‘The Night Strangler’ and the underground librarian

“I called on the services of one Titus Berry… guardian of the secrets of Seattle, buried in the morgue of the Daily Chronicle.”

Strap yourselves in, folks, because we’re in for a surprisingly detailed reel librarian portrayal in the 1973 TV movie The Night Strangler (1973), sequel to the 1972 cult classic The Night Stalker.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

The telefilm starts out basically the same way as its predecessor, with Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and a tape recorder, narrating another story kept out of the papers, this time in Seattle. Once again, the conspiracy theory revolves around the undead.

About 15 minutes in, we meet the librarian, Mr. Berry (Wally Cox), a short male with a greasy combover, scraggly ‘stache, and wisps of a goatee. He looks more like an accountant or an old-time newspaper man. Which makes sense, because he works in the newspaper archives.

Titus Berry character in Night Strangler
The name’s Berry. Titus Berry.

Kolchak’s narration introduces Mr. Berry’s character:

Although research was never one of my favorite pastimes, I called on the services of one Titus Berry… guardian of the secrets of Seattle, buried in the morgue of the Daily Chronicle.

Based on this intro, he has made friends with the archives librarian, using him for information. In this way, Mr. Berry definitely serves as an Information Provider. The reference to the archives as a morgue is a clever link to the morgue assistant who helped Kolchak earlier in this telefilm, as well as the parallel underbelly of tunnels underneath Seattle that play an integral role in the plot.

We are cinematically introduced to the back of the librarian walking in-between two rows of bookcases. The archive room itself is quite dark, with dim light, covered-up windows, and grey painted walls. It looks disorganized with its stacks of books piled on every available surface — but the librarian probably knows where everything is!

Newspaper archives in The Night Strangler
Newspaper archives in The Night Strangler

Mr. Berry, bringing in a large volume, walks over to Kolchak, seated on a ladder. This shot also visually de-emphasizes the librarian, as Kolchak is on a higher level, literally. The stack of books in the foreground creates a visual barrier and serves to make the librarian seem even smaller.

Mr. Berry:  Here we go.

Kolchak:  Thanks.

Mr. Berry: You’re most welcome. I envy you.

Kolchak: You do?

Mr. Berry:  Research. That’s where the joy lies.

Kolchak:  Joy?

Mr. Berry: And the fascination. Let the others scurry about, gathering their contemporary bits of gossip. THIS is where the meat is found [pointing to archives volume]

Kolchak: Meat?

Mr. Berry:  Yes. For instance, no one has yet mentioned the distinct resemblance between this current series of strangulations and another series in the year 1951. Or was it ’52?

Kolchak:  Yeah? How similar?

Mr. Berry: Oh, extremely similar [licks his finger to begin paging through archives]

The librarian at first seems kind of creepy, especially in how he keeps gazing at Kolchak and passing out awkward compliments (“I envy you” and “That’s very observant of you”). I thought at first he would turn out to be an Anti-Social Librarian. He does slightly resemble a mole rat! (In fact, while watching the TV movie, my husband commented, “I’m shocked his name isn’t Renfield.” 😉 )

Exchanging glances in Night Strangler
Exchanging glances

In contrast, Kolchak seems amused by all this adoration and humors him, stringing Mr. Berry along because he’s useful. And he sure is useful, basically cracking the case, and propelling the plot forward, by gathering clues through old newspaper articles. A follow-up scene five minutes later reveals that Mr. Berry has delved even deeper into the archives — uncovering a series of murders all the way back to 1889! — and promising to check out the state archives the next day.

After Kolchak gets fired (again), and the plot threatens to come to a standstill, who breaks the mystery open one more time? Mr. Berry, the librarian, of course! He discovers yet another news clipping, this one revealing the name of the perpetrator, a physician who helped found a local hospital… in 1882. When Kolchak goes off to explore the clinic, he calls Mr. Berry to come over, luring the rat out of his laboratory!

