Why revisit the forgotten ‘The Forgotten’? Because it has a library scene!
Do you remember The Forgotten? It’s a 2004 psychological thriller starring Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, and Alfre Woodard, all well-known and respected actors. (And Nicole Kidman was originally going to star in the film!) Joseph Ruben directed the film, and he knew his way around a psychological thriller, having previously directed The Stepfather (1987), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), and The Good Son (1993). It also opened #1 at the box office the weekend it premiered.
Yet the film did not have staying power, and it has earned only a 32% positive rating on the Rotten Tomatoes site. WatchMojo included The Forgotten in its lists of “Top 10 Worst Movie Endings” in 2013 and “Another Top 10 Worst Movie Plot Twists” in 2018. Maybe not the best way to be remembered… 😉
No plot spoilers here about how this movie went off the rails, but the plot starts out pretty simple: Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) is trying to cope with her grief over her young son’s death, only to be told one day that her son never existed. She sets out on a quest to understand why.
Had you forgotten this movie existed? Here’s a film trailer to refresh:
So why revisit the forgotten The Forgotten? You guessed it! Because it has a library scene!
First stop, library
Nineteen minutes into the film, Telly goes to the public library, right after her therapist and husband team up to tell her that her son never existed. Understandably upset, Telly rushes out to her car. Next stop? The library! (Would that be a normal first choice after being told one’s child never existed? Does this mark the first moment the movie becomes an exercise in suspension of disbelief? Discuss.)
An overhead shot of the public library reveals several patrons in the library, and Telly makes a beeline straight to the front desk. There look to be three different librarians behind the desk, one at a computer, and two in different spots along the front counter. The librarian Telly approaches, a younger White woman, looks to be filing cards.
Telly: I need to see some newspapers, daily papers from 14 months ago.
The librarian [after getting a clipboard]: You need to fill this out.
No greetings, no follow-up questions, no chatter about the weather. Not much of a reference interview. Odd, no? Therefore, it didn’t surprise me to see that the librarian continues filing while Telly roots around her purse. Telly is not finding what she is looking for — her library card? — and she is clearly getting upset.
Sensing something is wrong, the librarian pauses and puts her hand on top of Telly’s hands.
Librarian: What papers do you need?
Finally, a flicker of human connection!
Next, we see the obligatory closeup of microfilm on a screen reader. The movie does get this detail right. Newspaper archives are almost always stored on microfilm, at least back when this film was set; it’s more common now for newspaper archives to be digitally accessible.
The camera then pulls back to show that Telly is going through the microfilm, and the librarian is standing behind her. But again, Telly is not finding what she needs. There are no stories about her son’s accident.
Telly: How could…? How could it not be in any of these?
Librarian: You sure of the date? What are you trying to find?
Telly [quoting from prior headlines]: ‘Six Brooklyn children feared dead in missing plane’ … I have to go.
The scene lasts a little over a minute long.
A closer look at the reel librarian
Katie Cooper played the Library Clerk, and she is younger, with dark, curly, shoulder-length hair. She wears no glasses, and she’s dressed in a cowl-necked black sweater. We first see from behind, as Telly walks to the desk, and then we get a closeup of her well-groomed, clear-coated nails as she places her hand atop Telly’s hand. We only get a few glimpses of her face, but she seems generally empathetic toward Telly.
This reel librarian’s role, primarily, is to serve as an Information Provider — even though she doesn’t actually provide the information that Telly is seeking! Rather, the absence of that information confirms what Telly most fears, that there is a conspiracy behind the disappearance and subsequent erasure of her son. (This film really is the definition of gaslighting.)
At 38 minutes into the film, Telly confesses her theory of abduction to Ash (Dominic West), another parent who lost a child in the same accident that her son died in.
Everyone besides us believes they never existed. What could do something like that? Who could erase our kids? Every picture of them gone. Every newspaper article gone. Every memory gone.
So that brief library scene turned out to be vital in the plot, as Telly remembers and references the (missing) evidence of the newspapers as part of her abduction theory!
This reel librarian ends up in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian plays a cameo role. Ultimately, this reel librarian’s role was as brief and forgettable as The Forgotten itself.
The Forgotten. Dir. Joseph Ruben. Perf. Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Anthony Edwards. Columbia, 2004.
As many of us are still self-isolating and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus — we’re all still washing our hands and practicing social distancing, yes?! — and most likely still seeking out things to watch via various streaming services, I thought it appropriate to only write about movies that are available via a streaming service (at least at the time of my publishing the post). This week, I’m analyzing the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which is available via Amazon Prime’s HBO channel.
The original The Manchurian Candidate film, released in 1962 and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, is a classic. The remake? Not so much. Not even great actors like Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, and Meryl Streep can lift this remake into anything more than a competent thriller. But there is one thing the 2004 remake has that the original film does not… a reel librarian! 😉
Denzel Washington plays the role that Frank Sinatra played in the original, Major Ben Marco, who knows something is rotten in the state of Denmark the United States.
Getting into the public library
At 1 hour and 20 minutes into the 130-minute film, Marco goes to a public library to investigate the Manchurian Global corporation. At first, it looks like he has wandered into a science museum, as the lobby is filled with scientific posters and genome models. Turns out, it’s the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SBIL) branch!
Marco then poses for a picture for a library visitor pass. We then get treated to a closeup of the library employee, a younger black woman, handling the visitor passes.
Duana Butler plays the “Library Clerk” role, and she gets two lines in this cameo role:
Smile if you like. This will just take a minute.
