Desk Set Reviews
The movie is refined and any age could watch it, but it does bring a smile to see various inappropriate behavior in the office, culminating in a pretty raucous Christmas party. I have to say, it's also great to see three of the main actors at ages you don't see much in these types of roles - Tracy (57), Hepburn (50), and Joan Blondell (51), who I've also been enjoying lately in her pre-Code roles from the early 1930's. I wish there were more movies like this! All three actors are a joy to watch.
It's impossible not to admire the screen repartee perfected by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Bogie and Bacall could cause an audience member to spontaneously combust with a cigarette lit make-out session; Garbo and Gilbert could start a house fire just by glancing at each other. Not Hepburn and Tracy. Though real-life lovers, their nine films together were never defined by sexual chemistry; never an issue was a will-they-or-won't they hot and heavy love scene. If anything romantic occurs between the two, they first must size each other up, figure out the other's IQ. Maybe they will find the time to peck the other on the cheek in spite of repressed affection, but partaking in particularly witty conversation is much more fruitful than tiresome romance.
"Desk Set" is their most underrated hour; most favor 1949's wonderful "Adam's Rib" or 1942's "Woman of the Year" (whose popularity I am still perplexed by). Released in 1957, there is more studio flavor than usual, lavish CinemaScope photography having something to do with it -but a dexterity akin to "Designing Woman" is becoming for the two aged stars. The loud colors of the atmosphere, along with energy abundant dialogue, only reflect the pair's million-miles-a-minute personalities. We find comfort in seeing them together, relishing each other's company at the hands of a budget happy studio.
Hepburn plays Bunny Watson, the head honcho of a TV network's research department. Knowledge hungry individuals call on an hourly basis, loaded with statistically minded questions. Bunny and her female associates, hardly breaking a nail, are almost human computers, able to recite obscure factual evidence as if it were a golden memory from their childhood.
Problems arise when Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) arrives on the scene. An efficiency expert hoping to increase productivity in the research department, Richard hopes to eventually replace Bunny and her associates with a supercomputer. He doesn't make this quite clear right away, though; he instead inserts himself in the area, analyzing every moment, only slightly hinting at his ulterior motive. It doesn't take much time for a relationship to develop between Richard and Bunny, two lonelyhearts who never had the time, or the drive, to distract themselves with marriage. If only Bunny's longtime boyfriend (Gig Young), who hardly has plans for the future, would stop getting in the way!
"Desk Set"'s premise is among the most dated (just take a look at that computer!) of the 1950s, but its charm has hardly faltered - in some ways, it has gotten better with age, as though its best characteristics were thrown into the air, its confetti exploding over our cynical hearts. Not much imagination is put into the direction or the set design - most of the film is locked in one setting - but Hepburn and Tracy kill (as does their always welcome co-star Joan Blondell), and the screenplay, written by husband and wife team Henry and Phoebe Ephron, positively glides with its seamless wit. It's all very lightweight and it's all very busy, but "Desk Set" is a shining fixture in the Hepburn/Tracy canon.
Bunny Watson dates a reporter and has worked in a television broadcast research department for years. She has been waiting for her boyfriend to propose to her for over seven years, but he doesn't seem to be moving in that direction. Richard Sumner is an engineer that has been assigned to computerize Bunny's department to save time and reduce resources. Bunny will stop at nothing to make life difficult for Richard but she may fall in love in the process.
"You don't care if you impress people or not, do you?"
"Wait till you get my bill. You'll be impressed."
Walter Lang, director of The King and I (1956), The Little Princess (1939), State Fair, There's No Business like Show Business, Coney Island, Greenwich Village, Tin Pan Alley, and The Ladybird, delivers Desk Set. The storyline for this picture is just okay but the character development and dialogue is excellent. The acting is first rate and the cast includes Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, and Dina Merrill.
"There's something about the way you wear that pencil in your hair that screams money."
I DVR most of Spencer Tracy's pictures because he has an amazing way of displaying grit and charm within the same character. It's funny how he portrays the loving, carefree old man in a way that seems to be relatable to someone in anyone's life. He always seems like a cool guy and his chemistry with Katherine Hepburn is legendary within the industry (they made several movies together). Overall, this isn't Tracy's or Hepburn's best film, but it is above average and entertaining.
"I don't understand what you're saying but it sounds great."