Dressed in a black suit and tie, as seen below, it is clear that Mr. Berry has definitely made an effort.

More gazing in Night Strangler
More gazing…

The next scene is a turning point. After defacing the portrait of the physician in the clinic’s lobby, Kolchak is led away in handcuffs and forced to present his evidence to the police and the news publisher. It’s also a turning point for Mr. Berry. He once again supplies the info that Kolchak needs, rushing in with the evidence.

Librarian likes to point in Night Strangler
I like to point!

Kolchak: There he is! Mr. Berry, come in, come in! I’ve been waiting for you, come in! Do you — did you get it?

Mr. Berry:  Yes, I thought perhaps —

Kolchak:  You thought right, Mr. Berry.

Tony Vincenzo (news publisher):  Who is this man?

Kolchak:  Don’t you know him? He works for you.

Mr. Berry:  Down in Research, sir, for 35 years.

Vincenzo:  Good God.

Kolchak:  And research, of course, being the meat of it [sharing an inside joke with Berry and grinning]

Throughout this exposition scene, Kolchak refers to Mr. Berry’s research, while Mr. Berry is content for Kolchak to take the lead in interpreting and connecting all the dots for the police. Once Kolchak exhausts all his evidence with a final, “Well?,” Mr. Berry finally speaks up with an excited echo, “Yes, well?”

More evidence in Night Strangler
More evidence

And just for a moment, we get a glimpse of the pride on Mr. Berry’s face — pride for himself, not just Kolchak, and for his own role in the solving of this mystery. He seems poised for a hero moment.

Until, that is, the police captain snaps back with, “You shut up!” Mr. Berry immediately slides back into his shell, stuttering out, “I mean, uh, well…”

So close to a Liberated Librarian, so close!

And although he and Kolchak leave together to await the decision of the ad hoc tribunal, only Kolchak is left in the hallway when Tony comes out to deliver the verdict. And in fact, we never see Mr. Berry again. He is no longer useful to Kolchak; therefore, he is no longer useful to the film. He ends up a Class III character, safe in his Information Provider role.

In the DVD featurette, “Directing The Night Strangler,” director Dan Curtis highlights the librarian’s role:

And Wally Cox, I remember him from Mister Peepers [a TV show from 1952-1953]. I used to watch Mister Peepers all the time. There’s the little librarian, which he’s so perfect at, Wally Cox. Wouldn’t he be wonderful in that part? And of course he did it, and he was great.

Wally Cox’s title card in The Night Strangler
Wally Cox’s title card in The Night Strangler

Here’s to you, Mr. Berry. Here’s to you.

P.S. If they ever do a remake of this TV movie, I nominate John Hodgman for the role of Mr. Berry. 😉

Sources used:

  • The Night Strangler (TV movie). Dir. Dan Curtis. Perf. Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Wally Cox. ABC/MGM Home Entertainment, 1973.

‘Necronomicon’: Dead on arrival

“Consider your privileges revoked, Mr. Lovecraft!”

Continuing in our series this month of scary movies featuring librarians, next up is 1993’s Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (aka Necronomicon, aka H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, Book of the Dead). The film is comprised of three segments, (Part 1, The Drowned, based on Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Walls”; Part 2:  The Cold, based on the story “Cool Air”; Part 3: Whispers, based on the story “The Whisperer in Darkness”) plus a “wraparound” entitled The Library, which serves as a framing device for the other stories.

One of the directors, Shûsuke Kaneko, didn’t speak English during the time he was filming his segment, Part 2, although the entire cast is American. I’m not sure what the other directors’ excuses are. 😉


The Library wraparound story is set in 1932 and stars Jeffrey Combs as the author H. P. Lovecraft, who pulls up in a taxi in front of an imposing building that houses a monastery library (see below).