As we see in the closeup of Marco’s library visitor pass below, he did NOT feel like smiling on this trip to the library. (You can just make out “The New York Public Library” text above his photograph on the visitor pass.)
It turns out that this is the only reel librarian we will see in this library scene… before Marco even sets foot into the library!
I thought it interesting to highlight a reel librarian outside the actual library. Is this an interesting, albeit brief, take on the “librarian as gatekeeper” role? Is the director purposely mirroring the expressionless face of the Library Clerk with the equally expressionless face of Marco on his visitor badge? Is it possible I’m overthinking this reel librarian cameo role? 😉
Cue the research montage
Although we never again see a librarian, we do get treated to Marco conducting research via several different library resources and services, including:
a microfilm machine
a copy machine
headphones to listen to Rosie’s tapes
a computer to conduct a Google search on the internet
We also get a closeup of the mousepad, which officially reveals that Marco is at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) branch.
I also visited SIBL’s website, which highlights their amenities, including computers for public use, photocopiers, and scanners/reading machines. Marco definitely got the most out of this library!
Although libraries are generally seen as safe spaces — in real AND reel life — I thought it interesting to note that the director, Jonathan Demme, chose to highlight the library’s security cameras. The black-and-white shot below is mimicking the security camera’s feed. The message seems to be that no place is safe, NOT EVEN the public library!
Purpose of library scene
This library scene lasts 4 minutes total, and the primary purpose of the scene is to propel the plot forward, as Marco then acts on the clues and information he discovered during his research.
Although the only thing the reel librarian did was issue a library visitor pass, she did help establish the library setting. Therefore, she fulfilled the basic Information Provider role in this Class IV film.
About 10 minutes later, Marco confronts Rosie with what he found out at the library.
I got my library card, and I got your tapes. I do my research, too.
Have you done YOUR research?! 😉
The Manchurian Candidate. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Perf. Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep, Kimberly Elise. Paramount, 2004. Based on the novel by Richard Condon.
The reel librarian does return the (research) favor
It often happens that I’m watching a movie, and — surprise! — a reel librarian pops up, with no warning or foreshadowing, in a library scene. Once you start noticing reel librarians, you find that we turn up EVERYWHERE. And this is what happened when one night, my husband and I decided to watch A Simple Favor (2018), a black comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively and directed by Paul Feig.
What’s ‘A Simple Favor’ all about?
If you’re unfamiliar with this film, here’s the write-up from IMDb.com:
And here’s a trailer for the film:
This trailer does capture the film’s mix of quirky, awkward humor; Blake Lively’s awesome wardrobe (Anne Kendrick is ALL OF US in the way she stares at Lively gliding through the rain in that pinstriped suit and fedora); and its brightly lit take on film noir. Do the most mysterious things actually happen in broad daylight? It’s an intriguing film, to be sure!
*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*
Reference interview with the reel librarian
About 1 hr and 20 minutes into this 2-hour film, Stephanie is digging into Emily’s past. During this journey, she goes to a local library to research past news articles.
We next see a closeup of the reel librarian, an older white lady with glasses and dressed in a floral button-front shirt and dark cardigan. (Love the extra detail of the name tag!) Corinne Conley plays the role of Librarian.
Here’s their reference interview exchange:
Librarian: What do you want, cupcake?
Stephanie: I’m looking for all the Wayne County arson-related news items for the last 20 years.
We next see Stephanie at a desk, scrolling through news articles on a microfilm reader. And success! She finds what she’s looking for.
Although this scene lasts only 20 seconds, this was clearly a very successful reference interview. Therefore, the reel librarian does return the (research) favor in A Simple Favor!
This kind of scene exemplifies a standard kind of library research scene. The main character needs a clue or bit of information to propel the plot forward. And who can quickly supply information that will be trusted by the audience? A librarian, of course! 😀 In that way, this reel librarian serves as your basic Information Provider.
As the reel librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds, this film lands in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.
“What do you want, cupcake?”
The most interesting part of this reel librarian cameo was in the reel librarian’s one line of dialog. She doesn’t ask the standard opening question of “How can I help you?,” but a rather more brusque version with “What do you want?” She also calls Stephanie “cupcake” — not “dear” or “miss” — but the quite juvenile (patronizing? sexist?) word “cupcake.” On paper, I would argue this comes off sounding quite rude and unprofessional. But does that feeling change when the line is spoken by a sweet-looking “old lady librarian”? The juxtaposition is intriguing.
This line just feels off, not quite true to what an actual librarian would say. And that’s indicative of this film in a nutshell; everything is just a bit off, a bit heightened, in a way that makes you question your own reactions. And in that sense, this short — one might even say throwaway — exchange is just right for this film.
Have you seen A Simple Favor (2018)? If you’re a librarian, would you ever say, “What do you want, cupcake?” to a library patron? Please leave a comment and share!
A Simple Favor. Dir. Paul Feig. Perf. Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding. Lionsgate, 2018. Based on the novel by Darcey Bell.
“That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.”
If you’re a regular reader — as always, thank you! — then you know that I highlight scary movies every October. Perfect timing, then, as I recently was able to watch the new film It: Chapter Two, which I also thought would make a good entry in my continuing “first impressions” series of posts. The film follows It: Chapter One, which was released two years ago. I published my first impressions of It: Chapter One back in Oct. 2017.
What’s a “first impressions” post?
First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.
What’s ‘It’ all about?
It: Chapter Two reunites the Losers’ Club 27 years after they first faced off again It, aka Pennywise the Scary Clown. Pennywise has returned to wreak havoc on the town of Derry, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls everyone back to finish off Pennywise once and for all. Will they succeed, or will they die trying? The film also heavily features flashbacks NOT included in Chapter One, so we get reintroduced to the teen actors playing the younger versions of the Losers’ Club.
