Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.
In the 1993 drama, Rising Sun, young, beautiful woman is found strangled atop a table in the L.A. headquarters of a Japanese corporation. Who killed her? To solve the crime, Wesley Snipes, who plays Lt. Webster ‘Web’ Smith, partners with Sean Connery, who plays Capt. John Connor, an expert on Japanese culture. They delve into the seemingly seamy underworld of Japanese business etiquette.
I’ve watched this film before (and I had totally forgotten it was based on a Michael Crichton novel!), and I’ve always wanted it to be a better film than it turned out to be. One night, when I was working on my computer, I came across this movie in my DVR listings, so I had it playing in the background while I was working on something else. I did NOT remember this movie having a reel librarian, but once your radar is on, you find them EVERYWHERE. When I heard the words “Lilly the Librarian” spoken in the background, I stopped what I was doing and looked up in surprise. Instant reel librarian research — and resulting blog post! 😀
The scene happens exactly halfway through the movie, at 1 hour and 4 minutes. The scene lasts only a minute, and we get only a brief glimpse of Lilly the Librarian. It is also a rare instance where a Class IV librarian gets a name! (And a rare portrayal of a newspaper librarian/archivist, as well.)
So what’s the context? Smith gets a call from a reporter informant, Ken Shubik, who is keeping tabs on a weaselly investigator, played by Steve Buscemi (!). And yes, Buscemi’s character on the cast list is officially listed as Willy ‘the Weasel’ Wilhelm. Willy the Weasel is busy digging into any dirt he can find on Lt. Smith, and he’s enlisting the help of Lilly the Librarian at a newspaper library.
Ken Shubik: Where the hell you been? Did you get my message?
Web Smith: Yes, about the weasel?
Ken: Last night, I’m working late at the paper, I see the weasel arrive, dressed in his tux. He goes right to the library. I could tell the ambitious little terd had the scent of blood. He’s still here. I asked Lilly the Librarian, what’s he checking out? A cop she says, a cop named Web Smith.
Willy the Weasel IS successful in digging up dirt — obviously with help from Lilly the Librarian. And actually, the brief scene reveals the possibility of TWO reel librarians, both of them redheads. Here’s the first, who walks away, shaking her head in frustration.
As the first woman walks away, we see another redhead — the one I theorize is the actual Lilly the Librarian — sitting at a desk filing periodicals, which you can see in the screenshot below and in the first screenshot above. Willy the Weasel, who has been pacing back and forth to a bank of computers, then walks back over to her, talking and pointing, and we see only the side of her head.
Lilly the Librarian definitely fulfills her role as Information Provider. Too bad that wasn’t enough to warrant a credit in the cast list. 😦
This reel librarian cameo also reminded me a little of another reel librarian character in You, Me and Dupree (2006). Although the characters fill VERY different roles, there are some striking coincidences:
Both are redheads
We see both only briefly — and mostly from behind or from the side
“We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.”
My colleague Michael from the Century Film Project passed on The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) to me for the website. It’s a ’50s sci-fi film about how an earthquake in California unleashes radioactive mollusk monsters. As you do. The special effects are… pretty much what you’d expect from that plot description. Earnest and enjoyably cheesy.
I also love the film’s tagline, “Distinctly chilling. So real that it is nearly incredible.” Nearly incredible. Nearly. A ringing endorsement! 😉
So where does a reel librarian fit into the picture? There’s not a librarian technically, more a museum archivist. But I’m still including the character in the reel librarian category, as the character is primarily an Information Provider, along with a little Comic Relief thrown in for good measure.
The Naval officers on a base near where the mollusk monsters were unleashed are working hard to contain the issue and track down the remaining monsters. Fifty-five minutes into the film, Lt. Commander John “Twill” Twillinger (Tim Holt) and a scientist figure out that the mollusks are traveling by an underground river through a system of 700 miles of canal bank. The scientist advises them to be on the lookout for a survey map that would show underground rivers.
Twill assures him, “If there is such a map, we’ll find it.“
A couple of minutes later, the director cuts to the Imperial County Museum, and we see a middle-aged, balding man closing a file cabinet drawer. Milton Parsons plays the museum archivist Lewis Clark Dobbs, in an uncredited role.
