Desk Set

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Dec 4, 2013
Desk Set

He's a computer engineer and she's the head of a research department. They're both smart, and both solidly plugged into their careers - but will his "electric brain" cost her a job? And although sparks fly between them, will their respective romances (her with a co-worker, him with his computer system) prove insurmountable?

The Walter Lang-directed "Desk Set" (1957), the eighth of the nine films by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, is a relatively minor work (certainly when compared with 1949's "Adam's Rib" or their final film together, 1967's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?") but this restored Blu-ray edition looks so good, and the film has such an easily likable way about it, that fans and casual viewers alike will succumb to its charms. The thrills derive not only from the powerhouse Tracy/Hepburn pairing, but also from the script by Nora Ephron's parents, screenwriters Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron (It doesn't hurt that Joan Blondell co-stars as Hepburn's best friend at work).

The extras on this reissue are scant, especially compared with the fun stuff (vintage cartoons!) that rounded out the earlier DVD release. What you get here is a short, not very interesting "Fox Movietone News" segment on the movie's fashions, dreamed up by costumer Charles Le Maire; the original theatrical trailer (which shows you, by contrast, just how crisp this restoration is); and an audio commentary by co-star Dina Merrill and film historian John Lee. Merrill chats about the production, Tracy and Hepburn (lovely, generous people, by Merrill's account), and other films she worked on; Lee provides lots of intriguing nuggets about the movie, the wide-screen format in which it was shot, etc. (One minor downside - Lee's comments have an irritating, robotic quality about them, as though a radio DJ were reading them off a set of cue cards.)

The movie itself is fraught with war of the sexes moments, and filmed in iridescent Technicolor. The silly "electronic brain" that appears in the final scenes is forgettable, though even now, the specter of human workers being displaced by technology resonates.

"Desk Set"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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