Below is a trailer for It: Chapter Two (2019):
Meet Mike Hanlon, the town librarian
In my write-up for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted the main scene set in the public library, which featured Ben, and how Ben fulfilled the historian/researcher role in that film, rather than Mike. Here are some excerpts from that post:
As I wrote then, Mike Hanlon is the most important character in the story, in my opinion, and in the end, the town’s true hero.
In It: Chapter Two(2019), it is Mike’s voice we hear introducing us to the present. The first word we hear him say? “Memory.” He sets the tone for this film, with its bittersweet and mournful memories amidst all the nightmares and horror.
Contrasted with Richie, as played by Bill Hader — who gets all the fun lines and steals scenes whenever onscreen — Mike, as played by Isaiah Mustafa, grounds the story. He is the institutional memory, the gatekeeper, the “man with the plan.” It totally makes sense that he becomes the town librarian, the keeper of memories and archives.
By the way, the word “librarian” NEVER gets mentioned in this movie. The word “library,” yes. But never the word “librarian.” But Mike clearly IS the town’s librarian — even living in the public library’s attic! And the fact that he is a reel librarian is absolutely essential to the movie. Therefore, Mike Hanlon is a Class I librarian, a major character whose librarian occupation is integral to the plot.
Scenes in the town library
There are a few scenes set in the town library. The library set in Chapter Two looked just like the library set in Chapter One, with its traditional look of half-paneled walls and dark wood trim.
Early in the film, Mike brings Billy back to the library — “Didn’t it used to be bigger?” — and takes him up the attic to show him artifacts and historical records of Derry. The purpose is to convince Billy about the past, so that the others will stay in Derry and reunite to fight Pennywise.
About two-thirds of the way through the film, Mike is waiting for the others to come back to the library after they find their tokens from the past. As Mike walks through the darkened library and rows of books, the spirit of It re-reveals itself to Mike through the dropping of a library book, The History of Old Derry. Mike then gets attacked by the bully Bowers. In a Deus ex machina moment, Richie shows up in the nick of time and kills Bowers with a hatchet. Richie then gets the single-best line in the film:
That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.
GROAN. But I still laughed out loud in the movie theater.
Mike as the hero
I’ve already said that, in my opinion, Mike is the true hero of the story.
Mike is the one we the audience believe in, even when the rest of the Losers’ Club don’t. He is the center of the whole film. Writing down notes after having watched the film, it struck me that Mike is the one who drives the entire plot structure: beginning, middle, and end.
Beginning: Mike has a list of the Losers’ Club and their current phone numbers, and he checks off their names as he calls everyone. He has to remind them of Derry and the oath they swore as teens to return when needed. He reunites the Losers’ Club.
Middle: After everyone else starts remembering Pennywise and the horrible things in their past, Mike says he has a plan to get ready to confront Pennywise again. He explains that each of them has to get a token from their past and to meet back at the library. Therefore, he serves as the catalyst for the entire middle part of the movie.
End: Mike figures out how to kill It, once and for all. He unites the Losers’ Club in this final battle.
It is interesting to note that in the book by Stephen King, Mike is left out of the climax and final fight with Pennywise. I’m so glad they changed that for the film!
It is also important to note that Mike is NOT perfect. He is human, and therefore imperfect. He shows that he feels vulnerable and scared sometimes. He also admits he stole a Native American artifact, he drugs Billy, and he lies to his friends by omitting part of the truth. But this does not diminish his worthiness, the sacrifice he made to stay in Derry all those years, to carry the burden of remembering.
Mike as a Liberated Librarian
The male Liberated Librarian character type always has a character arc. Initially similar to the Librarian as Failure character type, the Liberated Librarian breaks free (often at the very end of the film) of whatever barrier(s) is holding him back. Usually, this ‘liberation’ requires an external force or action. Liberated Librarians are usually younger or middle-aged. They also become more assertive after the “liberation.” Usually, being “liberated” means leaving the librarian profession (e.g. Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano), but not always (Noah Wyle in The Librarian TV movies and The Librarians TV series).
Mike Hanlon serves as a classic Liberated Librarian:
In a flashback, young Mike reveals that he wants to go to Florida. We know that he stays in Derry so that he doesn’t forget, so he can bring back the others when necessary. And he becomes the town librarian to be in the position of researching the history of Derry and keeping records. Therefore, his barrier is Derry, of being the librarian of Derry, of being the one who remembers. He has sacrificed himself, his own happiness, for the greater good.
At the end, Mike says to Bill that he was “in a cell” and now he wants “to see the sky.” The word “cell” in that line is an interesting choice — the “cell” could be a “prison cell,” or like a “cloisters” cell, like a monk. Both ways work.
At the very end of the film, we see Mike packing up his car and heading out of town. He literally is liberated from the town of Derry AND his role as reel librarian.
It seemed to me — and please note that I am a white woman, so my perspective is limited — that the film did a better job in It: Chapter Two (2019) about highlighting Mike’s backstory, agency, and experiences as a black man. The film also includes references to the long-lasting effects of racism that Mike continues to endure.
When Mike brings Billy back to the library in order to convince him that Pennywise is back, he says that he has compiled notes and clues from numerous Derry residents — the ones “who will talk to me, at least.” He then mutters, almost as an aside, a line (and I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “The people who won’t talk to me, that’s an even longer list.”