Library scene in Necronomicon
Library scene in Necronomicon

The small bronze sign above the doorbell reads, “By appointment only.” Not sure if Lovecraft has an appointment, but he is apparently well-known by the librarian monks (played by Tony Azito as the Librarian, and Juan Fernandez as the attendant monk and library assistant).

Librarian:  Mr. Lovecraft, always a treat. And how can we indulge you this time?

Lovecraft:  Actually, I’m here because a new story of mine demands a bit of fact-checking.

Librarian:  Fact-checking? We were under the impression you dealt in fiction.

Lovecraft:  My work is wrongly construed as fiction by the lesser minded. In fact, I take great pride in presenting fictional possibilities. It is my duty, after all, as a human being to enlighten the darkest depths of experience, to expose certain secrets unjustly hoarded by others.

Librarian:  We shall see.

There is NOTHING subtle in this movie — from the makeup to the costumes to the “acting” to the “writing” (quotations marks intended) — so why would the librarian character be any different? Check out these facial expressions from the librarian monk:

Collage of monk librarian's facial expressions in Necronomicon
Collage of monk librarian’s facial expressions in Necronomicon

After signing in, we next spy the librarian on a library ladder. Obviously up to something, Lovecraft nervously directs the librarian to the alchemical encyclopedia on the top shelf (of course). While the librarian is busy reaching for the volume, Lovecraft manages to unhook the librarian’s keys from his waist sash without him noticing the sound of jangling keys or the sudden missing weight. Yeah. Right.

Library ladder alert!
Library ladder alert!

When you get massive eye-rolling from not only a main character (ahem, librarian monk) AND the audience within the first five minutes, you know it’s going to be a bad time. And the librarian monk tries to give Lovecraft a bad time with his next comment.

Please try to remember that if you leave this area unattended for any reason whatsoever, we shall be forced to revoke your privileges.

Does this stern warning work? Yeah. Right.

The very next shot shows him scurrying downstairs — although his furtive act is actually seen by the librarian assistant monk. Lovecraft approaches a secret archives room with a safe along the back wall, which DA-DA-DUMMMM, reveals the Necronomicon, the book of the dead. Cracking it open, Lovecraft disturbs some kind of force, causing the two librarian monks to look up (see below). Knowing what he’s up to, do the two librarian monks actually follow through on their threat to “revoke his privileges”? Of course not! There wouldn’t be a plot (such as it is).

Two monk librarians
Two monk librarians

I won’t go into the plots of the three story segments, but I will reveal that they’re all (sort of) set in the future. Or possibly alternate futures. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Inbetween the stories, we are treated to an ever-increasing sense of unease through the library wraparound scenes, as the wall safe opens up more portal doors as more pages are turned. The librarians’ actions also (finally) escalate:

  • After the first story segment, the two librarian monks pick up Lovecraft’s hat in the main hall and casually ask, “Will he truly be brainless enough to try?” Response:  “Of course. He’s human.”
  • After the second segment, the librarian monk then tries to open up the door leading to the archives room, but finds the handle locked.
  • And finally, after the third story, the librarian monk shouts to Lovecraft through the iron bars. After Lovecraft reveals that he dropped the keys, the librarian begins to reveal his true self: “You impetuous little fool! Do you know what you’ve done?! Put it back. Put the book back!”

Too late! As the safe opens and an alien creature comes hurtling down the portal, the librarian monk squeezes through the bars and grabs Lovecraft. More threats and cheesy lines:

The secrets of the Necrominocon do not come cheap. This is going to cost you your life! Consider your privileges revoked, Mr. Lovecraft!

Perhaps balking at this ultra-cheesy line, Lovecraft unhinges the librarian’s jaws and pulls off his face, revealing the librarian as an alien! LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN … LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN … that phrase just kept spooling through my head … in all caps … LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN.

Library fight in Necronomicon
Library fight in Necronomicon
… off!

Does Lovecraft get away? Of course! The alien creature grabs the LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN instead and heads back down the wormhole portal, leaving this mess behind:

Librarian skin in Necronomicon
Idea for a Halloween costume?