Let’s listen in on the exchange:
Dobbs: Well, now, we gave most of our map collection to the library.
Twill: Mr. Dobbs, we’ve already been to the library. We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.
Dobbs: Too bad, too bad. We don’t have many documents. We don’t have room for them. We put up a bond issue, Proposition 14-A specifically asking for a document room, but… Oh, here. Here we are. [He hands them one rolled-up map.]
Twill: Is this all you have?
Dobbs: I’m sorry, just not a speck of room.
Twill: Mr. Dobbs, this is very important. Have you ever heard of an underground river or an ancient waterway in the valley that empties into a deep pool?
Dobbs: Dear, dear. Let me think. I can’t think of a thing. But every once in a while, somebody dies, and leaves us a whole lot of documents for our room, the one we didn’t get, you understand. Propositition 14-A was defeated.
Twill: Well, if you should hear of anything, let me know. You should be able to get me at the base.
Dobbs: Oh sure, sure, I always cooperate with the authorities. You’ll find that I’m a very cooperative person. Just call on me any time, night or day.
The officers are as eager to get away as Dobbs is eager to continue talking to them. He is very solicitous but doesn’t actually help them (at least not yet). He is more interested in talking about the failed bond issue. I KNOW THE FEELING. It’s an interesting choice to highlight public funding issues for a library or museum. This is definitely an issue that continues today — but not one I’d expect to find in a cheesy ’50s sci-fi flick.
I honestly thought we had seen the last of Lewis Clark Dobbs. But I was mistaken! At one hour and seven minutes, he shows up at the base — so nondescript that Twill doesn’t notice him on his way out; Dobbs calls out to him to no avail. Dobbs holds a briefcase and has smartened up a bit with a blazer and hat. He takes off his hat when the phone operator asks if she can help him. Dobbs dithers, muttering, “Well, well” several times and announces that he will wait. The phone operators shrug, and Dobbs sits down in the corner. Awkward social manners, to be sure.
Hours later, Twill comes back to the base and is so focused on fighting mollusk monsters — as you do — that he doesn’t notice Dobbs in the corner. (Dobbs is probably used to this.)
After they shake hands, here’s the resulting conversation:
Dobbs: It’s probably not anything at all.
Twill: I see. [turns away, dismissive]
Dobbs: You said it was important, you know, about the map.
Dobbs: Well, a very strange thing happened. I was looking for these papers — well, actually, I was looking for this petition. [Takes out papers.] We’re campaigning again, for the Proposition 14-A, the one that was defeated. [Twill nods.] And there was this folder, and in this folder, there was this map.
As Twill reviews the map, Dobbs mutters on about a family that helped settle the area, the family that donated the map; Dobbs is oblivious that Twill is not listening. Instead, Twill points to the map and asks him if this is a river.
Dobbs puts on his glasses, and states, “Oh no, but the Indians dug wells all along there. It says here — in Spanish, of course — the wells of life. I read 18 foreign languages.“
So what do we learn about Dobbs?
He dresses conservatively
He is patient
He doesn’t read social cues very well (which adds to the “Comic Relief” role)
He is a multi-linguist
Proposition 14-A is his favorite topic of conversation
Twill, a man of action, immediately sends the map off to the photo lab to help identify the location of the mollusk monsters. He doesn’t even thank Dobbs for the map! Twill gets all the credit (of course), but it’s really Dobbs who provided the essential evidence that saved the day. And if only that Proposition 14-A had passed, he could have helped them sooner… and perhaps saved a few more lives.
I was hoping this Class III film would end with Twill saying that the Naval base would contribute funds to the Imperial War Museum and their documents room, but alas there was no more mention of Dobbs or Proposition 14-A after that third short scene with the reel librarian. Oh, well. In my head, that’s what happened: the Imperial War Museum got a donation (and a plaque) to celebrate their pivotal role in challenging the mollusk monsters that challenged the world, and Dobbs is now happily puttering away in his new documents room.
Reel librarians save the world! Now THAT’s a movie tagline. 😉
The basic plot? Joe Banks, played by Tom Hanks, is stuck in a thankless job, and after learning he has only weeks to live, he embarks on an adventure to sacrifice himself in an island volcano. As you do.