Mike also says he needed to convince Billy (a white man) so that the others would believe him (a black man). Again, this is almost a throwaway line — and actor Isaiah Mustafa says this line in a low, weary tone — but it is SO revealing.
After the violent scene with Bowers in the library, Ben asks, “Are you okay?” Richie answers right away, but Ben says something akin to, “No, I meant Mike,” and turns to Mike. Both Mike and Richie look surprised at this. It’s clear that they both assumed Ben would be asking Richie (a white man) if he was okay, rather than Mike (a black man). This short bit reveals the specter of conditioned, internalized responses to systemic racism.
Mike states early in the film:
Something happens to you when you leave this town. The farther away, the hazier it all gets. But me, I never left. I remember all of it.
All the white members of the Losers’ Club leave Derry and forget the horrible nightmares of Pennywise. They enjoy the privilege of being able to forget. All the white characters enjoy financial and career (i.e. external) success. Mike, the sole black member of the Losers’ Club, has to stay behind in Derry and is forced to remember and relive the past horror of Pennywise. He also is “just” the town librarian and lives in the messy, crumbling attic of the town library. I would argue this serves as a metaphor for white flight and subtly shines the spotlight over the unacknowledged burdens and hidden labor that people of color endure.
I’m sure there is more to unpack in the film in this vein — not to mention the lack of agency that the Native Americans depicted in the film have over their story and artifacts — but I appreciated how this film incorporated deeper and darker themes in amongst the scary clown sightings and red balloons.
Have you seen It: Chapter Two (2019) in theaters? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the new movie versions or the 1990 miniseries? Did you know that Isaiah Mustafa, who plays reel librarian Mike, also played the original Old Spice man, aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, in those iconic commercials?! I literally did not realize that until I started writing this post.
“I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.”
In the early 1960s, MGM made a series of Miss Marple comedies starring Margaret Rutherford as the indomitable sleuth. The films were loosely based on Agatha Christie’s works, and the author herself was decidedly NOT a fan of these comedies. Love it or hate it, Rutherford does make the role of Miss Marple her own! The films also feature Rutherford’s real-life husband and actor, Stringer Davis, in the role of village librarian Mr. Stringer, a role created just for the films.
Because all the films follow a basic formula, I thought it made sense to do one big post comparing-and-contrasting aspects and themes from the entire series. (It has taken me WEEKS, y’all, to watch all the films, rewatch them for note-taking and analysis purposes, create photo collages, and finally put together this post. All for the love of reel librarians. ❤ )
Therefore, heads up:
This is a MARATHON post, so buckle up for the reel librarian (bicycle) ride
Potential spoilers ahead
Below is the trailer for the first (and best) in the series, Murder, She Said, so you can get a sense of the jaunty and lighthearted feel of the movies. You can first see Mr. Stringer 49 seconds into the trailer below. The main musical theme is also so catchy, you’ll find yourself humming it for days. No, it’s just me, then? 😉
Let’s start with the basics
First things first, let’s provide some context with the basics of each film. All the films were directed by George Pollock and starred Margaret Rutherford played the role of Miss Marple. All the films also featured Stringer Davis as village librarian Mr. Stringer and Charles Tingwell as Inspector Craddock.
Murder, She Said (1961):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel, 4.50 from Paddington, aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, featuring Miss Marple
Movie plot: While traveling by train, Miss Marple witnesses the strangling of a woman in the carriage of a passing train. With the aid of her friend, Mr. Stringer, she figures out the body must have been thrown off the train near Ackenthorpe Hall. When the police don’t take her seriously, she takes a job as a housemaid at Ackenthorpe Hall in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, After the Funeral, aka Funerals are Fatal — which features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Movie plot: When Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer are out soliciting donations for a charity, they visit the reclusive Mr. Enderby, arriving at his estate just in time to witness his death. Miss Marple, suspicious that Mr. Enderby’s death is not accidental, becomes even more suspicious when his sister, Cora, is murdered. When the police don’t take her seriously, Miss Marple books a stay at a riding school/hotel run by one of Mr. Enderby’s heirs in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Most Foul (1964):
Source: Based (very, very loosely) on Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, aka Blood Will Tell — which, again, features Hercule Poirot as the sleuth, NOT Miss Marple!
Plot: Mrs. McGinty, a former actress, is found murdered, and her lodger is suspected of the crime. During the trial, Miss Marple is the lone holdout on the jury, believing the lodger innocent. When the police don’t take her seriously — are we sensing a pattern here?! — Miss Marple joins a regional theatre company in order to conduct her own investigation.
Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Source: Based on Agatha Christie’s characters and not on any particular source novel. However, there are plot similarities to Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel, They Do It with Mirrors, aka Murder with Mirrors, which features Miss Marple as the central sleuth.
Plot: Shortly after joining a local trust’s board of directors, Miss Marple witnesses the death of a fellow trustee. She doesn’t believe his death is an accident, and she thinks there’s something fishy about HMS Battledore, a ship the Trust purchased for the rehabilitation of young criminals. When the police don’t take her seriously — what else is new?! — she boards the ship in order to conduct her own investigation.
Mr. Stringer’s screen time
As I watched each movie in the series, I kept track of how much screen time Mr. Stringer had in each movie, to see if his role ever increased with subsequent films.
Murder, She Said (1961)
Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Murder Most Foul (1964)
Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Stringer’s screen time (mins)
Stringer’s screen time (%)
17% of total runtime
22% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
21% of total runtime
As you can see from the table above, Mr. Stringer’s role definitely increased after the first film, in which he was only onscreen for a total of 15 minutes, or 17% of the film’s total runtime. In subsequent films, Mr. Stringer’s screen time remained pretty consistent, between 18-19 minutes, or 21-22% of each film’s total runtime.