The Necromonicon closes, and Lovecraft runs away as the librarian monk assistant shouts, “You don’t know what you’ve done! You’ll pay!” The movie ends on a closeup of the Necronomicon that he stole from the library.

Book thief in Necronomicon
Book thief!

Afterwards, my husband’s summation? “We’ve definitely seen worse.” As I pointed out, that’s not really a compliment. 😉

And in a film that supposedly celebrates Lovecraft’s craft, the character himself comes off rather poorly. We learn that (a) he’s a thief; (b) he’s smug about said thievery and escape; (c) he’s a plagiarist, as he was just copying the stories from the Necronomicon; and (d) he doesn’t care about the damage he caused — and presumably will continue causing — by opening up this book of the dead. The LIBRARIAN MONK ALIENS don’t come off well in this film, but Lovecraft comes off worse. It’s never a good time when you can’t root for a single character!

Sam is so well-versed in my reel librarian research that we also enjoyed a lively discussion of what character types the LIBRARIAN MONK ALIENS fulfilled:

  • Comic Relief? It’s sad when the bad acting and writing in a would-be horror film could count as comic relief, but that wasn’t the intention, I’m sure.
  • Liberated Librarian? No way.
  • Librarian as Failure? One could argue this considering the failure of the librarians to protect the book they were supposed to protect. Ultimately, however, one should assume these monks chose to live their lives in the library and wanted to protect the book of the dead, even though they were horribly inept at doing so.
  • Information Provider? I say yes, as the main librarian’s actions in the beginning of the film (signing in a library patron, climbing the library ladder, helping Lovecraft find a specific book) are used to establish the setting as a library, and his own role recognizable as a librarian, even while dressed in monk robes.
  • Anti-Social Librarian? Bingo! Hoarding knowledge; never seen outside the library; poor social skills; seems to dislike people; dressed conservatively; and elitist? Checkmark on all accounts.

So there you have it. Two anti-social and information-providing librarians in this Class III film. And one more time…


That is all.

Sources used:

  • Necronomicon: Book of the Dead. Dir. Christophe Gans, Shûsuke Kaneko, and Brian Yuzna. Perf. Jeffrey Combs, Tony Azito, Bruce Payne. Turner Home Entertainment, 1993.

‘Archangel,’ a study in contrasts

The rule-benders prevail

Like Tale of a Vampire (1992), this post has been floating around in draft form for awhile now. Not sure why it’s taken me so long, as Archangel (TV, 2005) is an interesting TV movie based on a Robert Harris novel. It’s not revelatory or anything, although it does feel like more of an aborted miniseries. Like it wanted to go there, but ran out of steam halfway through. Like me with this post! 😉

So what’s it all about? Pre-Bond Daniel Craig stars as a British professor who travels to Russia and investigates mysterious incidents surrounding the life and death of Joseph Stalin. There are some cool locations throughout, including an early scene set in the Russian State Library, heralded by the monument of Dostoyevsky outside its rather imposing front columns (see below). The largest library in the country and national library of Russia, it was founded in 1862 as Moscow’s first free public library. The library welcomes 4,000 visitors a day, as it is open to the public — whether you’re a resident or not.

Russian State Library in Archangel
Russian State Library in Archangel

Craig’s fictional character, Professor Fluke Kelso, takes advantage of this policy by starting there to research a source’s story. Thing is, the librarians don’t seem to be aware of this open-door policy. Guess that’s why it’s fictional.

Kelso hands an expired library card to the first librarian (credited as Older Librarian and played by Elena Butenko), who is seated behind a large, glassed-off marble counter.

Library interior in Archangel
Does this shot also remind you of a movie theater, with that glass booth?

Here’s how their conversation goes:

Older Librarian:  [speaking in Russian] How long have you had this [library card]?

Kelso:  [in Russian] I was a student here. A long time ago.