The title cards start out fairy-tale style: “Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe… who had a very lousy job…” And what is his job?! A librarian! (Sigh.)
Hapless Joe steps into a puddle getting out of his car and on his way to a factory-like building, and he raises his arms to heaven as if to send up a plea to save him from his hell. And how does he describe how he feels working in his workplace?
~ “Losing my soul” ~ “I feel kind of tired” ~ “I’m not feeling very good” ~
His uncaring boss, Mr. Waturi, played by Dan Hedaya, is unimpressed and suggests he should be grateful. After all, he “put you [Joe] in charge of the entire advertising library.” (Joe has worked there the past four and a half years.)
Joe’s response: “Ah, you mean this room.“
As Joe — and the audience — look around, we are met with a depressing visage of a sterile room with blocky desks, screened windows, file cabinets, flickering fluorescent lighting, and half-empty steel bookshelves. Yep, that is the entire advertising library.
Joe obviously feels no control over his job, and he is told he is “not competent” and “inflexible.”
Joe then goes to the doctor. As if he weren’t depressed enough, that’s when the doctor lays out the bad news — and the movie’s plot — by telling him that he has an incurable “brain cloud” and has only a few months to live. His advice? “You have some life left. Live it well.“
When Joe goes back to the library, his boss tells him that he’ll “be easy to replace,” which makes Joe finally snap and stand up to his boss. “I’ve been too chicken-shit to live my life.“
As he quits his job, he finally asks a female co-worker out (one of many roles played by Meg Ryan!), and she says, “Wow, what a change.“
The liberation has begun!
A businessman, Samuel Graynamore, played by Lloyd Bridges, then offers Joe a chance for an adventure during his final days — to throw himself into a volcano as a human sacrifice. (Why? Because PLOT.) As he puts it — and true to the Liberated Librarian plot arc — “Try to see the hero in there.“
Joe then has dinner with one of Graynamore’s daughters, Angelica (another one of Meg Ryan’s roles). Their conversation over dinner contains perhaps the most quietly damning insult to the librarian profession:
Angelica: So what did you do before you signed on with Daddy?
Joe: I was an advertising librarian for a medical supply company.
Angelica: Oh. I have no response to that.
And Angelica isn’t the only one slinging out insults to Joe. He does it to himself! “I have no interest in myself. I start thinking about myself, I get bored out of my mind.“
So off Joe goes to seek adventure, letting loose (performing a silly dance atop of a steamer trunk floating in the Pacific Ocean) and releasing his inner brave soul (“Take me to the volcano!“)
As he faces the volcano and almost-certain death, he proclaims that “I have wasted my entire life” and “My whole life, I’ve been a victim, I’ve been a dupe, a pawn.” But no longer! In the end, he faces his own fears, alongside Patricia (Meg Ryan again!), and becomes truly liberated.
Initially similar to the the Male Librarian as a Failure — but eventually breaks free
Needs outside force or action to instigate “liberation” (in this case, the medical diagnosis that he has only weeks to live)
Younger in age, late twenties (there’s time to redeem himself!)
Becomes more masculine and brave after “liberation”
His “liberation” is the main plot arc of the film
How Joe Banks differs from, say, Flynn Carsen from ‘The Librarian’ TV movies — who is liberated through actually becoming a librarian — is that Joe is first seen as a failure in part because of being trapped in a “lousy job,” in this case a advertising librarian for a medical supply company. Being a librarian equals being a failure in his life. It is only by quitting and embarking on this adventure does he become liberated. Therefore, Joe Versus the Volcano joins the Class I category, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst to the plot.
The male Liberated Librarians may begin as failures, but they grow in character throughout the film, just like their female counterparts; their latent skills and talents find a way to rise to the forefront — but only through the instigation of an outside force, action, or other person.
The male Liberated Librarian, as I mentioned, is usually young. Their physical appearance may or may not improve (compare this with their female [Liberated Librarian] counterparts, whose makeovers are practically a requirement!), but their wardrobes tend to get better. Personality-wise, they become more masculine and assertive. For major male librarian roles, the most common character type is the Liberated Librarian, with their liberation comprising the main plot.
