Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Desk Set Movie Review

Directed by Walter Lang, starts Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron from the play by William Marchant

Old maid librarian lands old bachelor computer geek. That wasn’t the tag line for Desk Set (1957), but perhaps it should have been. Many critics at the time thought that Spencer Tracy at 57 and Katherine Hepburn at 50 were too old for these rolls. But really, are you ever too old for love?

Shot in CinemaScope, so be sure to see this in wide-screen format, as the pan-and-scan is really annoying. Plus you miss out on some great acting outside the frame.

The story begins as a television station reference/research/library department is studied by “efficiency expert” Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy). The department is run by Bunny Wilson (Katherine Hepburn). Wilson has been strung along romantically for seven years by her boss, Mike Cutler (Gig Young), but she seems OK with that as no other man seems interested. Sumner has designed a computer (you won’t believe the size of this thing) that the librarians fear will take their jobs. The fact that Sumner was sworn to silence doesn’t help. However, gradually, grudging mutual respect grows between Sumner and Wilson, and, as Cutler pussyfoots around, respect grows into something more.

The relationship between Wilson and Sumner develops naturally and both actors are completely believable in their respective roles. Tracy is particularly good as the half absent-minded brilliant engineer. Joan Blondell is fantastic and believable as a New York kinda gal. The ending is a little contrived: “What is the weight of the earth?” “Why that’s the kind of thing that could take months to research!” Of course, now we have the World Wide Web and the answer can be found in .3 seconds, but I bet someone had the answer in a physics or astronomy reference book in 1957. But that’s not what you care about anyway, you care about the connection between Sumner and Wilson. The chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn is great, the scenes they have together are magic, like the rooftop lunch and after they get caught in the rain. Desk Set is a great show, especially for librarians and computer geeks.

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1 comment:

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

I agree. The handling of the computer's performance at Desk Set's end was heavy handed. It is neat to see workers from nearly 60 years ago dealing with the threat of unemployment due to technology. Hepburn and Tracy are great.