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It comes as no surprise that the 30-second attention span generation
finds this jewel a little dull. There is no quick-cut music video
cinematography. The characters are all actually old enough to be
believable in their roles. which are not based on clothing or haircuts.
It depends on talent rather than hype. And most of all, it is far too
intelligent, witty and literate for today's garbage-numbed Philistine.
The story is simple, as all good stories are. Hepburn feels her job, and those of her staff, are threatened by Tracy and his ominous computer. It may not sound like much in this day of computer ubiquity, but substitute dot.com flop or outsourcing for computer and you have a contemporary comedy that still works.
Let's ignore the leads for just a moment. The supporting cast, which includes Joan Blondell as the arch-typical right-hand man, or should I say woman, and Gig Young as the chauvinistic, corporate climbing fiancé, easily outclasses what passes for marquee stars today. Husband and wife team Henry and Phoebe Ephron, parents of Nora Ephron, contribute a brilliantly witty script that, unfortunately for modern moviegoers, isn't peppered with vaudevillian pratfalls to help point out the funny parts. Instead, it relies on the intelligence of the audience and draws on that of the cast to produce a humor that never ages.
Hepburn is almost universally considered the greatest film actress ever. Tracy is utterly magnificent, and the chemistry between the two of them, owing of course in part to their long-standing relationship, is palpable.
I adore this movie, and if there were a Canon of Cinema, this would be in it.
Although "computer" dated, this film is the most accurate depiction of
office politics I have ever seen.
Having worked in several well-supervised office departments, the environment that a truly gifted supervisor (Hepburn's character) can create is there for all to see. The upper management attitude of keeping workers in the dark as to developmental plans for the company/department and the havoc that philosophy can wreak on morale and gossip was very satisfying and enjoying to watch. (If only management could learn from this lesson.)
Although the stereotypical "office gossip" is almost too delightfully portrayed, the "cliques" and flow of gossip is so true to today's office environment that someone just entering the work force could view this film as an education.
Of course, Tracy and Hepburn, along with a wonderful supporting cast, make this a very entertaining viewing experience.
Katherine Hepburn is in top form as a middle aged head of the all girls
research department who feels threatened when a mysterious "efficiency
expert" (Spencer Tracy) is sent in to introduce his great invention
"EMEREK", the ultimate information source. Now the ladies in research fear
that a computer will make their "human brain work" obsolete.
The boss's favorite, a dapper climber of the success ladder who has been engaged to Hepburn for years but never quite mustered up the courage to pop the question, takes Hepburn's devotion to him for granted and suddenly realizes that she is not the doormat he had seen in her for so long. Tracy, up to this point a bachelor at heart, is quite smitten by this clever research lady. The outcome is predictable.
This is top notch entertainment with a smart script and great acting. The chemistry between the two leads is delicious. Look for the gorgeous fashions flaunted by all women in this movie. With the money a working girl of the 50s took home, such extravagances would have been quite impossible. But after all, this is Hollywood, not the real world. "Desk Set" is a five-star gem!*****
Well, I suppose it lacks the deeper moral carried by "Adam's Rib," although
it does deal with issues that have so far turned out to be less important
than gender equality, such as the impact of automation on the work force.
But none of that is very important anyway. It's a light romantic comedy set
in the research department of a major broadcasting company. And Hepburn's
name is Bunny, but again, so what? Would it be a better movie if she were
It has the closed-in act structure of a play too, and it's obvious. There are other theatrical staples as well. How many plays include a drunken party at the end of the second act? (Exactly two hundred and forty-two.) Movies are similarly put together, especially those based on plays: "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "The Boys in the Band," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Often the alcohol consumption takes place at a Christmas party, as it does here, and in "The Apartment." Understanding that the characters' higher reasoning centers are partly paralyzed and their judgment impaired gives the writer a chance to have them behave outrageously without having to explain why they've lost their senses, and the audience understands this convention. Drunken conviviality doesn't always work on screen. It can leave the viewer feeling like the only sober person at the bash, which is why John Ford largely left the events up to the viewer's imagination. It doesn't work too well here, either. It's not the actors' fault. They convey that chemically induced jollity very well; it's that the lines are sometimes silly -- that "Mexican Avenue bus" business, for instance. You'd have to have been there to find it as amusing as Hepburn and Joan Blondell do.
None of this undermines the amusement quotient of the film. It's relaxed, pleasant, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The story is well laid out, dated though it may seem to some, the interpersonal relationships clearly delineated and squeezed of every chuckle.
