Desk Set (1957)
Tracy and Hepburn go Computer Dating
Hello? Santa Claus's reindeer? Of course I can... let's see, there's Dopey, Grouchy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, Bashful, Rudolph and Blitzen! You're welcome! - Richard Sumner
There is something quite amusing when you consider the premise of "Desk Set" as you have a team of researchers fretting over their jobs as computers are introduced. It's amusing because you wouldn't think that over 50 years ago computers taking over the work place would be seen as such a threat but apparently they were and as such "Desk Set" in some way is a movie made to assure people over the computer revolution. But whilst that is the premise "Desk Set" is also a fun romance, a predictable one, but one which has some great moments which is down to the pair of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn lighting up the screen with their wickedly sharp banter. If it wasn't for Tracy and Hepburn "Desk Set" would have been just another fun but average romantic comedy but watching these two basically fire off each other makes it so much more.
Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn - Pat and Mike) is the rather efficient head of the Federal Broadcasting Company's research department where along with her colleagues Peg (Joan Blondell), Sylvia (Dina Merrill) and Ruthie (Sue Randall) answer calls from enquiring customers with ease. But when the mysterious Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy - Bad Day at Black Rock) shows up in their department they learn through the company grapevine that he is there to observe, measure and prepare for the introduction of EMERAC a computer system. Whilst fearing for their jobs Bunny also has to worry about her relationship with Mike Cutler (Gig Young - Young at Heart) who enthusiastically tries to climb the corporate ladder constantly letting her down along the way. With Sumner hanging around so much Bunny finds herself warming to this stranger leading to even more complications.
So "Desk Set" is a movie which has two sides, the clever side is that it embraces what was then a threat of computers not so much taking over but leading to job insecurity. It's an element which almost gets lost beneath all the romantic fun but even so it is cleverly worked to be amusing but also realistic. What this premise achieves is that whilst computers are good they are only as good as the people who operate them and in doing so going some way to allay people's fears that computers will replace people in the work place.
But whilst the story over the introduction of EMERAC is cleverly written "Desk Set" is really a romantic comedy and quite an obvious one at that. There is something very routine about the way this romance unfolds with Bunny initially with the unreliable Mike Cutler only for her head to be turned by Richard Sumner. As such the outcome is obvious the minute these two meet and there are absolutely no twists to the formula as it goes from A to B.
For most movies the lack of ingenuity on an old formula would be a problem but for "Desk Set" it isn't because it is all great fun. And that great fun comes from Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn who bring the comedy alive whilst also giving the movie a romantic spark. Some of the best scenes are when Bunny and Sumner are alone and the dialogue bounces back and forth between them such as the interview scene on the roof top or the comedy over the dinner. Without these two who are on brilliant form as they verbally spar "Desk Set" would have been fun but just average.
So good are Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in "Desk Set" that a talented supporting cast are put in the shade. Gig Young seems so under used as Mike Cutler getting just a couple of really good scenes in the whole movie and whilst Joan Blondell fires off some great snappy one liners is never given the chance to really fire on all cylinders. It does mean that rather than being a mess of comedy "Desk Set" focuses on that provided by Tracy and Hepburn but even so I would have loved for a bit more of Gig Young's slick repartee.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Desk Set" may be a movie which goes some way to allay people's fears over the then computer revolution it is also a rather good romantic comedy. It maybe predictable and never strays from a well worked formula but with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn delivering scene after scene of laughs it's impossible not to like it especially with the spark of romance flying off the screen as well.
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