Older Librarian: It is out of date.

Kelso:  Is it possible that I can renew it? I’m a professor. I’m writing a book.

Older Librarian:  Fill in form. Send in mail.

Kelso:  Yeah, but I’m leaving Moscow tomorrow. Can you help me please?

Older Librarian:  I will talk to supervisor.

It’s cold in Russia, but the looks he gets from that librarian? Frost bite.

No-nonsense librarian in Archangel
If I were a bartender, I would spit in your drink.

Trying to warm up, Kelso slides over to the other librarian, Yelena (Kseinya Entelis) who’s been giving him the once-over. (Wouldn’t you be?) They have a Meet Cute moment before Kelso reveals what he really wants:

Kelso:  I need everything you’ve got on the death of Stalin, Yelena. Statements, eye witness accounts, please.

Yelena:  She [the Older Librarian] will not approve this.

Kelso:  Does she have to know?

Younger, flirtier librarian in Archangel
Can I help you with anything else? My phone number?

Aaaaaand… no surprises, we cut to a shot of Kelso writing notes and standing by an old-school card catalog. And Yelena’s helping out, of course (see above):

Yelena:  I found another one. Page 512.

Kelso:  Thank you.

Yelena:  So you went to Moscow State University?

Kelso:  I did, yeah. I spent a lot of time in this library with a girlfriend. It was warm.

(Sigh.) And yes, Moscow State University is real. It’s the oldest and largest university in Russia, founded in 1755. (Of course I had to look that up!)

And here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two librarians and their contrasting facial expressions.

No-nonsense librarian in Archangel
Frowny-faced librarian
The flirty librarian in Archangel
The flirty librarian

So after another hour of mysterious deaths and chase scenes, etc. etc., Kelso and his Girl Friday (Zinaida, played by Ekaterina Rednikova) travel to a small town, named Archangel (aha!) to ask for Communist Party records at some kind of historical society. They meet two clerks, the first of whom (the female below, in the red sweater) is unwilling to let them pass.

Archivist clerks in Archangel
Archivist clerks in Archangel

It’s like an echo of his previous conversation with the Older Librarian:

Clerk (Tatjena Lukashenkova):  You need to make an appointment. [filing cards]

Kelso:  Why? Are you so busy? […]

Clerk:  Do you have permission? Then I cannot help you. Go away. Go away.

The more senior clerk (Juris Strenga as Tsarev) then comes out of his office and eventually allows them to look through records in the back room / storage closet / archives (see below). Kelso remarks, “Incredible. They haven’t thrown anything away. What are they waiting for? The second coming?” (Um, YES.)

Archives in Archangel
Archives in Archangel

That remark above reminds me of a similar passage in Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (read my review here), in the chapter about the differences between librarians and archivists. Librarians select (and deselect, known as “weeding”) for materials that are most relevant and responsive to a community’s needs, while archivists collect in highly specific areas, sometimes just in case something will be needed. Two ends of the spectrum coming together to serve a common purpose. Johnson says it better in the book.

So even though this latter scene is not in an official library, I’m including the two clerks because they fulfill the functional role of archivists.

And it’s interesting to compare-and-contrast these two short scenes. Both library/archives scenes involve two Information Providers:  one focused on rules and restrictive (the rule-monger) and the other obliging and helpful (the rule-breaker, or rather, rule-bender). In the first scene, the rule-monger is the Older Librarian; in the second scene, the younger Clerk tries to crack that whip. And in both cases, the rule-benders prevail. Hmmm….

Both scenes are also pivotal in propelling the plot forward, as the rule-bending librarian/archivist provides a crucial bit of info. One scene is set in a massive state library, the 3rd largest library collection in the world with 40+ reading rooms, while the other takes place in a humble, small-town archives room that also serves as extra storage for chairs and flags. Again, two ends of the spectrum coming together in this film to serve a common purpose. 😉

Sources used:

  • Archangel (TV movie). Dir. Jon Jones. Perf. Daniel Craig, Ekaterina Rednikova, Gabriel Macht. BBC, 2005.

