’s recovery from her daughter, including details about how he had to painstakingly learn how to speak and walk again. It never occurred to Rachel — or the audience?! — until that moment in the library that her father no longer remembered how to read.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

The moment Henry’s daughter realizes her father can’t read

This realization then leads to Henry’s daughter teaching him how to read again. This is significant because he had always put pressure on his daughter to be smart and self-reliant and grown-up; this friction had caused emotional distance between them. Henry being able to admit weakness to his daughter helps them bond again.

It’s a poignant scene. And that this discovery — that Henry can’t remember how to read — is made IN A LIBRARY makes this scene even more poignant and memorable.

Although memorable, this scene lasts less than two minutes. No librarian is visibly present in the scene. Theoretically, one of the several people in the background could be a librarian, but there is nothing obvious — like, say a prop like a book cart — to make this connect visibly clear for the audience. And no librarian is needed in this scene; rather, the focus is on the relationship between father and daughter.

Therefore, Regarding Henry lands in the Class V category, films with no identifiable librarians, although they might mention librarians or have scenes set in libraries.

Library filming location

The filming locations mentioned in its IMDb page are very general — it was filmed in New York City — but luckily, an internet search turned up the “On the Set of New York” site. This site’s page for Regarding Henry reveals that the library scene was filmed at the 5th avenue branch of the New York Public Library. This turns out to the iconic central, or main, branch of the library. Kudos to director Mike Nichols for finding a way to make the library space in this scene look more cozy and warm than the usual cinematic shots of the NYPL central branch.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Regarding Henry' (1991)

Interior shot for the library scene

Sources used:

Regarding Henry. (1991). Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Rebecca Miller. Paramount Pictures.

Regarding Henry – Trailer,” uploaded by YouTube Movies, 2012, Standard YouTube license.

Advertisements

South Street librarian

Pickup on South Street (1953), a film noir minor classic starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter, includes a brief library scene that combines microfilm, a pickpocket, and the first African-American librarian portrayal on film — all in less than a minute!

A well-known pickpocket, Skip McCoy (Widmark), picks the wrong purse one day on the subway, accidentally stealing a roll of microfilm a lady (Peters) was on her way to deliver. As you do. This leads to a clash between the police and a Communist gang — OF COURSE — while Skip schemes amongst all the chaos.

Skip discovers the microfilm in his stash and has the idea to visit the public library in order to get a close look at the microfilm. Very clever! About 25 minutes in, he skips (har har) up the stairs to the New York Public Library, where we get a shot of a sign that reads, “Newspapers on Microfilm — Apply Here.”

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'

The camera then pans over two white gentlemen behind a library counter, both in white shirts and ties. The older gentleman is flipping through a book with a male patron, as seen above. Skip moves down the counter to a African-American male, also outfitted in the standard white shirt and tie.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'

Microfilm Library Clerk:  May I help you?

Skip:  Yes. I’d like to see a copy of the New York Times, January 5, 1947.

Microfilm Library Clerk [hands him a card and pencil]:  Fill this out, please.

The microfilm library clerk, played by Jaye Loft-Lyn, is portrayed as friendly and competent, a classic Information Provider. No fuss, no muss. The scene lasts only seconds, ending up in the Class IV category. Although the length of the scene is short, it is significant, as I mentioned before, in that it is the earliest film I have come across so far to include an African-American reel librarian. Too bad the role is uncredited.

The next scene cuts to Skip rolling the stolen microfilm onto the library microfilm reader, looking TOTALLY nonchalant and unsuspicious while doing so.

Reel Librarians | Screenshots from 'Pickup on South Street'

Although the public machine is used for illicit reasons, Skip did end up a satisfied library patron! 😉

I also watched the remake ofPickup on South Street (1953) — I am NOTHING if not thorough, and it’s all for you, dear readers!  —  a tedious 1967 affair called The Cape Town Affair, which changed the locale from New York to Cape Town, South Africa, and starred James Brolin as pickpocket Skip McCoy. Instead of going to a local library, Skip goes to a fellow thief (one who has ripped off a camera store) to view the microfilm. A decidedly inferior remake in every way, including in its decision to nix the opportunity of showcasing a library onscreen.

Gimme shelter

Moscow on the Hudson (1984) surprised me. Based on the DVD cover (see left), I was not expecting much — or rather, I guess I was expecting a lot of bad accents and Russian stereotypes. To be sure, there are some bad accents and immigrant stereotypes, but overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by this movie. In truth, I found myself falling a little bit in love with my country again. It’s a typical immigrant plotline, but an intriguing one.

However, I was disappointed not to spot any librarians in the film. I went through the movie twice and called my husband in to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. At first, I couldn’t even spot a library!

So why did I request a copy of this movie from my local public library in the first place? Because in Martin Raish’s Librarians in the Movies online filmography, the line accompanying Moscow on the Hudson states: “Robin Williams has a scene in the library.” But the film is also listed in Category D, films Raish hadn’t seen yet or found adequate descriptive comments about. Perhaps there was a library scene that got deleted at some point?

I did finally find a web site that included a comment that one of the film scenes had been filmed outside a branch of the New York Public Library, the Tompkins Square Branch Library. Here’s how the outside of the library, and side alley way, appear in the movie (see right). You could also just spy a blurry library sign as the group walked past the entrance, in their hurry to get out of the rain.

It seems the library has undergone extensive renovations; click here for the branch library’s website.

So Moscow on the Hudson joins the other films in Class V, the category of films with no identifiable librarians. Below, enjoy a brief clip near the end of the movie.