But it's the performers that get the job done here. Blondell's role seems to have been made for her, the down-to-earth blonde. Gig Young too is smooth in his usual careless charming playboy part, a touchstone for his career, as in "That Touch of Mink" and "Ask Any Girl." There are certain lines that no one can deliver better than he. Hepburn has been trying to get him to marry her for a long time and when he finally suggests they tie the knot, there is an argument, and he storms out the office door, but not before delivering his exit line: "Seven YEARS I've waited!" The other "girls" are intelligent and sexy. I have to mention Neva Patterson too, as Emerac's nurse. When the obscene machine begins to pant and puff out smoke, the other staff rush to help, but a hysterical Patterson screams at them, "Don't you TOUCH her!"
Tracey and Hepburn, no longer kids, are superb. They're top notch all the way through, and they have a couple of set pieces that are about as funny as anything they've done on screen. One is a sort of quiz Tracey gives her on the roof. Another, the best in the film, takes place while Tracey visits her apartment to dry his clothes and is caught in a bathrobe by Gig Young, who happens to drop in at the incriminating moment. I defy anyone not to laugh as Tracey clumps out the door with his shoes smoking and his hat pulled down around his ears. The third, having to do with EMERAC's nervous breakdown, is also well done if a bit frantic.
Not a comic masterpiece. It's too relaxed for that. But recommended without qualification.
This comedy keeps turning on cable any now and then. When faced with
the prospect of watching substandard fare, the clear choice is to go to
something that is amusing, as well as to entertaining, which is why
"Desk Set" is a good bet to watch.
"Desk Set", directed by Walter Lang, evokes those bygone years before automation and the arrival of the computers into one's life. The comedy, adapted from the stage with great care by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, accomplishes all the requisites for a nice way to spend a couple of hours.
The time is the late 50s in Manhattan. The cost controlling expert, Richard Sumner, is hired to make changes in the way the New York firm can cut costs in all areas of business. Mr. Sumner's solution is to start automation in several areas, such as in the payroll department. He faces a formidable task when he takes to task making the research department more efficient, in the days before Google.
Mr. Sumner has to deal with the smart Bunny Watson, who has more facts and figures at her fingertips than any contraption could find at any given moment. Thus begins a tug of war between the man who is perceived as the "terminator of jobs" and the four women in research. They'll teach him a thing, or two.
The best part of the film is the interplay between the two principals, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Its a tribute to them, as actors, they could work so well together. Also, toward the end of the movie, at the company's Christmas party, we see a playful, and drunk Bunny singing Cole Porter's "Night and Day" to the beat of the bongo playing of Richard Sumner. That scene shows a playful Katherine Hepburn having a great time in front of the cameras.
This delicious movie will certainly please anyone looking for a good time. Ms. Hepburn does excellent work as the spinsterish Bunny. Mr. Tracy is equally her match as the efficiency expert who is not in touch with reality.
The women in the research department, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Radall, are quite good. Gig Young has the thankless task of being a man interested in Katherine Hepburn, when it's obvious her heart clearly belongs to Spencer Tracy.
Enjoy the movie, but better yet, enjoy the magic created by Kate and Spencer!
Desk Set was the next to last teaming of Tracy and Hepburn and the
first one away from MGM. It does have a different look to the product
they did at MGM. Still good, but different. Probably because this was
done in Cinemascope and Technicolor.
Hard to believe that Cinemascope would be used on a film essentially set indoors and on one set, the set being Hepburn's office. But that was to show the immense size of Emirac the giant computer being installed there which Katharine and her staff think is going to replace them.
Desk Set had been on Broadway two year ago and had a respectable run. It starred Shirley Booth in Katharine Hepburn's part and the rest of the cast were not names by any means. I'm sure Spencer Tracy's role had to be built up from the stage version.
Even so, the film is essentially Hepburn's. As usual in their films she has a rival to Tracy. In the past that part was played by such people as Melvyn Douglas, David Wayne, William Ching, and now Gig Young. It seemed like every movie comedy in the late 50s and early 60s had either Young or Tony Randall as the defeated rival role. Young gives his patented performance here.
A running gag throughout the film are the calls handled by Hepburn's staff at the broadcast network for inane information. Like someone up in the corporate headquarters is playing trivial pursuit.
Also look for good performances by Joan Blondell, Sue Randall, and Dina Merrill as Hepburn's staff and Neva Patterson as Emirac's installer and keeper.
A good addition to the Tracy-Hepburn pantheon.
On my first viewing of this movie, I didn't particularly like it. I was
surprised that Tracy and Hepburn filmed this movie at all. But then, I
re-watched it recently during the AMC tribute to the late great Kate. On
second viewing, I found a lot about it endearing and quite humorous.
Although the technology is antiquated, the reaction to change in an organization is not. Speaking from an EEO perspective, Hepburn's boyfriend would be a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen in today's world. However, the office politics are identical to the office politics today. Instead of using the telephone to gossip, people in the office now use email.