Mr. Stringer’s role
Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is not a character borne of Agatha Christie’s imagination, yet he is a recurring character in each film of the series. Why, then, was this character created for the series?
In a biography of Margaret Rutherford, Andy Merriman also wrote that Rutherford, in her 70s during the filming of the series, insisted on having her husband appear alongside her.
By all accounts, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford were devoted to each other, with Davis accompanying his wife wherever and whenever she was filming. Their relationship was a lifelong love story. They married in 1945 after a 15-year courtship, and they were together until Rutherford’s death in 1972. Davis took care of Rutherford in her last years, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1973, only a year after the love of his life passed away.
Mr. Stringer’s role stays consistent throughout the series, and his character and personality never change. Although a supporting character, his role is vital in moving the plot forward. He is there as a companion to Miss Marple, a steady, adoring, supportive sidekick. He is a supporting character who fulfills two major character types in each film:
Information Provider — Miss Marple sends Mr. Stringer on various research quests in each film, so he literally provides information to her (and the audience).
Comic Relief — He plays the “straight man” in their comic relationship. Miss Marple makes jokes or says something outrageous, Mr. Stringer reacts, the audience laughs. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Film critic David Cornelius also highlights Mr. Stringer’s comic role:
Therefore, each film in the series ends up in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role.
A librarian by any other name…
Although Mr. Stringer plays the village librarian, does the word “librarian” ever actually get said out loud in the series? In a word… NO. The closest we get is in the second film, Murder at the Gallop (1963), when Miss Marple describes Mr. Stringer as “custodian of the local library.”
Mr. Stringer as Information Provider and the importance of research
As I mentioned above, Mr. Stringer’s successful research quests always save the day. It is clear that Miss Marple trusts Mr. Stringer. Because Miss Marple trusts him — and I would argue also because he’s a librarian — the audience trusts him. Mr. Stringer makes it possible for Miss Marple to have her “aha!” moment at the end of each movie. I will now highlight Mr. Stringer’s major research quests in each film.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder, She Said (1961):
At 53 minutes into the first film, Mr. Stringer bicycles to Miss Marple’s house for a nightcap (a “small beer”) and plotting. They’re interrupted by Inspector Craddock, who tries to warn them off the case. (It doesn’t work.)
Miss Marple: Well now, how did you get on at the probate registry?
Mr. Stringer: Really Miss Marple, I think in view of what the inspector said —
Miss Marple [interrupting]: Did you see the will?
Mr. Stringer: Yes.
Miss Marple [while uncorking the beer]: What did it say?
Mr. Stringer: Well, old Mr. Ackenthorpe’s father obviously didn’t get on very well with him.
Miss Marple: I’m not surprised at that. Go on.
Mr. Stringer: You see, the house and the income from the family fortune are his, but he can’t touch the fortune itself. That’s the first point.
Miss Marple: Yes? [hands Mr. Stringer a beer.]
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
At 1 hour and 5 minutes into this film, Mr. Stringer is in Miss Marple’s hotel room. From underneath her bureau, Miss Marple takes out a painting that’s all wrapped up in paper and string and hands the parcel to Mr. Stringer.
Miss Marple: Now you are, please, to take this to London to the art dealers. They will appraise it. And get it back here as quickly as you can.
Mr. Stringer: All right, if it will help.
Miss Marple: Well, I’m hopeful it will not only help but clinch the whole matter, so to speak.
When Mr. Stringer comes back from London, they continue their conversation.
Miss Marple: What did you find out?
Mr. Stringer: You were quite right, Miss Marple. It’s worth at least 50,000 pounds.
Miss Marple: I knew it. Then it was that picture after all.
Mr. Stringer: It certainly was.
Miss Marple: Excellent. We can now proceed with certainty.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Most Foul (1964):
At 45 minutes into the third film, Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer meet in a public garden and sit on a bench.
Miss Marple: It seems to me what whomever Mrs. McGinty was blackmailing must have had some connection with the production of this play in 1951, and is with the Cosgood Company.[…] Now, what organization would be likely to keep a record of all professional theatrical productions?
Mr. Stringer: The censorship people, I suppose.
Miss Marple: To be sure. The Lord Chamberlain’s office in London. I should be obliged if you would go there posthaste and inquire into the history of this play. Where it was produced in 1951, who was in it, and so on.
Mr. Stringer: Very well, Miss Marple. I’ll take the next train up.
About 10 minutes later, Mr. Stringer then calls Miss Marple up from a public phone booth in order to relay the results of his research. He looks extremely pleased with himself!
Mr. Stringer: You were right, Miss Marple. Remember September was put on in 1951, a tryout performance at Pebblestone-on-Sea.
Miss Marple: Very interesting. Particularly as the author claims that he’s only recently completed the work.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, well, that may have been embarrassment. You see, the Lord Chamberlain’s office particularly remembers it because it was booed off the stage halfway through the second act.
Miss Marple: That doesn’t surprise me in the least. The point is, was there anyone we know in it?
Mr. Stringer: I have obtained a full cast list, and in it occurs the name of Margaret McGinty.
Miss Marple: What? Really? Excellent. Now, tell me, apart from Mr. Cosgood, who else in this company was connected with this production? No one? You sure? Yes. All right, Jim. I was just thinking. Of course, it’s possible that someone has since changed his or her name. Look, Jim. Drop the cast list in to me at Westward Ho!, will you? Thank you. Goodbye.