There are many aspects from that general description of the Liberated Librarian that ring true for Flynn Carsen, aka “THE Librarian”:
Young in age (and a bit immature in temperament, as well)
Initially viewed as a “failure” in the eyes of his mother — and potential dates!
An outside force (in this case, the library itself!) is the catalyst for his liberation
He becomes more masculine and assertive throughout the TV movie
His “liberation” is the main plot arc of the movie
However, unlike other Liberated Librarians — who usually need to be “liberated” from their jobs as librarians — Flynn becomes “liberated” by becoming a librarian. Let’s see how!
The TV movie starts off with Noah Wyle in an Egyptian tomb, kitted out in an ill-fitting trench, spouting off factoids about Egyptian pyramids and trigonometry. He’s generally being an annoying, socially awkward know-it-all, as illustrated in an outburst by a frustrated classmate:
Stop frickin’ posing and join the rest of the students!
The first 15 minutes of this TV movie not only set up the Liberated Librarian character type and plot arc but also contain some of the most memorable dialogue about lifelong learning and libraries. Here’s a closer look at the three main scenes that comprise the first quarter-hour:
In this brief scene, Flynn’s professor tells him he has completed his work and won’t be continuing in the program.
Flynn: But I’m your best student.
Professor: Voila, that’s the problem. You are my best student. You’re everyone’s best student. You’ve never been anything but the best student… How many degrees do you have in total, Flynn? I checked your transcript: you have 22!
Flynn: School is what I know, it’s what I’m good at. It’s where I feel most like myself.
Professor: You’re a professional student, Flynn. You’re avoiding life. This is a serious problem that I will no longer enable… Have you ever been out of the city? When was the last time you went dancing or to a ball game? You need to find a job, Flynn, to get some real life experiences.
Flynn: All I want to do is learn.
Professor: We never stop learning, Flynn. Never. It’s only where we learn that changes. And it’s about you start doing it in the big, bad, real world. Sink or swim, Flynn. Look ahead, that way. Good luck. Off you go.
Flynn goes home to seek comfort — from his books, naturally.
These aren’t just books. These books are slices of the ultimate truth. The greatest thinkers of all time. And they speak to me. Like nothing else.
Flynn goes downstairs to find that his mom has set him with a “nice girl,” Deborah, wearing a cardigan and pearl earrings. Small talk quickly touches a nerve…
Deborah: What do you do?
Flynn: Actually, I’m a student.
Deborah: You’ve been a college student your entire… ?
Flynn: I like to learn. Is that a crime? I mean, so what, I’ve spent most, if not all, of my adult life in school. Maybe I have missed out on a few extracurricular activities. That doesn’t make me a freak, does it?
Deborah: Of course not. I understand.
Flynn: You do?
Deborah: Sure. You like to learn. [Flynn: Yes!] And you’re in your 30’s and you’re still in school. [Flynn: Exactly!] And you live with your mother and you’re ok with that.
Flynn: Yes! No. No. Wait. I have to change my life.
Deborah: I would.
Deborah then wishes Flynn good luck as she rushes off. And just to make the point VERY CLEAR, his mother then turns to him to say:
The things that make life worth living… they can’t be thought here [pointing to his brain]. They must be felt here [pointing to his heart]. Maybe you don’t know so much.
Librarian interview scene:
Flynn then receives a mysterious invitation to interview at the Metropolitan Public Library.
As he walks to the library, he joins a very long line of candidates going up several flights of stairs. (This entire scene reminds one of the nanny interview scene in Mary Poppins!)
His interview is with Charlene, played by the stone-faced and implacable (and awesome) Jane Curtin, who is as imposing as the grand ballroom setting.
Charlene: What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: Well, I’ve read a lot of books.
Charlene: Don’t try to be funny. I don’t do funny… What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: I know the Dewey Decimal system, Library of Congress, research paper orthodoxy, web searching. I can set up an RSS feed.
Charlene: Everybody knows that. They’re librarians. What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: I know… other stuff.
Charlene: Stop wasting my time. Tell me something you know that nobody else who has walked in here can tell me.