Tracy and Hepburn gave great performances in this light-hearted romantic comedy. The scene in Hepburn's apartment is hilarious. Her reaction to her boyfriend's suggestion that he thought she would be alone is priceless. And, when Tracy stumbles out, we get to see Hepburn's uncontrollable laughter (that was probably not scripted) which always makes me lol.
So, take a second look if you first didn't like this movie.
One of the better Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn films: a light comedy which doesn't necessitate his anger or her stridency. Hepburn heads up a charming group of gals in the research department of a broadcasting firm; Tracy is a computer man eager to install his latest creation in their office. Adapted from the Broadway play--and looking it--with large, flat sets stretched across the screen and all the actors moving from stage right to stage left. Still, the cast is colorful (except for Gig Young, stuck in the eternal Gig Young role, that of an SOB second banana who eventually ends up eating crow), and the thing is bubbly fun right to the end. It disappears from memory as fast as it came, but this kind of lightweight venture can be enjoyable on an afternoon viewing. **1/2 from ****
Fun, fast, clever script for Katherine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy. She even calls him "darling" a couple times (by accident, I think). Katherine is the head of the studio reference and research department. Suddenly, Spencer Tracy appears, measuring and asking questions. While fearing for her job, this same guy starts challenging her job-skills. The roof-top lunch scene is GREAT... Sumner (played by Tracy) gives Bunny (Hepburn) a trivia test, and she proves to be his superior in many ways! it's fun to watch him squirm as she explains how she comes up with her answers. Then there is the battle of the boyfriends as Bunny tries to make her boss/boyfriend jealous. There are some running gags, such as the little old lady that keeps walking through the office, the plant in Bunny's office, and everyone keeps calling to ask one question over and over during the office Christmas party. Lots of fun, and the typical over the top ending at the finish.
If you replace the constant use of the term "automation" with
"outsourcing", this 1957 workplace-driven comedy would be quite a
relevant tweak on corporate restructuring and office politics. As it
stands now, it's a light piece of entertainment that benefits primarily
from a smart screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (Nora's
parents...must run in the family) and of course, the incomparable
Tracy-Hepburn teamwork. It's not their best work, but fifteen years
into their relationship, they achieve an easy, laser-sharp rapport here
that makes the film easy to enjoy.
Efficiently directed by Walter Lang, the movie focuses its plot on the research department of a national TV network, the so-called Federal Broadcasting System. The four-woman staff is headed by the whip-smart Bunny Watson, who appears to possess a wealth of information and an unfailing memory for the smallest detail. They work like clockwork together in finding responses to often extremely trivial questions, but they do everything manually. Enter Richard Sumner, a befuddled man with a measuring tape and mismatched socks, who turns out to be a brilliant engineer hired by the network CEO to install an electronic brain called EMERAC. Designed to streamline the research process, the monolithic computer has the research staff understandably concerned about pending unemployment. Invariably, Bunny and Sumner start to recognize a mutual attraction through the awkwardness, and further complications arise with the presence of Mike Cutler, a rising network executive who has pompously kept Bunny on a leash for years.
As Bunny, Katharine Hepburn appears to be playing a variation of herself, which in this case, suits the role perfectly. By comparison, Tracy seems a bit tired as Sumner, except when interacting with Hepburn, whether unsuccessfully volleying brainteasers on a freezing rooftop, eating floating islands in their bathrobes, or canoodling between the second-floor bookshelves during the office Christmas party. A terrific supporting cast has been assembled starting with Gig Young in his typical role as the third wheel Mike, which he plays with enough sharp and smarmy aplomb to make Bunny's dilemma palpable. Joan Blondell expertly plays Bunny's stalwart sidekick Peg, and they achieve a genuine chemistry as they banter about the "Mexican Avenue bus".
Dina Merrill and Sue Randall (forever etched in my memory as Beaver's crush-worthy schoolteacher Miss Landers on "Leave It to Beaver") seem a bit too glamorous to be librarians, but they're both serviceable, while Neva Patterson plays EMERAC's coldly efficient "mother", Miss Warriner, to brittle perfection. Even though the sets are pure 1950's-style décor, Leon Shamroy makes full use of the Cinemascope process to bring his color-saturated cinematography to the widescreen. The 2004 DVD comes with a commentary track by film historian John Lee, who provides interesting insight to the production, casting and stage-to-screen translation. Merrill provides some remembrances of her own, but her commentary is spotty and a bit self-serving. A vintage, minute-long newsreel on the film's costumes; a few trailers for other Fox films of the period; and a photo gallery complete the package.
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