Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Desk Set (1957)

If only real life mirrored Desk Set's happy ending.

Research workers at a major television network fear for their jobs when they get wind of an "electronic brain" heading to their department. Why pay humans when a machine can do the work?

The four-person department is headed up by Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn), chief wunderkid of all the fact checkers.

The rumbling starts when Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) appears. He's not keen to be called an efficiency expert, but he does look for ways to make businesses run a little leaner. Sumner boasts a brilliant mind and a sharp wit, but he's awful forgetful and seems to only own one suit.

Watson is gaga for network executive Mike Cutler (Gig Young). She wants to get married. He's keen to keep tapping her for help to advance his career without getting tangled up in any kind of long-term relationship. Watson is skeptical about Sumner's activities, but she's also attracted to him. They're both smart and have a way with words.

She keeps pressing for details on what Sumner is up to. Cutler keeps coming in and out of Bunny's life. There's plenty of booze flowing during what Watson and her crew believe will be their final Christmas party.

Desk Set is one of 12 films Hepburn and Tracy made together. Here, they get to work with a witty script from husband and wife team Henry and Phoebe Ephron that generates some real laughs. Blondell offers solid support as Bunny's close friend, and co-worker, Peg Costello. Harry Ellerbe is a treat as Smithers, a network employee who keeps an ear out for the latest gossip and is henpecked by his wife.

Desk Set suffers for its silly handling of the super computer trying to meet the challenges of the workplace.

The film's ending wasn't duplicated at my workplace 40 years later. The newspaper's librarian was let go and replaced with an electronic archive.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Joan Blondell appeared alongside another screen great, James Cagney, in the public enemy (1931). That film is reviewed on this site.

Dina Merrill, a cast member who's still alive in March 2013, made her feature film debut in Desk Set. Her last role was in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt with Michael Douglas in 2009.

Desk Set was the last film for Nicholas Joy. He was primarily a Broadway actor who appeared on the big screen between 1947 and 1957. Joy appeared in the original stage production of The Philadelphia Story. That wonderful film is also reviewed by Reel Popcorn Junkie.

Ida Moore makes several brief appearances in Desk Set as a veteran employee with a funny walk who never opens her lips.

Yes, the Ephrons are the parents of Nora, who wrote When Harry Met Sally.

1 comment:

HKatz said...

I thought the movie did a decent job trying to show how, even with computers, you still need the flexibility and adaptability of a human mind. But with workplaces cutting costs, people still lose their jobs.

Desk Set suffers for its silly handling of the super computer trying to meet the challenges of the workplace.
I also thought Sumner's computer assistant (the lady who comes in towards the end) was portrayed as too over-the-top finicky and then hysterical.