Review: Desk Set (1957)

: Desk SetUS, directed by Walter Lang

Starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn

This is one of those movies that no matter where I catch it when I’m channel surfing, I’ll stop and watch it to the end. I know, because that’s exactly what happened to me the other night. Hepburn and Tracy were never better than in this film. She’s the head reference librarian in a big corporation–what I imagine it’s like to work at the reference desk at the New York Public Library, where people call all day looking for the random bit of trivia or the odd factoid. He’s the inventor of a computer, quaintly referred to in the movie as a “big brain,” that has already put the staff in payroll out of work, and threatens to do the same with Hepburn and her staff.

Watching Desk Set this go around, I was really struck by how happy Kate seems in this film. She and her character seem to be having such a good time playing off Spencer’s rigid fact-man inventor and joking with her coworkers, especially wise cracking Joan Blondell.

While it’s pretty obvious that the material comes from a stage play, it works, even in the CinemaScope format that’s curiously used for a movie primarily set in an office. The computer (called EMERAK, nicknamed “Emmy”) is ridiculously huge, with reel-to-reel tapes whirring, patterns of lights flashing and hilarious Wonka-esque sound effects. Other than that, at heart, the movie’s about worker bees and corporate efficiency, and opposites attracting, as the computer inventor falls for the brainy spinster. Good fun. [****]

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