Mr. Stringer’s research quest in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
A little over 52 minutes into the fourth and final film, Miss Marple breaks some bad news to Mr. Stringer, that he’s a suspect in a murder! But after she gives him some brandy to help with get over the shock (“Me? A murderer?”), she has a research-related task for him to do.
Miss Marple: I found this envelope in Compton’s sea chest, and it had been steamed open. […] Mr. Stringer, you must return to Milchester at once. Go and see the secretary of the trust, Miss Pringle, and ask her what kind of communication from the ship would likely to be contained in an unusual envelope of this sort.
Mr. Stringer: But, Miss Marple, the police. I thought you said I was to lie low.
Miss Marple: Well, use the back stairs, turn up your collar, and pull down your cap. Goodbye. Good luck.
Mr. Stringer gets the requested information back to Miss Marple in an unexpected way. He ties the evidence around a rock, rows out to the boat Miss Marple’s staying in, and then throws the rock through her window. Only problem is, his aim is too good; the rock hits Inspector Craddock in the head, and Craddock passes out. AWKWARD.
Miss Marple: Do you know who threw that rock? My friend Mr. Stringer.
Inspector Craddock: Mr. Stringer?!
Miss Marple: Yes, and you’ll thank him for it. I found this envelope in Compton’s cabin after his death.
Inspector Craddock: Assaulting a police officer, withholding information… again.
Miss Marple: Now, don’t be petty, Chief Inspector. This type of envelope is used for the ship’s quarterly report to the trustees, and Mr. Stringer has enclosed the latest example for our perusal.
Mr. Stringer as Comic Relief
While Mr. Stringer rarely makes a joke himself — at least, not intentionally — he does regularly find himself in the most ridiculously awkward situations. Behold:
Comic relief in Murder, She Said (1961):
In Murder, She Said(1961), he dresses up as a train worker, and for his efforts, he nearly gets run over by a train. Poor Mr. Stringer.
He then (awkwardly) assists Miss Marple — “Mr. Stringer, will you kindly give me a leg up?” — so she can take a peek over a wall.
Comic relief in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Early in Murder at the Gallop (1963), Mr. Stringer once again gets roped into physically assisting Miss Marple so she can have another peek into somewhere off limits, this time the room in which the heirs of the murdered man react to the contents of his last will and testament.
And now for the comic moment that even made this film’s trailer — Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer DO THE TWIST. As you can see below, Mr. Stringer realllly gets into it!
Comic relief in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Early in Murder Most Foul (1964), Miss Marple calls on the sister of the deceased woman, using an excuse of collecting things for the church jumble sale. Hidden in the jumble? Mr. Stringer! He’s hiding until called upon to pop out and pretend to be a bookseller, so that Miss Marple can snoop while the sister is distracted. As you do.
Comic relief in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
In the final film, Murder Ahoy! (1964), Mr. Stringer is tasked with following a group of delinquent boys who come ashore. His ingenious hiding place? A tramp’s boat! He gets discovered almost immediately by the tramp, who demands to know “why a grand gentleman like yourself who’s able to live in a lovely hotel like that is wanting to sleep in my bed.”
There are a few library scenes in the series, but Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, is only seen in an actual library in the first film. Fittingly, this scene serves as our introduction to this reel librarian.
Public library scene in Murder, She Said (1961)
This scene occurs at 7 1/2 minutes into the film, after Miss Marple gets upset at Inspector Craddock’s insinuation that she’s been hallucinating a murder. She grabs three books stacked up on a bench in her hall and walks to the library.
We then see Mr. Stringer talking with another patron, a hard-faced and no-nonsense woman, who is inquiring about a newly published mystery novel.
Mr. Stringer: I’m sorry, Mrs. Stainton, The Hatrack Hanging, Falcon-Smith’s latest, I’m afraid we haven’t received our copy yet.
Mrs. Stainton: Plain inefficiency. Anyway, I want to know the moment it comes in.
Mr. Stringer: Of course, of course, Mrs. Stainton.
When Miss Marple comes into the library, his face lights up. We see more of the library as she walks by rows of bookcases and past a young man in the background flipping through a book. Mrs. Stainton stalks off upon Miss Marple’s arrival, and Mr. Stringer reveals his favoritism — and his ability to lie!
Mr. Stringer puts up a finger — in effect, shushing Miss Marple. He then pulls out a book from under the desk, The Hatrack Hanging.
Mr. Stringer: I’ve been keeping it for you.
Miss Marple pulls him into the stacks and asks if he thinks she’s unstable or given to hallucinations. Mr. Stringer seems properly horrified at the suggestion. (His job, first and always, is to reassure and support Miss Marple, and he does an excellent job of it.) Miss Marple then reveals to the audience why she and Mr. Stringer are qualified to investigate the murder on their own.
Miss Marple: Mr. Stringer, how many detective novels would you say we have read over the years?
Mr. Stringer: Impossible to say. Certainly many hundred.
Miss Marple: Yes. Which gives us, wouldn’t you agree, a certain knowledge of the criminal mind?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, most assuredly.
Miss Marple: Well, this is where we put that knowledge to the test.
Mr. Stringer: We?
Miss Marple: Yes. We.
(I would also argue that this short exchange also explains why Mr. Stringer’s character was made a librarian, because OF COURSE a librarian would have ready and steady access to detective novels.)
Mrs. Stainton interrupts this bit of camaraderie when she walks back to the front desk and discovers The Hatrack Hanging book! Uh-oh…
Mrs. Stainton: So it has come in!
Mr. Stringer [oh-so-innocently]: Oh, has it?
Mrs. Stainton [to Miss Marple]: Well? I think I have first call.
