Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Classic Film Flashback" - Desk Set (1957)

Desk Set, the classic 1957 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, is a humorous and well crafted romantic comedy about what happens when the computer is introduced to corporate America.  The film is a nice way to look back at the way things used to be, before computers took over the world and work depended on a group of knowledgeable individuals who knew how to get the answer to a question without doing a google search.

The film is set in the New York offices of the fictional Federal Broadcasting Network where Hepburn is in charge of the research department and Tracy is an implementation and efficiency expert who, it seems, is brought in to replace everyone with an "electronic brain".  With Hepburn and Tracy at the center, you know you're in for a witty couple of hours, and the screenplay and direction give our two leads plenty of time and situations for the banter and wit to flow.  They are both strong determined characters who think they have the other figured out, but aren't always correct in their assumptions.  The plot is the same way as well, as you might think you know where it's going but there are a couple of surprises in store so your assumptions aren't always correct.

Blondell, Hepburn and Tracy
The supporting cast is pretty good too.  Joan Blondell is Hepburn's close friend and co-worker and Gig Young is Hepburn's romantic involvement, a romance that has been going on for 7 years with no engagement in site.  Blondell plays another one of her usual wise cracking characters and she is given a few moments to shine, but always has plenty of warmth behind the delivery of the lines.  The same can be said about Hepburn, who is not only warm, but smart, loving, concerned about her co-workers and sexy as well.  I don't think Hepburn has ever given a bad or even just slightly less than great performance in any of her films.  In Desk Set, she continues that trend of playing another determined, strong, but fragile character and she also gets to play tipsy, and manages to completely capture that state of being in an honest, sincere, realistic and very funny way.  Tracy, as usual, is more of the straight man to Hepburn, and in the case of Desk Set, he serves that role for Blondell as well to a degree.  He perfectly plays the role with just the right balance of low stated humor in his delivery and extreme intellect but with the added touch of his words giving fuel to the fire of the situation without necessarily knowing that he is feeding the flames.

Based on the 1955 play by William Marchant that had a nine month run on Broadway and starred Shirley Booth in the role that Hepburn would play on film.   The 1957 film was directed by Walter Lang with a screenplay by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, Nora Ephron's parents, who the previous year wrote the screenplay for the film of Carousel.  Lang directed many other stage to film transfers including The King and I, Call Me Madam and Can Can as well as the original film musicals State Fair and There's No Business Like Show Business and the classic family films Cheaper By The Dozen, The Little Princess and The Blue Bird.

Hepburn and Tracy had an amazing connection on screen and in their personal lives.  They made nine films together and Desk Set was the first of the films they starred in made in color.   If you're looking for a fun night at the movies, with well written dialogue and a top notch cast, then put Desk Set in your Netflix queue now.

Click below to buy the film from Amazon- also included the nine film Hepburn/Tracy dvd collection as well.

Trailer for the film -

1 comment:

  1. Great film. Great cast. The computer's wonky behaviour at the end is a bit much though.