The mysterious man hanging about at the research department of a big TV network proves to be engineer Richard Sumner, who's been ordered to keep his real purpose secret: computerizing the office. Department head Bunny Watson, who knows everything, needs no computer to unmask Richard. The resulting battle of wits and witty dialogue pits Bunny's fear of losing her job against her dawning attraction to Richard.
Spencer Tracy ... Richard Sumner
Katharine Hepburn ... Bunny Watson
Gig Young ... Mike Cutler
Joan Blondell ... Peg Costello
Dina Merrill ... Sylvia Blair
Sue Randall ... Ruthie Saylor
Neva Patterson ... Miss Warriner
Harry Ellerbe ... Smithers
Nicholas Joy ... Mr. Azae
Diane Jergens ... Alice
Merry Anders ... Cathy
Ida Moore ... Old Lady
Rachel Stephens ... Receptionist
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 called Mildred?
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.
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.
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!