Monday, January 4, 2016

Old Movie Review - "Desk Set" (1957)

One of the great screen pairings in movie history was the partnership of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, and the chemistry between them is well in evidence in the 1957 comedy, "Desk Set".

In this movie, Hepburn play Bunny Watson, the head of the four person research department of a television network.  Tracy plays Richard Sumner, an efficiency expert for a company looking to replace the network's research department with one of those new fangled (for 1957) "electronic brains".  We call them computers today.

There are a couple of great scenes in this movie that highlight the Tracy-Hepburn.  In one, Sumner "interviews" Bunny over lunch on the office building rooftop in the cold November weather.  Fabulous dialog and great stuff between the two stars as they play cat-and-mouse with each other.  In the other scene, Tracy accompanies Hepburn home to her apartment.  He has to change into a bathrobe, and she makes dinner for him.  Soon the apartment is visited by Hepburn's wise-cracking assistant Joan Blondell, and by boyfriend Gig Young.  It is all perfectly innocent, of course, but both Blondell and Young jump to the wrong conclusions, and the nonchalance with which Tracy plays the whole thing is terrific.

The results are predictable, of course.  The electronic brain is proven to be incapable of doing the work that Hepburn and her workers did, and Hepburn and Tracy fall for each other, and Gig Young, the network exec who had been stringing the smitten Hepburn along for years, gets left out in the cold.  

Interesting to see that the screenplay for this one was written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who were the parents of essayist, screenwriter, and director Nora Ephron.  The smart and funny dialog in "Desk Set" makes you realize where Nora Ephron got all of her talents.

Playing Hepburn's assistants in the research were the aforementioned Blondell, Dina Merrill in her screen debut, and Sue Randell, who became much better known for playing Miss Landers, the school teacher in "Leave It To Beaver."

As Ben Mankiewicz said in his TCM intro to this movie, the idea of an office with card catalogues, typewriters, and a computer that fills an entire room may seem archaic today, but the themes of office politics, and the fear of losing one's job to technology are themes still very relevant and universal in 2016.  Plus, there is that deal with Tracy and Hepburn.  "Desk Set" was their eighth movie.  They would make one more movie together, "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" in 1967.

Fun movie. Two and 1/2 stars on this one, and worth seeing just for Tracy and Hepburn alone.

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