Miss Marple: I don’t think you’ll like it, Hilda. Too obvious. The mother did it, of course.
Mrs. Stainton: How could you possibly know that? The book has only just come in.
Miss Marple: It always is with Falcon-Smith — a deprived child, you know.
Miss Marple then sails away, clearly the winner of this verbal cat fight. She calls back to invite Mr. Stringer for tea, which he eagerly accepts.
Still smiling, Mr. Stringer picks up a stamp, as Mrs. Stainton looks sourly back at Miss Marple.
The entire library scene lasts only a couple of minutes, but we learn several things, including:
The library is used by a variety of patrons of different ages.
The library must have a well-stocked collection of detective and mystery novels.
The library set is filled with books without call numbers. (Sigh.)
Mr. Stringer engages in occupational tasks, such as stamping.
Mr. Stringer is a very capable liar.
Private library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
Around 15 minutes into the final film, Miss Marple connects the first murder to the plot in a book entitled The Doom Box. But this time, the book doesn’t live in the village library, but rather Miss Marple’s private library.
Miss Marple: Propel me please, Jim.
Mr. Stringer pushes the stepladder forward, as Miss Marple scans titles. (Her private library is beautiful, isn’t it?!) Also, library ladder alert!
Miss Marple: Oh, here we are. The Doom Box by J. Plantaganet Corby. Here it is. Now listen. “And so, me lad, declared Sefton Harricott: Jacob Rushton did indeed suffer a heart attack, but it was induced by a noxious substance in his snuff.”
Mr. Stringer: Oh, Miss Marple, I’m beginning to —
Miss Marple: Wait. “The murderer, continued Harricott, made one error. He failed to remove the incriminating residue from the snuff box.” A mistake our murderer no doubt imagines he has not made.
Mr. Stringer: Oh. But why should anyone want to do such a thing?
Miss Marple: That, Mr. Stringer, is the question. Poor Mr. Ffolly-Hardwicke had just returned from our ship. He had something important to say. He never said it. I wonder. Yes, that’s where the motive must lie. Mr. Stringer, there is something going on aboard the Battledore.
Mr. Stringer: Oh, goodness.
This scene is vital for propelling the plot forward (just as Mr. Stringer propels Miss Marple forward, hah! 😉 ). It leads Miss Marple to the boat to investigate up close… and it leads us to the next library scene!
Ship’s library scene in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
A little over an hour into the final film, Miss Marple is back to sleuthing and skulking again at night. There’s a ship’s library, which is clearly marked on the door (although there is no hint of a librarian on board the ship, not even when the crew introduced themselves earlier to Miss Marple).
The ship’s library looks pretty extensive, as multiple bookcases can be glimpsed behind Miss Marple. Even though, once again, there are NO CALL NUMBERS (sigh), Miss Marple easily finds the The Doom Box book on the shelves!
This is a vital clue, as it proves Miss Marple’s theory about the first murder. She later uses this same book to catch the killer in the final act!
Books, book, books
Beyond the library, books themselves are quite important throughout the series — providing information, clues, and sometimes even alibis! It makes sense to me that in a series with a recurring reel librarian character, that books themselves also tie in heavily into each film. Let’s explore how books are further highlighted in each film.
Books in Murder, She Said (1961)
During the opening scene when Miss Marple travels on the 4.50 train to Paddington train, she is reading a pulp mystery novel, Death Has Windows by Michael Southcott. Turns out, this was a fictitious novel mocked up by the production team! This establishes the tone early on that Miss Marple loves to read mystery and detective novels. But that same pulp mystery novel, with its lurid cover, also leads the train attendant to think Miss Marple’s dreamed what she says she saw!
This theme continues, as near the end of the film, Miss Marple has a paperback copy of Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. This time, the book is a real one, a novel Christie wrote that was published in the UK in 1939 and published as Easy to Kill in the U.S.
At almost 43 minutes into the film, Miss Marple calls up Mr. Stringer, who is in his pajamas in bed (scandale!), and we get to glimpse a tall stack of books on his bedside table. What I especially loved is that the book on top of the stack is entitled A Hell of a Woman.
Indeed, Miss Marple is a hell of a woman. 😉
Books in Murder at the Gallop (1963)
At 23 minutes into the second film, Inspector Craddock is interviewing Miss Milchrest, the companion to the murdered woman.
Inspector Craddock: When did you see her last?
Miss Milchrest: Just before I went to the library.
True, this is a direct reference to a library — and an indirect reference to books in said library — but I laughed out loud that a trip to the library was being used as an alibi!
And was she referring to Mr. Stringer’s library? That part is never clearly stated, but it’s possible.
Books in Murder Most Foul (1964)
I’ve already mentioned how early on in this third film, Mr. Stringer hides amidst the jumble sale items in a wagon while Miss Marple distracts the murdered woman’s sister, Gladys. Mr. Stringer then poses as a bookseller — a most appropriate ruse for a librarian, right?!
Gladys: Well, you are from the insurance, aren’t you?
Mr. Stringer: Oh, no, madam. No. I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind. I was wondering if you’d allow me to show you the new Wonder Book.
Although Mr. Stringer first gets mistaken for an insurance salesman (hah!), he successfully distracts Gladys from Miss Marple snooping around upstairs. After Miss Marple comes back down the stairs, he hurries to help her out and leaves the Wonder Book with Gladys.
Almost an hour after that scene, at 1 hour and 15 minutes into the film, Miss Marple visits a theatrical agent, Mr. Tumbrill, who opens up a book to a large photograph of an actress. This photograph, along with Mr. Tumbrill’s information, provides a clue for Miss Marple to narrow down the potential murderer.