‘Tale of a’ gothic library

The library as a place means more than the librarians within that place

Full disclosure. I first watched this movie, Tale of a Vampire (1992), back in January. Here was my Facebook status afterwards:

Facebook status about Tale of a Vampire
Facebook status about Tale of a Vampire

That motivation took more than 5 months to come back to me!

And it’s not like the movie is that bad. It is an interesting gothic tale with lots of atmosphere, but both the structure of the story, and underlying motivations of the characters, weaken the film considerably. And while some might call the pace “stately,” for me, it was just SLOW.

There are several scenes set in the library, but I won’t bore you with details of all of them — although I certainly bored myself taking notes on them all!. The only way I could get through this write-up/analysis/whatever-you-want-to-call-it was to break it down into manageable chunks. So here goes:


What’s it all about?

Anne (Suzanna Hamilton, who looks like a cross between Julia Ormond and Tara Fitzgerald), a woman still recovering from her fiancé’s mysterious death, lands a job at a library specializing in the occult. One of the library’s regulars is Alex (Julian Sands, who plays a tortured romantic soul like no one else), a vampire who believes Anne to be the reincarnation of his lost love. There’s also another mysterious man — there is no other kind in this movie — in a big hat, named Edgar (Kenneth Cranham), who makes up the third in a very bizarre love triangle.

Library atmosphere:

The library is a major set-piece throughout the film, showcased within the first 5 minutes. In fact, there are so many that I started mentally intoning, “Meanwhile, back at the library…” for the countless, back-and-forth establishing shots. The look of the film is all black and orange and shadows.

Reference desk in Tale of a Vampire
Reference desk in Tale of a Vampire

The librarian’s desk — first seen in an aerial shot, like a crow’s view? — is quite messy and ornate (reflecting the library itself), with odd-looking busts and statues and shadow boxes all around. The film begins with a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” so the bust, seen below, is a nice touch.

Library desk and set in Tale of a Vampire

We gets clues about the library throughout the film. Edgar steals some library stationery that has “The Foster Library” stamped along the top. He also describes the library as “fascinating” and later produces a library patron record with the full name, “The Foster Library: Library of Mysticism & the Occult” across the top (see below).

Foster Library card closeup
Foster Library card closeup

Note: I checked, and that doesn’t seem to be a real library in England. There is a Foster Library in Lincolnshire, but it’s all about archives and local history, not the occult.

You know I had to look that up, right? 😉

The library scenes also emphasize the undercurrent tension of rules and restrictions (and secrets?):

  • Books are reference only, and “it took a great deal of persuading to the archive to let [the rare books] go”
  • There’s a prominent “Silence” sign on the librarian’s desk, visible in a screenshot above
  • There are iron bars everywhere — including an iron banister in front of the reference desk, see below — literally closing off sections of the claustrophobic library set
Messy reference desk in Tale of a Vampire
Messy reference desk in Tale of a Vampire


By this point, I was marveling at how much Anne mirrored the older librarian, Denise (Marian Diamond), but as a younger version. Seriously, take a look at some of these side-by-side shots. Perhaps the film is subtly suggesting what Anne could become without love in her life?

Two reel librarians in Tale of a Vampire
Two reel librarians in Tale of a Vampire
Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire

We see quite a few scenes with Anne shelving, picking up books, writing out cards, more shelving, talking with Denise, etc., but things don’t really seem all that busy. But appearances are deceiving, right? (So meta.) Although there is no mention of Anne’s qualifications, there are several scenes of her reading and talking intelligently about poetry, etc., getting the idea across that she is cultured and educated. But it’s obvious she’s not really into the library, as she checks her watch several times while working and says things like, “I’m not terribly busy at the moment” to patrons. She also says later that “I just needed a job, and it came up, so I took it.”