Flynn then taps into his inner Sherlock Holmes, rattling off several facts about her, including the fact that she has three cats (a white Himalayan, a tortoiseshell, and an orange-striped tabby). Next, the disembodied voice of Judson (Bob Newhart) asks what is more important than knowledge — and Flynn totally steals his answer from his mom (“The things that make life worth living can’t be thought here. They must be felt here”).
There will be a 6-month trial period. If you don’t screw up, then you will officially be The Librarian.
Judson then makes a physical appearance and utters what is arguably the quintessential line of the entire “The Librarians” series:
You are about to begin a wondrous adventure from which you will never be the same. Welcome to the library.
The rest of the TV movie and plot focuses on Flynn’s adventures to return a stolen artifact. Oh, and saving the fate of the world. (Obviously.) He teams up with Nicole Noone (Sonya Walger), the librarian’s bodyguard.
One of my favorite aspects of the entire “Librarian” series is how it excels at clever, seemingly throwaway moments, like when Nicole and Flynn have to waltz through a booby trap — and Nicole ends up dipping Flynn at the end of the waltz. 😉
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear boasts multiple male reel librarian characters (as played by Noah Wyle, Kyle McLachlan, and Bob Newhart), a rarity in film. It is the character of Flynn Carsen, however, who best exemplifies the Liberated Librarian character type.
Becoming ‘The Librarian’:
In the final action scene, Flynn has to match wits — and spears — with the last librarian, Edward Wilde (Kyle McLachlan). He also battles his former professor from the movie’s first scene, a very clever way of “closing the loop.”
Here’s a side-by-side, before-and-after visual comparison of Flynn in the opening and final action scenes of the movie.
By the end of the TV movie — and after the librarian has saved the world, as you do — the final scene showcases just how far Flynn has come. (Even Excalibur, the “sword in the stone” thinks so.)
Flynn is not only dressing better, it is also obvious that he has more confidence, both inside and out. He even stands up to his mother! 😉
Margie Carsen [speaking to a group of ladies]: Flynn is a librarian now. But he’s capable of so much more. Just needs the right woman to push him.
Flynn: Mom, you don’t understand. Being a librarian is actually a pretty cool job.
As he speeds off on his next adventure, Flynn is now truly a Liberated Librarian; in other words, THE Librarian.
If you can’t get enough of Flynn Carsen and “The Librarian” TV movies and TV series spin-off, here are more of my posts for all-things-The-Librarian:
I had watched The House on Carroll Street (1988) many years ago, and I recently had the opportunity to rewatch it in order to revisit my notes about its minor reel librarian character. Everything about the film is minor, even though it features some major stars (Jessica Tandy, Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin, etc.) and tackles the heavy-hitting subject of McCarthyism. Kelly McGillis, fresh off her role in Top Gun, stars as Emily, who gets involved in an FBI investigation after refusing to give names to a 1951 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing. Emily also gets intimately involved with FBI agent Cochran (Jeff Daniels).
There isn’t much to tell about the plot, except it involves a lot of running, dark alleys, red lipstick, retro waves, fedoras, and dark grey suits.
One of those dark grey suits is filled by an FBI librarian (played by William Duff-Griffin), who runs some stills and footage for FBI agent Cochran about three-quarters of the way through the film. The middle-aged, portly, white male — complete with glasses and receding hairline — shows off his technical skills by handling the projector as well as answering the telephone. [Tongue firmly in cheek.]
He also shows himself to be a man of few words as he answers the telephone: “Library. Wentworth speaking.”
He then turns to Cochran to tell him that the boss wants to speak to him, which leads to the next plot plot; we learn that Cochran has meddled too much and has been taken off the case.
The film also includes a earlier scene set in a bookstore. Emily suggests the bookstore as a place to meet up with a suspected spy, thinking that it would be a safe place that no one else would think of. Wrong! They get caught immediately, and a chase scene ensues in the bookstore, complete with toppling bookcases and turned-over book carts.
And what is the main clue for how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen, as mentioned in last week’s post? That’s right, there are no call numbers on the books in the bookstore! 🙂
So long, dear readers, and I’ll see y’all next week!