Books in Murder Ahoy! (1964)
We’ve already gotten a lovely view of Miss Marple’s private library, as seen when she figures out the first murder was described in a book she has a personal copy of, entitled The Doom Box.
Here are other titles that can be glimpsed in Miss Marple’s private library:
The Doom Box comes up again and again throughout this film!
At 1 hour and 10 minutes, Miss Marple describes the (second) murder to Inspector Craddock, and this murder is also outlined in The Doom Box! This conversation gets cut short when Stringer beans Craddock with a rock.
Then, five minutes later, everyone is going ashore to participate in the festivities for Trafalgar Day. Everyone except for Miss Marple, of course. As everyone crowds around her state room, she displays the copy of The Doom Box that she took from the ship’s library.
This is a rattling good detective yarn, you know. I borrowed it from the ship’s library. I know only one of you has read it, but I suggest that all of you do. I’ve just got up to the most exciting part, when —. Well, I hope I won’t be giving too much away when I say the answer is a mousetrap.
This book is a (mouse)trap, of course, to catch the killer!
Mr. Stringer’s relationship with Miss Marple
Miss Marple turns down two offers of marriages in the series (!!), neither one from Mr. Stringer. However, she alludes to Mr. Stringer while turning down an offer of marriage in Murder, She Said (1961):
Miss Marple: If ever I do embark on such a venture, there is someone else.
And in the very next scene, as Miss Marple leaves, Mr. Stringer is there to pick her up. (Always.) As they drive away, we see a sign a young boy hung on back of the car, a “Just Married” sign. Their close, affectionate relationship is front and center from the very beginning (and end!).
Throughout the series, we also get treated to many closeups of Mr. Stringer looking adoringly at Miss Marple. It’s really quite touching, and this recurring theme brings in a very sweet and human aspect to this reel librarian character.
And it wasn’t until I put the above collage together that I realized that Mr. Stringer is almost always seen, from the audience’s perspective, to the right of Miss Marple. A visual affirmation that he is her right-hand man? Makes me think of Wong in the Doctor Strange movie…
Mr. Stringer’s style
Margaret Rutherford provided her own wardrobe for the Miss Marple movies, rewearing many of the same items throughout the entire series. I’m particularly enamored of her wool cape, complete with attached scarf. We see this cape for the first time as she heads out to the village library.
Mr. Stringer matches Miss Marple, tweed for tweed. (To my mind, it’s also highly likely that Stringer Davis is wearing his own clothes for the role, as his real-life wife did, but I have not read that confirmed anywhere.) As Mr. Stringer, he almost always dresses formally, in a suit and tie, befitting his professional status as a librarian. He also often wears a clock pin; ever practical and punctual, our Mr. Stringer. (Can you tell I have a soft spot for this reel librarian character? Bias alert!)
As you can see in the collage below, even when he’s washing dishes, he keeps his tie on! And when he’s bicycling or out and about, he often changes into a natty knickerbocker tweed suit and cap. And when he’s off duty, like when directing a community play in Murder Most Foul (1964), he’s still in tweeds, but in a jacket with a more unstructured cut. A little old-fashioned, sure, but he never wears anything impractical or inappropriate to the occasion.
Mr. Stringer in action
Although there is only one major scene of Mr. Stringer, the village librarian, working in an actual library, we do get to see him being quite active outside the library. We see him riding a bicycle in Murder, She Said (1961) and a tricycle in Murder at the Gallop (1963). He also dons shorts (!) for a jog in Murder Most Foul (1964), and he gets in some nighttime rowing in Murder Ahoy! (1964).
Dare I suggest that Mr. Stringer has turned out to be one of the most physically active reel librarians ever?! Reminder: Stringer Davis was born in 1899, which means he was in his 60s during the filming of this series. #GoStringer
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions
Stringer Davis is a joy to watch in these films, due to his expressive face. I’ve already mentioned the sweetness he conveys in his adoring gazes at Miss Marple. Even in a scene in which he had little to no dialogue, he shines because his face is always fully reacting in the moment. We get treated to multiple full-screen closeups of Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in each film in the series. Bless.
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder, She Said (1961):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder at the Gallop (1963):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Most Foul (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s facial expressions in Murder Ahoy! (1964):
Mr. Stringer’s words of wisdom
Here are a few final, memorable quotes from this reel librarian character (beyond all the “Dear me” and “But, surely” remarks that often punctuate his conversations with the more forcible Miss Marple). Mr. Stringer’s character has been described as timid; I would venture that he is often the voice of caution and common sense.
Quotes from Murder Most Foul (1964)
I thought it advisable to get into peak condition for any emergency. Is there one already?
I was hoping to interest you in improving your mind.
I’ll leave you the book, Mrs. Thomas. Brood on it, will you? Brood on it.
Quotes from Murder at the Gallop (1963)
I really must be getting back to the library, Miss Marple.
I fear we’re taking the grave risk of seeming inquisitive.
Miss Marple: ‘Tittle-tattling busybody,’ I believe were his words. Mr. Stringer: No. Yours.
Quotes from Murder, She Said (1961)
Miss Marple, whatever it is: No, no, no.
Miss Marple, prudence demands a retreat.
I agree with Mr. Stringer, prudence demands a retreat here, too, regarding this blog post. We librarians gotta stick together! 😉
Any final thoughts you would like to add this deep dive into Mr. Stringer’s role in MGM’s Miss Marple series of movies? Have you seen one or all of the movies? Please leave a comment and share!