Poor Denise:

When helping Alex with a rare book at the beginning of the film (see below), Denise lets him know right away how short-staffed they are. Ahhh, how things haven’t changed.

Denise the head librarian in Tale of a Vampire
Poor Denise

When Anna shows up at the library for the job interview — an interview the librarian knew nothing about because Edgar had orchestrated the whole thing — the librarian does not waste any time complaining about the staffing situation.

We are terribly short-staffed. I suppose head office must have sent this [letter] out. Either that or I’m getting even more forgetful than I’d thought. It’s overwork, you know. Actually I’m terribly glad to see you. I’ve been on my own for over a month now, and it’s far too much for a single member of staff.

Short-staffed or not, Denise the Librarian has to deal with a lot of weird stuff. But of course, she also works in a library specializing in the occult, so perhaps it’s to be expected. In one scene almost an hour in, Edgar takes away a periodical from an old man, a long-time user of the library, a man who also has a pet mouse in his pocket. (No, I’m not being metaphorical. See below.)

Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
The power of periodicals

Here’s how this creepy scene plays out:

Denise:  Excuse me. But could you possibly give it back to him? I’m sorry, but he does get so distressed. If you come over to the magazine rack, I’m sure I could interest you in something equally good.

Edgar:  Thank you. This is what I want. I shan’t be a moment.

Denise:  Look, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t serious.

Edgar:  Oh, this is a public library, isn’t it? [pretends to read for a few moments, then closes the magazine] There. I said I wouldn’t be long.

[Denise hands the magazine to the old man]

Old man [to Edgar]:  I know who you are. I’ve seen your picture somewhere.

Uh, oh. This inauspicious conversation leads to Denise discovering the old man’s bloodied body in the public restroom. I smell a rat…. oh wait, that’s a mouse. Sorry.

We also get to witness Denise crying over the poor old man, as well as her quite touching concern over Anne’s health. Poor Denise. Odds are good she’ll be short-staffed again soon…

Style vs. substance:

In this kind of film, it seemed to me that the character types didn’t matter all that much. The personality traits were kind of all over the place for every character, and motivation was murky at best. If I had to pin down the reel librarian roles, I would say that Denise served more as an Information Provider than anything else, and Anne fits the Spirited Young Girl type the most. She doesn’t really care about the library (“I just needed a job… and I took it”), and is not afraid to express her personal feelings and thoughts. I would argue she’s not a Liberated Librarian, because she doesn’t really change internally (or externally) throughout the story. Although one of the three major characters, her real role is just to react to everybody else.

Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
One is the loneliest number…

To me, it seemed like style won over substance overall, and fittingly, the library as a place means more than the librarians within that place. The library serves as a place of information, to be sure, and due to its specialty of the occult, it is a convenient place in this Class I film to connect all the main characters. But this library, however cloistered it appeared, does NOT serve as a safe haven in a harsh, cruel world; in the end, its iron bars cannot hold back secrets or danger or even death.

Screenshot from Tale of a Vampire
Tale of a library

Sources used:

  • Tale of a Vampire. Dir. Shimako Sato. Perf. Julian Sands, Suzanna Hamilton, Kenneth Cranham. Vidmark Entertainment, 1992.

The royal treatment in ‘My Week with Marilyn’

Name-dropping a librarian gets them into the Queen’s castle.

This past weekend, my husband and I watched My Week with Marilyn (2011), an adaptation of Colin Clark’s chronicled week with Marilyn Monroe as she filmed The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier. That 1956 film set was by all accounts a tense one.

We were so surprised — and pleased — when a reel librarian showed up. And a royal librarian at that! I can confirm hand-clapping and shouts of glee in our household.

