Thursday, May 24, 2012

Case Study No. 0342: John Lewis

Randy Librarian - Peter Sellers
From the opening to Only Two Can Play
Tags: Peter Sellers Wales Welsh Library libraries librarian
Added: 3 years ago
From: lex10
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Gilliat, Sidney (Director). Only Two Can Play. United Kingdom: RCA/Columbia Pictures, 1962.

Starring: Peter Sellers (John Lewis, Librarian); Mai Zetterling (Liz); Virginia Maskell (Jean)

Based on the Novel: Kingsley, Amis. That Uncertain Feeling. London: Victor Gollancz, 1955.

The opening scene of this b&w 1962 male-librarian classic is the exterior of the Aberdarcy (Wales) Public Library. We see librarian John Lewis (Sellers), dressed in an ill-fitting suit, peering through a bookcase at a classy lady striding toward him -- starched shirtwaist dress, high heels, and lacquered helmet hair. Her voice purrs and she smiles coquettishly.

Lady: Good morning. Have you Conditioned Reflexes? It's by Pavlov.
Lewis: (awkwardly) Yes, yes, it's out at the moment, but if you'd like to leave your name I could reserve it for you.
Lady: (writing on card) I'll come back then.
Lewis: (hopefully) Do. Oh, ah ... would you like to leave your phone number?
Lady: I did.
Lewis: (looking at card) Oh! So you did, dear.

A moment later he's appreciating the fine legs of another lovely patron. This guy's got it bad. He realizes he's holding the James Thurber/E.B. White book Is Sex Necessary?, which he unceremoniously tosses onto a shelf. A quotation then overlays the screen as we see poor Lewis rest his face in his hands: "It is not observed that Librarians are wiser men than others" -- Ralph Waldo Emerson. We learn that Lewis needs "more than the normal outlet" for his "creative urges." He is married with children in a crowded and noisy three-room upstairs flat, and is suffering the seven-year itch. His very pretty wife, Jean, urges him to apply for a promotion because they need the money. He doesn't think he'd get the job. "I am not sufficiently up in Welsh literature," he tells her. When Liz, the flirtatious society wife of the Chairman of the Library Committee, comes to the library in need of special research materials, she begins a campaign to get him that job in exchange for ... favors. Later, when he's getting ready to have an intimate moment with Liz, he sees on the table a book by John Marquand called Point of No Return. He covers it with a magazine. He knows it's not the right way to land the promotion, but laments to his wife, "Why did I bother to cram to pass exams, to take degrees, where did it get me? I would be much better off as a road sweeper." Despite the foreign location and mid-20th century timeframe, male librarian stereotypes are apparent, especially during the interviews by the Committee of candidates (all male) for the promotion. Today's male librarian stereotype is effeminate, geeky, and socially inept, but back then men in the profession were thought to be nerdy in a scholarly sense, internally high strung, and socially clumsy. Okay, maybe things haven't changed all that much. This film, as the book on which it is based makes clear, concerns one librarian's "uncertain feeling." And speaking of Amis' book, the film is true to the tone and humor of the book and much of the storyline, although the librarian issues aren't quite as pointed but still central to who the character is.

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