So almost an hour into the film, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams, so well-deserving of the Oscar nomination for her channeling of Marilyn) plays hooky with Colin (Eddie Redmayne) for a fun-filled afternoon, romping through parks and the lawns of Eton College. After Marilyn asks what’s next, he suggests Windsor Castle, a formal residence of the Queen. And you KNOW how anything royalty-related is like catnip to us Americans.

Castle visit in My Week With Marilyn
Castle visit in My Week With Marilyn

Let’s listen in as they attempt to get into Windsor Castle (see above). The British bodyguard starts us off:

Smith:  Detective Chief Superintendent Smith. I’m escorting this lady and gentleman for the day. They’d like to look around the castle.

Security guard [not having any of it]:  I need a contact name for the book.

Smith [to Marilyn]:  You don’t know Her Majesty, by any chance?

Marilyn:  Yes, we met at a movie premiere. She said my dress was pretty.

Security guard:  I don’t think that quite does it, sir.

Colin:  My godfather works here. He’s the royal librarian. Sir Owen Morshead.

And they’re in! Name-dropping a librarian gets them into the Queen’s castle. Let me repeat that, for full effect. Name-dropping. A. LIBRARIAN. Gets. Them. Into. The. QUEEN’S. Castle. I’ve never been prouder.

As the pair humbly walk into the royal library, we get a lovely overhead shot. It’s all red leather and dark wood. (Click here for more info and pics about the Royal Collection.)

Visiting a royal library
Visiting a royal library

Then we meet the Royal Librarian himself, Sir Owen Morshead, as played by Sir Derek Jacobi (see below). The real Morshead (1893-1977) served as Royal Librarian from 1926 through 1958.

Screenshot from My Week with Marilyn
The Royal Librarian

Sir Owen is quite pleased to see his godson, greeting him with, “Colin, my boy! Come in! Forgive the dust.” And with only the time it takes for another breath, Sir Owen immediately starts charming Marilyn (see right).

Sir Owen:  Oh, you are very pretty, my dear.

Marilyn:  Oh [obviously pleased]. Gee, I’d sure like to read all these books.

Sir Owen:  Well, luckily, one doesn’t really have to. A lot of them just have pictures in.

Then he shows them some priceless sketches and drawings of famous artists, including Holbein (a sketch of a daughter of one of the king’s courtiers) and Da Vinci (mentioning Mona Lisa, the “lady with the funny smile”). Love the detail of the white gloves for handling archives!

The Royal Librarian shows off the collection
The Royal Librarian shows off the collection

After impressing her with art, Sir Owen smoothly seizes the opportunity to name-drop the Queen. Clever librarian.

Sir Owen:  The Queen’s sorry to have missed you.

Marilyn: Really? [eyes wide]

Sir Owen: Oh yes, why she was only saying to me the other day, ‘What must it be like to be the most famous woman on earth?’

Sir Owen then provides the icing on top of the cake, by showing them into a room with a lovely, intricate dollhouse. Marilyn swoons over it and makes believe the family inside is her family. She seeks Sir Owen’s permission to touch (see below), and he affirms her wishes with a smile, “Yes, of course.” The last shot we get of the Royal Librarian is one of him smiling, obviously pleased at a woman’s girlish delight.

A royal dollhouse in My Week With Marilyn
A royal dollhouse

Note:  The dollhouse is known as Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, built by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924. You can explore the dollhouse online here.

Although only a couple of minutes long, this is a lovely scene, due mostly to Jacobi’s reel depiction of a notable real librarian. An Information Provider, certainly, but one with real kindness and heart. Sir Owen says all the right things to make the “most famous woman on earth” feel special and at home in a queen’s palace. He flirts a little, shows her a picture of the daughter of a king’s courtier (this resonates, because we later find out she has never known who her father is), and a doll’s house (so she can imagine a family). He fulfills her need to be admired and loved and listened to, without even knowing it. And looks mighty dapper doing it!

Sources used:

  • My Week with Marilyn. Dir. Simon Curtis. Perf. Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Judi Dench. Weinstein Company, 2011.